Last year may prove to have been a turning point in the post-Soviet history of Chechnya. In early April 2007, Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov was formally installed as the republic's head, cementing his personal authority and giving fresh impetus to the ongoing energetic reconstruction of the republic's war-shattered infrastructure. In late October, Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) President and resistance leader Doku Umarov proclaimed a North Caucasus emirate encompassing not only Chechnya but the region's other republics, a move that effectively demolished his mandate to represent the Chechen people in their aspiration to independent statehood.
Kadyrov has thus emerged as the primary factor determining how the situation in Chechnya will evolve over the next five to 10 years. Aged only 31, he could conceivably head the republic for the next decade or longer, assuming he does not fall victim to an assassination attempt (like his late father) or fatal illness, or manifest megalomaniac tendencies that compel Moscow to replace him. Although he currently wields virtually unlimited power within Chechnya, Kadyrov's policies and actions are nonetheless still circumscribed by a handful of domestic political constraints -- by his relations with, and the extent of his dependency on, the most influential figures and factions within the federal leadership in Moscow and by the continued existence of the ChRI government in exile that, while not internationally recognized, nonetheless claims to be the sole legitimately elected representation of the Chechen people.
Other factors that could negatively impact the situation in Chechnya are the ongoing low-level insurgency waged throughout the North Caucasus under the banner of militant Islam by the armed resistance headed by Umarov and political instability in neighboring North Caucasus republics, in particular Ingushetia and Daghestan. This instability is fuelled by Moscow's seeming inability to devise and implement measures to crack down on corruption and cronyism and to galvanize the region's moribund economy, a failure that only fuels the alienation of much of the population and impels young men to join the resistance.
Those players and factors, individually or in combination, could affect Kadyrov's authority and his leeway to implement his vision of what kind of polity Chechnya should become and how its relations with Moscow and with other North Caucasus republics should develop.
The Kadyrov Phenomenon
More than eight years after the beginning of the second Russian incursion into Chechnya in October 1999, that republic has reverted to relative stability. Fighting between resistance forces and federal or Chechen Interior Ministry troops is generally low-level and sporadic. Human rights watchdogs such as the Moscow-based Memorial affirm that the number of abductions and other serious human rights violations has declined markedly since early 2007. Over the past three years, there has been remarkable progress in rebuilding at least Grozny and other large towns.
The credit for that transformation lies largely with Kadyrov, whose father Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov -- a former Chechen mufti who sided with the resistance during the 1994-96 war -- Russian President Vladimir Putin installed as the Kremlin's henchman in Chechnya in June 2000.
Ruthless, sadistic, and with only a rudimentary secondary education, but a seemingly insatiable appetite for power, Ramzan Kadyrov became head of an armed force of several thousand men, officially designated Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's "presidential" security force, whose actual task was to target members of the Chechen resistance. That force, known as the "kadyrovtsy," was based in Tsentoroi, in southeastern Chechnya. According to Russian journalists, the younger Kadyrov maintained a private prison there in which Chechens suspected of collaborating with the resistance forces were routinely tortured and killed.
Kadyrov has dismissed such reports as "spread by Russia's enemies," according to the Russian edition of "Newsweek" in February 2005. But video footage shot clandestinely in late 2006 showing him dancing with a half-naked girl while his thugs tortured a detainee whose screams are audible above the sound of music and Kadyrov's laughter, constitutes further evidence of his psychopathic streak. The "Sunday Times" on April 1, 2007, reported that victims have described to human rights organizations how Kadyrov personally tortured them, in at least one case using a blowtorch.
Following Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's death in May 2004 in a bomb blast for which the maverick Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility, pro-Moscow Chechen politicians lobbied Moscow to name Ramzan Kadyrov immediately as his father's successor. But it was decided for unknown reasons not to waive the constitutional requirement setting 30 as the minimum age for republic head (Kadyrov was then 27). He was, however, named a deputy prime minister with responsibility for law and order, and he publicly vowed to wipe out the remaining Chechen resistance fighters, including then-ChRI President Aslan Maskhadov, whom he blamed for failing to prevent Basayev's ill-fated incursion into Daghestan in August 1999 that triggered the second war within a decade.
The kadyrovtsy were transformed into various police and security forces, but maintained their collective loyalty to Kadyrov personally. In his last interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service before his death in March 2005, Maskhadov identified then-Federal Security Service head Nikolai Patrushev as the "godfather" of the pro-Moscow police force (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," March 11, 2005).
Chechen Interior Minister Alu Alkhanov was elected in August 2004 to succeed the elder Kadyrov in a ballot in which the sole rival candidate who posed a serious threat, Moscow-based businessman Malik Saidullayev, was refused registration.
In late October 2004, two months after Alkhanov's election, Kadyrov was promoted to first deputy prime minister. He was also appointed an aide to Dmitry Kozak, whom Putin had named in the wake of the Beslan school hostage-taking two months previously as presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District. Then in December 2004, Putin bestowed on Kadyrov the prestigious Hero Of Russia award, to the consternation and outrage of Russian human rights activists.
As first deputy premier, Kadyrov assumed additional responsibilities for economic issues, including reconstruction and the distribution of financial compensation for property destroyed or damaged during the fighting of the previous decade. Within a year, he had secured the reluctant respect of many Chechens by his ability simply to get things done, an ability that is reflected most visibly in the transformation of Grozny from a wasteland of half- or totally destroyed buildings into a functioning city. A journalist for the "New York Times" who visited Grozny in September 2007 highlighted the construction of new sidewalks, stores and cafes, and a considerable number of apartment buildings. Electricity, gas, and water supplies had also been restored to most districts. In February 2008, the "Economist" similarly observed that now "you can fly into Grozny, take a taxi, and go to a restaurant," which would have been inconceivable three years earlier.
But from the outset, Kadyrov almost certainly availed himself of his access to financial resources to consolidate his personal power base, given that his extensive financial interests (which include a chain of gas stations in Chechnya and Daghestan) did not generate enough income to cover his expenditures on state-of-the-art weaponry for his so-called presidential security service.
As of early 2008, reconstruction efforts have been launched in selected villages in southern Chechnya that suffered heavy war damage. Media outlets controlled by the pro-Moscow leadership report almost daily the opening of new schools, the rebuilding of bridges, and the laying of gas mains. The economy, however, remains moribund, and unemployment is currently at 76.9 percent of the able-bodied population, or 514,536 of a total population of 1.2 million, according to kavkaz-uzel.ru on May 13.
Answering questions in late January 2008 in a televised live phone-in, Kadyrov admitted that only 2,250 people were provided with permanent employment in all of 2007, while there are chronic shortages of trained construction workers, agronomists, and engineers.
Other long-term negative consequences of the fighting include extensive ecological damage caused by oil spills and, according to some accounts, the use by the Russian military of chemical weapons, which has led to a steep rise in the incidence of cancer, congenital defects, and infant mortality. The fighting has also inflicted considerable psychological trauma on virtually the entire population, in particular the thousands of orphans whose predicament Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad highlights in her recent book "The Angel Of Grozny: Inside Chechnya." Coping with those problems over the lifetimes of those affected will place a huge strain on medical and social services.
Much of the reconstruction work for which Kadyrov claims credit is not financed entirely by Moscow, but at least in part by a system under which all budget employees are required to pay a percentage of their monthly salary, and business owners a percentage of their profits, into the so-called Akhmed Kadyrov Fund. "Argumenty i fakty" on October 31, 2007, quoted police officers as admitting that while their nominal monthly salary is 20,000 rubles ($840), they actually receive only 15,000-17,000, the balance being deducted as a "donation."
