Even before announcing the final results of the referendum, the head of Russia’s Central Election Commission said on March 23 that the presidential elections in Chechnya would most likely take place in December–on the same day as the elections for the federal parliament. It did not take long for the Russian media to begin making forecasts about the campaign.
Aslambek Aslakhanov, Chechnya’s representative in the federal Duma, told a Moscow press conference on March 25 that as many as forty candidates, mostly Chechen businessmen, are ready to enter the presidential race. His list of prospects included Usman Masaev, deputy head of the pro-Kremlin administration in Grozny; the same administration’s former deputy head, Abdul Bugaev; and General Gennady Troshev (see Chechnya Weekly, January 30, 2003). Tantalizingly, Aslakhanov also referred to two unnamed “generals of the FSB, Chechens whom the Kremlin might support in order to stabilize the republic.” He denied that he himself intended to run, insisting that he had neither the finances nor the organization needed.
The March 25 issue of Kommersant cited what it called “a highly placed Kremlin source” as expressing caution about Grozny administration head Akhmad Kadyrov. This official, according to the newspaper, said that Kadyrov is “in a difficult position: Some Chechens consider him a traitor, others a bandit.” The source refused to answer whether Kadyrov would be the Kremlin’s first choice. (According to the news agency Novosti, Islamic leaders in Chechnya were already openly endorsing Kadyrov on March 24.)
Correspondent Sanobar Shermatova of the weekly “Moskovskie novosti” provided the most detailed media forecast of all in the first few days after the referendum. She wrote that “surprising alliances” were already developing–for example, with Aslakhanov moving to support the businessman Malik Saidullaev. According to her sources, both Saidullaev and Khusein Dzhabrailov, owner of Moscow’s gigantic “Rossiya” hotel, have already been testing the waters with the Kremlin and have received some encouragement.
Shermatova wrote that the Kremlin had “in masterly fashion” taken advantage of the ambitions of these and other prominent Chechens to put their financial and other resources to work for the recent referendum. But now, “according to knowledgeable people,” the Kremlin might decide to pursue a quite different course. The next step might be to create a new post, that of “plenipotentiary for Chechnya,” reporting directly to President Putin and working “to minimize the power of the federal military, who are playing their own game.” The most likely candidate for this new job would be Frants Klinshevich, a leader in the pro-Kremlin “United Russia” party.
That job would be a temporary one, ending once the new president was elected and giving way to a presidential candidate now being groomed by the Kremlin. This new favorite for the Chechen presidency, according to Shermatova’s sources, is a career officer of the FSB–just like Murat Zyazikov, whom the Kremlin succeeded in installing last year as president of Ingushetia–and previously uninvolved in Chechnya’s political maneuvers. His identity, she wrote, is still a secret. But “insofar as such a plan with an unknown candidate from the security organs has already succeeded quite well, the authors of this proposal have no doubts about victory.”