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Chechnya: New Republic Head Moves To Consolidate Power

(RFE/RL) April 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Following his lavish inauguration as Chechen Republic head on April 5, Ramzan Kadyrov has moved to strengthen even further his control over the Chechen government, naming one close relative as prime minister and promoting to the post of first deputy prime minister a second relative, Adam Delimkhanov, hitherto deputy prime minister responsible for security and law and order.

On April 10, Kadyrov named as Chechnya's new prime minister his cousin, First Deputy Prime Minister Odes Baysultanov, whom he had singled out one month earlier as the most qualified candidate for that post. On April 10, Kadyrov praised Baysultanov's role over the past year in expediting the reconstruction of a major cement plant and Grozny airport.

And the daily "Kommersant" on April 11 quoted an aide to Alu Alkhanov, Kadyrov's predecessor as republic head, as describing Baysultanov as not merely a first-rate manager who succeeded in speeding up the reconstruction process, but as devoid of any personal political ambitions.

In one respect, however, the choice of Baysultanov may prove controversial and even counterproductive: he is a member of a "teyp" (clan) from southwestern Chechnya, some of whose members have acquired a reputation for dishonesty and theft. If Baysultanov comes to be perceived as similarly rapacious, his actions could undermine the support base Kadyrov has built up over the past 12-18 months by his efforts to expedite reconstruction and attract investment into Chechnya's economy.

Alternatively, Kadyrov's opponents in Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia could launch a slander campaign, accusing Baysultanov of embezzlement in order to tarnish Kadyrov in the knowledge that such allegations would fall on fertile ground.

Known For Brutality

In the weeks after Alu Alkhanov finally capitulated after a two-year standoff with Kadyrov and stepped down in mid-February, and Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed Kadyrov to succeed him as republic head, both Russian and Western media have speculated at length on the reasons for Putin's apparent total confidence in Kadyrov's ability to "normalize" the situation in Chechnya, and on the extent of Kadyrov's loyalty to Moscow.

Does Putin still consider Kadyov indispensable? (epa file photo)

In the course of that debate, some Russian observers registered concern over the possible consequences of handing absolute power to a man many consider at best uncouth and unbalanced, and at worst an uneducated and sadistic psychopath. Specifically, those observers question whether Kadyrov will succeed in forging a similarly mutually beneficial relationship with whoever succeeds Putin as Russian president one year from now.

True, as enumerated in the Chechen Constitution adopted in 2003, Kadyrov's powers are no more extensive than those of the heads of other federation subjects. (That may change, however, in light of plans to amend the Chechen Constitution.)

But none of his peers have Kadyrov's reputation for condoning, if not actually engaging in, abduction, torture, and murder. (In early March, one North Caucasus website quoted a victim who claimed to have been tortured by Kadyrov with a blowtorch). None has been branded a sadist or psychopath. None is known to extort routinely a percentage of all salaries paid to public-sector employees. Nor are they as lacking as Kadyrov in practical administrative experience.

Going Too Far?

What's more, even Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiyev, who for over a decade engaged in horse trading with successive Russian leaders in an attempt to secure the maximum degree of autonomy and autarky for his republic, tacitly acknowledged that there are limits which it is neither wise nor advisable to ignore.

Kadyrov, by contrast, has over the past three years repeatedly been given to understand that he stands to all intents and purposes above the law, insofar as in Putin's eyes he can do no wrong: that in Dostoyevsky's memorable phrase "everything is allowed." Given Kadyrov's known proclivities, that may prove to have been ill-advised: it is not generally a terribly good idea to present a certified pyromaniac with a state-of-the-art flamethrower.

This is not to say that at least some senior Russian officials do not have qualms about Kadyrov's long-term agenda, specifically the possibility that he may at some future date seek either greater autonomy or even independence for Chechnya.

Speaking at Kadyrov's inauguration ceremony in Gudermes on April 5, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak warned that Chechens' collective aspirations to a better life can be realized only within the parameters of the laws and constitution of the Russian Federation, a clear allusion to the hypothesis floated by commentator Sergei Markedonov in early March that Kadyrov either harbors a secret separatist agenda, or that he may seek to blackmail Putin's successor by demanding ever-increasing economic subsidies as the price for Chechnya remaining a part of the Russian Federation.

Broader Power Struggle

There are indications, however, that Kadyrov may have already decided on the first step towards augmenting his power and influence -- by launching a campaign to have neighboring Ingushetia again joined with Chechnya to form a single republic. Kadyrov's close associate Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, chairman of the lower chamber of the Chechen parliament, proposed such a merger last summer, even though Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov has consistently argued against it.

Zyazikov was present both at the consultations in Grozny on February 21 at which Kozak selected Kadyrov as one of three possible candidates as republic head, and at the March 2 parliament session that confirmed him in that post. Immediately after that vote, Kadyrov personally chauffeured Kozak and Zyazikov to Nazran, where they spoke to journalists. Although both Zyazikov and Kadyrov stressed the cordial relations between their respective republics, Zyazikov's entire demeanor and body language signaled defeat and acute distress, the most probable explanation for his evident discomfort being that he is aware that his days as president may be numbered.

The Chechen leadership's apparent decision not to push any longer for a draft power-sharing treaty between the federal center and the Chechen Republic, but to demand instead a free economic zone on Chechen territory, may likewise be part of a longer-term broader strategy under which the Chechen Republic in its current borders and with its current name may soon be a thing of the past.

Despite his reputation for tolerating corruption and his near-zero popularity among the population of Ingushetia, Zyazikov has been regarded until now as unsinkable, given that both he and Putin are veterans of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Zyazikov requested, and obtained, a formal expression of approval from Putin in the summer of 2005.

The question thus arises: is Putin so assured of his future postpresidential role that he could afford to risk alienating his former FSB colleagues by publicly sacrificing Zyazikov at this juncture? Or will Putin leave it to his successor to decide on both Zyazikov's removal and the abolition of Ingushetia as a full-fledged subject of the Russian Federation?

The Rise Of Ramzan Kadyrov

The Rise Of Ramzan Kadyrov
Kadyrov dances at the reopening of Grozny Airport

Ever since his father, pro-Kremlin Chechen President Akhmed-Hadji Kadyrov was killed in a May 2004 bomb blast in Grozny, Ramzan Kadyrov has risen to prominence.

In March 2006, First Deputy Prime Minister Kadyrov, who heads a personal army of 10,000 heavily armed fighters, was named prime minister. His reign as premier has been characterized by divisions in the Chechen leadership and accusations of torture. But he has also been credited with improving living standards in the republic.

In October, he turned 30, clearing the way for running for president.


The fighting in Chechnya has raged, with short breaks, since 1994. It has brought misery, death, and destruction to the North Caucasus republic and to Russia as a whole. View an annotated timeline of the conflict.