Frustrated though the Putin administration’s anti-Kadyrovites may be at present, they are still working to build the case for major changes in Moscow’s Chechnya policy. In the near future the most likely change is not a peace deal with the separatists: That would be a humiliating admission that Putin’s war on Chechnya has been fundamentally flawed from the beginning. Instead, many in the Moscow elite seem to want to drop the strategy of “Chechenization” and to rule the republic directly from the federal center.
Kadyrov’s opponents are relying heavily on accusations of corruption, which have the advantage of being true. The January 30 issue of Russky kurier included a detailed interview with Sergei Ryabukhin, an auditor with the federal government’s accounting agency, many of whose comments about embezzlement in Chechnya looked startlingly like what one would expect from an independent investigative journalist. Though Ryabukhin was careful not to mention Kadyrov by name, he painted a lurid picture of theft of Russian taxpayers’ money. It is difficult to imagine that the bureaucrat would have been so candid if he were not confident that many highly placed Muscovites would approve.
Depicting himself and his colleagues as zealous watchdogs of the treasury, Ryabukhin said that they had repeatedly managed to block–sometimes at the last minute–illegal expenditures of funds intended for rebuilding the war-shattered republic. In one of the examples he gave, the Chechen government had planned to spend 268 million rubles on remodeling a Moscow club for use as its office in the federal capital. Not only was there no provision for such an item in either the federal or the Chechen budget, he said, but the Chechen bureaucrats granted the contract without soliciting competitive bids. The amount to be spent–the equivalent of almost US$9 million–was twenty-six times higher than the sales price of the building when it changed owners three years ago.
Ryabukhin said that his agency is planning by the end of this year to conduct a comprehensive financial review of Chechnya’s use of federal subsidies. This review, he predicted, would produce a “completely objective picture of how money is being spent in Chechnya and of what needs to be changed.” The implication, of course, is that after Russia’s presidential election in March the enemies of Kadyrov will receive yet another tool to use against him.
Nevertheless, funds from the federal government continue to pour into programs that ostensibly serve the people of Chechnya. According to a February 2 article by Andrei Riskin in Nezavisimaya gazeta, Stanislav Ilyasov of Putin’s cabinet recently said that the Kremlin plans to spend 35 billion rubles (about US$1.15 billion) on programs for redeveloping the republic. That is 5 billion rubles more than last year. In the meantime, wrote Riskin, only 1,640 families have actually received notification that they will be paid compensation for their destroyed homes. (Note that such notification is still not the same as actually getting the cash in hand.) Ilyasov, however, claims that the task of paying compensation will be completed by the end of 2004. “Not easy to believe,” commented Riskin.