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Chechnya: Kadyrov Seen As Front-Runner Ahead Of October Vote

Nearly a dozen candidates will compete in Chechen presidential elections in October. This week Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, the current Moscow-appointed administrator of Chechnya, registered as a candidate. Many analysts pick him as an early favorite on the assumption that he enjoys the support of the Kremlin.

Prague, 29 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Moscow-appointed administrator of Chechnya, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, is seen as a front-runner ahead of Chechen presidential elections on 5 October. That's the consensus of analysts, who say the vote is a formality.

Kadyrov is among 11 candidates now expected to compete in elections to run the war-torn Russian republic. Aside from Kadyrov, Russian State Duma Deputy Aslambek Aslakhanov and Moscow-based businessman Malik Saidullaev are leading candidates. Former President Aslan Maskhadov and other separatist leaders have been excluded from the election.

Thomas de Waal is an analyst at the British-based Center for War and Peace Reporting and the author of "Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus." He told RFE/RL he believes Moscow has already picked Kadyrov as the winner, although Kadyrov has little public support in Chechnya.

A poll published by the influential Public Opinion Fund in June indicated only 11.4 percent of voters favored Kadyrov. The same poll said some 61.5 percent of voters would not vote for him.

RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitskii has just returned from Chechnya. He too said he has little doubt about the outcome of the October elections -- Kadyrov will win because he enjoys the support of the Kremlin. "I am about 80 percent sure Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov will be the winner. As I understand it, if [Moscow] had anything against such an outcome -- against Kadyrov becoming president -- it would let it be known in this election campaign in Chechnya," he said.

Babitskii said Kadyrov has real military and administrative power in Chechnya and his militia is often more ruthless and feared than Russian forces.

Aleksei Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, agrees and goes further, saying he believes Kadyrov is the only candidate who has real influence in Chechnya. He said Moscow has no alternative.

He told RFE/RL if Moscow were to reject Kadyrov it would mean the Kremlin discarding its recent policies in Chechnya. "As you will see, there will be no serious setback. The setback can happen if Kadyrov gets some 10 percent," he said. "But the most important thing is not how [Chechens] will vote there, but how the votes will be counted. The votes will be counted having in mind that Kadyrov is the most acceptable figure for Moscow."

But Aleksei Makarkin, political analyst for the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow-based think tank, said he sees signs Kadyrov may be losing Moscow's support. Makarkin said, for example, the Kremlin was surprised by a proposal from Kadyrov in July to divide powers between the government in Moscow and the republic.

"The essence of this project, which divides the powers of the center and the republic, is that the main stress is put on giving control of natural resources to [Chechen authorities]. In essence it means the control of oil resources. This project received little enthusiasm in the Kremlin," Makarkin said.

De Waal from the Center for War and Peace Reporting said, however, he sees no signs that Kadyrov is losing Moscow's support. "There are always alternative scenarios and I am sure there are some people in the Kremlin who, for example, are supporting Malik Saidullaev," he said. "However, nothing that I have seen suggests that the top leadership, I mean President [Vladimir] Putin, has made a decision against Kadyrov, and all the news from Chechnya suggests Kadyrov now has strong control of the local media there. So, it would be a big surprise if things suddenly change between now and 5 October."

The election marks another phase in Putin's plan to find a political solution for Chechnya, which has been ravaged by two wars in the past decade and where Russian forces continue to clash with separatists daily.

In March, the Kremlin staged a referendum on a new Chechen constitution that declared Chechnya part of Russia. In June, the Russian Duma offered an amnesty to Chechen fighters. The amnesty is due to expire on 1 September but only some 200 fighters reportedly have surrendered.

Separatist rebels appear to have stepped up their attacks as the election date approaches. Just this week, on 26 August, six Russian soldiers and riot police were killed by land mines and clashes with rebels.