Demonstrations in support of a third term for President Vladimir Putin were held across Russia, including Chechnya, on October 24. As Kommersant noted on October 25, while both the Kremlin and the pro-Kremlin United Russia party claimed the demonstrations were spontaneous actions “from below,” members of Russia’s political opposition claim they were organized “from above” by United Russia. Putin’s second and last constitutionally mandated term as president ends in 2008 and he has said repeatedly that he will not change the constitution in order to serve a third term. Still, Putin announced on October 1 that he will head United Russia’s list of candidates in December’s election to the State Duma and suggested that under certain conditions he could serve as prime minister.
According to Kavkazky Uzel, the press service of Chechnya’s president and government told the Regnum news agency that around 30,000 people took part in rallies across the republic in support of a third term for Putin. According to the official statistics, more than 20,000 people took part in a rally in Grozny under the slogan: “We are with the President of the Russian Federation.” As Prague Watchdog reported on October 24, the rally in Grozny was held at the capital’s Sultan Belimkhanov Stadium, formerly known as Dynamo Stadium. Around 5,000 people from the Kurchaloi and Gudermes districts and the city of Argun reportedly participated in a pro-third-term demonstration in Gudermes, while another roughly 5,000 people gathered in the Achkhoi-Martan district center. On October 25, Kavkazky Uzel quoted an unnamed participant in the rally in Grozny as saying that a maximum of 5,000-6,000 demonstrators had gathered at Sultan Belimkhanov Stadium.
Kavkazky Uzel reported that among the main slogans and messages on placards at the rallies in Chechnya were “The RF presidency of Vladimir Putin is the consolidation of Russia’s role as a great power,” “Putin is the guarantor of peace and stability on Chechen soil” and “Vladimir Putin stopped the war in the Chechen Republic.” Grozny-Inform quoted one rally participant as saying as saying of Putin in a speech: “Thanks to his flexible policy [and] ability to lead the country, Russia regained the status of a strong power during the years of his governance. Today, priority national projects developing all spheres of the country’s life have been elaborated and taken root. It is necessary to note his relationship with the Chechen Republic. Vladimir Putin is our hope for further strengthening and creation in the region. Only under the leadership of this person will the positive processes going on in Chechnya and Russia continue.”
Rally participants read out an appeal to the Federal Assembly (Russia’s parliament) calling for a change in current legislation that would give the Putin the opportunity to run for a third term. Kavkazky Uzel reported that they also adopted a resolution calling on all the people of Chechnya and other Russian regions to support an initiative to create a national movement called “For Putin,” which will work toward electing Putin to a third presidential term.
According to Kavkazky Uzel, the pro-Putin-third term rallies in Chechnya were organized by the “Youth Council” association of non-governmental youth organizations, the Chechen government’s youth affairs committee, the “Ramzan” patriotic club, the regional branch of United Russia and the Grozny city administration. As the website noted, in Chechnya, President Ramzan Kadyrov is leading the initiative to extend Putin’s term and has stated that Putin should be a “president for life” like the presidents of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan (Chechnya Weekly, October 4 and June 21).
Kommersant reported on October 25 that the most of the thousands of demonstrators in Grozny were students from higher learning institutions. The newspaper quoted an employee of Grozny University as saying: “We were warned to ensure the attendance of all the students.” Describing the scene in the Chechen capital, Kommersant wrote that “columns of young people dressed in T-shirts with images of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and Vladimir Putin and equipped with signs saying ‘Give Putin a third term!’ flowed toward Dynamo Stadium in the morning, guarded by policemen in parade uniforms.”
Kavkazky Uzel on October 25 quoted a student from a Grozny higher learning institution who participated in the rally in the Chechen capital as saying: “Yesterday morning, when we as usual arrived for classes, we were told that today all lessons are canceled and that everyone will have to take part in an action in support of Putin. After that we were put on buses; small flags, portraits of Putin and various signs were distributed; and we were taken to the stadium, where that so-called ‘support rally’ took place.”
Another student, Rakhman, told the website: “Such things take place here regularly. The authorities decide to carry out some kind of action – say, marking May 1 or May 9 [Victory Day] – and all lessons are canceled, we are put on buses and taken to the city to appear for a crowd scene. They promise to expel from the institute or create other problems for those who do not come. And afterwards they declare: ‘Thousand of young people came out onto the streets of Grozny to commemorate, to support,’ and so on. In reality, all of this is simply window-dressing. I, like many of my contemporaries, would never voluntarily go out to support Putin, who I consider one of the authors of the mass murder of my people.”
Kavkazky Uzel on October 24 quoted Aslambek Apaev, an expert on the North Caucasus with the Moscow Helsinki Group, as saying: “It seems to me that in the Kremlin today variants are being studied that would allow Putin to remain for a third term. The post of chairman of the cabinet of minister [prime minister], which Putin has agreed to serve as in 2008 ‘under certain conditions’ may be only be a step toward a return to the presidency. But precisely how this project will be carried out is difficult to say. I think that the real levers of control of Russia will remain in Putin’s hands after 2008.”