Following the inauguration of the newly elected Russian president Dmitry Medvedev on May 7, the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov initiated another public campaign against his political rivals, the Yamadaev brothers, and the Vostok battalion that is headed by one of the brothers, Sulim Yamadaev. In early May, Kadyrov started to prepare public opinion for another statement criticizing the Yamadaev clan and the activity of Vostok battalion in general. On May 5, several policemen loyal to Kadyrov found the remains of seven people near the Chechen city of Gudermes. On May 7, an anonymous source in the Chechen police told the media that those unidentified people could have been victims of extra-judicial executions carried out by Vostok members. The next day, May 8, the Chechen police declared that investigators were looking into the battalion’s possible involvement in the murder of the Arsamakov brothers (see Chechnya Weekly, April 17 and 24, May 1 and 8).
On May 12, Ramzan Kadyrov held a meeting with the heads of the regional law-enforcement bodies. At the conference, a representative of the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor’s Office in Chechnya said that the committee had proceeded on the criminal case of Arsamakov brothers’ disappearance (the brothers are relatives of a Moscow banker of the Chechen origin Abubakar Arsamakov, who had had conflicts with the Yamadaevs, and were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen early last year). “There are witnesses that give testimony on this case and the main suspect is Badrudi Yamadaev (one of the Yamadaev brothers-AS),” an official from the Investigative Committee told Ramzan Kadyrov.
The meeting Chechen president’s meeting with the local security officials was broadcast by Chechen TV and looked like a political show that had been prepared in advance. When the Investigative Committee representative linked in his speech the Arsamakov case with that of the Yamadaev brothers, Kadyrov made a statement that sounded like a punch-line. The Chechen president announced that Vostok battalion commander Sulim Yamadaev had been suspended from the command of the battalion for the period of the investigation. “An investigation of Vostok activity would shed some light on many murders and kidnappings in Chechnya,” he added (Regnum, May 13).
It was very important for Kadyrov to demonstrate a quick and clear victory in his standoff with the Yamadaev brothers. Nevertheless, the Chechen leader said that Sulim had been suspended, but did not say who had replaced him as Vostok commander. In fact, the acting commander of the battalion now is Jambulat Nutaev, Sulim Yamadaev’s deputy and the unit’s chief of staff, thus a person absolutely loyal to Sulim. Moreover, an official in the Russian Defense Ministry refused to comment on Kadyrov’s statement and one of them said curtly in an interview to the RB website that “to dismiss a Vostok commander is the prerogative of the Ministry of Defense and Kadyrov’s declaration is just his private business” (RB.ru, May 13).
Nevertheless, the military had to agree that all members of Vostok should go through a merit rating procedure and that the number of the unit fighters could be significantly reduced (Kommersant, April 14). In an interview with the newspaper Kommersant, Ruslan Yamadaev, the older brother of Sulim, denied the fact that Sulim had been dismissed, but hinted that Sulim could take another, much higher position in the Russian military hierarchy. In another interview, with the Life.ru website, Ruslan Yamadaev said: “Sulim is in the hospital now and has no information about his resignation. His first deputy is the acting commander of the battalion now and Vostok is functioning like it functioned before I am sure that Sulim will have a brilliant career and he deserves a higher position.” (Life.ru, April 13).
The Russian military command will most likely make changes in Vostok and move Sulim Yamadaev from Gudermes to Khankala, the main military base of the Russian army in Chechnya. In late April, a source in the Defense Ministry told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the ministry considered a plan to transform the Vostok battalion into a special brigade to be stationed in Khankala and that Sulim might head it (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 21). Such a step could help calm Kadyrov down while at the same time preserving Vostok as a military force that the Russian military command in Chechnya needs in order to conduct special operations in the region. However, if this is the case, Ramzan Kadyrov will not have achieved his main goal – the destruction of the Yamadaev clan. The brothers will still have capabilities to influence political life in Chechnya and, what is more important, the Kremlin’s policy towards the republic.
Russian political and military leaders are not so stupid as not to have learned lessons from the Kadyrov-Yamadaev war that occurred in Gudermes last month (see Chechnya Weekly, April 17). After a time we will see great changes in Chechnya, and not only in Vostok, but in all pro-Russian Chechen units. “The conflict between bodyguards of the Chechen president and fighters of the Vostok battalion comes from the absence of a unified body that should coordinate movements of all units in Chechnya,” said General Anatoly Kulikov, a veteran of the Chechen war and head of the unofficial but very influential organization called the Club of Russian Military Leaders, told the Russian media (Yuga.ru, April 16).
“I believe that the Russian Defense Ministry made a mistake forming mono ethnic units in Chechnya,” General Yury Netkachev, a former commander of the 58th army in the North Caucasus, told Nezavisimya Gazeta. “The mistake should be corrected. It is the Military Manual that should rule in the army, not ethno-cultural values or kinship ties” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 21).
Some say that the generals are talking about reforming only of the Vostok battalion, but in fact they mean the units subordinate to Ramzan Kadyrov as well. Most likely, Russia’s generals will soon suggest mixing all pro-Russian Chechen units with Russian officers and putting all Chechen squads under the strict control of the Regional Operational Staff for Conducting the Anti-Terrorist Operation in the North Caucasus. That is the main conclusion that the Kremlin might draw from the gun battle between yamadaevsty and kadyrovsty in Gudermes.