Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov is not a man to do things by halves, as his lavish reception in Grozny on May 27 for the editors of Russia’s most prestigious newspapers demonstrated yet again.
Over a period of more than four hours, Kadyrov answered no fewer than 72 questions
on topics ranging from the Islamic insurgency to the film that French actor Gerard Depardieu is currently shooting in Chechnya.
As on previous occasions, many of Kadyrov’s answers were predictable, not all were entirely credible, and several contradicted statements he had made earlier. But this time one of his responses elicited a televised put-down from the Kremlin: presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it would be "absurd" to take literally Kadyrov’s statement that he would gladly cede his position as republic head to former Russian Deputy Premier Vladislav Surkov.
Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed Surkov three weeks ago for reasons that remain unclear. At that juncture, Kadyrov predicted
that Surkov would remain part of Putin’s team.
This week, Kadyrov characterized Surkov
as "strong, just, and honest," and someone who "has done a great deal for us." He said Surkov "will remain my brother" even if he is jailed and that he would support him in a direct election for head of the republic.
It is by no means clear, however, whether Chechnya will hold such a direct ballot when Kadyrov’s second term in office expires in 2016, or follow the example set by neighboring Ingushetia and Daghestan.
Those two republics opted last month
for the alternative procedure of empowering the legislature to elect the republic's leader from a short-list of three candidates selected by the Russian president.
Peskov did not comment on a second, arguably even more outrageous comment by Kadyrov. Referring to an incident at a soccer match in Grozny in late April during which the Chechen referee punched a player from the Perm team Amkar who he subsequently claimed had consistently been acting "provocatively," Kadyrov said that in the referee’s place "I would probably have killed" the man. The referee has since been banned for life
Bloggers have demanded a criminal case
be opened in connection with Kadyrov’s statement, which one commentator construed as reflecting "a crisis within the Russian leadership."
Kadyrov’s statements on other issues were less inflammatory and more predictable. As he has done countless times in the past, Kadyrov claimed that there are no more than a couple of dozen insurgents left in Chechnya.
This time, however, he went further, saying there are no fighters at all left in the southeastern districts of Vedeno, Itum-Kale, and Kurchaloi, and that the survivors are entrenched on the border with Ingushetia.
That seems like wishful thinking on Kadyrov’s part. True, the elite group of fighters headed by the Gakayev brothers, which was based in Vedeno, was partly destroyed in January
after being betrayed by an informer infiltrated by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB). But two other veteran commanders also based in the southeast have reportedly preserved their networks.
Kadyrov cited the purported destruction of the insurgency as evidence that there are no longer any obstacles to the repatriation of those who left Chechnya for other parts of Russia or sought asylum in Europe during and after the fighting of 1994-1996 and 1999-2000. He estimated the number of Chechens
currently living in Europe to be 100,000, adding that 30,000 of 50,000 who had returned last year intending only to visit had decided to resettle there permanently.
There is, of course, no easy way to verify those figures or to determine whether and how many of those who returned did so only because Kadyrov’s minions had threatened reprisals against their family members still in Chechnya.
Last week, Kadyrov categorically denied
trying to coerce Chechens to return from Europe. He said some Russians who left Chechnya have returned too, one of whom has since been appointed a deputy minister.
Kadyrov also explained the rationale for his abolition of the Ministry for Government Liaison with the Public, which he created just two months ago, and for merging the Construction Ministry into a megaministry responsible for regional development, nationality policy, and mass communication.
That ministry will be headed by former Grozny Mayor Muslim Khuchiyev, whom Kadyrov had named last month
as his point man for the media. Khuchiyev is a graduate of Moscow State University’s journalism school.
Kadyrov argued that a separate Construction Ministry was justified for the duration of the reconstruction of infrastructure destroyed during two successive wars, but that responsibility for construction projects could now be transferred to the Regional Development Ministry.
Without identifying by name the young man he had named in March to head the Ministry for Government Liaison with the Public, Kadyrov said that the ministry personnel had not justified the hopes
placed in them and had simply forwarded the complaints they received to the ministry best qualified to deal with them, rather than tackle the problems themselves.
That rebuke appears unjustified and unrealistic in light of the volume of complaints the ministry received. Its head, Arbi Tamayev, informed Kadyrov in late April that in its five weeks of existence, the ministry had already assessed some 15,000 appeals from the population at large, to which Kadyrov replied
that Tamayev was "not working with the same enthusiasm you showed at the start."