Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 138

Akhmad Kadyrov, head of Chechnya’s administration, signed a decree last week naming Bislan Gantemirov his first deputy (Russian agencies, July 13). The Monitor has already frequently written about Gantemirov’s contradictory career (November 11, 24, 29; December 9, 21, 23, 1999; February 3, 8, 11, 17; April 17, 19, 24; June 20). In 1992, Gantemirov was a close assistant to Djohar Dudaev, Chechnya’s first president. He then fell out with Dudaev and created his own armed units. In November 1994, Moscow tried to use Gantemirov’s forces, backed by Russia tanks, to take Djohar [Grozny], the Chechen capital. In January 1995, after federal troops occupied the city, the Kremlin again named Gantemirov mayor. In 1996, however, Gantemirov was arrested for stealing state funds. In the fall of 1999, after the start of the latest military Chechen campaign, the Kremlin yet again called on Gantemirov: President Boris Yeltsin amnestied him, whereupon Gantemirov then and once again set up his owned armed units, which joined federal forces in storming the Chechen capital. After the Russian troops took the city, however, Moscow appeared to lose interest in Gantemirov. Nikolai Koshman, then head of the Russian administration in Chechnya, fired him from the post of first deputy.

According to one theory, Akhmad Kadyrov appointed Gantemirov as his deputy simply to spite Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo. The appointment is evidence that President Vladimir Putin is increasingly unhappy with the interior minister. This theory is bolstered by Putin’s televised upbraiding of Rushailo following the recent terrorist bombings in the Chechen towns of Argun, Gudermes and Urus-Martan. After these incidents, Putin stopped over at the military base at Mozdok, North Ossetia, on his way back from Central Asia, where he addressed both Rushailo and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. Putin also used the opportunity to put forward his plan for reorganizing the power structures in Chechnya, saying that they should mainly rely on local personnel, who better understand the specific conditions in the republic. By bringing Gantemirov back into Chechnya’s administration, the Kremlin is hoping to rely on structure which showed its effectiveness in the fight against Chechen rebels. At the same time, the Russian authorities are hoping to move Russian military units out of harm’s way, given that the recent deaths of police special forces from Russian cities and regions has caused a seriously negative public reaction. This measure, however, is unlikely to bring about the desired result, given that even those even those Chechens who are cooperating with the Kremlin cannot be fully trusted to act against their countrymen fighting with the rebels (Radio Liberty, July 13).

Over the weekend, meanwhile, the rebels continued to launch bombing attacks against Russian troops. On July 15, four mines were detonated under an armored military train near Gudermes. Following the blasts, attackers shot at the train, which was transporting ammunition, OMON special police forces from western Siberia and an Interior Ministry general, for forty minutes. Russian helicopters were called in for back-up, and fired into the woods nearby. A cook on board the train was killed and six servicemen wounded in the bombing incident. The same day two Russian soldiers were wounded when an artillery shell hit their tank at the Khankala airbase outside the Chechen capital. There were contradictory reports as to whether it was a rebel attack or a case of friendly fire. Meanwhile yesterday Ruslan Khamidov, head of the local administration in the town of Alkhan-Yurt, was murdered outside his home. Both the town and the region in which it is located are considered strongholds of Wahabbis, or Islamic fundamentalists (Russian agencies, July 15-16).