Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 25

Relations between Akhmad Kadyrov and the Kremlin seem ever more to be like those that existed before the rise of the modern state between a medieval baron and a royal court. The baron has his own private army, which like him is ostensibly loyal to the crown; but everyone knows that the baron puts his own interests first, and that if necessary he and his vassals will fight against the king’s forces in order to protect those interests. Kadyrov and Vladimir Putin are at one level still political allies, but at other levels their relations are increasingly tense. One such point of tension is the feud that has developed between Kadyrov’s bodyguard and the federal security forces in Chechnya. The opposing sides have significantly escalated that feud in recent weeks, turning to hostage-taking and even gunfights.

According to a dramatic report by Dmitry Balbunov in the July 1 issue of the weekly Moskovskie novosti, the conditional release from jail of Kadyrov’s son in Kislovodsk (see Chechnya Weekly, June 12 and June 19) may have been a bargaining chip in this intricate game. Balbunov wrote that, two days before the young Kadyrov’s arrest, officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Chechnya arrested an individual with the nickname “Iran,” suspected of “banditism” and kidnapping. On searching the suspect the FSB found an identification card issued by the Chechen Interior Ministry: “Iran” turned out to be a serviceman in a unit of Kadyrov’s personal bodyguard, commanded by one Movlad Baisarov. Within twenty-four hours came what appears to have been a revenge attack by “Iran’s” comrades in arms. Near their base on the outskirts of Grozny, members of the Baisarov unit stopped a car carrying Colonel Sergei Ushakov, a local FSB commander, and two of his subordinates. The Kadyrov gunmen seized all three of the FSB officers, brought them back to their base by force and gave them a heavy beating.

The Kadyrov men then put Ushakov into a car to drive him to Grozny for further “discussion,” keeping the other two FSB officers under guard. But once they had reached the city, Ushakov managed to jump out of the car and call for help. Fortunately for him, some Chechen troops under Russian army command happened to be nearby. They heard his cries and rescued him.

But the army unit soon paid a price for performing this rescue. Within a few days it suffered two separate attacks, in which three of its troops were wounded and one killed. The attackers in both cases are thought to have been Kadyrov gunmen from “Iran’s” unit. Baisarov himself, the unit’s commander, is said to have personally taken part in one of them.

These two attacks led to an unprecedented mass demonstration on the streets of Grozny, involving some 3,000 servicemen of the FSB, the OMON special police and other security agencies. The participants even included fighters loyal to Chechnya’s powerful Yamadaev clan, which in recent years has been allied with Kadyrov. The demonstrators demanded that the Kadyrov administration punish whoever had murdered the Russian army’s soldier. Kadyrov promised vaguely that he would “take measures.”

But Moskovskie novosti reported that, according to its sources, Baisarov’s unit got what it wanted–a prisoner exchange. The FSB released “Iran,” and the Kadyrov gunmen released their two remaining FSB captives. The deal also reportedly included the release of Kadyrov’s son Zelimkhan from jail in Kislovodsk on condition that he not leave that city.

Though the Moskovskie novosti account does not say so directly, the facts suggest a further possible linkage. Zelimkhan has had previous brushes with the law, but has always managed to avoid imprisonment or other serious consequences. His latest escapade in Kislovodsk has been strikingly different, involving a real stay in jail and the filing of formal criminal charges that have still not been dropped. It seems likely that the federal security agencies specifically indicated to their colleagues in Kislovodsk that, so long as the elder Kadyrov’s gunmen are attacking federal officers in Chechnya, the Russian legal system would stop giving the younger Kadyrov a free ride.