Meanwhile, a large chunk of the subsidies Chechnya receives annually from the federal budget is reportedly skimmed off by members of the government to finance their private business interests elsewhere in southern Russia, according to the same "Argumenty i fakty" article. A recent assessment by the Audit Chamber established that federal subsidies account for 95 percent of Chechnya's budget revenues (59 billion rubles, or $2.48 billion), regnum.ru reported on April 28. At the same time, Deputy Finance Minister Ilyas Edilgireyev complained in January that there are not enough budget funds available to pay a planned 14 percent wage increase for teachers and medical workers, according to regnum.ru on January 28.
Despite the huge sums of money allocated by Moscow for financial compensation for relatives killed or property destroyed during the fighting, problems with the program persist. The original program for was approved in the spring of 2003, and applications were to be submitted between August 1 and November 1, 2003. It was envisaged that the money would be disbursed by the end of 2004, Interfax reported on April 17, 2003, quoting Stanislav Ilyasov, the Russian government official then responsible for Chechnya.
The initial maximum payment for destroyed homes was pegged at 240,000 rubles, but Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov protested that the sum was inadequate, and the maximum was raised to 300,000 rubles for homes destroyed and a further 50,000 rubles for other property. Kadyrov estimated the number of families eligible to receive compensation at 39,000, and 8,000 claims were received by November 1, 2003.
The Russian government provided 14 billion rubles in 2003 alone to finance the compensation program. From the outset, however, it was bogged down in delays caused by red tape, the difficulty experienced by some households in proving their eligibility, fraudulent claims (over 1,000 in the course of 2004, according to Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov), and corruption in the form of bureaucrats demanding a cut for signing off on compensation claims.
By mid-2004, only 4,000 families believed eligible for compensation had received it, and disbursements were temporarily suspended to enable the prosecutor's office to verify eligibility. By the end of that year, 32,000 families were reported to have received compensation. Applications by people whose loyalty to the pro-Moscow leadership was suspect, including relatives of the staff of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, were routinely rejected, however.
The chairman of the committee tasked with approving compensation claims, Abubakar Baybatyrov, was arrested in the fall of 2005 and charged with embezzling 18 million rubles in compensation money. He was later sentenced to just 18 months' imprisonment. Observers in Grozny suggested to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting that Baybatyrov was simply a scapegoat and that members of the Chechen government had embezzled funds earmarked for reconstruction. Some believed that Kadyrov himself routinely demanded a percentage of the stolen cash (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," March 3, 2006).
Payment of further compensation was suspended in 2006 in the wake of that scandal. As of late 2007 there was reportedly still a backlog of 98,000 unprocessed claims, according to Chechen Prime Minister Odes Baysultanov. Some 50,000 of those were evaluated in the first three months of 2008, but only 8,000 people will receive compensation this year, according to regnum.ru on March 26.
Kadyrov's undisputed success in transforming Grozny is the result primarily of a degree of personal authority that empowers him to issue orders, knowing that they will be carried out promptly and to the letter. As noted above, Kadyrov received only a rudimentary formal education, a lack he sought to compensate by acquiring a degree in law. Asked by the late Anna Politkovskaya in a 2004 interview about his legal studies and what specific branch of law he was specializing in, he responded, "I've forgotten. But I've got it written down somewhere."
Russian human rights activist Tatyana Lokshina observed in an extensive interview published on May 3, 2006, in the Prague-based on-line "Caucasus Times" that at the time of his father's death, Kadyrov was barely able to utter a single coherent sentence (he speaks Russian with a pronounced Chechen accent) and that when speaking publicly he would invariably make some silly or totally inappropriate comment. The "Economist" described his speech at his inauguration ceremony in May 2007 as "as short and nervous as a schoolboy's."
In March 2006, Kadyrov was named prime minister following the resignation of incumbent Sergei Abramov, who was badly injured in an automobile accident four months earlier that was adduced as the rationale for his transfer back to Moscow. Then in March 2007, following a protracted power struggle with Alkhanov, the latter stepped down, paving the way for Kadyrov's installation as republic head. Kadyrov named a cousin on his mother's side, Odes Baysultanov, to head the new cabinet; a second close relative, Deputy Prime Minister Adam Delimkhanov, was promoted to first deputy prime minister with responsibility for security and law and order. Delimkhanov was elected to the Russian State Duma in December 2007.
Kadyrov's efforts to improve the everyday lives of the Chechen people by providing at least housing and basic amenities, if not employment, have been paralleled by a multifaceted campaign to promote his own image as the sole guarantor not only of stability and eventual economic upswing, but of the national heritage as well. One of his earliest initiatives was the creation of a network of clubs, all named Ramzan, to promote sport, physical fitness, and "patriotism" among a younger generation that has only the haziest memories of a time when Chechnya was not at war.
The most visible evidence of the "cult of personality" that has grown up around Kadyrov are the ubiquitous posters and photographs of him displayed in Grozny (his periodic requests that these should be removed are routinely ignored) and his dominance of local media. It is not clear to what extent this personality cult was the brainchild of the team of advisers (including some Russians) with whom Moscow provided him in 2005. Lokshina credits that team with transforming him from a "dilettante" to a "full-fledged professional in the sphere of political populism."
In addition, since 2005 Kadyrov has embarked on a program purportedly intended to reinforce "Islamic values." To that end, he has banned gambling, drugs, and the sale of all alcoholic beverages. He has issued a controversial edict requiring all women to dress "modestly" in public, including wearing headscarves, a restriction that has triggered considerable resentment (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," February 29, 2008). The requirement, reported by kavkaz-uzel.ru on November 26, that all theater performances and songs performed publicly should "conform to Chechen mentality and education" is just one step away from the ban imposed by the late Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on performances of European opera and ballet.
As part of what appears to be a new brand of ethno-nationalism, Kadyrov has also energetically promulgated a revival of Chechen popular or "folk" Islam that also selectively borrows, and in some cases grotesquely distorts, the symbols and rituals of Chechen Sufism, while ignoring its essence (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," December 7, 2007). His long-term program for redefining and strengthening Chechen national identity extends to the promotion of the Chechen language. Beginning in September 2008, teaching in 20 primary schools will be conducted in Chechen, not Russian, and that number will be gradually increased, Education Minister Anzor Muzayev told regnum.ru on April 9.
A further aspect of Kadyrov's efforts at ethnic consolidation are his repeated appeals to those Chechens who fled the republic during the fighting and now live either elsewhere in Russia or abroad to return -- although he stresses that he cannot guarantee them either employment or housing. As a result of the out migration of the Russian population since 1994, Chechnya has become ethnically the most homogenous of all the North Caucasus republics. As of 2003 there were just 30,000 Russians left in Chechnya, "Izvestiya" reported on April 17, 2003, quoting Amin Osmayev, then speaker of the upper chamber of the Chechen parliament. The population of Chechnya at the time of the 2002 census was given as 1,088,816, although many demographers questioned that figure as being implausibly high. As of January 2007, that figure had reportedly risen to 1,205,000 regnum.ru reported on February 7, 2008.
Kadyrov is still widely resented and feared to the point that no one dares criticize him openly. But to a population demoralized and traumatized by a decade of war, upheaval, and deprivation, the current comparative stability, however grim and repressive, is viewed as a heaven-sent respite and has earned him the grudging respect of many Chechens.
