Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 23

The next struggle between Akhmad Kadyrov and the federal center will be over control of Chechnya’s economic resources, especially oil. On June 21 the Chechen media published Kadyrov’s proposed draft of a treaty between Grozny and Moscow demarcating which parts of Chechnya’s economic, social and political life will be controlled by the federal government and which by the republic’s government. Outraged Russian commentators are interpreting this draft as yet another grab for power and wealth by the increasingly aggressive Kadyrov. That interpretation is largely correct, though one should also remember that opinion leaders in Moscow, both pro-Putin and anti-Putin, are inherently pro-centralist. They tend to resist assertiveness by provincial and local governments even if those governments are controlled by reformers.

The draft treaty, portions of which were reprinted on June 23 by the Moscow daily Nezavisimaya gazeta, states that if the federal executive branch should issue regulations or decrees that contradict the treaty, the treaty will take precedence. Such a provision may seem normal to Americans accustomed to a federal system of government, but it flies in the face of the drive for re-centralization that has characterized the entire three-year history of the Putin administration. If Putin ends up swallowing this and similar provisions, it will not be because he wants to but because he feels that he has no alternative.

The draft goes on to state that, by agreement with the federal government, Chechnya may create free economic zones. This is a provision that will undoubtedly bring back unpleasant memories in Moscow of the early 1990s, when the breakaway republic was a major sanctuary for smuggling and other illegal economic activities.

But the most outrageous (from Moscow’s standpoint) part of the draft treaty is its provision that the Chechen republic has “exclusive authority” over “questions of the ownership, use and distribution of land, mineral, water, timber and other natural resources.” This clause would give Kadyrov and his circle control of the republic’s shrinking but still lucrative oil resources. These resources were managed mainly for the benefit of Moscow before the 1990s, and they are now in the hands of a criminalized post-Soviet elite that includes both Chechens and Russians.

More ambiguous, at least on its face, is the very next passage–which gives Chechnya sole authority over “state enterprises and organizations, and other state property including real estate which are located within the territory of the Chechen Republic and which constitute the exclusive heritage and property of the people of Chechnya, with the exception of items of federal property.”

The Russian military and security agencies are certain to oppose the draft treaty’s provision granting the Chechen republic ownership rights over “lands on which military units are stationed.” The draft states that “those in command of military units will be required to inform the republic’s leadership about any movements of a military contingent on the level of a regiment or higher.”

Andrei Riskin, who has published several anti-Kadyrov articles in recent months reflecting the views and interests of the federal bureaucracy, declared in his June 23 article for Nezavisimaya gazeta that “Kadyrov has again presented Moscow with an ultimatum.” He predicted a new wave of criminalization in both the oil and forest sectors of the economy, pointing out that “according to the procuracy, since the beginning of 2002 alone some 17,349 illegal oil-processing operations have been liquidated in Chechnya.”

On the provision for republic property rights over military bases, Riskin exploded. “If the treaty is signed in this form, we can forget about any kind of secrecy in anti-terrorist operations….What will happen if Kadyrov some fine day turns out to be a warrior for rent?”

Lyudmila Romanov and Anastasia Matveeva were equally passionate in their June 24 article for the website Gzt.ru. They argued that the provision on oil and gas resources would directly contradict the federal constitution, and that this and other privileges granted to Chechnya in the draft would meet “the approval of Dzhokhar Dudaev or Aslan Maskhadov.” They noted that in 2001 the state oil and gas firm Grozneftegaz had an income of more than 1 billion rubles (about US$34.2 million) after taxes–“at least according to the official figures.”

Kadyrov confirmed in an interview with Interfax that “I consider myself the author of the draft, since I worked on it for a long time together with others.” But he also hinted that there was room for negotiations: “The draft treaty which I have proposed is not a matter of dogma, but had been introduced for general discussion.” He suggested that final agreement might be reached by the end of September. As of June 24, the Putin administration had no comment for journalists on the Kadyrov proposal.