Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 7

Political analyst Aleksei Makarkin suggested in a detailed commentary published on March 3 by the website that the federal authorities are making conciliatory gestures toward the opponents of their own appointee in Grozny, Akhmad Kadyrov. Makarkin noted several indications that the Kremlin is going out of its way to leave the door open for reconciliation even with moderate separatists–albeit without making any hard, irreversible commitments. He cited several conciliatory moves apparently designed to appease the local populace and to maximize the chances for a resounding win in the constitutional referendum scheduled for March 23. They include:

–A well publicized reduction in the number of checkpoints, especially in Grozny, where Russian servicemen can inspect the possessions and documents of anyone trying to get past in pursuit of daily business. The checkpoints have been extremely unpopular because of their routine use to squeeze bribes from the civilian populace. (Eight of them now located in the Chechen capital are to be dismantled within the next two weeks, according to the Russian news agency Interfax. Thus, this crowd-pleasing move will reach its climax just before the March 23 referendum.)

–The first public acknowledgement by the federal forces of the need to research cases of mass “disappearances” of civilians. The recent estimate by the chief prosecutor for Chechnya, Vladimir Kravchenko, that some 1,660 people have vanished without a trace since the outbreak of the second war in 1999 is still considered by independent human rights groups to be far too low. Nevertheless, as recently as November the federal Interior Ministry was willing to admit to only 360 such cases. Contrary to the findings of human rights advocates, Kravchenko claimed that all these cases are still open and under active investigation. But he was able to identify only one by name–the case of a missing employee of the western charity “Medecins sans Frontieres.”

–Moscow’s recent decision to transfer to the pro-Moscow Chechen government some eighty-two state enterprises that had still been classified as federal entities, including structures such as food companies and local utilities. Makarkin noted that “one can imagine how nominal the prerogatives of the Chechen government must have been prior to this decision if even enterprises so clearly local by nature were still being classified as federal properties.”

–The February 27 announcement by the federal Ministry of Finance that, in March, it would finally begin to pay Chechen civilians compensation for destruction of their homes and property resulting from federal military action. The federal authorities had previously taken the position that civilian properties were destroyed only in cases of extreme necessity, and that in any case there was no money for compensation available in the federal budget.

–The order by Russia’s Supreme Court at the end of February to reopen the case of Colonel Yury Budanov, charged with the murder of an eighteen-year-old Chechen girl but found not guilty by reason of insanity. Makarkin observed that this is a case fraught with political significance, since all significant groups in Chechnya consider the colonel to be guilty.

–The omission of moderate separatists from the Russian court’s new official list of Chechen terrorist groups. The omission includes even those who are continuing their fight with military means, as, for example, Magomed Khambiev, Maskhadov’s minister of defense. Makarkin interpreted this as a step designed to widen the range of potential partners in the political dialogue, even including still-active followers of Maskhadov if not Maskhadov himself. But it is still not clear, he said, whether this and other seemingly conciliatory moves are just temporary, tactical gestures. All can be reversed quite easily in the future.

Makarkin saw an anti-Kadyrov subtext in the recent visit to Grozny by Putin-aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky. He complained publicly about the lack of vigorous campaign activities for the referendum–especially the absence of grass-roots, face-to-face activities such as the distribution of handbills and posters. Yastrzhembsky said that when he rode along the streets of Grozny he saw the Russian flag everywhere, but not the Chechen. Makarkin noted the irony of this complaint since in practice the Chechen flag has been suppressed as a sign of “separatism.” The analyst also interpreted the Kremlin aide’s words as a hint that Kadyrov and his circle may have improperly diverted federal subsidies intended for the referendum campaign, and thus as preparation for a possible anticorruption drive against Kadyrov once the referendum is over.

Similar complaints came from Aslambek Aslakhanov, deputy to the federal Duma from Chechnya, who told the newspaper Gazeta that all the campaign work thus far had been confined to television. He said that even though “a huge number” of copies of the draft constitution and of the election laws had been printed, pro-Moscow officials were too timid to travel about the country distributing them. The newspaper also noted that nothing has been made clear about how refugees might be able to visit Chechnya in order to vote; for example, at whose expense they would travel and what if any guarantees of security they might receive.

Makarkin noted that, in practice, what the republic has seen over the last year is not “Chechenization” so much as “Kadyrovization.” It is thus reminiscent of the bureaucratic, top-down methods used by Doku Zavgaev when he was appointed to run Chechnya for Moscow in 1995. Even many pro-Moscow Chechens dislike the strong presidency elements of the proposed constitution, fearing that they would concentrate too much power in Kadyrov’s hands. The Putin administration, he wrote, has to contend not only with the Russian security agencies’ efforts to curtail “Chechenization,” but also with Kadyrov’s to monopolize it.