One Chechen woman quoted by the "Los Angeles Times" on the eve of the November 2005 parliamentary ballot listed her hopes for the future as the following: "That the shooting will stop, that kids will go back to school, that life will get better, and we'll be able to go to bed and sleep without being afraid."
Shooting has indeed become less frequent; children have returned to school; and even the human rights center Memorial concedes that the incidence of arbitrary abductions and killings of Chechen civilians has fallen dramatically over the past couple of years. Not all Chechens share that perception, however. In a poll of 400 Grozny residents conducted in November 2007, the Prague-based "Caucasus Times" found that 48 percent of respondents did not think there has been any decline in the number of murders and abductions. In the same poll, 39 percent of respondents said they consider a new war "entirely possible," and a further 18 percent thought it "more likely than not," while only 12 percent excluded that possibility completely. Those who were pessimistic identified Kadyrov's "arbitrary" decisions and the personality cult he encourages as the most likely catalysts for renewed fighting. In addition, 33 percent of respondents said they plan to leave Chechnya and settle permanently elsewhere in Russia.
All the same, the "Economist" noted on February 29 that despite residual resentment of the Kadyrov regime, "people can't fight any more. They are physically and morally exhausted. Call it self-preservation instinct." In five or 10 years time, however, if foreign investment does not flow in and the economy does not take off in the wake of reconstruction, if the inequities in payment of compensation persist, if Moscow declines to increase economic subsidies, and unemployment remains high, that exhaustion could gradually mutate into a new wave of popular discontent.
Rivals, Adversaries, Constraints
The price for the tenuous stability Kadyrov has brought to Chechnya has been the suppression to the maximum extent of any person or organization perceived as posing an actual or potential challenge to his authority. As noted above, his predecessor, Alkhanov, was dismissed following a protracted standoff between the two men that erupted into violence on at least one occasion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2006).
Suspected traitors have been sidelined or even killed. Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudayev died in early December 2005 in a trailer fire that investigators pronounced an accident. Movladi Baysarov was stripped in September 2006 of command of the Gorets (Mountaineer) unit directly subordinate to the Chechen FSB directorate that coordinated counterterrorism operations in Chechnya, and he was gunned down in the street in broad daylight in Moscow two months later.
Chechen First Deputy Interior Minister Alambek Yasayev was dismissed from his post last fall and fled to Moscow after security officials subordinate to Kadyrov reportedly attacked his men, according to kavkaz-uzel.ru on November 19.
Kadyrov controls not only the executive branch, selecting ministers whose loyalty to himself is beyond question, but also the legislature. Members of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party won 33 of the 58 seats in the parliament elected in November 2005, and Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, a staunch Kadyrov loyalist who previously served as agriculture minister and then deputy premier, was elected to chair the lower house.
The only government agency that still dares openly to question government policy is the republican prosecutor's office, which has traditionally been headed by a Russian. The current prosecutor, Valery Kuznetsov, was named to that post in December 2005. In October 2007, his office 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, it identified a pattern of major financial irregularities within the Ministry of 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 (over-crowding, lack of adequate sanitary facilities). In an implicit criticism of the prosecutor's office, Kadyrov said during his 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," kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on February 23.
True, there have been occasional indications of efforts to undermine or embarrass Kadyrov. The most spectacular was the announcement by Kadyrov's press service in August 2006 of the alleged surrender of ChRI President and resistance commander Doku Umarov. It was subsequently announced that the man who turned himself in was Umarov's brother (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 21, 2006). It is not clear, however, whether that disinformation originated within Kadyrov's entourage or whether it was circulated by Alkhanov.
There are nonetheless still nuclei that could evolve into, or be mobilized by a third party as, a challenge to Kadyrov. The first is the former resistance fighters who took advantage of amnesties proclaimed in 2003 and 2006 by the Russian State Duma to lay down their arms, return to their families, and take up employment within the pro-Moscow police. According to a January 2008 analysis by Sergei Markedonov posted on politcom.ru, up to 90 percent of the security forces loyal to Kadyrov are former militants. Then ChRI Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakayev said in a Chechenpress interview of August 13, 2006, that more than half the purportedly pro-Moscow Chechen police are former resistance fighters, and that many of them supply information and even weapons to the resistance.
The North and South Interior Ministry special battalions established in 2006 likewise include a high proportion of former resistance fighters, as does the so-called East (Vostok) battalion headed by Sulim Yamadayev, who fought under Maskhadov in the 1994-1996 war. By contrast, none of the 300 members of the West (Zapad) battalion are former resistance fighters and its commander, Said-Magomed Kakiyev, fought in 1994-96 on the Russian side, earning the prestigious Hero of Russia decoration.
Relations between the North and South battalions, which are subordinate to Kadyrov, on the one hand, and East and West, on the other, are strained. In a November 23, 2007, interview with utro.ru, Yamadayev implicitly criticized the North and South battalions for thwarting efforts by his men to apprehend militants. Alkhanov is said to have sought to co-opt both Yamadayev and Kakiyev in the spring of 2006 as his power struggle with Kadyrov intensified (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," May 25, 2006).
Both the East and the West battalions are subordinated to Russian military intelligence (GRU) and affiliated with the Defense Ministry's 42nd Motorized Infantry Brigade. Vostok, in particular, has a checkered history. Its members were branded responsible for a May 2005 incident in which uniformed armed Chechens closed in on the Avar-populated village of Borozdinovskaya in northeastern Chechnya. They burned several homes and abducted 11 men who have never been found. Yamadayev denied any involvement in that incident, and some Russian commentators suggested that Kadyrov (then Chechen deputy prime minister) might have orchestrated it in order to discredit Yamadayev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22 and 24 and August 16, 2005). A legal demand for compensation brought by Borozdinovskaya villagers against the Russian Defense Ministry was rejected. In the fall of 2006, Yamadayev's men went on the rampage at a meat-packing plant near St. Petersburg that was owned by one of Yamadayev's rivals.
Kadyrov is similarly said to mistrust Kakiyev, and in June 2007 at least four Zapad members were killed in a shoot-out in Grozny with police loyal to Kadyrov--reportedly shot in the back. Markedonov quoted Kakiyev as saying after that incident, "We didn't fight for the territorial integrity of Russia to end up getting killed."
But Kadyrov apparently regards Vostok as posing a more serious threat, and in early 2008 reportedly called for it to be disbanded after Demilkhanov said residents of Chechnya's southeastern Vedeno Raion had complained about unspecified reprisals committed by Vostok servicemen.
The pro-Moscow Chechen parliament seized on a standoff in mid-April in Kadyrov's hometown of Gudermes following a traffic accident in which Vostok personnel and members of Kadyrov's bodyguard were involved to demand that either Vostok be disbanded or Yamadayev replaced as its leader. Kadyrov announced on May 12 that Yamadayev had indeed been removed as Vostok's commander, but the Russian Defense Ministry has not confirmed that claim.
According to the daily "Kommersant" on May 14, both Sulim Yamadayev and his brother Ruslan attended Medvedev's inauguration one week earlier. Then on June 10, senior Defense Ministry official Vladimir Shamanov announced that neither Vostok nor Zapad will be disbanded as they "not only fulfill important tasks within the Combined Group of Forces in the Caucasus, but also perform peacekeeping duties in Abkhazia and South Ossetia," ITAR-TASS reported.
