Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 43

On November 23, the Russian State Duma began parliamentary hearings devoted to “the beginning of the constitutional process in Chechnya.” Organized by the Duma Commission on Chechnya, they attempted to bring together representatives of the Russian authorities and the authors of numerous drafts of a new Chechen constitution. Representatives of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration and of the presidential Southern Federal District were also in attendance. Sitting in the presidium were: Akhmad Kadyrov; Aslambek Aslakhanov, the elected Duma representative from Chechnya; and Valentin Nikitin, chairman of the aforementioned commission. Notably absent from the hearings were two authors of draft Chechen constitutions: Bislan Gantamirov, the former pro-Moscow mayor of Djohar (Grozny), and Ruslan Khasbulatov, the former speaker of the Russian parliament (Kommersant, November 24).

First to address the meeting was Valentin Nikitin, who invited all of those present to “get involved in the constitutional process.” He foresaw a future which would see “the reestablishment of an MVD, FSB, Ministry of Emergency Situations, Ministry of Justice and Procuracy of Chechnya; the liquidation of the basic bandit formations and terrorist leaders and groups; the removal [from Chechnya] of units of the Ministry of Defense; and elections to the parliament and president of the republic.” Speaking second after Nikitin was Chechen political scientist Lecha Saigov, who made several controversial statements. In Saigov’s opinion, “a limited contingent of peacemaking forces should be introduced into Chechnya from Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.” These military forces should observe the activities of the Russian Combined Group of Forces in Chechnya. “In addition, Saigov advanced the proposition that, in principle, there existed no [Chechen] conflict since, in his opinion, everything has been initiated in Moscow, and all the rebels are in reality officers of the special services of the FSB and GRU, who can thus cease their opposition on command” (Izvestia, November 24).

In his comments to the meeting, Akhmad Kadyrov “called on all Chechens to unite and come to the republic and work for its benefit.” He dismissed Saigov’s suggestion concerning a future role for external peacekeepers: “I see that Chechens have now become orators. That’s all we need-Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tajiks, and we are to feed them in Chechnya” (Izvestia, November 24). Kadyrov also emphasized that he and his administration alone should be responsible for drafting a new Chechen constitution. “Those who are empowered by the [Russian] president must write a constitution. That task was delegated to me. We have a council which is doing it. There should not be ten drafts!” Duma deputy Vladimir Lysenko, however, strongly opposed Kadyrov’s statement, maintaining that a Kadyrov constitution would be “a document which will not enjoy any authority.” Lysenko, a leading “democrat,” proposed instead that President Putin form a commission by decree in which both sides–“those loyal to the federal authorities and those warring with them”–would participate (Kommersant, November 24).

In his comments to the meeting, Duma deputy Aslambek Aslakhanov underscored: “There will never be an independent republic of Chechnya.” All questions concerning the future of the republic, its status and forms of rule should, he said, be decided by Chechens themselves in a popular referendum. “Chechens are politically literate people,” he remarked, “and not bandits, as people try to depict them, and they will sort out what they need.” Aslakhanov appealed to his fellow Chechens to “follow the example of the highlanders of Switzerland, who ‘fought for a long time and then found out with what they should occupy themselves-tourism, cheese-making, and watch-making.'” Aslakhanov concluded by noting that he now favored a presidential republic in Chechnya, the same position as was endorsed by Kadyrov (Kommersant, 24 November).