The two top pro-Moscow Chechens are on the verge of going to war with one another. Akhmad Kadyrov, head of Chechnya’s administration, has denounced the activities of Bislan Gantemirov, his recently appointed first deputy, as constituting and “armed rebellion directed at the president of Russia his appointed officials.” Russian officials brought Kadyrov and Gantemirov together yesterday in Gudermes, but the two sides failed to reach a compromise. Meanwhile, Nikolai Shepel, Chechnya’s chief prosecutor, said his office is considering a criminal case against Gantemirov (Russian agencies, July 19).
Gantemirov is seeking to overturn Kadyrov’s firing of the heads of four regional administrations who fought with Gantemirov and Russian forces against Chechen rebels. On July 18, 200 armed Chechen police led by Gudermes traveled to Gudermes and went to Kadyrov’s residence there. The policemen eventually returned to Djohar [Grozny], the Chechen capital, but Gantemirov vowed that he and his men, who had “taken Grozny” during the battles with rebels would not capitulate to Kadyrov’s “bands” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 19).
This conflict was not hard to predict, given that Kadyrov had fought against Russian forces during the first Chechen war (1994-96), and only changed sides after the raids by rebel field commanders Khattab and Shamil Basaev into Dagestan in August 1999. Gantemirov and his armed militia participated in a Kremlin-inspired attempt to seize the Chechen capital in November 1994, and in January 1995, Gantemirov literally came into the capital on Russian tanks and was appointed mayor of the city. Given their radically different pasts and views, it is no surprise that Kadyrov and Gantemirov might fall out at the slightest pretext. In addition, both men have unstable and irascible personalities, and one can say that Kremlin controls them only formally. The Kremlin’s problem is compounded by the fact that both men have their own private armies, each made up of several hundred men.
The situation with Kadyrov and Gantemirov underscores the Kremlin’s problem in finding reliable allies among the Chechens. Against this backdrop, however, fighting has continued between Chechen separatists and federal forces. A Russian military column was shot at on July 19 in the area near the town of Gehki, and at least two Russian soldiers were killed in the incident. Russian troops later blocked the road between Urus-Martan and Gehki in search of rebel formations. Russian aviation and artillery carried out strikes on the mountain villages of Gekhy-Chu and Martan-Chu, and also around the Argun Gorge. Over the last twenty-four hours, Russian troops discovered two large explosive devices, one on the bridge across the Gums River and the other along the Grozny-Starye Atagi rail line (Radio Liberty, July 19).
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