In addition to the potential military threat posed by the armed resistance, which will be discussed below, the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership faces an albeit hypothetical legal challenge to its authority from the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) government and parliament in exile. That challenge derives from the argument that the declaration in November 27, 1990, by the then-Checheno-Ingush ASSR parliament defining that republic as a sovereign state that was part neither of the Russian Federation nor the USSR was "in complete accordance with the universally accepted principles of international law, and also of the law in force at that time on the territory of the USSR." The latter is a reference to the law of April 26,1990, that upgraded the status of Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics (ASSRs) to the level of union republics and thus bestowed upon the ASSRs the constitutional right enjoyed by the union republics to secede from the USSR.
Chechens universally construed the subsequent edict issued on November 1, 1991, by then-Chechen President Djokhar Dudayev reaffirming the "state sovereignty of the Chechen Republic" as effectively sealing the republic's de jure emergence as an independent state (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," November 15, 2007).
In May 1997, then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president four months earlier in a ballot recognized by both Moscow and the international community as valid, free, and fair, signed a three-paragraph Treaty on Peace and the Principles of Mutual Relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic Ichkeria that was seen at the time of signing as legal corroboration by Moscow of Chechnya's independent status. The second paragraph of that treaty affirms the readiness of both sides to build relations in accordance with the principles and norms of international law.
By early 1999, however, Maskhadov was under increasing pressure from radical Islamists within the Chechen leadership. In August 1999, maverick field commander Shamil Basayev spearheaded an armed incursion into Daghestan and proclaimed an independent Islamic state encompassing both Chechnya and Daghestan, a challenge that precipitated the second Russian military intervention in Chechnya and effectively demolished what residual support Maskhadov could count on abroad.
Subsequent acts of terrorism for which Basayev claimed responsibility -- the hostage takings in Moscow in October 2002 and Beslan in September 2004 -- were adduced as further proof of Maskhadov's inability to control the military arm of the unrecognized state he claimed to head. The Russian authorities touted the orchestrated election of Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov as Chechen Republic head in October 2003 and the adoption in a rigged referendum in March 2004 of a new constitution defining the Chechen Republic as a constituent part of the Russian Federation as legally valid and binding, and thus as superceding and annulling the ChRI constitution adopted in March 1992.
The viability and political influence of the ChRI was further called into question in late October 2007 when then-ChRI President and resistance commander Doku Umarov proclaimed himself the ruler of a hypothetical North Caucasus emirate encompassing not only Chechnya and Ingushetia, but also Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, North Ossetia, and part of Stavropol Krai. Russian commentator Markedonov, writing in November 2007 on apn.ru, construed this move as heralding the eclipse by a new Islamic ideology of the ethno-nationalism that served as the catalyst for the initial campaign for Chechen independence and hence for 1994-96 war. In the name of that hypothetical state, Umarov issued threats (subsequently retracted) of military reprisals against the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, and "all those who wage war against Islam and Muslims."
The ChRI authorities in exile swiftly and unequivocally condemned Umarov's proclamation as undermining the legal arguments underpinning the status of the ChRI as an independent sovereign state. In a bid both to distance themselves from Umarov and to salvage some semblance of legitimacy, an indeterminate number of members of the parliament in exile conducted a telephone vote, after which the parliament duly issued a statement, posted on November 6 on the website chechenews.com, announcing that Umarov had been formally stripped of his powers as president. ChRI parliament First Deputy Chairman Selim Beshayev told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service the same day that Umarov's proclamation of a North Caucasus emirate violated the ChRI Constitution, given that the presidential oath of office obliges the president to strengthen and defend the sovereignty of the ChRI.
Then on November 23, the ChRI parliament, onto which the presidential powers devolved, issued a decree naming Akhmed Zakayev, a close associate of President Aslan Maskhadov since the beginning of the 1994-96 war, to head a new government. Zakayev was wounded during the fighting in 2000 and left Chechnya to receive medical treatment. In late 2002 he sought political asylum in the United Kingdom, which he was formally granted one year later. He served as Maskhadov's senior envoy in Europe. Maskhadov's successor, Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev, appointed him ChRI deputy prime minister and foreign minister in May 2006. In that capacity, he has sought doggedly to promote awareness among European governments of the legal dimension of the confrontation between the Chechen people and the Russian government.
Some members of the ChRI parliament and government remain in Chechnya, although their identities and numerical strength and the influence they wield can only be guessed at. Chechenpress reported on March 6, 2008 that four days earlier an unspecified number of deputies from the ChRI parliament elected in 1997 met on the outskirts of Grozny to assess the work of the ChRI government and the ongoing military operations against the resistance by federal and Chechen forces.
Meanwhile, an acrimonious Internet polemic continues between supporters of Umarov and the "emiratists" on the one hand, and of the ChRI, on the other, with the former launching a "legal investigation" in early 2008 into crimes allegedly committed by Zakayev. Addressing fighters of the Southwestern Front at a meeting in early April also attended by field commanders from Ingushetia, Daghestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria, Umarov stated that neutralizing the remaining members of the ChRI government currently takes precedence over other military operations. (Video footage of Umarov's address to that gathering and those of several other amirs is posted on the website kavkazcenter.com.)
Armed Resistance And Propaganda
In one key respect, Kadyrov has failed to meet Vladimir Putin's expectations. He has not eradicated the Chechen armed resistance, despite his repeated claims over the past two years that only a few dozen isolated fighters remain in the mountains, completely bereft of popular support. By contrast, Vostok commander Sulim Yamadayev was quoted by the "Daily Telegraph" on March 27, 2007 as saying, "The war is not over, it is far from being over. What we are facing now is basically a classic partisan war, and my prognosis is that it will last two, three, maybe even five more years."
In a recent interview with "Front Page" reprinted on chechenpress.info on March 26, 2008, Zakayev likewise characterized the ongoing fighting as "a typical partisan war" in which the Russian side frequently deploys air power and artillery against the resistance. Putin himself told senior FSB personnel in January that despite what he termed " a breakthrough" in 2007, Moscow is still not in complete control of the North Caucasus, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on January 31. Those assessments are borne out by the accounts of military activities posted regularly on resistance websites such as chechenpress.info and kavkazcenter.com chronicling almost daily strikes against pro-Moscow police and security personnel, primarily in Grozny and the south of Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," November 1, 2007).
Between April 21 and May 22, 2008, kavkazcenter.com reported six separate resistance assaults, four of them in Grozny (on April 21, May 5, 14, and 21) that reportedly killed at least nine and wounded 10 Russian servicemen pro-Moscow Chechen police. In addition, an armored personnel carrier was blown up in the village of Eshelkhatoi in Vedeno on May 11, reportedly killing two, while the Eastern Front launched an attack in Kurchaloi, southeast of Grozny, on May 14, killing four more. Although Zakayev said in his March interview that the resistance has orders to "desist from large-scale attacks" because "we are convinced that time is on our side," some larger-scale operations have been reported in recent months.
For example, in late March, 2008, up to 70 resistance fighters reportedly took total control of the village of Alkhazurovo southwest of Grozny, set fire to the local administration building and killed between five and 13 pro-Moscow Chechen police before retreating three hours later. On April 20, an even larger detachment of fighters -- reportedly numbering between 400 and 500 -- simultaneously occupied the villages of Bamut, Yandi-Kotar, Ashkhoy-Kotar, Gekhi-Chu, and Shalazhi, west and southwest of Grozny, taking prisoner up to 15 of Kadyrov's men and killing 18.
