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Caucasus Report: May 14, 2004


14 May 2004, Volume 7, Number 19

WHO COULD SUCCEED KADYROV IN CHECHNYA? Five days after the death of pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, there are still no clear indications who was responsible for planting the bomb that killed him and five others on 9 May. Nor is it clear whom Moscow plans to co-opt and install as Kadyrov's successor.

Predictably, the Russian Defense Ministry immediately blamed Chechen "rebels" for the blast. Chechen security officials also said on 9 May that "a preliminary analysis" suggests that the bombing was the work of either radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev or Aslan Maskhadov (who was elected Chechen president in January 1997). But no less an expert than former Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev cast doubt on that hypothesis, pointing out that security at venues for events such as the Victory Day celebration is extremely tight, and that the stadium should have been patrolled regularly by police with sniffer dogs. Patrushev suggested that "traitors" within Kadyrov's entourage either planted the bomb or enabled others to do so. Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii said on 9 May that the bomb had been cemented into the concrete framework of the stadium, which is why sniffer dogs failed to detect it. ("The Times" on 10 May claimed the stadium was swept twice for explosives on the morning of 9 May.) But while Chechen Deputy Interior Minister Khamid Kadaev said that the bomb could have been planted up to two or three months earlier, Stratfor on 11 May quoted unnamed Russian military intelligence officials as saying it was done on 8 May.

Fridinskii told Russian media on 10 May that the bomb could only have been detonated by someone in Kadyrov's entourage; he also suggested that Kadyrov was not necessarily the intended target. "Vedomosti" on 11 May quoted Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev as saying Kadyrov originally intended to attend a parade at the Severnii airfield instead of the ceremony at the Dynamo stadium. On 13 May, Fridinskii said that sloppy security made the planting of the bomb possible. He said investigators are interrogating both witnesses and victims of the blast, and those who worked at the stadium prior to the 9 May celebration.

Predictions of the anticipated impact of Kadyrov's demise on Moscow's Chechnya policy are contradictory. Many observers interpret Kadyrov's death as a major setback to President Vladimir Putin's Chechen policy. Others suggest that the Russian leadership may have quietly welcomed the exit of a figure who was increasingly demanding greater control over political, security, and economic policy than the Kremlin was willing to cede (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2004).

Those who believe that Kadyrov was the pillar and mainstay of Moscow's Chechnya policy have identified the most likely candidate to succeed Kadyrov as his son Ramzan. They point to the fact that Russian television screened footage of Putin meeting with Ramzan Kadyrov within hours of his father's death, and suggest that in the interests of "stability," the Russian leadership will turn a blind eye to Ramzan Kadyrov's reputation as a barely literate thug, and to his alleged involvement in abduction and torture, including against supporters of his father's rival candidates in last October's presidential ballot.

The biggest obstacle to the choice of Ramzan Kadyrov to succeed his father is the Chechen Constitution, which sets the minimum age for presidential candidates at 30; Ramzan is 27.

But on 13 May, members of the Chechen government, the State Council (the interim legislature), and the Security Council, together with leading Muslim clerics, appealed to President Putin to suspend the Chechen Constitution to permit Ramzan Kadyrov to contest the 5 September election for a new republican head. Ramzan himself, however, told NTV the same day that the law and the Chechen Constitution do not allow him to contest the election, ITAR-TASS reported. But Reuters quoted him as also telling the television station that "I would be better at doing what an elected president of the Chechen Republic tells me...but if the people ask us, we are ready. We shall do what the people tell us to do." "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 12 May quoted security expert Aleksandr Sharavin as saying that Ramzan Kadyrov "understands that he isn't ready to become the president of Chechnya. He doesn't have enough experience or the basic skills for it." But "Izvestiya" on 13 May quoted Stanislav Belkovskii, president of the Institute for National Strategy, as saying, "It is obvious that Ramzan Kadyrov is not going to surrender power, he wants to become his father's successor."

Military expert Pavel Felgengauer made the point in "Novaya gazeta" on 13 May that hereditary leadership is anathema to the Chechens, and that "any family that attempted to establish hereditary rule was totally destroyed."

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 May quoted unnamed sources as suggesting that Chechen State Council Chairman Taus Dzhabrailov may be elected formal head of the republic on condition that Ramzan Kadyrov is permitted to wield real power. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 May, Dzhabrailov neither confirmed nor denied that he plans to contest the 5 September ballot.

