Having scheduled an early presidential election in Chechnya for September 5, the Kremlin appears to have opted for the continuation of its existing Chechenization policy in the wake of the assassination on May 9 of the pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov. As many Russian policy makers and commentators have noted, the administration of President Vladimir Putin has decided to stick to the strategy it had been pursuing for the last four years because any major policy shift would mean an implicit recognition that the methods Moscow was employing to settle the conflict in the rebellious province were deeply erroneous. By naming the acting Chechen president and calling a new election in accordance with the Chechen constitution the federal center intends to send a signal to loyal Chechens, to the Russian public and to the international community that there will be a “smooth transition” in Chechnya. Indeed, the architects of the Chechenization policy in President Putin’s entourage seem to be going out of their way to demonstrate that despite the killing of Kadyrov it is “business as usual” in the republic.
But in fact in will be very difficult for the Kremlin to return the situation in Chechnya to where it was before the May 9 terrorist attack, most regional analysts say. The murder of Kadyrov has presented Moscow with three major problems it will find hard to solve.
The first involves the power vacuum left in Chechnya after the blast at the Grozny stadium. The political system in the republic was a local version of “managed democracy.” The structure of government – in Russian parlance, a “vertical of power” – was tailored to fit just one man – Akhmad Kadyrov. For a number of years Moscow had helped its man in Grozny to eliminate all serious political contenders. At the same time, the federal center allowed Kadyrov to concentrate under his control substantial financial resources and turned a blind eye to the Kadyrov clan’s efforts to build up its military muscle. Now, with Kadyrov gone, the politicians both in Moscow and in Grozny are reluctantly acknowledging that there is basically no one to fill his shoes. “It is clear,” argues Andrei Ryabov, a researcher at the Carnegie Moscow Center, “that the whole process of peace settlement in Chechnya…is endangered since it was staked just on one man – Akhmad Kadyrov.”
The second problem that the Kremlin faces is closely connected with the first and can be called the “Ramzan factor.” Moscow strategists will have to find a way to keep in check the late Kadyrov’s brutal son Ramzan, the former head of the Chechen president’s security service. Some analysts believe the Kremlin may opt for a “dynastic succession,” transferring the power machine it built for Kadyrov Senior to his son. Ramzan’s meeting with Putin in the Kremlin on May 9 and his swift appointment to the post of the first deputy prime minister seemingly point in this direction. But other experts say that Ramzan is very unpopular in Chechnya and much less experienced than was his father, who proved to be a wily and seasoned politician. Even the loyal Chechen clans that were prepared to accept Kadyrov Senior as a leader would be reluctant to bow to Kadyrov Junior, the argument goes.
For his part, Ramzan appears intent to run for the top post although, according to the Chechen constitution, he is ineligible because of his young age. According to Putin advisor Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechnya is now in effect being run by Ramzan Kadyrov, who is relying on his private army, which numbers up to 5000 men. “He has authority. It is hard for [acting President Sergei] Abramov.… He knows about finances but does not have enough experience of political authority,” Aslakhanov told reporters in Moscow.
Finally, there is a danger of the situation in Chechnya becoming even less manageable than it was under Kadyrov. After all, as some commentators note, there are too many armed men and too many blood feuds in the region. The election campaign may well act as a detonator, one that turns the multiple rivalries into bloody clashes. “The situation in Chechnya will clearly become more acute,” predicts Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Foundation think tank. In addition, “the separatist fighters will also become more active,” Nikonov suggests (Interfax, May 10-13; Gazeta.ru, Politcom.ru, Vedomosti, May 11; Gazeta, May 11; Izvestia, May 12; The Moscow Times, May 11-13).