Estimates of the total number of resistance fighters based in Chechnya vary widely and are hypothetical insofar as individual units are highly mobile and cross freely between Chechnya and neighboring republics. Russian Interior Ministry and FSB officials have over the past several years cited estimates ranging from several hundred to 1,000 fighters. In November 2006, Colonel General Yevgeny Barayev, commander of the Group of Federal Forces in the North Caucasus, cited a figure of 700. One month later, Interior Ministry Forces commander Colonel General Nikolai Rogozhkin gave the figure of 800-1,000. In early February 2007 and again in mid-March, Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Arkady Yedelev gave an estimate of 450 men; but whereas in February he said they were subdivided into 46 groups, in March he gave the figure of 37. In March 2008 -- after the split within the resistance between those who support Umarov and those who remain loyal to Zakayev and the ChRI leadership in exile -- Rogozhkin cited a figure of between 400 and 500 fighters still active in the entire North Caucasus. By contrast, Umarov claimed in a video posted in March 2008 on the website kavkazcenter.com that some 1,000 fighters were wintering in Chechnya alone. Indeed, one could ask why, if Kadyrov's figure of "a few dozen" militants is correct, the Russian Interior Ministry still had 23,000 troops deployed in Chechnya as of late March 2008.
Russian and pro-Russian Chechen arguments that the resistance is a spent force focus on the killing over the past three years of prominent Chechen field commanders Aslan Maskhadov (March 2005), his successor Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev (June 2006), Shamil Basayev (July 2006), Sultan Khadisov (September 2006), Tahir Batayev (March 2007), Suleiman Imurzayev, aka Khayrulla (April 2007), Amir Muslim (July 2007), and Ramzan Saluyev (October 2007). Assessing its work since its inception in late April 2007, the Chechen Republic Antiterrorism Commission reported on March 12, 2008 that 12 field commanders and 60 militants have been killed over that time, while 444 members of illegal armed formations have been captured, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported.
But that obsession with figures that may or may not reflect accurately the strength of the resistance at any given moment. It ignores the crucial point, made by Umarov in an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service in April 2006, that the number of young men who want to join the resistance is (or was at that time) far greater than the capacity to train them.
Kadyrov admitted in February 2008 that the exodus of young men to join the resistance ranks continues, and he warned the parents of the young men involved that they will be held responsible for their failure to bring up their children "properly," "in accordance with Islamic values." In June 2007, the website kavkazcenter.com quoted a source within the pro-Moscow Chechen Interior Ministry as saying that 350 young men had "headed for the mountains" since the beginning of the year; in a November 2007 interview with utro.ru, Vostok battalion commander Yamadayev gave a figure of just over 100 young men, mostly aged 15 or 16, 19 at the most, and who had lost a father or brother during the fighting. In a May 20 interview with "Krasnaya zvezda," Major General Nikolai Sivak, who commands the Combined Group of Forces in the North Caucasus, said the flow of young men joining the ranks of the resistance continues, but he did not cite concrete figures.
Zakayev in October 2007 identified as the eminence grise behind Umarov's proclamation of a North Caucasus emirate Movladi Udugov, who served as press and information minister under Dudayev and Maskhadov, and played a key role during the first war in providing information on the fighting. Zakayev engaged in a public polemic in early 2006 with Udugov, who already at that time rejected an independent Chechnya in favor of an Islamic state encompassing the entire North Caucasus, and who argued that resistance fighters should not be constrained by the norms of international law.
Since 1999, Udugov has run the pro-Islamist website kavkazcenter.com, which now serves to promulgate Umarov's pronouncements and decrees while denigrating Zakayev and other leading political figures currently living outside Russia. For example, in early June it reported that singer Timur Mutsurayev returned several weeks earlier to Chechnya and met with Kadyrov with the aim of promoting a rapprochement between Kadyrov and Zakayev, and that Zakayev approved that initiative. The ChRI government press service has denied that report; Kadyrov's press service has neither confirmed nor denied it.
In addition, kavkazcenter.com provides accounts of the ongoing hostilities (although the casualty figures it cites are frequently inflated), and highlights purported rifts within the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership: it was, for example, the first to report on the nascent tensions between Kadyrov and Sulim Yamadayev. The website also features unsourced allegations clearly intended to compromise, and undermine trust in, Kadyrov, such as a report dated March 8, 2008, alleging that Putin has co-opted Kadyrov and his cousin Baysultanov to organize the assassination by a sniper of Putin's chosen successor Dmitry Medvedev in order to facilitate Putin's return to the presidency. Moreover, that assassination is allegedly to be carried out in such a way as to implicate the Georgian leadership and thus furnish the rationale for a massive retaliation against Georgia in the form of the annexation of the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The Chechen Economy
The economic damage inflicted on Chechnya in the course of military operations between December 1994 and 2000 is mind-boggling. In a study first published in April 2003 and reposted in January 2008 on chechenews.com, former Russian Supreme Soviet speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov and former Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin estimated the damage to industry and infrastructure between 1994-96 alone at $6 billion. Military expenditure during the period 1994-2003 was calculated at $8 billion.
At present, Chechnya effectively has two parallel economies: one that is primarily dependant on federal subsidies and additional funds allocated under various federal programs, and a secondary one financed by the Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov fund.
Between 2003 and 2007, Chechnya's official budget almost quadrupled, from 10 billion rubles ($421.2 million) in 2003 to 23.3 billion in 2004 and 37.5 billion in 2007. In early 2006, the Chechen parliament rejected the 2006 draft annual budget as inadequate and demanded, without success, that federal subsidies be raised from 19 billion rubles to 120 billion. In 2004, the Russian government disbursed an additional 10 billion rubles in compensation payments and 3.4 billion rubles under a separate five-year (2002-07) federal program for reconstruction.
Between 2002 and 2006, the Chechen government received a total of 30.6 billion rubles under that latter program, according to regnum.ru on June 8, 2007. A follow-up socioeconomic development program for the period 2008-11 was submitted in May 2007 to the Russian Finance and Economic Development and Trade ministries, according to regnum.ru on May 7, 2007. The cost of that program was initially set at 79.6 billion rubles, of which the federal budget was to provide 64.66 billion. But when the Russian government reviewed the draft in June 2008, the total cost was reported as 120 billion rubles. The program envisages the creation of at least 95,000 jobs and massive investments in housing and medical services.
At the same time, there have been repeated reports of embezzlement of multimillion-ruble sums or their use for purposes other than for which they were earmarked. In April 2003, Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin complained that due to the lack of a functioning banking system in Chechnya, federal funds tended simply to disappear into a "black hole." In the first six months of 2007, no fewer than 10 separate criminal cases were opened in connection with the embezzlement of funds allocated under further federal programs to provide housing and to develop education and agriculture.
Whether as a result of embezzlement or mismanagement or both, as of April 2008 Chechnya owed more in salary arrears to budget-sector workers -- 848.4 million rubles -- than did any other federation subject. That is tantamount to 24 percent of the Russian Federation's entire wages backlog. Of the total sum, 85 percent was for wages earned in 2006 and earlier, and 75 percent was owed to construction workers.
Despite the reconstruction of Grozny, and subsequent efforts to repair or build from scratch basic infrastructure in the rural areas of Chechnya, the republic remains an economic basket case. Until 2007, little effort was made to rebuild the republic's industrial infrastructure: in his first annual address to the Chechen parliament as republic head, Kadyrov said oil extraction accounted for 95 percent of Chechnya's industrial output, according to kavkaz-uzel.ru on September 3, 2007. And at least one undertaking intended to rebuild the republic's industrial potential may prove to be a white elephant. In May 2008, a plant in Argun with a workforce of 73 launched the production of VAZ-21074 automobiles. By 2010, the plant is scheduled to expand to employ up to 10,000 people. But experts cited by kavkaz-uzel.ru on May 9 questioned the viability of that undertaking given the problems inherent in training a workforce of that size, and in light of falling demand for the model produced.
