The Chechen parliament adopted a statement
on March 31 openly criticizing Aleksandr Khloponin, whom Russian President Dmitry Medvedev named two months ago to head the newly created North Caucasus Federal District.
That statement reinforces the hypothesis shared by several analysts
who believe the Chechen authorities, and Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov in particular, view Khloponin's appointment as an attempt to curtail the implicit "special status" Chechnya enjoys vis-a-vis the federal center.
The parliament statement expresses concern at Khloponin's delay in selecting a team that would help implement badly needed reforms to galvanize investment and economic growth in the region. Doing so, they point out, would create new jobs in an area plagued by massive unemployment.
They go on to imply that in light of the destruction wreaked on Chechnya during the fighting of the past 15 years, that republic should automatically qualify for the lion's share of budget funds.
By the same token, they argue, it would have been both a fitting moral gesture and one of "political literacy" if Khloponin had acknowledged the devastation inflicted on Chechnya by making it the first of the North Caucasus republics he visited in his new official capacity. In fact his first visit was to North Ossetia.
The statement concludes by expressing the hope that unnamed "notorious individuals" allegedly constrained to leave Chechnya by the force of negative public opinion will not be named to Khloponin's staff.
That latter formulation, according to an unnamed expert cited by the website kavkaz-uzel.ru
, is a clear allusion to rumors that have been circulating in Grozny for some weeks. Those rumors predict the imminent appointment to Khloponin's staff of two highly controversial figures: former Grozny Mayor Bislan Gantamirov and Interior Ministry Colonel Akhmed Khasambekov.
Gantamirov was arrested in May 1996 and subsequently sentenced to six years in prison for embezzling funds allocated for the reconstruction of the city after the devastation of 1994-95. He told a journalist who managed to interview him in prison that he was improving his understanding of politics by reading the classics of political philosophy. Then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin pardoned him in late 1999, weeks after the start of the second war. He travelled immediately to Chechnya and recruited a detachment that fought in the capture of Grozny in early 2000.
In July 2000, Gantamirov was named first deputy prime minister in the pro-Moscow Chechen government, but he stepped down less than a year later after two highly publicized disputes with Moscow henchman Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, Ramzan's late father, who was killed in a bomb attack in May 2004.
Gantamirov served for a while as an inspector on the staff of the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, then Kadyrov named him minister for the press in early 2002. He quit that post the following year, again due to tensions with Kadyrov, who was elected republic head in September 2003.
Khasambekov served with the North Caucasus headquarters of the Interior Ministry's department for Combating Organized Crime before his appointment in 2000 to head the infamous Second Bureau for Search Operations in Grozny. That agency, which was subordinate directly to the federal Interior Ministry in Moscow, was responsible for the extrajudicial detention, torture, and killing of hundreds of Chechen civilians.
In May 2007, shortly after Ramzan Kadyrov was named republic head, two of his close associates launched a campaign to have the facility closed. As a compromise measure, Khasambekov was dismissed and transferred to a new post as deputy head of the Interior Ministry board for the Southern Federal District, according to kavkaz-uzel.ru on July 24, 2007.
Why Khloponin would agree to the secondment to his staff of two such unsavory individuals, and what specific functions they would be tasked with is unclear. Khloponin has already named four deputies, including Federal Security Service (FSB) Major General Vladimir Shevtsov, who will be responsible for security issues.