Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 33

Dzhabrailov still has given no clear explanation of his awkward withdrawal–even in a long radio interview he granted with Ekho Moskvy on September 4. Not surprisingly, he rejected the interpretation publicly offered by Khasbulatov and many others–that he had withdrawn because of pressure from the Kremlin–but he remained elusive about his motives, saying vaguely that “the situation has unfortunately developed in such a way that even if I should win the election, I might not be able to achieve what I hoped to for our people.” He gave only one hint of what “developments” he had in mind, observing that “very many armed supporters” were backing both himself and other candidates and that the unfolding situation “might lead to bloodshed.”

Of course, “bloodshed” has been part of daily life in Chechnya for the last decade; Dzhabrailov provided no information whatever about any specific changes that might have caused him so abruptly to reverse his decision to run for president.

Sanobar Shermatova of Moskovskie novosti commented sarcastically on Dzhabrailov’s “explanation,” saying that “it seems far from exhaustive. Dzhabrailov began his campaign long before the official starting date, and according to Chechen circles in Moscow collected donations in sums large even by Moscow standards–which now have turn out to have been wasted. Businessmen, even very rich ones, are not accustomed to throwing money at an illusion.”

Shermatova’s sources had no doubt that it was the Kremlin that influenced Dzhabrailov to withdraw, but they disagreed about the nature of that influence. “According to one version, they made him an offer which he could not refuse; another version is that they ‘squeezed’ him with kompromat.” (“Kompromat” is the practice, common in today’s Russia, of publishing or threatening to publish scandalous information or allegations about a political opponent.)

Among the Kremlin’s motives, Shermatova’s sources suggested, was the fear of a full-fledged war between Dzhabrailov’s well-armed supporters, including those in Chechnya’s security agencies, and Kadyrov’s. The last thing the Putin administration now wants or needs, she observed, is “yet another war” in Chechnya. The pro-Dzhabrailov gunmen in Chechnya number about 1500, according to a September 4 article published by the website Newsru.com. The website said that, according to its sources, most of these are servicemen in the official security agencies, especially the units commanded by Said-Magomed Kakiev in western Chechnya (see Chechnya Weekly, September 4).

In any case, the backroom struggle within the Kremlin was probably more hard fought and more narrowly decided than one would now think from Kadyrov’s recent string of victories. Revealing in this regard was Bislan Gantemirov’s unsuccessful gambit of publicly announcing his support for Dzhabrailov while defiantly refusing to resign his position in Kadyrov’s cabinet. Gantemirov is not without contacts in the Kremlin, having been a pro-Moscow, anti-separatist politician much longer than Kadyrov has been. He must have had some reason to think that the tide within the Putin administration was swinging against Kadyrov, and that he could ride that tide.

Malik Saidullaev, meanwhile, remains a candidate in the presidential race, and has been strengthening his position by building a private army of his own. In an interview with Ruslan Adaev of the Caucasus Times, reported in the September 7 issue of that periodical, a spokesman for the Saidullaev campaign said that threats from Ramzan Kadyrov (who heads his father’s own personal army) had “compelled” the opposition candidate “to establish his own security service…The threats were uttered repeatedly and publicly, including the local TV channel, and no one was held accountable… Therefore we decided to establish a security service to protect our candidate and ourselves.” (It is a fact that Ramzan has insulted and threatened the opposition candidates on Chechen state television: See the August 21 issue of Chechnya Weekly.) An official of the Chechen police said that Saidullaev’s gunmen number some 3,000, a figure that the candidate’s spokesman claimed to be exaggerated.

Saidullaev told a Moscow press conference on September 8 that “if I were to announce my withdrawal from the presidential campaign, that would be a betrayal of those who nominated me and have worked with me.” But he also hinted that the Putin administration could get him out of the race if it were willing to offer sufficient enticement: He said that he might withdraw if the Kremlin were to present “a proposition that would enable me to be more useful to the people of Chechnya.”