On March 31, Chechnya’s parliament issued a statement expressing its disapproval of the presidential envoy to the North Caucasus, Alexander Khloponin. According to the Chechen parliament, delays in changes in the socio-economic development of the region were disappointing and could potentially damage President Dmitry Medvedev’s reputation and create apathy among the population of the region. The parliamentarians said Chechnya did not receive enough attention from the North Caucasus Federal District and the district bureaucracy did not succeed in building a suitable work team (www.hechnyatoday.com, April 1).
Chechnya’s parliament is widely known for its complete allegiance to the republic’s president, Ramzan Kadyrov. Therefore, the statement became the latest and the clearest sign of a rift between Kadyrov and Alexander Khloponin. In January 2010, President Medvedev created the North Caucasus Federal District, uniting all the North Caucasian republics except Adygea and including the predominantly Russian-speaking Stavropol region. Apart from that, Medvedev surprised observers by appointing as head of the new district Alexander Khloponin –the governor of Siberia’s Krasnoyarsk region and a skillful economist-manager with links to prominent Russian oligarchs. A majority of observers welcomed the move as a sign that Moscow was rejecting its heavy reliance on crude force in dealing with the region’s problems, instead choosing economic development of the region to stem the spread of violence.
Even though the statement by Chechnya’s parliament did not target Khloponin directly, it implied quite openly that he is not succeeding in his job. This is very unusual behavior for Kadyrov, who emphasizes his loyalty to Moscow more often than any other governor.
Chechen sources told the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website that Chechnya’s pro-Moscow government is experiencing “mild panic” following persistent rumors of new appointments in the Khloponin administration. Namely, it was rumored that Bislan Gantamirov, who was Ahmad Kadyrov’s rival, had been appointed as an aide to Khloponin. Ahmad Khasanbekov, formerly the head of ORB-2 (the operative research bureau) in Grozny, is set to become one of the top police chiefs in the North Caucasus Federal District. Both Gantamirov and Khasanbekov are said to have left Chechnya because of conflicts with Kadyrov’s clan. As recently as several weeks ago, Chechen police reportedly burned down shops belonging to the Gantamirov clan in the village of Gekhi in southwestern Chechnya (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, April 1).
The Chechen parliament’s statement was unusually resounding, expressing the hope that people not fondly remembered in Chechnya who were “squeezed out” of the republic would not be brought into the inner circle of the new North Caucasus presidential envoy. “Their presence in the team not only would not help solving the existing tasks, but on the contrary, would provoke disagreements and [lead to and] uncompromising rejection by the local elites and civil society,” the statement concluded (www.chechnyatoday.com, April 1).
Khloponin’s administration has not replied yet to Kadyrov’s bellicose demarche. However, it seems to be one of those defining moments, when the Russian presidential envoy is expected to show off and affirm his authority.
Relations between Kadyrov and Khloponin were off to a bad start from the very beginning, when Kadyrov negatively responded to the possibility of creation of such a position. “If there are intermediaries between the government authorities of the Russian Federation and presidents of the republics, it is already a weakness,” Kadyrov said at the time, adding: “I think that if I am a president [of a republic] and I am trusted, I should report to the head of the state directly” (www.versia.ru, January 11).
Kadyrov apparently felt, that the special type of relationship between him and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would be downgraded if there were an intermediary. Moscow in its turn perhaps also liked this idea of bringing down Kadyrov and making him look more like a regular North Caucasian governor who has to report to a third party, not necessarily the head of the state. The irony of the situation is that the better Ramzan Kadyrov coped with suppressing the insurgency in Chechnya, the more likely it was that Chechnya and Kadyrov would be regarded as “just another region of Russian Federation.”
Alexander Khloponin became perhaps the first person in the entire Russian government who was allowed to openly criticize Ramzan Kadyrov. Referring to Kadyrov’s voyage to the Middle East, Khloponin said: “[When] Ramzan Kadyrov went abroad, whose interests did he present there? Did he think Saudi Arabia would give [him] money? Is America, whose influence there is great, interested in that? For such talks we have MID [the ministry of foreign affairs] and other organizations” (Kommersant, March 4). Moscow jealously guards the central government’s privilege to control all international lines of communication, rarely allowing regions to have substantial dealings with foreign countries on their own. Chechnya pretended to be an exception as Kadyrov and his men enjoyed frequent semi-official trips to Middle Eastern countries advertising pro-Russian Chechnya to the Muslim world.
Another unexpected disharmony emerged in an unanticipated field. On April 5, Kavkazsky Uzel reported that a Grozny district court declared that the 58th volume of the 62-volume modern “Great Russian Encyclopedia” was extremist and ordered that it be confiscated. The Chechen authorities say that Chechens are described in the book as inherently evil and violent troublemakers and that this may qualify as a crime for inciting ethnic hatred. The “Great Russian Encyclopedia” is considered to be an authoritative source and is regularly cited in courts, media and other consequential places. This incident shows how many differences in culture and in perception remain between the Russians and the Chechens despite efforts by officials to create an idealized version of bilateral relations.
Kadyrov and Khloponin have moved toward a major confrontation, one that is likely to be of critical importance to the North Caucasus.