Ramzan Kadyrov, deputy prime minister and leader of the pro-Russian forces in Chechnya, likes to be the center of attention. He makes numerous public statements that tend to be quite extravagant. Last summer, for example, as the conflict in South Ossetia escalated, Kadyrov promised to send his men to help the Ossetian separatists fight Georgian troops. He also promised to restore order in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, a reputed haven for terrorists.
Russian officials and media have tended to support Kadyrov’s assertions. Federal spokesmen have never refuted even his most provocative declarations, which are always widely quoted by the media. However, the situation is beginning to change. In recent weeks federal officials and Kadyrov himself have made several extremely contradictory statements.
As winter turned to spring, Russian security officials began warning of possible rebel attacks this summer. On April 13, Vladimir Kravchenko, prosecutor-general for Chechnya, predicted that the insurgents are planning several spectacular acts of terror to remind the public of their existence (RIA-Novosti, April 13).
Alu Alkhanov, Chechnya’s pro-Russian president, immediately rejected Kravchenko’s theory, saying that he was certain that “illegal armed formations” could not cause trouble this summer. Kadyrov agreed with Alkhanov, telling journalists, “We almost destroyed the gunmen.” Kadyrov described the situation in Chechnya as “calm and stable” (strana.ru, May 5). In another interview, he rejected the military’s estimate that 1,500-2,000 insurgents were active in Chechnya, putting the number at no more than 200.
Nevertheless, Russian security officials continued to give cause for alarm. Sergei Surovikin, commander of the 42nd Motor Rifle Division located in Chechnya, told the Ministry of Defense newspaper Krasnaya zvezda that rebel formations were regrouping in the Chechen mountains. According to Surovikin, rebel commanders Shamil Basaev and Doku Umarov are trying to renew contacts with unaffiliated rebel factions to secure their loyalty. “At the same time the bandits keep total radio silence, using couriers for communications. They exchange video and audiotapes and chits. According to our information, they are going to stage a major terrorist act in Chechnya or outside it” (Krasnya zvezda, April 18).
As early as March, Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov had to admit that the number of federal troops in Chechnya had been increased from 75,000 in 2003 to 80,000 in 2005 (Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye, March 18). According to Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye, most of the new troops are from military and police special-task units. Nikolai Rogozhkin, commander of Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) troops, revealed that MVD troops were being increased in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and other North Caucasian republics. “The environment in the Southern Federal District needs a strong military presence. It is no secret that bandits and wahhabis are trying to destabilize the situation in various republics” (Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye, April 22).
Kadyrov’s optimistic, self-assured declarations seem even more absurd when compared to such gloomy statements from high-ranking officials. Realizing this absurdity, Kadyrov tried to modify his tone. On April 24 he vowed to find and kill Shamil Basaev by Victory Day in Russia, May 9 (Interfax, April 24).
He promised that 2006 would be Basaev’s last summer and declared that he would soon send the rebel leader “to hell” (Moskovsky komsomolets, April 22). However, he will be hard put to keep this promise. Kadyrov gathered up all the forces he had – some 2,000 men from Chechen special units — and sent them to the Vedeno mountain district to search for Basaev. The operation failed completely. The rebels simply ignored Kadyrov’s task force, and Ilyas Debishev, a local low-level rebel commander, brazenly visited the Vedeno market in broad daylight while Kadyrov’s men were patrolling the area (kavkaz.strana.ru, April 27).
After he failed to capture Basaev, Kadyrov solemnly declared on April 27 that he had solved the murder of Akhmad Kadyrov, his father and Chechnya’s first pro-Russian president (Interfax, April 27). Nevertheless, Nikolai Shepel, a deputy prosecutor-general for the Southern Federal District, immediately challenged Ramzan, saying, “The persons involved in Akhmad Kadyrov’s death have not been identified yet, and the investigation continues” (Interfax, May 7).
This episode marked the first time that a federal official directly refuted one of Kadyrov’s statements. Clearly the Kremlin is fed up with Kadyrov’s empty promises and the total incompetence of his guard on the battlefield. Trying to find a reason for his endless failures, Kadyrov said that the lack of electronic intelligence prevented him from properly tracking the movements of rebel leaders (Interfax, May 3). This explanation is particularly ridiculous, as electronic reconnaissance is one of the strongest federal assets in Chechnya. Both of Chechnya’s separatist presidents (Dzhokar Dudaev and Aslan Maskhadov) were killed as a result of electronic tracking operations.
The Kremlin apparently issued an ultimatum to Kadyrov, ordering him to make some concrete progress – such as apprehending Basaev – by May 9. Since May 10, the normally talkative Chechen has disappeared from the headlines. On May 9, a group of 40-50 militants attacked Tsentoroi, Kadyrov’s native village, but he failed to comment on that incident. Instead, Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov, known to be loyal to Alu Alkhanov, released the formal statement. He appears to be the front-runner to replace Kadyrov as a commander of the pro-Russian Chechen forces. As for Kadyrov, Russian security officials know what to do with him. He will continue to do what he does best – nighttime kidnappings – but now his dirty work will be for federal forces.