Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov recently demoted one of his closest associates and promoted a second. That in itself is not unusual, given that Kadyrov constantly transfers from one post to another, regardless of relevant qualifications and competence, the estimated 80 to 100 men, most of them either blood relatives or born in his native village of Tsentaroi, whom he trusts.
Both recent moves, however, appear to be a direct response to the alleged plot to assassinate Kadyrov a year ago and may significantly affect the balance of power within his entourage.
The man whom Kadyrov demoted is his third cousin Islam Kadyrov, who according to the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta was indirectly implicated in the assassination plot. Islam Kadyrov is said to have passed to his relative Valid Yakikhanov the number of Kadyrov's personal mobile phone, which Yakikhanov then gave to one of the plotters. For several weeks last summer, Islam Kadyrov had casts on both wrists, which prompted speculation he had been ungently questioned to establish how much he knew about the conspiracy.
Islam Kadyrov, 30, began his career in one of the numerous security units subordinate to Ramzan, but was singled out for rapid promotion in 2009 after he married a niece of Kadyrov's wife, Medni. After serving as an aide to Kadyrov, he was appointed first deputy mayor of Grozny in January 2012, first deputy prime minister in May 2012, Grozny mayor in November 2012, and head of the presidential and government administration in July 2015.
But in November 2016, after news of the planned assassination attempt became public knowledge, he was transferred to the post of deputy prime minister with responsibility for coordinating the work of the law enforcement agencies. And on April 25, Ramzan Kadyrov announced that his cousin had been named to another, unspecified, post in law enforcement, RFE/RL's Kavkaz.Realii reported.
The post of deputy prime minister with responsibility for the "force" agencies remains vacant.
Meanwhile, Kadyrov has promoted to head the presidential and government administration Vakhit Usmayev, 52, one of his most efficient, ruthless, and feared henchmen. (Sultan Tagayev, who succeeded Islam Kadyrov in that post, has been appointed finance minister, replacing Usman Rassukhanov.)
Usmayev, like Kadyrov, is a native of Tsentaroi. His official biography is a blank from 1984, when he completed his military service, until 1993, when he graduated with a degree in history from Grozny University, which suggests he may have been recruited in his early 20s for a career in the KGB or military intelligence. It is similarly not clear where and how Usmayev spent the 1994-96 and 1999-2000 wars, although he received several military medals.
In late 2001, 18 months after Ramzan Kadyrov's father Akhmed-hadji was installed by Russian President Vladimir Putin as Chechnya's puppet leader, Usmayev resurfaced as a company commander with the Russian Interior Ministry forces contingent in Chechnya; his duties were the protection of top officials and government buildings.
He rose steadily through the ranks, serving for a year in the town of Gudermes, east of Grozny, prior to being appointed commander of the Akhmad Kadyrov special purpose regiment in September 2004. In 2009, he graduated from the federal Interior Ministry Management Academy.
On his return to Chechnya, Usmayev played a key role in hunting down and killing the last remnants of the Chechen resistance, including the Gakayev brothers in February 2012. (According to Kadyrov, he participated in more than 100 such special operations.) In August 2014, Kadyrov named him to head the Council for Economic and Social Security, and in June 2016 as Gudermes district administrator.
Then, in January 2017, Kadyrov brought Usmayev back to Grozny to head his personal secretariat, effectively making him the third most powerful man in Chechnya after Kadyrov himself and parliament Chairman Magomed Daudov (who headed the presidential and government administration from May 2012 to July 2015.)
Announcing Usmayev's most recent promotion on Instagram, Kadyrov described him as "a veteran member" of the team founded by his father. Usmayev himself told his new subordinates that Kadyrov has tasked him with "raising the work of the administration to a qualitatively higher and more efficient level."
Given the range of issues for which the presidential and government administration is responsible, the replacement of an economist (Tagayev) by a veteran silovik suggests that Kadyrov's current priorities are to discover and quash at an early stage any further conspiracy against him, and to preclude any further attack on federal security personnel on the lines of that in the northern Nauri district in March 2017. On that occasion, a group of disaffected young men armed only with knives succeeded in killing six members of the National Guard and injuring three more.
Kadyrov assured Putin during a face-to-face meeting in April that the Chechen economy is flourishing, with double-digit growth in agricultural output and budget revenues.