Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 34

Stanislav Ilyasov, head of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow government, said late last week that it was unrealistic to hold elections in the republic in the next half a year. “Elections are simply not possible in the foreseeable future,” Ilyasov said. “A year is needed to approve and put the republic’s constitution into effect. At least another half year [is needed] for the approval of legislation, including an election law.” Ilyasov said “a rather extended” period would be required to put the necessary electoral procedures in place, adding that the federal government was still considering several possible versions of the republic’s future constitution (Interfax, February 15).

Il’yasov’s comments were apparently a reaction to those Viktor Kazantsev, the presidential envoy to the Southern federal district, made several days earlier. On February 12, Kazantsev said that presidential elections in Chechnya would be held “either this, or next year,” adding that the legislative acts necessary for the adoption of a new constitution–which would have to happen before presidential elections could be held–were being drawn up. He predicted that Chechnya would have a new and “legitimate” president by next year, or even the end of this year.

More broadly, Il’yasov’s negative reaction was yet another sign of the strained relations between his government, on the one hand, and the administration of Akhmed Kadyrov, on the other. Kadyrov’s chances of winning Chechnya’s presidency are high, especially given his apparent rapprochement with Bislan Gantamirov, who was at one time mayor of the Chechen capital and chief of the Chechen police. Gantamirov was recently named Chechnya’s press and information minister–apparently with Kadyrov’s backing and to Il’yasov’s complete surprise and displeasure. Following his appointment, Gantamirov pledged he would back Kadyrov in presidential elections “whenever they are held” and that he and Kadyrov would campaign together as “a team.”

Immediately prior to becoming Chechnya’s press and information minister, Gantamirov was the Southern federal district’s chief inspector, and in that position oversaw work on a new Chechen constitution. He reportedly prepared two drafts, one that would make Chechnya a presidential republic, the other which would make it a parliamentary republic. Kadyrov, not surprisingly, is said to “strongly favor” the former. Both Kadyrov and the federal authorities reportedly hope the “counterterrorist” operation in Chechnya can be completed sooner rather than later so that presidential elections could be held as soon as possible (, February 13).

The problem, however, is that the Russian military in Chechnya appears unable to move that goal any closer, despite some reported successes on the battlefield. Fighting continued throughout the republic last week and over the weekend. Federal troop positions came under automatic weapon and RPG fire six times yesterday, though no federal servicemen were killed or injured in the attacks. Interior Ministry troops yesterday reported the discovery of a large hidden cache of weapons and ammunition near the village of Alkhan-Yurt, in the Urus-Martan district. The cache included heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, Kalashnikov machineguns, explosives and ammunition (RBK, February 17). On February 15, combined forces from the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the army tracked down a large rebel unit during a joint special operation on the outskirts of the west Chechen towns of Starye Atagi and Novye Atagi. The rebels chose to fight rather than surrender, firing on the federal troops with automatic weapons and grenade launchers. According to the Russian military, nineteen rebels were killed in the firefight. Among them was Khizir Khachukaev, a general who had commanded a large rebel unit during the war of 1994-1996 and enjoyed the trust of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov. Khachukaev’s relatives asked the Russian military to deliver his body to them for burial, according to local custom. Earlier last week, two officers of the Krasnoyarsk regional branch of the FSB, Mayor Aleksandr Stupnikov and Captain Sergei Korvetov, were killed near the two towns under murky circumstances. According to the FSB, the two officers were part of a group of four who went to Starye Atagi on February 12 for “operational-investigative activities.” The bodies of Stupnikov and Korvetov were discovered in a burned-out car in Novye Atagi the following day. The fate of the other two remains unclear (Radio Liberty, February 16).