On May 19, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev addressed the State Duma in closed hearings concerning the situation in Chechnya and the investigation of the May 9 assassination of Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed President Akhmad Kadyrov. According to one account, Nurgaliev told legislators that the situation in Chechnya has “worsened drastically” since Kadyrov’s murder and that President Vladimir Putin signed a decree dispatching more than a thousand Interior Ministry servicemen to the republic (Politcom.ru, May 20).
Nurgaliev’s decision to deploy more troops to Chechnya is significant, given that President Putin had already ordered him and Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to fulfill a request by Chechen Interior Minister Alum Alkhanov for 1,125 additional police officers (see EDM, May 12). The need for additional troops was underscored on May 17, when Russian forces in Chechnya sustained their heaviest one-day casualties this year (see EDM, May 19).
Meanwhile, the question of who will ultimately replace the late Akhmad Kadyrov as the republic’s president remains unanswered and is adding to the atmosphere of uncertainty. The man who many observers see as the most powerful figure in Chechnya today — Kadyrov’s son Ramzan — reiterated in an interview that he will not run in the next presidential election, likely to take place either in late August or early September.
“There are people capable of heading the republic and carrying on the political settlement process, the anti-terrorist fight, and social reconstruction in the team formed by Akhmad Kadyrov,” said the younger Kadryov, stressing he would not violate the republican constitution approved in a March 2003 referendum, which bans presidential candidates under the age of 30 (Interfax, May 20). Ramzan is 27.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted Chechen administration sources on May 20 as saying that Ramzan Kadyrov has urged the Kremlin to back Alum Alkhanov, the Chechen interior minister as the republic’s next president. Likewise, Vremya Novostei reported on May 20 that the Kremlin administration had preliminarily chosen Alkhanov as the Kadyrov team’s “heir,” given that he is undoubtedly a “Kadyrov person” who can ensure “continuity of power.”
Questioned by Interfax whether he had asked the Kremlin to give Alkhanov its blessing, Ramzan Kadyrov said, “The candidate who gains the majority of the vote will become president.” He added, “These rumors are being spread to split the team of the late Kadyrov.” But he also called Alkhanov “an experienced general who is backed by thousands of people who are daily risking their lives in the anti-terrorist fight” (Interfax, May 20).
Which candidate the Kadyrovites choose, challengers are already emerging. Bislan Gantamirov, the former Grozny mayor and former Chechen press and information minister, has announced his candidacy. Ramazan Abdulatipov, former Russian nationalities minister, who currently represents the Saratov region in the Federation Council, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Gantamirov is the strongest candidate because he did not participate in the flawed October 2003 presidential election and has “the most democratic orientation.” Abdulatipov endorsed Gantamirov as the candidate who would take into account “the interests of all layers and all groups” of Chechen society, including the Kadyrovites. (Gantamirov was convicted of embezzling US$2 million earmarked for reconstruction in Chechnya. He was sentenced to six and a half years in prison in 1998, but was pardoned one year later by then President Boris Yeltsin.)
Besides Gantamirov, Nezavisimaya Gazeta named other possible presidential candidates, including two Moscow-based Chechen businessmen, Malik Saidullaev and Khusein Dzhabrailov; President Putin’s adviser on the North Caucasus, Aslanbek Aslakhanov; Deputy Presidential Envoy to the Southern Federal District, Said Selim-Peshkhoev; former Grozny mayor and KGB veteran Oleg Zhitkov (Nezavismaya Gazeta, May 20; see also EDM, May 12). The journalist Anna Politkovskaya named still other possible candidates, including Khalid Yamadaev, the former rebel field commander who now heads the Chechnya branch of the pro-Moscow United Russia party; Taus Dzhabrailov, a long-time associate of Akhmad Kadyrov and former deputy Chechen prime minister, who was elected to head the republic’s State Council to replace Khusein Isaev, who died in the May 9 bombing; and, Ruslan Aushev, former president of Ingushetia (Novaya Gazeta, May 20).
As Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev indicated to the State Duma on May 19, Chechnya’s upcoming political battles are likely to take place against a backdrop of worsening security. Indeed, Nikolai Kovalev, the former Federal Security Service director, who is now a State Duma deputy, told Radio Rossia on May 19 after hearing Nurgaliev’s remarks that “certain forces” are trying to use the situation following Kadyrov’s death to “destabilize” Chechnya.
Politcom.ru gave an even gloomier forecast.
“If extraordinary measures are not taken in the nearest future, the situation in Chechnya, and at the same time in the areas bordering it, will become more destabilized as early as the middle of the summer,” the website wrote on May 20. “The murder of Kadyrov invigorated the [rebel] fighters, who [even before it] had got used to carrying out regular raids in neighboring Ingushetia and Dagestan.” According to Politcom.ru, propaganda leaflets recently distributed in Dagestan containing statements by Rappani Khalilov, a Dagestani Islamist field commander, indicate that the rebels are targeting heads of Dagestan’s law-enforcement agencies and leaders of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Dagestan, including Dagestani Mufti Akhmad Khadzi Abdullaev (Politcom, May 20).