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Ramzan Kadyrov Picks A New Fight

Ramzan Kadyrov
Ramzan Kadyrov
Two years after his highly publicized but inconclusive polemic with Republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov over the disputed border between their respective republics, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has fired the opening salvo in a new quarrel.

Addressing Chechen Interior Ministry personnel on April 22, Kadyrov openly branded Saygidpasha Umakhanov, longtime mayor of the Daghestani town of Khasavyurt just 10 kilometers from the Chechen-Daghestan border, “a bandit.” Kadyrov further alleged that Umakhanov’s brother channels funding to the Islamic insurgency. Umakhanov responded with a statement saying his religious and moral convictions do not permit him to engage in a polemic with Kadyrov in light of his profound respect for Kadyrov’s late father Akhmad-hadji.

Umakhanov, 52, has long been one of the most powerful political figures in Daghestan. (The independent daily “Chernovik” recently ranked him the second most influential Daghestani politician after republic head Ramazan Abdulatipov.) A former factory worker turned free-style wrestling trainer, Umakhanov has degrees in economics and law. He has served as Khasavyurt mayor since 1997; from 1997-2003 he was also a member of the republic’s National Assembly. In the early 2000s, Umakhanov headed the informal “Northern Alliance” of Avar politicians who sought to bring about the dismissal of veteran State Council head Magomedali Magomedov, who is a Dargin.

As noted above, Kadyrov’s grievances with the municipal leadership in Khasavyurt in general, and with the Umakhanov family in particular, center on their imputed connivance with the North Caucasus insurgency (of which, as Kadyrov noted, an Avar from Daghestan was recently elected to succeed Doku Umarov as leader) and spillover from Khasavyurt into Chechnya in the form of a flow of radical Islamist fighters, weapons, and drugs. In fact, more cases have been reported in recent years of Chechens killed fighting in the insurgency ranks in Daghestan than vice versa.

As for the traffic in drugs, according to Colonel Enrik Muslimov, the boyish head of the Daghestan Directorate of the Federal Service for Control of Narcotics who successfully spearheaded a crackdown on the abuse of prescription drugs, Daghestan has long been a transit region for drugs smuggled overland from Azerbaijan and by sea from Iran and destined for elsewhere in the Russian Federation.

Why, then, should Kadyrov have chosen to vent his anger on Umakhanov now? Analysts have suggested a number of factors that may have played a role.

The first is the reported arrest early last month in Khasavyurt of two Chechens in possession of a sniper rifle and ammunition who reportedly confessed that they planned to assassinate Umakhanov. They apparently declined to say on whose orders.

Umakhanov attributed that purported plot to his role in 1998-1999 in mobilizing the local population to confront successive incursions into Daghestan of Chechen fighters under the command of renegade field commanders Shamil Basayev and Khattab. In a thinly veiled allusion to Kadyrov’s former association with Basayev (see the top row of photos here) Umakhanov noted that “some of those fighters are now in positions of power and continue to use their position to push their ideology and split the state not from outside but from within. They still want to get rid of me physically.”

If Kadyrov does indeed want to remove Umakhanov, possibly with the aim of having him replaced by a Chechen who could be prevailed upon to promote Kadyrov’s interests rather than those of the republican government in Makhachkala (28 percent of Khasavyurt’s total populations of 135,400 are Chechens), now would be an ideal time to do so insofar as such a high profile assassination would further undermine Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov.

Russian President Vladimir Putin named Abdulatipov to that post only in January 2013, but the republic has been abuzz for months with rumors of his imminent dismissal. One possible candidate to succeed Abdulatipov is former Republic of Daghestan First Deputy Prime Minister Rizvan Kurbanov, a career KGB official who is reportedly close to Kadyrov.Abdulatipov met with Umakhanov during a working visit to Khasavyurt on April 16. It was their first such meeting since Abdulatipov’s appointment as acting republic head.

Alternatively, it is also conceivable that it was Abdulatipov who put Kadyrov up to lambasting Umakhanov in an attempt to discredit an influential Avar rival and demolish the “Northern Alliance.” As criticism of Abdulatipov intensifies, Kadyrov is the only ally he has left.

A second factor is the location in Khasavyurt of a huge retail market dealing in goods imported from Iran and Turkey. Many Chechens reportedly travel regularly to Khasavyurt to shop there as prices are far lower than in a similar market set up on Kadyrov’s orders in 2010 in Koshkeldy, on the main federal highway a few kilometers on the Chechen side of the border. Kadyrov would be justified in resenting the loss to the Chechen treasury in VAT revenues resulting from many Chechens’ preference to shop in Khasavyurt. Several respected Daghestani analysts discount any economic component in the Kadyrov-Umakhanov standoff, however.

The third factor is the detention in recent months, reported by the insurgency website KavkazCenter, of more than 100 hundred young Chechens who travelled regularly to Khasavyurt to attend Friday prayers at a mosque there rather than worship at Chechen mosques where the mullahs are answerable to Kadyrov. The unconfirmed report says some of those youngsters were beaten and tortured, and not all have been released.

Two days after Umakhanov formally declined to engage in a public argument with Kadyrov, Abdulatipov issued a statement commenting on the “virtual verbal duel” between the two strongmen. Abdulatipov noted the role each has played in molding the fate of their respective republics. Speaking “as their elder” (he is 67), Abdulatipov appealed to them not to set out to fuel “contradictions” between their respective peoples.

Citing the saying that when two quarrel, one of them at least should demonstrate wisdom, Abdulatipov expressed the hope that in this case both will do so. Whether Kadyrov will take that admonition to heart, or whether, as was the case two years ago, it will require the intervention of North Caucasus Federal District Head Aleksandr Khloponin to put an end to the heated verbal exchange, remains to be seen.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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