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Chechen Leader Further Strengthens His Position

  • Liz Fuller

Ramzan Kadyrov (right) with Vostok commander Sulim Yamadayev (L) and Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov in December 2006

Ramzan Kadyrov (right) with Vostok commander Sulim Yamadayev (L) and Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov in December 2006

Two recent developments in Chechnya reflect the extent to which republic head Ramzan Kadyrov can still impose his will on Moscow to rid himself of any figure whom he perceives as a potential threat to his authority.

Visiting Grozny on November 8, Colonel General Vladimir Moltenskoi, who served from October 2001 to September 2002 as commander of the combined Russian forces in the North Caucasus and is now deputy commander in chief of the Russian land forces, announced that the controversial Vostok (East) and Zapad (West) battalions subordinate to Russian military intelligence (GRU) will be disbanded, and their personnel subsumed into the 42nd Motorized Rifle Division permanently deployed in Chechnya. The two battalions were the only Chechen-manned fighting units in Chechnya over which Kadyrov had no personal control, and the loyalty of whose personnel he therefore considered suspect.

Since an altercation in April between Vostok personnel and his own bodyguards, Kadyrov has been campaigning for the disbanding of the battalion and for criminal charges of murder and abduction to be brought against its commander, Sulim Yamadayev. Yamadayev was removed as commander in May, and on August 1 a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was demobilized at the end of August, and his current whereabouts are not known. Reports on November 8 that he had been named to head a military-intelligence detachment in Taganrog were denied on November 10 by the Defense Ministry.

Also on November 10, Kadyrov's press service named witnesses who it claimed have confirmed that Yamadayev personally ordered the abduction and subsequent murder early last year of businessmen Yunus and Yusup Arsamakov, brothers of Moscow Industrial Bank President Abubakar Arsamakov. The two men disappeared in southern Chechnya on February 8, 2007, together with their driver; their bodies were never found, and their family hoped they were still alive, but has recently held the statutory wake for them.

Yamadayev is said to have visited the Arsamakovs' parents and sworn on the Koran that he had nothing to do with the disappearance of the two men, according to on November 11; the website quoted Abubakar Arsamakov as telling Russian media he believes Yamadayev's protestation of his innocence.

Legal Conflicts

A second agency that over the past few years has repeatedly challenged actions or statements by Chechen government officials is the office of the republic's prosecutor-general. Over the past three years, since the appointment in December 2005 of Valery Kuznetsov as prosecutor-general, that agency has implemented a crackdown on corruption, of which the most prominent victim was Vakha Baybatyrov, the first head of the state committee tasked with allocating compensation to Chechens whose homes were destroyed, or relatives killed, during the fighting between 1994-2001. Also prosecuted during Kuznetsov's tenure was a senior Interior Ministry official whose subordinates systematically killed innocent Chechen civilians that he subsequently claimed were resistance fighters, according to "Kommersant" on November 12.

In June 2007, Kuznetsov's office lodged a formal protest with the Chechen parliament, noting that the recently adopted law on the human rights plenipotentiary contradicted the corresponding federal law. Four months later, in October 2007, it protested as violating the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which stipulates the separation of church and state, a Chechen government decree on establishing a State Islamic Institute.

In March 2008, the prosecutor's office identified a pattern of major financial irregularities within the Ministry for Property and Land Ownership, and in late May, several instances in which the State Committee for Architecture and Urban Construction approved the opening of shops and gas stations that failed to meet fire-regulation requirements. Also in late May, it registered widespread violations of prison-camp regulations (overcrowding and lack of adequate sanitary facilities).

In an implicit criticism of the prosecutor's office, Kadyrov said during a February 2008 meeting in Grozny with staff from the Moscow-based human rights watchdog Memorial that he does not control the activities of all law enforcement agencies. Many of them, he complained, continue to take orders solely from their central superior bodies, which is the reason why "representatives of the power bodies fail to take action with regard to many of the crimes committed in Chechnya," reported on February 23.

Chechen human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhadzhiyev, who is close to Kadyrov, criticized the work of the republic's prosecutor's office in general, and Kuznetsov personally, during parliament hearings in May 2007. Nukhadzhiyev asked the republic's authorities on that occasion to demand that the federal Prosecutor-General's Office replace Kuznetsov and open a criminal investigation into the work of his office. He also accused Kuznetsov's office of not doing anything to locate people who had been kidnapped or simply vanished without a trace.

Kuznetsov has now been transferred to Rostov Oblast, where he will serve in the same capacity, reported on November 11. During his confirmation hearings in the Rostov Oblast Duma on November 11, he described his time in Chechnya as extremely valuable to his professional development, noting that "I acquired experience in dealing with such powerful leaders as Ramzan Kadyrov." It is not yet known who will replace Kuznetsov in Grozny.