Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 7

The conflict between Chechen President Alu Alkhanov and Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov ended with a decisive victory for the latter on February 15, when President Vladimir Putin appointed Kadyrov as acting president of Chechnya and Alkhanov a deputy justice minister in the federal government. Russian media reported that Alkhanov had requested the transfer. “I have considered the request you submitted earlier this year to transfer you to a different job,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russian service quoted Putin as telling Alkhanov during a televised meeting. “Today, a decree was signed to appoint you as deputy justice minister of the Russian Federation.” Putin also signed a decree awarding Alkhanov the state medal “For Service To The Fatherland.” The changes in the Chechen government came on the heels of Putin’s shakeup of his own cabinet, in which he promoted Sergei Ivanov to the post of first deputy prime minister and appointed Anatoly Serdyukov, head of Russia’s tax service, to replace Ivanov as defense minister.

Official sources stressed that Kadyrov’s promotion was provisional and that he still had to be confirmed by Chechnya’s parliament. Interfax, on February 15, quoted an unnamed source in the press service of the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District as saying: “In Chechnya, everything will be according to the law. In the near future, consultations will take place on the candidacies to the post of head of the Chechen Republic and no fewer than two candidates will be put forward, as it must be according to the law. Chechnya is on the same legal field with Russia, and there can be no exceptions.”

There is no doubt, however, that Chechnya’s parliament, which is under Kadyrov’s control, will confirm him as the republic’s president. “Kadyrov has the right to be among those who really lay claim to the post of president of the republic,” Aslambek Aslakhanov, Putin’s adviser on the North Caucasus, told Interfax. “Kadyrov has truly done a lot for the republic, and I think that the Chechen deputies will reject the candidacy of any other person.” Aslakhanov also said that Alkhanov’s appointment as a federal deputy justice minister would lead to a “detente” in relations between Alkhanov and Kadyrov. “Alkhanov himself said that he would not remain in his post and was ready to leave if he was offered another position,” Aslakhanov said. “God grant both of them luck in their new jobs.”

Kadyrov’s promotion came as his conflict with Alkhanov was becoming increasingly open and bitter, with the apparent firing of Alkhanov’s top security aide, followed by Alkhanov’s condemnation of a “personality cult” in the republic. Interfax reported on February 9 that Chechen Security Council Secretary German Vok, the only high-level official of the Chechen administration who had been appointed directly by Alkhanov, had tendered his resignation to the Chechen president. Kommersant wrote on February 9 that Vok’s resignation was a sign that Alkhanov’s removal was also imminent. In an interview published on February 9 in the tabloid Tvoi den, Kadyrov said that it was long past time to get rid of Alkhanov’s team. “Vok did not cope with his functions at all,” Kadyrov said. “Moreover, he is not only a politically and economically illiterate person; he is also a real provocateur. And I’m glad that President Alkhanov finally identified the unreliable people in his circle, who spread rumors, and has started to clean them out.”

Within several days, however, Alkhanov and Vok began to mount a public relations counter-offensive. As Vremya novostei reported on February 13, Alkhanov issued a statement on February 12 that was posted on the Chechen presidential and governmental websites, which declared that the Chechen people were again in a state of “alarmed expectation” due to “the rumors and conjectures about personnel changes in the power structures, stirred up by irresponsible religious pronouncements by some clergymen.” The latter was apparently a reference to Chechnya’s mufti, Sultan-Khadzhi Mirzoev, who joined Kadyrov in criticizing Alkhanov for comments he made about the 19th century Sufi sheikh Kunta-Khadzhi Kishiev (Chechnya Weekly, February 8).

Alkhanov also warned in his statement that the situation “may lead to the activation of a process of moral and ethical degradation of Chechens, who once took pride in the absence of any form of divisions on the basis of social characteristics.” As Vremya novostei noted, Alkhanov was apparently referring to those in the wealthy new republican elite, including Kadyrov, although he did not explicitly name him. What followed in the statement, however, was unmistakably aimed at Kadyrov. “In the Chechen milieu there have never been either slaves or masters,” the statement read. “Totalitarian methods of rule have always violated not only the truth itself, but also the spiritual mentality of our people. Therefore, the erection of a cult of personality and the idealization of one person will bring nothing good to the republic and its society.” Alkhanov ended his written statement by reassuring his “dear compatriots” that they have nothing to fear and that the republic will soon become “flourishing and merry.” He also once again denied rumors that he plans to step down as president.

German Vok, meanwhile, gave an interview to Ekho Moskvy radio on February 12 in which he described himself as secretary of Chechnya’s Security Council and declared that the issue of a Kadyrov presidency had not been considered and was not under consideration. “He [Ramzan Kadyrov] is not at the level of a chairman of the government or a vice-premier,” Vremya novostei quoted Vok as telling the radio station. “Ramzan Kadyrov is a young person who permits himself to offend the very president who named him [Kadyrov] to the post of chairman of the government. Any self-respecting person must first resign and then express criticism with regard to the president.”

According to Vremya novostei, Vok, like Alkhanov, believes that the former rebels who are now behind Kadyrov are with him not because of Kadyrov’s abilities but because Kadyrov has Moscow’s support. The newspaper quoted Vok as saying that the current Chechen Interior Minister, Ruslan Alkhanov, is too dependent on Kadyrov and that too many people who were once part of Djokhar Dudaev’s entourage are now in Kadyrov’s inner circle. These people, Vok claimed, retain the hope that they can once again “move towards the goal which they were moving towards” (e.g., Chechen independence). Vok warned that the situation in Chechnya could explode in six months if Kadyrov is not told: “Enough.” Vok, however, did not indicate who is supposed to rein Kadyrov in.

Two days later – on February 15 – Vremya novostei reported that the conflict between Alkhanov and Kadyrov was continuing “to develop quickly” and was already looking like “a political crisis of regional scope.” The newspaper quoted Alkhanov’s press service as saying that German Vok had requested time off for vacation but would be returning to his job as secretary of the republican Security Council. On February 14, however, the head of the Chechen presidential and government administration, Abdulkakhir Izrailov, a Kadyrov ally, called the statement by Alkhanov’s press service a provocation, vowed to discipline the officials who issued it and cited a presidential order of February 7 stating that Vok would go on vacation and then resign. Izrailov said the order bore Alkhanov’s signature and that the presidential press service was “willfully interpreting documents, distorting reality and permitting actions that could provoke a supercharging of tensions.”

Vremya novostei added that Vok was no longer available for comment. “Following his interview on Monday [February 12], he has become unreachable; nor is anything known about his whereabouts,” the newspaper wrote. “This is obviously dictated, among other things, by security concerns: Movladi Baisarov, the commander of the ‘Gorets’ special unit who was murdered in Moscow last November, did not permit himself such harsh criticism of the current Chechen prime minister.” Meanwhile, members of Alkhanov’s press service denied the existence of a February 7 order by Alkhanov that signed off on Vok’s eventual resignation. However, the presidential press service staffers also told Vremya novostei that their office phones and Internet connections had been cut off. They also confirmed that Alkhanov himself had been kept off republic television for two months already. The newspaper quoted an official in Alkhanov’s press service as saying that he was in either Moscow or Rostov. He is now likely to remain in the Russian capital indefinitely.