In the early summer of 2003, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov embarked on negotiations with Moscow aimed at reaching consensus on a power-sharing treaty between Chechnya and the federal center. Under the agreement, Chechnya would enjoy unique economic privileges, including retaining until 2010 all taxes from the sale of oil extracted on its territory and control of the sale of other natural resources such as timber. When Moscow balked at those demands, the Chechen leadership proposed as an alternative that Chechnya be granted the status of a free economic zone. That option too was rejected, with Moscow offering in 2005 only to designate Chechnya a "special economic zone" and grant it certain tax privileges (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," January 28 and June 30, 2005).
But within days of his appointment as republic head in March 2007, Ramzan Kadyrov announced that Chechnya did not need any power-sharing agreement with Moscow, and that the signing of such agreements only served to weaken the Russian Federation. He continued, however, to demand, albeit without success, that Chechnya retain the profits from all oil extracted on its territory. And within three months, the Chechen parliament submitted to the Russian State Duma a draft bill that would have exempted Chechnya from paying any federal taxes for a period of seven years and reduced by 50 percent its tax liability for the ensuing seven years.
In addition to the regular budget formed primarily from federal subsidies and to the additional funds allocated by Moscow either for reconstruction or for the various federal programs, Chechnya has an additional source of spending in the Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov Fund established in July 2004. As stated above, all budget-sector employees in Chechnya are routinely required to "donate" a percentage of their monthly salaries to that fund, which is used partly to fund the reconstruction of schools and hospitals. It is also used for grandiose projects that are unlikely to benefit the majority of the population. For example, in August 2007, the Chechen government announced the purchase of the first of several YaK-42 aircraft to relaunch the republic's own airline, and in January 2008, Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic mufti Ismail-hadji Berdiyev announced that Kadyrov had promised $10 million from the fund to finance construction of a cathedral mosque in Cherkessk.
A further alternative source of funds is "donations" from successful Chechen businesspeople based elsewhere in the Russian Federation. Kadyrov himself outlined how this system works in an interview he gave to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on March 4, 2007:
RFE/RL: Where does the funding come from for these reconstruction projects in Chechnya?
Kadyrov: The reconstruction of the town of Argun cost over 1 billion rubles, of which we were able to provide 840 million ourselves. How did we find that money? We talked to those who had money and asked them to help restore Chechnya, which was destroyed and burned to the ground. We received responses from people with the Chechen mentality: the Dzhabrailov brothers [Hussein and Umar], [Ruslan] Baisarov, [brothers Mikheil and Khamzat] Gutseriyev, and many others. We have also organized collective Chechen "belkhis" [days when people agree to work without pay]. This is how Gudermes was rebuilt. The federal center has not provided a single ruble for the reconstruction of Grozny either. And so we ask people with money: "Can you rebuild 50 houses?" "Can you rebuild 20 houses?" We will find funds at a later time, but now we need help. We have received bank loans, we ask friends for help.
Not all such donations are voluntary, however. A few months after Kadyrov's militia attacked and seriously injured Malik Saidullayev's younger brother, Saidullayev made a much-publicized visit to Grozny during which he pledged to invest in reconstruction, regnum.ru reported on May 25, 2007.
The volume of such unofficial donations is impossible to estimate, as are the donations to and disbursements from the Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov Fund, which is not known ever to have been audited.
Chechnya And Moscow
More than in the case of any other federation subject, relations between the federal center and Chechnya over the past eight years have hinged on the personal relationship between President Putin and the men he selected as his henchmen in Grozny. It is widely accepted that President Putin's rationale, first for installing Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov as Chechen Republic head in summer 2000 and then for supporting Ramzan Kadyrov after his father's death, was to promote a policy of "Chechenization." This policy is intended effectively to transfer from the Russian military to pro-Moscow Chechen forces responsibility for eradicating the armed resistance then headed by ChRI President Aslan Maskhadov and then restoring and maintaining political stability.
While observers both in Moscow and abroad had argued since the death of Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov that his son's ascendancy to the top post in the republic was simply a matter of time, some nonetheless pointed to the risks involved in offloading responsibility for restoring order in Chechnya onto a man who, by virtue of his authority and the private army at his disposal, might in time espouse and promote a nationalist or even separatist agenda that could trigger a new conflict with Moscow. On September 29, 2005, for example, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted Agency for Applied and Regional Politics Director Valery Khomyakov as saying, "I fear that by 2007 Russia and her president will have landed themselves with a new [Chechen separatist President Djokhar] Dudayev in the person of Ramzan Kadyrov."
The relationship between Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov has puzzled observers since Russian television screened footage in May 2004 of Putin expressing condolences to a tracksuit-clad Kadyrov in the Kremlin just hours after Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's death.
Several explanations have been offered for Putin's seemingly blind trust in the younger Kadyrov's leadership abilities and for his concomitant reluctance to take any serious measures to counter the embezzlement of federal funds, continuing human rights violations, or Kadyrov's sporadic challenges to federal agencies, including the Defense Ministry.
The first is that the superficial improvements indeed convinced Putin of Kadyrov's efficiency and Putin's aides were reluctant to challenge his opinion. Emil Pain, a former adviser to President Boris Yeltsin, told RFE/RL in October 2005: "Putin trusts [Ramzan] personally. Putin was impressed by the fact that the same person who declared a jihad against the Russian leadership now wants to serve the Russian leadership. It made a big impression on him. Of course, it was necessary to calculate a lot of personal factors that brought Kadyrov to this decision. But in fact Putin has no other choice. There are not a lot of other people who could be the Kremlin's henchman in Chechnya" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," October 21, 2005).
The second explanation is that Putin may have initially regarded Kadyrov as a "temporary" figure and have banked on his being killed sooner or later by a rival, thereby paving the way for the installation of a more predictable and easy-to-manipulate replacement. The third is that Putin realized only too late that he had made a major error in not forestalling Kadyrov's consolidation of power and influence. Already by early 2006 he found himself in a position where he could not move openly against Kadyrov without risking a new major armed confrontation.
If, in other words, the tactical alignment between Putin and Kadyrov was, as Emil Souleimanov suggests in his "An Endless War: The Russian-Chechen Conflict In Perspective," "a marriage of convenience," then Putin apparently realized only too late that the cost of a divorce in terms of renewed instability could prove horrendously and unacceptably high.
While it was Putin who for four years served as Kadyrov's most visible protector, it was primarily to FBS head Nikolai Patrushev that Kadyrov owed his freedom of maneuver to pursue with impunity his economic interests elsewhere in the Russian Federation -- even though Patrushev is said to detest Kadyrov. The question thus arises whether the campaign launched by the Chechen parliament in July 2006 to have the Russian Federation constitution amended to enable Putin to serve a third consecutive presidential term (or even, as Kadyrov himself proposed at a congress of the Unified Russia party in Moscow in October 2007, that Putin should be named president for life) was dictated by the fear that Patrushev could lose his influence under a new president -- as has indeed happened.
