On February 22, Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Russian Chechen leader, met in the republican capital Grozny with leaders of Memorial, the biggest and the most influential human rights organization in Russia (Chechnya Weekly, February 29). Memorial has been monitoring human rights violations in Chechnya closely since the beginning of the first Chechen war in 1994. About a month before the meeting with Kadyrov, Memorial issued a report on the human rights situation in the Chechen Republic in 2006-2007 that sharply criticized the pro-Russian Chechen authorities, Russian federal security structures and Ramzan Kadyrov personally. For example, the report concluded, among other things: “the political course directed towards peace [in Chechnya] that has been declared by Ramzan Kadyrov continues to be based on terror” .
The Chechen government’s press service even issued an official statement rejecting all accusations and criticism coming from Memorial (Vesti-Severny Kavkaz, January 18). Late last year, Ramzan Kadyrov declared at a meeting with leaders of some Chechen non-government organizations that “Memorial spreads rumors that can not be confirmed and does it with just with one aim: to discredit the Chechen authorities” (Kavkazky Uzel, February 21).
Considering these uneasy relations, the Chechen president’s decision to meet with his longtime stubborn critics in Memorial looks rather strange. Kadyrov invited both Memorial’s Russian leaders and the heads of the organization’s branch in Chechnya to meet with him in the Government Palace in Grozny. At the meeting, Memorial was represented by Oleg Orlov and Svetlana Gannushkina, members of Memorial’s board in Moscow, and by Chechen members of the organization, including Natalya Astemirova, Liliya Yusupova, Shakhman Akbulatov and others. Kadyrov was accompanied by, among others, his right-hand man—or henchman—Adam Delimkhanov, who recently became a deputy in the Russian State Duma; Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, speaker of the Chechen parliament; Abdulkakhir Israilov, head of the Chechen presidential administration; Nurdi Nukhazhiev, Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman; Muslim Khuchiev, the mayor of Grozny; Ruslan Alkhanov, the Chechen Interior Minister.
Kadyrov did not hide what he wanted from the human rights activists: cooperation with the authorities. He opened the meeting by saying: “I am also a human rights activist. We have common goals, let’s unite.” According to Novye Izvestiya, the human rights people started to talk about such burning issues as the fabricated criminal cases against Chechens, the use of torture by security officials and the problem of identifying the dead bodies that are found regularly in Chechnya (Novye Izvestia, February 28). Kadyrov promised to help, and blamed the federal authorities for not allowing a laboratory to identify bodies in Grozny to be set up and for slowing down the process of transferring convicted Chechens from prisons throughout Russia to prisons on Chechen territory. Kadyrov also rejected any hints that some of his armed groups could have been involved in kidnappings or the torture of detained persons. The Chechen leader shifted the blame to former Chechen Deputy Interior Minister Alambek Yasaev, who tried to organize a revolt against Kadyrov and was sacked from the police at the end of the last year.
During the meeting, the Chechen president appointed Natalya Astemirova to be head of the Human Rights Public Council in the Grozny administration. In addition, he ordered Grozny Mayor Muslim Khuchiev to accompany her to the so-called “Shanghai” settlement on the outskirts of Grozny where homeless people live in very poor conditions. Khuchiev and Astemirova met with people in “Shanghai” and the mayor promised to find ways to provide some of the families living there with good apartments in Grozny (Kavkazky Uzel, February 23; Novye Izvestia, February 28).
It must be said that Ramzan Kadyrov did his best during the meeting to charm the Memorial activists. Kadyrov called on Memorial to cooperate with the Chechen authorities to improve the human rights situation in Chechnya. It looks like the Memorial leaders were really impressed by Kadyrov’s words. “Memorial is fully satisfied with the negotiations held with the Chechen authorities,” Oleg Orlov declared in Moscow on February 28.
Human rights activists in Russia are always happy when the authorities meet and listen to their complaints. Every time officials invite them to a meeting they expect that meeting to mark the beginning of a new attitude toward the human rights problem in Russia, and especially in Chechnya. However, the authorities have their own aims in establishing contacts with non-governmental organizations, especially with those who usually criticize them.
The Kremlin and Ramzan Kadyrov each have their own goals in dealing with Memorial. First, the Russian authorities want to neutralize Memorial as a source of objective information about the situation in Chechnya. The Kremlin has always tried to control Memorial and find tools to play down the harsh criticism in their regular reports on Chechnya. The best way to do this is to incorporate Memorial into Russian policy in the region and to exploit the prestige that the organization still has among Chechens to strengthen the position in the republic of Kadyrov, who is still regarded by many Chechens as a traitor and a Russian puppet. The Russian authorities would like to redirect Memorial’s attention from the abuses committed by security officials against civilians to such social problems as those of refugees and homeless people.
At the same time, Kadyrov personally would like to use human rights organizations in his struggle against his rivals in the Chechen pro-Russian camp. In an interview shown on Chechen television just several days before the meeting with Memorial, Adam Delimkhanov, the Chechen politician who is most loyal to Ramzan, accused Sulim Yamadaev and his Vostok battalion, which is subordinated to Russian military intelligence, of murders and kidnapping civilians in Chechnya’s Vedeno district. Both Kadyrov and Delimkhanov have declared publicly that Vostok should be removed from Vedeno and replaced by squads loyal to the Chechen president (Forum.msk.ru, February 29). It should be noted that the Yamadaev brothers, Sulim and Ruslan, are Kadyrov’s main rivals in the Chechen power struggle. Ramzan Kadyrov is trying to incite public anger against Yamadaev’s Vostok battalion, so Memorial and other human rights groups need to be very careful not to fall for the line that Vostok is responsible for all the human rights abuses now occurring in Chechnya.
1. Memorial, Report on the Status of Residents of Chechnya in the Russian Federation, August 2006-October 2007.