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Russian Civil-Aviation Authority Clips Kadyrov's Wings

The suspension of Grozny Avia's license for international flights fits neatly into a pattern of recent criticism of Ramzan Kadyrov's leadership style by Russian President Vladimir Putin, his erstwhile patron and protector, and the move to resubordinate Kadyrov's private army, estimated to number upward of 10,000 men, to the new National Guard.

In a further indication that the Kremlin is systematically curtailing the vast powers accumulated over the past decade by Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, the Russian civil-aviation authority, Rosaviatsia, has suspended the right of Chechen carrier Grozny Avia to conduct international flights.

That decision, if not reversed, could spell financial ruin for the airline, which reportedly last turned a profit in 2010. It could also jeopardize Kadyrov's stated ambition of transforming Grozny's airport, which was designated an international one only after the lifting seven years ago of the permanent counterterror restrictions imposed during the 1999-2000 war, into a major transit hub for both north-south and east-west flights.

Grozny Avia was established in 2007, the year that Russian President Vladimir Putin first appointed Kadyrov Chechen leader, by the Regional Charitable Fund named after Kadyrov's late father, Akhmad-hadzhi Kadyrov -- the workings of which are shrouded in mystery.

The Chechen government currently owns a 99 percent stake in Grozny Avia.

Initially, Grozny Avia was the sole carrier operating flights between Grozny and Moscow, which were launched in June 2008. It gradually expanded its network to include other Russian cities (Yekaterinburg, Tyumen, Rostov-on-Don) and also Kyiv, Astana, Almaty, Bishkek, and Baku, as well as destinations in Europe, Turkey, and the Near East. In August 2013, it launched a service between Nalchik, the capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, and Moscow.

And following Russia's annexation of Crimea in early 2014, Grozny Avia acquired basing rights in Simferopol, from where it intended to fly to Yerevan. Those plans were apparently thwarted by the Armenian Directorate of Civil Aviation. The airline did, however, launch in the summer of 2014 a service between Simferopol and Istanbul.

Insofar as Grozny Avia had a coherent business plan, it appears to have been to charge the maximum price for tickets while investing the minimum in infrastructure. Plans to purchase eight Sukhoi Superjet-100 aircraft were announced in August 2013 but came to nothing: the company still operates only a fleet of eight Soviet-era YaK-42 aircraft.

Talks in April 2014, by which time Grozny Avia was reportedly in serious financial difficulties, on a possible merger with Turkey's Pegasus Air likewise went nowhere.

In October, Grozny Avia announced the temporary suspension of all services, after other Russian budget airlines such as Red Wings and YutAIR, using more modern aircraft and offering superior service, launched a price war on the Moscow-Grozny route, which reportedly accounted for 60 percent of Grozny Avia's business. More recently, however, Grozny Avia announced plans for flights to China, and between the Russian city of Bryansk and Yerevan, starting on May 1.

The suspension of Grozny Avia's license for international flights was reportedly made on the basis of a statement by the airline on April 14. But it fits neatly into a pattern of recent criticism of Kadyrov's leadership style by President Putin, his erstwhile patron and protector, and the move to resubordinate Kadyrov's private army, estimated by Russian oppositionist Ilya Yashin to number upward of 10,000 men to the new National Guard, which will answer directly to the federal Interior Ministry.

When Putin gave his tacit approval in late March for Kadyrov's reelection for a third term as republic head, he simultaneously warned that "as the future leader of the republic, you should do everything to ensure full compliance with Russian laws in all spheres of our life -- I want to stress this, in all spheres of our life."

Two weeks later, during his annual televised phone-in, Putin commented negatively on Kadyrov's recent verbal attacks on Russian opposition politicians, whom he collectively branded "enemies of the people." Putin admitted that he was remiss in not reining Kadyrov in earlier and warned federation subject heads not to undermine political stability.

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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