Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 18

Developments over the past week involving the restructuring of Chechnya’s security forces and the aftermath of a reported shootout between security personnel loyal to Chechen President Alu Alkhanov and Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov (see Chechnya Weekly, April 27), have led some observers to speculate that the federal center is using Alkhanov to clip Kadyrov’s wings.

Chechen Interior Ministry Ruslan Alkhanov announced on March 3 that forces under the ministry’s command would henceforth be required to wear regular police uniforms rather than military uniforms and would be prohibited from carrying their service weapons outside of work hours. Novye izvestia on May 4 quoted Alkhanov as saying that law enforcement personnel had previously been involved in frequent special operations that required them to wear camouflage uniforms but that the need for this had diminished. He also said that the presence of a large number of people wearing camouflage in the cities “adversely affected the moral and psychological condition of the citizens,” adding that with the appearance of “an unshaven man in camouflage with a Kalashnikov over his shoulder, people cannot figure out whether it’s a worker from the law enforcement organs or a [rebel] fighter.” An end would be put to this state of affairs “once and for all,” Alkhanov promised.

Alkhanov’s comments followed reports that Kadyrov had ordered the dissolution of the two security structures manned by his kadyrovtsy: the Presidential Security Service and the Anti-Terrorist Center. “There are no such structures anymore,” Itar-Tass on May 2 quoted Kadyrov as saying. “The presidential security service was transformed into the anti-terrorist center, and now two battalions of interior troops, North and South, have been formed on its basis that are subordinate to the command of the grouping of interior troops of the Russian Interior Ministry.” According to Itar-Tass, Kadyrov said “any person who now introduces himself as an associate of the presidential security service or the anti-terrorist centre is an impostor who must be detained and handed over to law and order authorities.” The 700-man “Sever” [North] battalion will be based in the capital Grozny and the 500-man “Yug” [South] battalion will be based in the Vedeno district center (see Chechnya Weekly, April 20).

According to Novye izvestia, this means that the kadyrovtsy from the now-dissolved Presidential Security Service and the Anti-Terrorist Center will be joined with the Sever and Yug battalions, which in turn will be under the command of the 46th brigade of the federal Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops and the Main Military Commandant’s Office based in Chechnya. The Yug battalion will be commanded by a first lieutenant, Muslim Ilyasov, while the Sever battalion will be commanded by a captain, Alibek Delimkhanov, the newspaper reported.

Novye izvestia said that analysts have also noted a growing conflict between Kadyrov and Alkhanov, which is underscored by the reports of a shoot-out between members of their respective security forces. Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center suggested to the newspaper that the Kremlin has switched from a policy of backing Kadyrov to one of balancing the republic’s various competing forces. “They are now trying to turn Chechnya into a normal Federation subject, and which case it is impractical to stake on Kadyrov alone,” he said. “Moscow is playing counter-weights; the Kremlin doesn’t want to count on one person. It was thought that Ramzan Kadyrov is the chief in Chechnya and that all the rest are rubbish; now it turns out that it’s quite different.”

On April 27, two days after the shootout between Alkhanov’s guards and members of Kadyrov’s security force who were not permitted into the government headquarters in Grozny, Kadyrov said press reports of the incident were exaggerated, insisting that the shooting involved only two security officers who got into a personal dispute. Yet Aleksei Malashenko told Novye izvestia that the incident showed the Kremlin is trying to “put Kadyrov in his place using the hands of Alkhanov” and that the transfer of kadyrovtsy to units directly under federal control is also part of an attempt to weaken Kadyrov. “Alkhanov and Kadyrov have very difficult relations,” Malashenko said. “The Kremlin is demonstrating that it does not plan to discard Alkhanov, and will be working with both of them.”

For its part, Moskovsky komsomlets wrote on May 2 that the conflict between Kadyrov and Alkhanov has been simmering for some time. “The Chechen premier and the president are not fond of one another, to put it mildly, and there are rumors in the republic that they even came to blows,” the newspaper wrote. “Although both obeyed the rules of the game and did not wash their dirty linen in public, appearing together only at official events, wearing dutiful smiles on their faces. Yet it was clear even to the casual observer that the real Chechen ‘boss’ was Ramzan Kadyrov, who, despite his youth (not yet 30), could afford to dictate tough terms to the older man.” According to the paper, Kadyrov was given “carte blanche” by members of the Kremlin staff who “blatantly lobbied for the Kadyrovs”—first Akhmad Kadyrov and then Ramzan. The Kadyrov clan was thereby able to get “the maximum amount of power, money, and status,” more than that which had been demanded by Djokhar Dudaev and Aslan Maskhadov.

“It was apparently decided to close the subject of Chechnya in this peaceful, albeit rather expensive way,” Moskvosky komsomolets continued. “War is more expensive. The choice fell on the Kadyrovs as members of one of the most influential clans in Chechnya—their authority could help establish at least a semblance of tranquility in the republic. That semblance was established (TV reports from Chechnya are full of optimism), but the tranquility was not terribly great. And the disputes increasingly involved Kadyrov’s people—his personal guard, whose powers extended well beyond the law.” The kadyrovtsy frightened everyone in Chechnya, including even federal troops, and they tried to control all the “processes” in the republic, including financial, while “blatantly” ignoring presidential authority. “Moscow must have known about these actions, but ignored them as long as this suited it,” the paper wrote.

According to Moskovsky komsomolets, Moscow’s tolerance of Kadyrov and his men apparently ran out with the April 25 shootout: the paper reported that following the incident, Kadyrov tried to apologize to Alkhanov but was rebuffed. “Events now in Chechnya give grounds to assume that Kadyrov has been shown his place from Moscow. It is no accident that he hastily made the decision to disband his personal power structures and transfer some fighters to the Sever and Yug battalions that are under the command of the Internal Troops (analogous to the GRU’s Vostok and Zapad units). Despite the behavior of President Alkhanov, who for the first time showed some character and rebuffed his premier, Kadyrov tolerated this ‘mutiny on board’ like a lamb. Again the Chechen president’s security has been significantly strengthened by federal structures. It is very likely that in the near future a redistribution of power and financial authority will take place in Grozny, and it will be precisely Alkhanov who is staked on. How Kadyrov, who is capable of arming several thousand of his supporters, reacts to this is not yet known. Events may develop according to an unpredictable scenario.”