Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 16

Potential candidates for the presidency of Chechnya, together with their supporters, continue to maneuver via leaks to the press even though the date of the elections–at least six months away–has still not been publicly announced. From the most recent detailed analysis of the various contenders, published on May 5 by the strongly pro-Kremlin website, it would seem that the Putin administration is still keeping alive, at least for public consumption, the option of dumping current front-runner Akhmad Kadyrov.

According to German Pronin, the website’s analyst, an “anonymous source in the administration of Chechnya” told him that “the struggle for power will be serious; God grant that it will not develop in an uncivilized form.”

Weighing the views of this and other sources, Pronin concluded that Kadyrov’s strengths as a candidate include his connections with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner ring. When Stanislav Ilyasov was prime minister of the Chechen administration, he flew to Moscow several times for confidential meetings with Putin–but, according to Pronin, found himself meeting with Kadyrov each time. Another advantage for the acting president is his possession of an armed force of “legalized ex-guerrillas” who personally loyal to him. Kadyrov’s weaknesses, according to Pronin’s account, are his lack of popularity among Chechens, his “unskillful personnel choices,” and his efforts to place the republic’s security structures completely under his own control. That list of minuses is especially striking in an analysis published by such a pro-Kremlin website. It suggests that one should take seriously Pronin’s supposition “that Moscow is trying to place its stake on some other figure.”

Pronin seemed to go out of his way to hype the candidacy of Abubakar Arsamakov, head of the Moscow Industrial Bank, which has close ties to the Moscow city government. “According to rumors,” wrote the analyst, “he enjoys the sympathy of presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky.” He suggested that the substitution of Arsamakov for Kadyrov might have been planned some years ago, with the latter to be given a post as special ambassador to the Middle East as a consolation prize. Pronin recognized, however, that Arsamakov has the handicap of having lived outside Chechnya and of having “distanced himself from events in the republic” during the recent crises.

Also on Pronin’s list is Aslambek Aslakhanov, Chechnya’s representative in the federal Duma. Aslakhanov has, publicly at least, expressed a reluctance to run, but he has left the door open if he is “strongly requested.” A more likely candidate, in Pronin’s view, is businessman Malik Saidullaev, a “long-time opponent of Kadyrov” who “has already begun an active PR campaign.”

Beslan Gantimirov, a former separatist and former mayor of Grozny, is another possibility. He now serves as minister for the mass media in the Kadyrov administration and, in effect, has used that post to create his own personal propaganda machine. Pronin does not take seriously Gantimirov’s disavowals of any intention to run for president. But even if the media minister should stick with those disavowals, Pronin predicts that he will “try to receive maximum dividends” from his ability to influence public opinion.

Also worth considering, despite the total lack of any chance that they might win, are the few potential candidates from the ranks of such “repentant” rebels as Isa Temirov, who until recently was head of the separatist parliament. In Pronin’s view, their role would essentially be to increase turnout by giving anti-Moscow voters a more attractive choice.

Pronin dismissed the chances of Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, President Putin’s personal representative in Chechnya, opining that he “lacks sufficient support.” But the radio station Ekho Moskvy expressed exactly the opposite view in a May 2 broadcast. It quoted “an informed source in Moscow” to the effect that the Kremlin may throw its support to Sultygov because he is considered to be “the most suitable candidate, capable of stepping up the process of bringing the republic back to peaceful life.” The radio station cited its source as dismissing Kadyrov as one who “had failed to live up to the hopes that were placed on him and to get the situation in the republic under control.”

Pronin also discussed a “mysterious figure” mentioned to Jamestown by a Chechen separatist source a month ago (see Chechnya Weekly, April 10). This is Said-Selim Peshkhoev, a general in the FSB secret police (the former KGB) and former head of the directorate of internal affairs in the pro-Moscow Chechen administration. If the Kremlin should install him as president of Chechnya it would signify a “strategic” choice to place the republic’s civilian administration directly under the control of “representatives of the special services and of the Ministry of Defense.” In any case, as Pronin observes, the general’s institutional affiliation “will guarantee him a future not only in Chechnya.”

Finally, Pronin mentioned the possible candidacy of General Gennady Troshev–which looks much less likely now that he has received the relatively unimpressive post of adviser to Putin on Cossack affairs.