Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 21

By Zaindi Choltaev

Akhmad Kadyrov is striving not only to concentrate in his own hands all power within Chechnya; he also wants the Kremlin to treat him as the head of all ethnic Chechens living anywhere in the Russian Federation. In return, he offers to the pro-Putin United Russia Party the proven abilities of his own political machine in providing phony votes, applied so effectively in the March referendum. He also can divert to United Russia’s election campaigns a rich share of the federal subsidies ostensibly provided for the restoration of Chechnya.

Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, head of the pro-Putin United Russia Party, is counting on Kadyrov to deliver a huge margin of victory in December’s elections for the federal parliament. That is why Gryzlov and Putin have allowed Kadyrov such wide leeway within Chechnya, as was illustrated most recently by last week’s personnel shakeup within the Chechen executive branch. On top of earlier moves, such as the appointment of a Kadyrov loyalist as head of the OMON special police within Chechnya, together with the ongoing growth of Kadyrov’s personal bodyguard, this latest development is giving the Chechen republic a regime of unprecedented personal power.

Less widely noticed have been Kadyrov’s efforts to bring under his personal control the Chechen societies across the Russian Federation–using money and political pressure available to him from both Chechen and federal resources. As acting president of the Chechen Republic, he possesses mechanisms to influence hundreds of thousands of ethnic Chechens who do not themselves live within Chechnya but who have relatives there or in nearby refugee camps. In his hands, or in the hands of officials loyal to him, are decisions about amnesty, compensation for lost homes and property, access to humanitarian aid–and simply the opportunity to be left alone and get on with rebuilding one’s life. Working together with the federal structures, Kadyrov has the ability to deny basic physical safety to those who might oppose him within Chechnya. That ability will grow even further as jurisdiction over the “anti-terrorist operation” is transferred to Gryzlov’s Ministry of the Interior from the other federal security agencies. In the conditions of today’s Russia, this will mean more opportunities for police harassment of Chechens living anywhere in Russia.

Kadyrov understands quite well that the Chechens living outside Chechnya constitute a political and economic force that has its own connections with the federal government and its own abilities to influence the situation within his republic. It is very much in his interest for this Chechen diaspora to be obedient to him, or at the very least to act in a predictable fashion. It is also clearly in his interest to use the diaspora to increase his own electoral support within Chechnya, and also that of the United Russia Party in the parliamentary elections. He thus not only receives a reward for his loyalty to Vladimir Putin–but even more important, hopes to get everyone (especially Moscow) to recognize that he is not just the legal president of Chechnya, but the de facto president of all Chechens regardless of where they live.

From the standpoint of Putin’s interests, what the alliance with Kadyrov offers is a guaranteed body of votes. Out of the roughly 550,000 votes likely to be tabulated within Chechnya, Kadyrov can “give up” 10-15 percent to other parties for the sake of creating the appearance of a free election. The remaining 85-90 percent would of course go to the United Russia Party, by the same mechanisms of coercion and fraud that produced a similar fake “landslide” in the March referendum. Kadyrov and his allies will also try to use the approximately 500,000 ethnic Chechens living across Russia, not only as their own electorate but as a force for attracting other voters.

The head of the Chechen branch of the United Russia Party is Moscow resident Frants Klintsevich. He is a deputy in the federal Duma and leader of a powerful movement of Afghan war veterans involved in the semi-criminal redistribution of property and of economic privileges. The party’s executive committee within Chechnya is headed by Khalid Yamadaev, well-known in the past as a field commander of the separatist rebels. It is Yamadaev’s extended family that controls Gudermes, Chechnya’s second-largest city, and that transferred Gudermes and other areas to the “pro-Moscow” side in Chechnya’s civil war when the family broke with the separatists in 1998. The Yamadaev family controls an armed force of its own loyalists, as well as significant economic resources acquired largely through illegal activities.

In an interview published in the April 17 issue of Izvestia, Khalid Yamadaev made clear what he means by a “political party.” He said that “our party is supporting Akhmad Kadyrov, but one should not forget that we have a general council in Moscow. If they give us other instructions, for example to elect Dzhokhar Dudaev–after first resurrecting him from the dead–then we will have to obey. After all, we are a party.”

A party with such a degree of centralization reminds one of the old Soviet Communist Party; it fits well with the goals of strengthening the central authorities about which we hear so much these days from the Kremlin. But of course with such a party one might as well forget about creating an open, democratic society. Especially as it operates within Chechnya and among the Chechen diaspora, this is the right kind of party for a police state–and just the kind of party that Putin and Kadyrov now need.

–Zaindi Choltaev, former deputy foreign minister of Chechnya’s separatist government, now holds a visiting fellowship at the Kennan Institute in Washington. He contributed this article to Chechnya Weekly.