Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 13

Kavkazky Uzel on March 29 cited a report by the Chechen government’s press service. “There is a holiday in the Kurchaloi district maternity hospital,” the press service reported, noting that the hospital had just opened on March 8 and had delivered its first baby boy—Akhmat Bakaev. “The happy parents named their boy in honor of the first president of Chechnya, Akhmat Kadyrov,” the press service explained to the website. “At the direction of the chairman of the government of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, and the head of the Hero of Russia Akhmat Kadyrov Regional Social Foundation, Aimani Kadyrova [Akhmad Kadyrov’s widow], the foundation’s chairman, Khas-Magomed Khizriev, and the head of the Kurchaloi district, Eli Abdulaev, visited the maternity hospital. The guests congratulated the happy mother and, wishing the infant a happy life, presented the parents with the keys to a VAZ-2107 car.” That same day, the maternity hospital delivered its first baby girl. “And the Kadyrov Foundation did not leave her parents without a gift,” the Chechen government’s press service told Kavkazky Uzel. “The mother of the baby received monetary support amounting to 100,000 rubles [nearly US$3600]. According to the maternity hospital’s midwife, Lidia Neshirekovaya, both newborns were healthy.”

Such “news,” according to Kavkazky Uzel, appears almost daily in Chechnya, and Ramzan Kadyrov, rather than Chechnya’s president, Alu Alkhanov, usually figures in it. The website quoted Lev Levinson of the Moscow-based Institute for Human Rights as saying that a “cult of personality” is emerging in Chechnya around Ramzan Kadyrov, albeit a “small” and “local” one. “There is nothing similar in other republics; there is a very specific situation in Chechnya,” he said. “Everywhere, of course, the picture is different. We can say that in Bashkiria, [President Murtaza] Rakhimov creates a cult of personality through the tamed press, as does [President] Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in Kalmykia. But at the same time, in distinction from Chechnya, [in Bashkiria and Kalmykia] there are relatively free sources of information, less dependent on the authorities. In Chechnya there are no independent sources of information … And all of the official [media] work for one person—Ramzan Kadyrov. On account of the specifics of the situation in Chechnya this is very easily done there—simply in the form of an order.”

Levinson said he doubted that such personality cults would emerge in the other republics of the North Caucasus. “The Kremlin keeps all the leaders of the North Caucasus on a rather short leash,” he said. “They observe a certain balance. And if the Kremlin needs to, it can replace them, in spite of the fact that many of them have, so to speak, a rooted system in the republics that they rule. Take for example Dagestan. I don’t think that Magomedali Magomedov so strongly himself wanted to leave office. But in Chechnya, going back to the time of the Chechenization of the conflict, the time of Kadyrov-papa, it was unclear who had whom on a leash – Kadyrov, the Kremlin; or the Kremlin, Kadyrov. Because they [the kadyrovtsy] could always go back to being what they were several years ago – [separatist] fighters. Nothing is stopping them from going over to the other side. And considering how many weapons they have, how much money they have, how many resources they’ve moved in on, if Ramzan Kadyrov is touched even a little bit, all of them will end up on that side [the rebel side]. And it will be worse than it was under Aslan Maskhadov, who did not have the resources that Kadyrov has today.”

Likewise, Sergei Markedonov, head of the ethnic relations department at the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, warned in an analysis published by the Politcom website on March 28 that Moscow’s policy of Chechenization could backfire. “Have we learned anything from the sad history of post-Soviet Chechnya?” he wrote. “It appears that the best answer to that question is all the significant political and socio-economic initiatives of the [Chechen] republican elite during the last two years. [There have been] the demands to revise Chechnya’s borders with Ingushetia and Dagestan, and the fight with Danish Refugee Council, and the formation of their own republican power structures, and ‘zachistki’ like the one in Borozdinovskaya, and periodic ‘leaks’ of the text of the treaty delimiting powers between the Russian Federation and Chechnya. And now [there are] the initiatives to create a ‘free economic zone.’ In this same series are Chechnya’s special privileges (a dual-chamber parliament, carrying out elections without an initial ‘demarcation’ of electoral districts). However, what is lost sight of is that harsh sanctions, right up to legal ones, should be applied simply for putting forward plans like the latest initiatives. Otherwise, what’s the use of all this talk about a vertical [of power]. Instead of building up the Russian presence in Chechnya and gathering up the power that is atomized between the various ministries and departments, the Kremlin today is, under a purely formal outward loyalty, giving the republic away to the latest group of ‘our people.’”