The new FSB secretary, Patrushev's former deputy Aleksandr Bortnikov, was described by the "Moscow Times" on May 15 as a veteran security-service official who is likely to execute President Medvedev's orders unquestioningly and could thus effectively implement a crackdown on corruption and economic crime -- which Medvedev has identified as a priority. This could prove the Achilles' heel of the Kadyrov leadership -- and strengthen Medvedev's hold over the various law enforcement agencies.
While it is premature even to speculate on whether Medvedev might depart from his predecessor's policy of total reliance on Kadyrov as the guarantor of stability in Chechnya, his first round of personnel appointments has weakened one of Kadyrov's main adversaries in Moscow. Former deputy presidential administration head Igor Sechin was named by Medvedev on May 12 as a deputy prime minister with responsibility for energy and industrial policy. As chairman of the board of directors of Rosneft, Sechin has a vested interest in thwarting Kadyrov's efforts to secure a greater share for the Chechen government of the profits from the oil Rosneft's subsidiary Grozneftegaz extracts in Chechnya, and to induce Rosneft to opt for Chechnya, rather than Kabardino-Balkaria, as the site of a planned new oil refinery (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," April 2, 2008). A final decision on the location of that refinery was reportedly due in early April, but no announcement has yet been made. Given the opportunities for embezzlement that a refinery on Chechen territory would present, the ongoing uncertainty suggests a reluctance to decide in Chechnya's favor.
At the same time, Medvedev has not (yet) undertaken any comparable preemptive move against two other powerful agencies hostile to Kadyrov, the Defense Ministry and the Prosecutor General's Office. The grievances the Defense Ministry harbors against Kadyrov do not stem exclusively from his active participation in the resistance during the 1994--96 war. He has demanded for years that the number of Defense Ministry forces deployed to Chechnya on a permanent basis be reduced. His own militia has on occasion ignored requests to provide reinforcements and assistance to Russian forces attacked by resistance fighters.
In January the Chechen government appealed to the republic's Arbitration Court to annul the legal basis under which the Russian Defense Ministry rents its bases in Chechnya. Finally, as noted above, the Defense Ministry has rejected the Chechen parliament's demand that the Vostok battalion be disbanded. As for the Prosecutor-General's Office in Grozny, it has, if anything, intensified its scrutiny and criticism of the failings of various Chechen government bodies since Medvedev's inauguration.
If Medvedev's intentions with regard to Chechnya can only be guessed at, Putin's formal powers in his new position as prime minister to shape and influence policy with regard to the federation subjects in general, and the North Caucasus in particular, are enumerated in amendments to the existing legislation on the role and duties of heads of federation subjects that he signed into law shortly before relinquishing the post of president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 1, 2008). Those amendments go some way toward reversing the restrictions introduced over the past eight years on the powers of those regional officials and endow them with a greater degree of both freedom and responsibility in economic issues, the daily "Kommersant" reported on April 1. They also stipulate that in the future, governors will report not only to the president but also to the prime minister. At the same time, in light of their increased responsibility for economic issues, governors' performance will be monitored more stringently: Putin introduced last year a list of 43 criteria for doing so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 2, 2007).
Moreover, as a CACI analysis of February 6, 2008, pointed out, it is the Regional Development Ministry, headed by former presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak, that will retain control of federal subsidies for Chechnya under the Medvedev-Putin team. Kozak, that analysis points out, is known for his prudence, efficiency, and stubbornness.
Chechnya And The North Caucasus
There is, paradoxically, some truth to Kadyrov's boast that under his watch, Chechnya has become the most stable region in the North Caucasus. Yet the relative stability in Chechnya is largely the result of the failure to contain within Chechnya's borders and eradicate the threat posed by the armed resistance. In 2002-03, groups of fighters that maintained links and coordinated their activities with the Chechen resistance emerged first in Daghestan, then Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria, and, more recently, in North Ossetia and Stavropol Krai.
The threat posed to the North Caucasus by the armed resistance is paralleled and exacerbated by an exceptionally high degree of popular resentment directed at republican leaderships. In a memorandum to Putin in the early summer of 2005, Kozak, then presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, described in detail the "quasi-feudal" system that has evolved in the North Caucasus, under which political power and economic resources have become the exclusive preserve of a narrow social stratum of corrupt and venal ruling elites and the clans linked with them by ties of kinship.
In that draft analysis, Kozak predicted a sharp rise in radicalism and extremism and an expanding disconnect between "constitutional democratic principles and existing realities," and he warned that those trends could lead to the emergence of "a macro-region of sociopolitical and economic instability" encompassing the entire North Caucasus and parts of Stavropol Krai.
The replacement of the leaders of Kabardino-Balkaria (in September 2005) and Daghestan (in February 2006) has done little either to improve the socioeconomic situation or to eradicate corruption. Resistance jamaats continue to target police and security officials in both republics. Meanwhile, Ingushetia has over the past two years become increasingly unstable, with attacks by unidentified "militants" on security forces and government personnel, and by police and security forces on suspected resistance fighters and sympathizers, reported almost daily. Moscow has steadfastly ignored both evidence of blatant corruption and mismanagement of the part of the republic's rulers and repeated demands by the population to replace President Murat Zyazikov. Most observers attribute Zyazikov's political survival to the patronage and protection of the FSB within which he made his career.
To date, only isolated incidents have come to light of either friction between police and security forces in Chechnya and neighboring republics, or the involvement of Chechen units in punitive actions against putative militants outside Chechnya. Nor has Moscow given any indication that it might seek to counter the mushrooming instability in Ingushetia by recombining Chechnya and Ingushetia into a single federation subject that would possibly also encompass Daghestan, as Chechen parliament speaker Abdurakhmanov proposed doing two years ago, although many Ingush might welcome the imposition of Kadyrov-style discipline and order. At that time, Kadyrov said he considered a merger of the three republics "possible, if the peoples of Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Daghestan want it, and when Chechnya becomes prosperous... but not yet because Chechnya is still in ruins" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," June 19, 2006).
Continuity, Violent Change, Or Transition?
As indicated above, the relative stability that currently obtains in Chechnya derives from a delicate and tenuous balance -- or deadlock -- of multiple and mutually antagonistic forces, with Kadyrov as the lynchpin. That balance hinges on Moscow's apparently unconditional political and financial backing for a ruthless, self-serving, amoral, and authoritarian leadership that provides a minimum in social and economic benefits to an impoverished and exhausted population that it seeks to indoctrinate with a distorted vision of Chechen national identity.
That support is likely to continue as long as a consensus obtains within the various factions in Moscow that the situation in Chechnya -- and Kadyrov personally -- does not pose a threat to Russia's vital interests. In addition, Kadyrov may already be financially powerful enough to buy the support of officials in Moscow who might otherwise seek to constrain him, and thus preserve the leeway for action within Chechnya that he currently enjoys.
Arguably the most serious threat to the existing balance of power would be the killing of Kadyrov by resistance forces loyal to Umarov, especially if that killing was not orchestrated through cut-outs by Moscow, and it occurred not at a time of Moscow's choosing. It was, after all, the Chechen resistance -- specifically Shamil Basayev -- that claimed responsibility for assassinating Kadyrov's father in May 2004.
But at least in Chechnya, a repeat of that audacious act of terrorism is unlikely given the extraordinary personal-security measures Kadyrov put in place even as deputy prime minister. For example, police officers are stationed at 100-meter intervals on both sides of the highway linking Grozny with Kadyrov's home town of Gudermes whenever his motorcade travels it. His own Mercedes is trailed by an identical model with identical number plates that are changed regularly, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on June 17. Outside Chechnya, however, Kadyrov is more vulnerable to attack: one wonders whether the traffic accident outside Moscow on the morning of May 21 involving Kadyrov's motorcade was a trial run for a future assassination-in-the-guise-of-accident.
