Prague, 11 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The 9 May assassination of Chechen President Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, on the day marking the anniversary of the Soviet victory in World War II, was both a symbolic and a very real blow to Moscow's policy in Chechnya.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had spent a long time grooming Kadyrov, a former rebel fighter who crossed over to Moscow's side, to take over the reins of power in the republic. The Kremlin spent most of last year drafting a new constitution to provide the framework for Kadyrov's rule and it arranged elections to give him an aura of legitimacy.
Kadyrov offered the right mix of loyalty and local influence that will be hard to replace, as Thomas de Waal, of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, explained to RFE/RL: "They found a man who was loyal to the Kremlin but who also had the toughness and the military capability to be, as it were, an independent player in Chechnya -- someone who could bring over to his side fighters, someone who could wage basically his own campaign in Chechnya and yet someone who could also report to President Putin. This strategy took four years to evolve and now it's been totally annihilated with Kadyrov. So I think the Kremlin now faces some very difficult options."
"Kadyrov, despite the accusations that he and his security service were taking part in mayhem -- accusations that were justified -- nevertheless was step-by-step squeezing out Russian forces from Chechnya." -- Shermatova
For all of his faults, including a reputation for brutality and corruption, Kadyrov did manage to restore some sort of stability to large parts of Chechnya, according to Sanobar Shermatova, a journalist at the weekly "Moskovskie novosti," who covers events in the republic. He used the power given him by the new constitution to assert his authority, allowing once omnipresent Russian troops to begin to withdraw.
"Kadyrov, despite the accusations that he and his security service were taking part in mayhem -- accusations that were justified -- nevertheless was step-by-step squeezing out Russian forces from Chechnya. During his presidential rule, [which effectively started] last September, after the new constitution was adopted, the number of checkpoints was significantly reduced, the number of Interior Ministry and federal forces was reduced significantly -- and they once numbered 100,000," Shermatova said.
Most analysts agree there is no one who can fill Kadyrov's shoes. Even his son Ramzan, who was made deputy head of the regional government this week, is acknowledged to lack the experience and political acumen for the top job. There is, in short, no one with his Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's authority and charisma to further the Kremlin's plans, leaving Putin with several unappealing options. The first option, de Waal said, would be to settle for a pale imitation of Kadyrov.
"One is basically to persist with the current constitution, to have a sort of figurehead president, who won't wield effective power, and to appoint a sort of governor-general for Chechnya, someone like Gennadii Troshev -- the former Russian commander. So basically, [this would] give power back to the Russians. The main problem with that is that this strategy was designed to lessen the presence of Russian security forces in Chechnya and basically this would be bringing back the Russian military into a higher role, which it probably wants but which the Kremlin doesn't want," de Waal said.
Another option also presents problems. "I think the second option is to bring in a more politically independent figure, someone like Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who is currently an aide to Putin," de Waal said. "The problem with that is that someone like Aslakhanov, if he takes on this extremely undesirable post, will probably have questions and conditions which the Kremlin will find it very hard to satisfy. He will probably want to have more political freedom, he may want to engage people close to [separatist leader] Aslan Maskhadov, he may even want to negotiate with Aslan Maskhadov. But that would be very difficult for the Kremlin to swallow."
The third option and the most radical, would involve broadening the political power base in the republic to a much larger degree. It would go against years of Kremlin-driven policies -- but it could, in the long run, have the best chance of success.
"I think the third option is to tear up the whole Chechen Constitution and start again, to possibly have a parliamentary republic -- which people have long been saying is much better suited to Chechnya's decentralized, collective traditions -- and not have a single leader. But again, that would require a massive loss of face because it would require tearing up the constitution, which was passed only last year," de Waal said.
As Shermatova added, Chechnya -- if it were to become a parliamentary republic -- would set a precedent within Russia as all other constituent republics have a presidential system that mirrors the federal structure. But she too agreed it is an idea worth considering. "It seems to me that the best option would be a parliamentary republic, although it would be precedent-setting for Russia -- the first on the territory of federal Russia," she said. "But it would allow an escape from this cycle of revenge and struggle for the No. 1 job among Chechens."
If peace is ever to return to Chechnya and an end put to what is effectively a state of civil war -- with some Chechens backing Moscow and others supporting various separatist commanders -- Shermatova said a forum must be created to allow adversaries to resolve their differences politically. That would be a long shot, but it is probably the wisest course Moscow could take.