Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 33

In the former Soviet Union, as in the United States, the first week of September is when vacations end and people get back to work. In theory, Chechnya’s presidential election campaign is now entering its most intense phase, with the voting less than a month a way. But many observers believe that the contest is already over, having been decided behind closed doors in the Kremlin in favor of Akhmad Kadyrov. It seems unlikely, for example, that such a strong opponent as Khusein Dzhabrailov would have dropped out of the race if he had not perceived the pro-Kadyrov forces as winning the faction fight within the Kremlin.

In a September 8 telephone interview with Chechnya Weekly, Ruslan Khasbulatov (former speaker of Russia’s parliament and another ex-candidate) made it clear that he had no doubts about President Vladimir Putin’s full support for what he called Kadyrov’s “totalitarian” regime. He nevertheless predicted that the other candidates would not withdraw.

In a September 8 article for Novaya gazeta, commentator Yulia Latynina wrote that the election campaign is now entering its “endgame,” in which “the outcome of the elections is now clear.” Under today’s “feudal” conditions, she opined, the winner will not be the man with the biggest campaign chest but the one with the most patrons, and that is now clearly Kadyrov. In effect Kadyrov has put Russia into what she likened to a “fork” in chess: No matter which move Moscow chooses, it will end up in checkmate.

She suggested, for example, that a major purpose of the elections is to demonstrate the legitimacy of the Moscow-appointed administration. But the recent seizure of Chechnya’s last semi-independent mass media by Kadyrov’s personal bodyguard has now effectively destroyed that legitimacy, and no number of “international observers” can save it. Moscow has no realistic choice at this point but to strengthen Kadyrov, wrote Latynina. But the stronger Kadyrov grows the more independent he becomes, a development that contradicts the very purpose for which the federal forces have been fighting.

Nevertheless, one can still see signs that the Kremlin is hedging its bets. An article by Konstantin Kazenin published by on September 9 cited “the fact that Putin has stopped publicly praising Kadyrov…and also the spreading via the mass media, clearly at the Kremlin’s instigation, of the polling results of the Validata agency which are so unpleasant for Kadyrov.”

Though such moves may merely be for the purpose of increasing the federal center’s bargaining power vis-a-vis the strong-willed Kadyrov, some commentators continue to reject the view that victory for Kadyrov is guaranteed. Sanobar Shermatova noted in Moskovskie novosti on September 8 that “the stubbornness with which Saidullaev and Aslakhanov are waging their campaigns suggests that other scenarios are still possible….The huge sums already spent on the campaign by several candidates indicate that they are really hoping for victory…or on significant compensation for their agreeing to withdraw.”