Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 21

As has often been said, the perception of power is a key component of power. After last week’s cabinet shakeup, Akhmad Kadyrov is perceived as being more powerful than at any time since he was appointed as Moscow’s man in Grozny, and therefore he is in fact more powerful. Even if he reappoints most of the bureaucrats whom he dismissed–as most observers were predicting he would do–he has still shown them decisively who is boss. And although Kadyrov probably never can entrench his power so firmly that it would be impossible for the Kremlin to get rid of him, he is steadily increasing the political price that Moscow would have to pay to do so.

Summing up the situation in the June 5 issue of Nezavisimaya gazeta, Andrei Riskin observed that, when he was first appointed in 2001, Kadyrov was nothing more than a “technical prime minister,” a tool to be directed by others. But in essence he has now “subordinated the entire republic to himself alone.”

Kadyrov nonetheless still lacks the total monopoly that he would like. For example, he evidently judged that this was not the right time to try to oust Prime Minister Anatoly Popov, an ethnic Russian with close ties to the Russian military establishment. But he now has his own man in place as mayor of Grozny, who replaces a loyalist of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Oleg Zhidkov. The tactically adroit Kadyrov avoided any open criticism of Zhidkov, announcing that the latter’s replacement was connected to his acceptance of a new job elsewhere. But Zhidkov was reduced to the embarrassing position of telling journalists (according to the website Strana.ru) that he was not yet in a position to reveal what that new job would be.

The website Grani.ru noted that from the moment Kadyrov became head of the Chechen administration in the autumn of 2001, “he has repeatedly tried to free himself from this FSB appointee [Zhidkov], who has played the role of ‘eyes and ears’ for the federal center…. Zhidkov was more like a supplementary military commander for Grozny, an informal senior garrison official for the FSB, than a city head concerned with the problems of the civilian populace.”

By replacing Zhidkov with Khozh-Akhmed Arsanov, Kadyrov granted a huge favor to a family whose support would be useful in the republic’s forthcoming presidential election. Sanobar Shermatova observed in the June 10 issue of Moskovskie novosti that the Arsanov family is one of the most influential in Chechnya: “It would be hard to exaggerate the value of its support.” But she noted that the powerful Chechen businessman Khusein Dzhabrailov, owner of Moscow’s “Rossiya” hotel, has been wooing the Arsanovs to try to win their support for his own presidential candidacy. Kadyrov’s appointment of Khozh-Akhmed as mayor of Chechnya’s capital city is manifestly intended to neutralize Dzhabrailov’s maneuvers.

Another important tactical consideration is that by dismissing all of Grozny’s mayors and district administrators and making them dependent on him for reappointment, Kadyrov has guaranteed his own personal control of the republic’s state council. That body will play a key role in organizing Chechnya’s presidential election, so Kadyrov can now be more certain than ever that it will do so in such a way as to favor his own candidacy.

Part of the effectiveness of Kadyrov’s gambit lay in its swiftness and unexpectedness. Stanislav Ilyasov admitted to journalists in Moscow that he learned about it only from the news media; he called it “a pre-election political move.” But the website Grani.ru reported that Kadyrov did clear the personnel changes in advance with Viktor Kazantsev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s representative in the southern federal okrug.

Kadyrov’s own explanation for the shakeup was, in his words, that “the constitution of Chechnya [i.e., the new constitution railroaded through in the highly dubious March referendum] provides for the formation of a new cabinet and organs of the executive branch during the transitional period [i.e., the period before the presidential election].” The website Newsru.com, among others, cast doubt on that explanation: It pointed out that the new constitution “does not provide for any ‘transitional period,’ and nowhere does it unambiguously state that it is necessary to form a new government during such a period.”

Prime Minister Popov said on June 3 that, for the most part, the new Chechen cabinet would contain the same members as the old one. Akhmar Zavgaev, Chechnya’s representative in the upper house of the Russian parliament, told the news agency Novosti that the new cabinet would include a new ministry, for ethnic policy.

Aslanbek Aslakhanov, deputy to the federal Duma from Chechnya, said that the personnel changes would make the Chechen government “100 percent pro-Kadyrov.”

Nevertheless, Kadyrov still has not completely freed himself from appointees loyal to others. The Grani.ru website observed that Igor Tarasov, the newly appointed chief of Kadyrov’s staff, is a “creature of [Stanislav] Ilyasov, the federal minister for Chechen affairs, and of Kazantsev, the presidential representative in the southern okrug.” Tarasov used to work under Ilyasov when the latter was head of the Moscow-appointed Chechen administration.

On June 6 Kadyrov named Bislan Gantemirov, a convicted embezzler and former mayor of Grozny, as the republic’s new minister of information.

The personnel struggles in Grozny will continue, predicted Moscow political commentator Dmitry Orlov in an interview with the website Gzt.ru. “The Kremlin will try to appoint bureaucrats completely loyal to itself as ‘observers’ and as occupants of the key financial posts,” he said, “while Kadyrov will struggle to place all financial and personnel policies completely under his own control.”