The question nonetheless arises: if as Fridinskii claims members of Kadyrov's immediate entourage turned a blind eye to the security lapse that made his killing possible, why is the entire Chechen leadership now lining up to endorse Ramzan to succeed him? A cynic would answer, as did kavkazcenter.com, that "one does not have to be Nostradamus" to predict Ramzan Kadyrov's fate, and that those who proclaim him the optimum choice to succeed his father are in effect ensuring that he will not survive until the day of the election. Alternatively, the handful of individuals who did connive with whoever planted the bomb cannot risk drawing attention to themselves by failing to endorse a scenario that they may not have reckoned with.

It is equally possible that Putin is playing for time, and that his decision to meet with Ramzan just hours after his father's death, and the10 May announcement by acting Chechen republic head Sergei Abramov of Ramzan Kadyrov's promotion to the position of first deputy prime minister, were undertaken solely in order to placate, and to secure the continued loyalty of, an individual who might otherwise have mobilized his personal security force, which numbers between 5,000-10,000 men, in an indiscriminate campaign of personal vengeance. In an interview published on 13 May in "Nezavisimaya gazeta," presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Vladimir Yakovlev said that he and Putin jointly made the decision to promote Ramzan Kadyrov. Yakovlev dodged the question of whether Moscow considers Ramzan the most suitable candidate to succeed his father, but added that is imperative to support what Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov accomplished and "the person who helped him achieve it."

Even if Putin himself is convinced that Ramzan Kadyrov is the most suitable choice for the new Chechen leader, others within his entourage may disagree. Belkovskii was quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 May as claiming that Putin's team is fragmented into up to a dozen interest groups. The same paper claims that representatives of the "siloviki," including the former commander of the federal forces in Chechnya, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, and Yakovlev's predecessor as presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev, both reject Ramzan Kadyrov's candidacy. Kazantsev may aspire to the post himself. Kazantsev's former subordinate, Bislan Gantemirov, who together with other staff of the office of the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District was fired last month, has been compromised by the arrest of four of his bodyguards for the murder of a Chechen family, according to chechenpress.com on 12 May. Troshev, who several years ago was himself rumored to be in the running for the Chechen presidency (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 20 October 2000 and 3 January 2003), has endorsed the candidacy of Aslanbek Aslakhanov, a former Interior Ministry general who represented Chechnya in the last State Duma and withdrew his candidacy for last October's Chechen election to accept a post as Putin's adviser. Aslakhanov, however, has unequivocally thrown his support behind Ramzan Kadyrov. He told Reuters on 12 May that Ramzan Kadyrov is "an outstanding figure in Chechnya,... the de facto leader."

Whether Putin finally decides to back Ramzan Kadyrov or someone else, there seems little doubt, as "The Economist" predicted on14 May, that the outcome of the ballot will be predetermined in Moscow rather than left "to anything so unreliable as the [Chechen] electorate." In that case, there would be little point in the Moscow-based Chechens who sought, but were mostly prevented from, contesting last year's ballot, from making a second attempt. Millionaire businessman Malik Saidullaev has told several Russian papers that he has not yet decided whether to run. (Liz Fuller)

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES ADJAR AFTERMATH WITH EU. Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili told EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana in Brussels on 11 May that the situation in Adjara has returned to normal. According to an EU official present at the meeting, Zurabishvili was keen to stress what she called the "democratic maturity" of the Adjar population.

Zurabishvili said the quick and peaceful resolution of the crisis "surprised" the Georgian authorities in Tbilisi. She noted the role played in the transfer of power by the local population and said it should be acknowledged by the international community.

Zurabishvili stressed that such "democratic maturity" is all the more surprising given the virtual isolation of the region from the outside world during the past 10 years, as well as the limits imposed on democratic and political freedoms by the previous Adjar administration.

Zurabishvili also praised what she termed the "constructive" role played by the Russian government in defusing the standoff between the central government in Tbilisi and Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze in Batumi. Zurabishvili reportedly told Solana that she hopes Russia's conduct may lead to a "new era" in relations between Russia and Georgia, as well between Russia and the entire region. Zourabichvili was quoted by the EU official as saying this represents an "historic opportunity" for Moscow to rethink its role in the region.

