Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 107

On May 30, Nikolai Koshman, the Russian government’s representative in Chechnya, fired his deputy, Bislan Gantemirov, for systematically not appearing for work and other violations of discipline (Russian agencies, May 30). Gantemirov is an almost legendary figure in Chechnya, and few adventurers could brag of such a dizzying career. In 1991, when he was a sergeant in the Grozny police, Gantemirov became a close associate of Dzhokhar Dudaev, Chechnya’s first president, and in August 1991 led the crowds which overthrew the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, which had supported the failed hard-line coup attempt in Moscow. In 1992, Dudaev named Gantemirov mayor of Grozny. After only a year, however, Gantemirov fell out with Dudaev and formed an armed opposition group. In November 1994, with the help of the Kremlin, Gantemirov’s armed formations unsuccessfully tried to storm Grozny. In 1995, Gantemirov was again named mayor of the capital, which was at the time occupied by Russian troops. In 1996, however, he was unexpectedly accused of stealing federal funds earmarked for the reconstruction of the city. Some observers believe that the embezzlement charges were merely a pretext and that the Kremlin had in fact come to fear the uncontrollable Gantemirov, who had created a private militia and become essentially a “third force.” Indeed, in conversations during that period with the Monitor’s correspondent, Gantemirov openly criticized the Kremlin for negotiating with Dudaev, saying that he did not accept the peace treaty with Dudaev and would use his own forces to continue the war against the Chechen leader.

In 1999, after the Kremlin went to war in Chechnya for the second time, it decided that it needed Gantemirov’s services yet again. After being amnestied by a decree signed by then President Boris Yeltsin, Gantemirov formed his own militia and headed off to Chechnya to fight. A month ago, new signs of disagreement emerged between Gantemirov and the Kremlin, and Gantemirov unexpectedly announced that he would step down as the Russian government’s deputy representative in Chechnya, expressing dissatisfaction with how the Kremlin was financing his militia. But the conflict was smoothed over: Gantemirov was given the rank of a Russian Interior Ministry lieutenant colonel, and a street in the Chechen capital was named after him. His removal this week was apparently at the Kremlin’s initiative. The Russian authorities are presently trying–unsuccessfully–to create power structures in Chechnya, and the less-than-controllable Gantemirov apparently did not suit the Kremlin’s purposes. His removal shows how difficult it will be for Moscow to find a Chechen leader it can rely on.

In the meantime, Moscow is also having a difficult time with the republic of Ingushetia. President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree removing Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev, who holds the rank of lieutenant-general, from the Russian armed forces. Putin signed another decree naming Gennady Troshev commander of the North Caucasus Military District. The personal relationship between Aushev and Putin went sour when the latter was still director of the Federal Security Service (according to a rumor, the two even got into a fist-fight during a meeting in Aushev’s office). The main source of tension was Aushev’s “self-governing” approach: The Ingushetian president withheld tax payments to the center, conferred upon himself the right to name the heads of the republic’s Interior Ministry and courts, and maintained relations with Chechen rebel field commanders. Aushev was the only regional leader to criticize the Kremlin’s introduction of troops into Chechnya last year.

A number of observers say that Putin’s latest decree vis-a-vis Aushev is the Ingushetian leader’s last call, and that once the Russian parliament passes Putin’s draft laws limiting the power of regional leaders, Aushev might be removed from his post–perhaps on the grounds that he has violated federal law. Troshev’s appointment as commander of the North Caucasus Military District will also not help Aushev, given that Troshev is a long-time opponent of the Ingushetian president. Aushev, meanwhile, has played down the growing tension between him and the Kremlin, claiming in an interview published today that he left the armed forces voluntarily, and that there was “absolutely no” pressure on him to do so. He also said that he was not worried about the possibility of being removed as Ingushetia’s president, saying that if he is removed, he will “find something to do” (Kommersant, June 1; Russian agencies, May 31).