Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 31

Viktor Kazantsev, presidential envoy to the Southern federal district, yesterday confirmed the appointment of Bislan Gantamirov, the controversial former mayor of Djohar (Grozny), Chechnya’s capital, as the republic’s press and information minister, with the rank of vice premier. Prior to his new appointment, Gantamirov was the Southern federal district’s chief inspector (,, February 12).

Kazantsev’s seal of approval on the appointment appears to have been something of a reversal by the federal authorities. On February 7, when Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya, announced Gantamirov’s appointment as press and information minister, various federal officials questioned the legality of the decision. A source in President Vladimir Putin’s information department noted that such appointments could only be made in accordance with procedures laid out in a presidential decree, and added that the Chechen government did not have the post of “vice premier.” Imran Vagapov, the Southern federal district’s inspector for the Chechen Republic, reported that Gantamirov remained the Southern federal district’s federal inspector and that it was against the law for a federal official to hold two posts (, February 8). In the end, however, Kadyrov got his way.

The zigzags in Gantamirov’s career are an indicator of the degree to which the Kremlin’s personnel choices in Chechnya are confused and hold little promise. Gantamirov, a former policeman, began his career during the tenure of Djohar Dudaev, the first president of the self-styled Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, becoming mayor of Djohar in 1992. However Dudaev fired him a year later for embezzling funds from the city’s budget, after which Gantamirov joined the opposition, becoming the head of an armed anti-Dudaev unit numbering up to 700 fighters. In spring 1995, after federal forces seized the Chechen capital, Gantamirov was again named mayor, and in November of that year he was made a vice premier in the pro-Moscow government of Doky Zavgaev. In May 1996 Gantamirov was unexpectedly arrested in Moscow for embezzling federal funds earmarked for rebuilding Chechnya. He was formally charged in October 1997. In April 1999 a Moscow court sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment.

In November 1999, however, Gantamirov was amnestied by then President Boris Yeltsin. Vladimir Putin, who was then prime minister, praised Gantamirov for having fought on the federal side against the Chechen rebels and even receiving wounds in battle. Immediately after leaving prison, Gantamirov pulled together a private army, formed mainly from his relatives. He took part in the fighting against the rebels in Djohar, for which he was awarded the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Russian army. He was also nominated for the Hero of Russia decoration for his role in seizing the town of Urus-Martan.

In July 2000 Gantamirov became the first deputy head of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration–in other words, Kadyrov’s deputy–and simultaneously served as the acting head of the Djohar city administration. Relations between Gantamirov and Kadyrov then deteriorated. By the start of January 2001 there were reports of conflicts between the two: Indeed, Gantamirov reportedly even led Djohar police units in raids on Gudermes, where Kadyrov’s headquarters were then located. Kazantsev, Putin’s representative in the Southern federal district, was forced to intervene to end the conflict between Kadyrov and Kazantsev. Afterwards, Kazantsev brought Gantamirov to Rostov-on-Don to serve as the Southern federal district’s chief inspector.

Now Gantamirov has returned to Chechnya as minister of press and information in its pro-Moscow government. This development cannot possibly be welcomed by the head of the government, Stanislav Ilyasov, both for the obvious reasons and because Gantamirov will be replacing Vasily Vasilenko, a man personally loyal to Ilyasov.