war of congresses is beginning in Chechnya,” journalist Alla Barakhova noted in the April 5 issue of Kommersant, “The struggle for power in Chechnya is growing stronger.” On March 23, as was reported in this newsletter, Chechnya’s elected deputy to the Russian State Duma, retired MVD general Aslambek Aslakhanov, organized a conference in Moscow aimed at paving the way for a pan-Chechen congress, to be held in Djohar or elsewhere in the Chechen Republic. It was planned to invite one delegate per 5,000 inhabitants to the congress and to ensure that present and former minorities of the republic-Russians, Jews, Dagestanis-also had representation (Kommersant, March 24, 26). The Russian minister responsible for Chechen reconstruction, Vladimir Elagin, was said to be supporting the idea of the congress.
On April 4, Agence France Presse reported that Aslakhanov was being aided in his organizational efforts by the former speaker of the Russian parliament, Ruslan Khasbulatov, and by a leading Moscow-based Chechen businessman, Malik Saidullaev. Polls conducted among Chechens have shown that these three politicians enjoy significant support among the Chechen populace.
It appears that the official pro-Moscow Chechen leadership of Mufti Akhmad Kadyrov (who does not enjoy widespread support among the Chechen populace) and the Putin regime have been alarmed by this Aslakhanov initiative. Moreover, not only has Aslakhanov been planning a congress, but so have Bislan Gantamirov, the pro-Moscow mayor of Djohar, a serious Kadyrov rival, and also a newly created organization of Chechen businessmen, based in Moscow, called “The Third Force.” These developments were presumably discussed at some length during a pivotal Russian Security Council meeting held on March 29, which Kadyrov attended.
In an interview published in Nezavisimaya gazeta on April 3, Kadyrov noted, “At first I gave preliminary approval for a holding of the congress, but I said that we ourselves should do it and not anyone else. I charged Adam Deniev with creating an organization committee [for the congress].” Deniev’s name is well known to close observers of the Chechen political scene. Currently serving as Kadyrov’s special representative for relations with Middle Eastern, Asian and African countries, Deniev is a shadowy figure who has been charged, inter alia, with having ordered the murder of six Red Cross nurses in Chechnya and with having played a key role in the imprisoning of Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky. Reputed to hold the rank of colonel in the Russian military, Deniev spent part of the 1980s as well as the years 1993-94 in Baghdad, Iraq.” (See The Observer [London], 19 March 2000)
Interviewed by the newspaper Kommersant, Deniev described current plans for the Kadyrov-led congress, which was scheduled to be held in early May. He noted that the Kadyrov congress was being supported by General Ivan Babichev, the military commandant of Chechnya, and by retired general Bokovikov, deputy plenipotentiary presidential representative in the Southern Federal District. Deniev contemptuously dismissed the Aslakhanov-Khasbulatov effort as one mounted by “Russified generals and professors” living in Moscow (The Kommersant journalist pointed out that Deniev had himself been living in Moscow for the past five years.).
In his comments to Kommersant, Deniev said that he considered it a “mistake” that the idea of a new Chechen constitution had been aired at the Aslakhanov-led conference in March. That idea, he said, “elicited on the part of several federal bureaucrats a fear that they [the Aslakhanov-Khasbulatov group] wanted to take power into their hands.” On the other hand, Deniev stressed, “If the [Kadyrov-led] congress expresses its recognition of Kadyrov, then it will become the basis of his legitimacy…. and a recognition of the policy of the President of Russia before the world community” (Kommersant, April 5).
By the end of the first week of April Kadyrov and his allies had dropped the idea of holding a pan-Chechen congress. “This is not a time for congresses,” Kadyrov cautioned, “The war is not over yet and we should remember the congress of the Chechen people in 1990. We know only too well how that ended-a year later Djohar Dudaev came to power.” And Kadyrov warned: “The people who are trying to organize this congress are only thinking about political dividends. They see the event as a springboard into the political arena” (CRS, April 6).
On April 10, Kadyrov announced that the pan-Chechen congress, scheduled for 3 May, had been postponed. No new date was set. “For the time being there has not been created in the republic a situation favorable for the convoking of such a broad-scale forum,” he said. Kadyrov also pointed out that delegates to the congress would run the risk of assassination by terrorists (Russian agencies, April 10). For the time being, it appears, plans for the holding of a pan-Chechen congress-which might feasibly prepare elections to a new Chechen parliament as well as the drafting of a new Chechen constitution-have been scuttled, perhaps indefinitely.