Alternatively, those forces in Moscow that have backed Kadyrov up until now may eventually come to regard him as too powerful and too independent, and thus as a liability, and seek to supplant him with a more manageable figure.
The options for removing him are either an assassination (whether an apparent accident, or orchestrated in such a way as to implicate the North Caucasus resistance) or persuading Kadyrov to accept some alternative position in Moscow that carried prestige without power. Most observers, however, doubt that Kadyrov could be induced to accept any such offer.
Assuming Kadyrov's successful removal from his current position, the question of the optimum successor arises. The possible choices are threefold. The first, and probably that favored by the siloviki, would be another "strongman." Speaking at a conference in London on May 14, ChRI Prime Minister Zakayev suggested that the Russian Defense Ministry is "preparing a lavish funeral" for Kadyrov, and he named Beslan Gantamirov, who served as deputy prime minister under Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, as the military's preferred candidate to succeed Ramzan Kadyrov (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," May 24, 2008). Zakayev and Gantamirov are members of the same Chinkho teyp [clan].
Other potential candidates in this category are Putin's adviser on Cossack affairs, Colonel General Gennady Troshev, who was born in Grozny and served as commander of Russian forces during the 1994-96 war, or Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov. Shamanov commanded one of the three groups of forces that invaded Chechnya in October 1999. He subsequently served as Ulyanovsk Oblast governor and was named in late 2007 to a senior Defense Ministry post. In an interview with "Moskovsky komsomolets" in November 2007, he argued that while Kadyrov has succeeded in restoring order and stability to Chechnya, corruption, cronyism, poverty, and unemployment continue to destabilize neighboring republics and to drive disaffected young men to join the armed resistance. To counter that instability, Shamanov advocated a crackdown on "extremist" religious tendencies and the gradual replacement of corrupt local leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 14, 2007).
The second, should Medvedev opt for a break with the "strongman" model, would be one of the young and highly qualified Chechens currently working in banking or finance in Moscow who are not compromised either by their participation in the wars of the past 13 years or by direct association with the Kadyrov leadership. Alternatively, one of those young men could be named to serve as prime minister under Kadyrov's successor as republic head.
The third would be to co-opt ChRI Prime Minister Zakayev. Doing so would, paradoxically, serve the interests of both sides. For Moscow, it would constitute a brilliant public-relations victory, while for Zakayev and other Chechens committed in the long term to achieving independent statehood, throwing their support behind Kadyrov's efforts at rebuilding and redefining the Chechen nation would constitute the most effective defense against the threat posed by Umarov and the "emiratists."
Zakayev's statements over the past 15 months, since Kadyrov's installation as republic head, have been equivocal. While branding Kadyrov's appointment as imposing "a tyranny of terror and oppression for most Chechens," he has also repeatedly stressed the positive role played by Kadyrov in completing the "decolonization" of Chechnya and its de facto separation from Russia. (When challenged by British Chechnya expert Thomas de Waal, Zakayev implied that the rationale for such praise was simply to embarrass Kadyrov.)
But following Umarov's proclamation last October of the North Caucasus emirate, Zakayev told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that what is currently most important is unity among the various Chechen factions -- possibly meaning a tactical alliance between himself and Kadyrov against the ideological threat posed by the "emirate" faction.
Moreover, Zakayev also told a Polish radio station in December 2007 that he was convinced the situation in Chechnya would change once Medvedev succeeded Putin as Russian president. "I doubt very much that Medvedev wants the kind of Chechnya Putin has bequeathed to him -- a Chechnya with bands of fighters headed by Ramzan Kadyrov," kavkaz-uzel.ru quoted him as saying.
Magomed Khanbiyev, who served as ChRI defense minister under Maskhadov but was coerced into surrendering in 2004 after the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership took hostage dozens of his relatives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 9, 10, 11, and 12, 2004) issued an appeal on May 28 to unnamed "leaders of Chechen fighters currently in exile abroad," apparently meaning Zakayev, to return home and join forces with Kadyrov in his efforts to persuade young resistance fighters "on the other side of the barricades" to abandon the struggle and return to their families. He said the Chechen authorities are ready to begin negotiations to that end. That statement could have been intended to create the impression that it is Kadyrov who seeks to co-opt Zakayev, and not a faction in Moscow that is mulling whether and how to replace Kadyrov with Zakayev.
Kadyrov himself is said to be apprehensive at the prospect that the reconfiguration of power in the Kremlin that followed Medvedev's accession to the presidency may have left him vulnerable -- or at least have given rise to a popular perception that his star is on the wane. He denied emphatically that the May 28 visit to Grozny by newly appointed presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Vladimir Ustinov heralded imminent changes in the republic's top leadership.
Kadyrov's recent decision -- widely denounced both by Chechens themselves and by the Russian human rights organization Memorial -- to dismantle and move to the outskirts of Grozny the monument erected in 1992 by then-ChRI President Djokhar Dudayev honoring the Chechens who died during the 1944 deportation may have been intended to reaffirm his absolute authority but, possibly more than any other move he has made over the past year, has been met with anger, incomprehension, and outrage.
But Kadyrov -- or whoever succeeds him -- will remain dependent for at least a decade on subsidies from the federal budget to continue the large-scale reconstruction and social programs needed to secure the grudging acquiescence of the population at large. And if Medvedev is serious in his proclaimed intention to crack down on endemic corruption, the use of those subsidies may in future be monitored far more stringently than has been the case in recent years. The discovery of large-scale embezzlement could serve as a convenient pretext for the dismissal of leaders considered politically unreliable.
The main factors that will determine developments in Chechnya over the next three to five years are relations between the Chechen Republic leadership and the federal center; the scale and effectiveness of reconstruction and economic development; and success in containing the threat of destabilization posed by the North Caucasus resistance.
Assuming that Kadyrov retains his post for the duration of Medvedev's presidential term, domestic political stability will hinge both on sustained economic improvement and on the degree to which Kadyrov's efforts at redefining and promoting his personal concept of Chechen national and religious identity are perceived and accepted as more palatable than the quasi-jihadist ideology espoused by Umarov and the emiratist faction.
The North Caucasus resistance has reportedly coalesced into a multi-ethnic force operating simultaneously in several republics, a force that amirs who spoke at the April council of war of the Southwestern Front claimed has "overcome the barriers of mistrust" that earlier existed among various groupings and is now united in Islamic brotherhood under Umarov's command. But it remains to be seen whether that unity will translate into higher-profile, more frequent, and more effective military action. And at least in Daghestan and Ingushetia, support for the resistance among the population at large is minimal.
Similarly difficult to predict is the impact that Umarov's death would have on the cohesion and military effectiveness of the resistance as a whole, and the situation in Chechnya in particular. Umarov, who is 44, is the last of the original generation of Chechen field commanders whose combat experience dates back to the 1994-96 war. For that reason alone his death would be a major psychological blow.
One possible successor is Supyan Abdullayev, whom Umarov named ChRI vice president in March 2007. Abdullayev, who is 52 and together with Movladi Udugov a founder member of the Islamic Renaissance Party established in the USSR in the late 1980s. Although he is the most senior figure after Umarov, Abdullayev is primarily a religious figure rather than a military man (as was Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev), and might therefore be passed over in favor of a younger figure with a more impressive military record.