Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 33

According to some observers, the strains and splits inside Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration raise doubts not only about whether Ramzan Kadyrov will assume the republic’s presidency, but about whether he will remain on the political scene in any capacity. In an interview with Radio Liberty’s Chechen-language service, a transcript of which was posted on the separatist Chechenpress website on August 15, Novaya gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya was asked whether Chechens trust Ramzan Kadyrov’s promise to guarantee security to rebels who accept the federal authorities’ amnesty offer. “In Chechnya today, the situation is such that everyone understands that Kadyrov’s guarantees mean less and less,” she answered. “In recent weeks there have been several revolts in Kadyrov’s entourage. Kadyrov was dismayed. He really tried to keep it from going too far. One subordinate told him: ‘Enough of humiliating us!’ The OMON [special tasks police unit] has split into two parts—for and against Ramzan Kadyrov…The house of cards is collapsing before his eyes.” Politkovskaya named two influential pro-Moscow Chechen warlords who have come out in opposition to Kadyrov—Movladi Baisarov, a Federal Security Service (FSB) colonel, and Said Magomed Kakiev, commander of the 900-strong “Zapad” (West) battalion, which is under the Russian military’s chief intelligence directorate (GRU).

The Guardian on June 13 detailed an incident that reportedly took place in May, in which a relative of Ramzan Kadyrov tried to drive a truckload of oil piping to sell on the black market outside of Chechnya but was stopped by Baisarov’s men. Citing a soldier in an armed unit loyal to Kadyrov, who was identified only as Rashid, the British newspaper reported that the relative telephoned Kadyrov, after which one of Kadyrov’s deputies assembled 1,000 men and encircled Baisarov’s stronghold. Rashid told the newspaper that Baisarov “ordered his men not to be the first to shoot, as he didn’t want Chechens killing Chechens,” but that they “came out and told Kadyrov’s men that they were only 50 strong but ready to die like honest Muslims if it came to it.” According to the Guardian, the incident ended with Ramzan backing down. “The standoff could have ended in bloodshed and perhaps further conflict were it not for the president of Chechnya, Kadyrov’s boss Alu Alkhanov, and another Chechen warlord, Said Magomed Kakiev, swinging in behind Baisarov and his men,” the newspaper reported. “They telephoned Kadyrov, forcing him to withdraw his troops.”

In an article published in Novaya gazeta on August 14, Anna Politkovskaya cited several other key events and developments in what appears to be mushrooming opposition to Kadyrov’s rule. According to Politkovskaya, when Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Economic Development Minister German Gref visited Grozny on July 25, Kadyrov, in his “well-known loutish manner,” demanded nearly two billion rubles (about US$75 million) for reconstruction projects that had already been completed. Gref, however, asked to provide documentation with estimates of the projects’ costs, which Kadyrov did not have. The two ministers made it clear to Kadyrov that before any federal money could be handed over for the construction projects, a federal commission would have to come and independently estimate how much they had actually cost. According to Politkovskaya, a large number of Chechen officials were on hand for this meeting and thus were able to witness the “new tone” the federal ministers were taking with Kadyrov.

“Earlier, these same federal ministers spoke with ‘the Kadyrov team’ only in the language of completely understanding fathers,” Politkovskaya wrote. “It also didn’t escape the eyewitnesses that the ministers refused to travel from the airfield to the site of the meeting in Kadyrov’s black [Toyota] Land Cruisers with Moscow license plates, preferring instead Alkhanov’s presidential automobiles. In the corridors of that very same meeting, the federal ministers were told that in the event of Kadyrov’s accession to the presidency, half the republic will leave Chechnya. And also that it is unlikely that [rebels] will surrender under Ramzan.” According to Politkovskaya, Kadyrov’s meeting with Kudrin and Gref sparked rumors throughout the republic that Moscow was ready to “dump” Kadyrov and also triggered a “mutiny.” The mutiny’s first manifestation came when the so-called “Oil Regiment,” nominally tasked with guarding oil pipelines but implicated in kidnappings, refused to pay its customary “tribute” to the Kadyrov Foundation and warned Kadyrov that it would no longer get involved in turf battles and shoot other Chechens on his behalf (Chechnya Weekly, January 6). Next, servicemen from the republican Emergency Situations Ministry refused to make any more “tribute” payments, and actually filed complaints about the payments with the republican prosecutor’s office.

This was followed by what Politkovskaya described as an “ambush,” carried out by Muslim Ilyasov, the former rebel fighter and one-time close friend of Kadyrov who currently commands the recently-formed Yug (South) battalion under the federal Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops. Members of other Chechen armed units—including the Zapad (West), Vostok (East) and Sever (North) battalions—converged on the site of the ambush and, according to Politkovskaya, each of the units split into pro-Ramzan and anti-Ramzan factions, with the preponderance of the fighters siding against him. “Ilyasov, the instigator of the rebellion, declared Ramzan an enemy and explained why: for indignities, insults and humiliations,” she wrote. “For ‘slavery’ Ramzan raged. And, in view of [his] lack of forces, retreated.” Politkovskaya quoted a commander who was involved in the standoff as predicting that “everything will be finished”—meaning that Kadyrov would be removed from power—in two months. Another predicted it would happen in three months. “All of those who command units, the so-called pro-Moscow Chechen power structures, concur that the removal of Ramzan is only a matter of time,” she wrote. She added, however, that her interlocutors added a caveat: Kadyrov, they said, would remain in power if Putin himself wants him there.

The separatist Daymohk website, meanwhile, reported on August 10 that “mass arrests,” targeting the relatives of members of the “Oil Regiment” who had defected to the rebels, had begun. Daymohk claimed that “many women and elderly” were among those detained and that Kadyrov was threatening to “destroy” the detainees if the defectors did not return immediately. Moskovsky komsomolets reported on August 5 that 164 members of the “Oil Regiment”—also known as “Vega,” after the two-way radio call sign of its commander—had thrown down their weapons and gone over to the rebels in the mountains.

On August 8, Interfax quoted the Chechen Interior Ministry as saying: “One newspaper in the capital published a report which alleges that 164 members of a Chechen Interior Ministry security guard regiment have slipped off into the hills. This information is provocative and incorrect from start to finish. It is a fabrication.” The ministry added in its statement that “there has not been a single instance of members of the so-called oil regiment abandoning their posts and leaving for the hills or anywhere else.”