Solana for his part informed Zurabishvili of an EU fact-finding mission to Georgia, which will embark next week to study ways the bloc can assist the country in consolidating its law-enforcement structures. The EU is keen to move beyond limiting itself to financial assistance to Georgia via its TACIS aid program. Solana said practical work to help Georgia come closer to EU standards of the rule of law would be a good opportunity for the bloc to increase its visibility among the local population.

Another EU official told RFE/RL on 11 May that the European Commission will make a recommendation to the bloc's member states on 12 May to include Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in the bloc's European Neighborhood Policy. The program offers aid and progressive increases in cooperation that could eventually lead to complete integration in all fields, except for political decision making (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 30 January and 20 and 27 February 2004). (Ahto Lobjakas)

STAMP OUT CORRUPTION, U.S. ROCK STAR TELLS ARMENIAN AUTHORITIES. Serj Tankian, the lead singer of System of a Down, the world's most famous ethnic Armenian rock band, has added his voice to long-standing calls for the eradication of widespread government corruption in Armenia, singling it out as the most serious obstacle to the country's development. In an interview with RFE/RL, Tankian said bribery and other corrupt practices are the main reason why fellow diasporans in the United States and elsewhere in the world avoid large-scale investments in their historic homeland.

"Corruption must be eliminated," the U.S. rock star of Armenian descent said from Los Angeles. "Like the Jews, Armenians have quite a strong diaspora, which is always ready to help the homeland. But every time diaspora Armenians work with businessmen in Armenia they encounter many difficulties because of corruption, mafia, and various problems with the government. Things must be more open because the country needs investments."

"The most important thing is that we return to the roots which the Armenian people had before the Soviet times," he added in fluent Armenian. "That means we must put an end to political corruption, the corrupt system and think about our people."

Those comments revealed a new message in the political discourse of the California-based band better-known for its advocacy of international recognition of the 1915 Armenian Genocide and other, more global causes. A vocal critic of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Tankian teamed up with other American rock musicians in 2002 to form Axis of Justice, a group fighting against corruption and standing up for workers' rights.

System of a Down's commitment to genocide recognition found a new outlet in a benefit show which the progressive-metal quartet staged in a sold-out Los Angeles hall on 24 April, the day of the annual remembrance of some 1.5 million Armenians killed in Ottoman Turkey. The Souls Benefit concert aimed to raise U.S. rock fans' awareness of the tragedy. Proceeds from the concert have been donated to the Armenian National Committee of America and other diaspora groups which have been lobbying the U.S. Congress to officially recognize the mass killings as genocide.

Tankian described the show as a big success. "Not only the concert but media coverage of it have had a quite powerful impact," he said. "We have raised the issue of genocide recognition from the day of the band's creation [in 1995]."

Tankian revealed that he is aware of the political crisis in Armenia, saying he hopes it will be sorted out by "democratic and political means." "I think it's very important for people to stand up for their rights," he said in an apparent reference to the recent antigovernment demonstrations in Yerevan.

Tankian said he visited Armenia on a private trip two year ago and would like to go there again with System of a Down's three other ethnic Armenian members. "We would like to come and we would like to throw a very good concert and maybe even record a live DVD album. But we have not yet planned the details and it is still not clear when," he said, adding that "one or two years" is the most realistic time frame.

In the meantime, System of a Down will work on its new album which is due be released by the end of this year. Its new hits, according to Tankian, will maintain the blend of traditional Armenian tunes and modern rhythms. "Armenian music is part of our identity," the singer said. "We don't need to spend time on a particular kind of music because whatever we do, Armenian music will be in it." (Anna Saghabalian)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "[Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili] sincerely loves power, rather than just the advantages conveyed by the attributes of power." -- Russian National Strategy Institute President Stanislav Belkovskii in an article published in "Vedomosti," 12 May.

"The GUUAM union...is an absolutely artificial body stuffed with U.S. money. " -- Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov, in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 12 May.

"If Armenia is to develop democratically, President Robert Kocharian must resign." -- Viktor Dallakian, a leading member of the opposition Artarutiun alliance, quoted by Interfax on 12 May.

"Armenia must be a democratic country, not a semi-feudal one as is the case now." -- Artarutiun leader Stepan Demirchian (quoted by "Golos Armenii" on 13 May).

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