Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 8

In an official statement posted February 16 on the Chechen Republic’s president and government website (Chechnya.gov.ru), Ramzan Kadyrov said his appointment as the republic’s acting president the previous day was a “huge responsibility before God and the Chechen people.” “As before, huge tasks in restoring the economic sphere and social sphere stand before the team of Akhmat Kadyrov,” he said, referring to his late father, who was the republic’s president until his assassination in May 2004. “Russian Federation President V.V. Putin’s decision obliges the leadership of the Chechen Republic to work with great force and energy. I have repeatedly stated that those who regard themselves as genuine patriots of their people have a golden opportunity to prove themselves not in words, but in deeds, regardless of rank or work status. There exists before each of us the task of providing our citizens with a worthy life, peace and prosperity.” Referring to the man whom he replaced as the republic’s president, Kadyrov said: “In my opinion, Alu Alkhanov, as head of the republic, used all of his potential to accomplish all the tasks put before him. I want to congratulate him on his appointment to a high and important post, and also wish him success in his new position.” Upon accepting Alkhanov’s resignation as Chechnya’s president, Putin appointed him a federal deputy justice minister (Chechnya Weekly, February 15).

Kadyrov, who had been serving as Chechnya’s prime minister, automatically became the republic’s acting president when Alkhanov resigned on February 15. Within 14 days of Alkhanov’s resignation, Putin must propose at least two candidates for the Chechen presidency to the republic’s legislature for its approval. While it is virtually certain that Kadyrov will end up being confirmed as Chechnya’s president, the Russian president’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitry Kozak, traveled on February 21 to Grozny, where, according to RIA Novosti, he told reporters that he would recommend Putin to consider three candidates for the Chechen presidency – Muslim Khuchiev, leader of the regional branch of A Just Russia, the recently-created pro-Kremlin party; Shakhid Dzhamaldaev, head of the Grozny district; and Kadyrov. Newsru.com reported on February 21 that during meetings with the heads of the Chechen branches of political parties, public organizations and movements, and clergy, Kozak had floated the names of ten candidates, but that most of the meetings’ participants had backed Kadyrov. Indeed, the regional branch of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party announced on February 16, the day after Alkhanov’s resignation, that it had already decided to back Kadyrov’s candidacy.

It should be noted that despite Kadyrov’s words of congratulation to his predecessor, tensions apparently remain between the acting Chechen president, on the one hand, and former president Alkhanov and his supporters among the officials in Moscow who reportedly oppose Kadyrov’s monopolization of power in Chechnya. Interfax, on February 20, quoted Kadyrov as saying that he was unhappy about the way the investigation into the May 2004 assassination of his father had been carried out and that Alkhanov was to blame. “If we consider the investigation in terms of the laws of the Russian Federation, I can see absolutely no progress and absolutely no interest in the investigation from those who were supposed to carry it out,” Kadyrov told journalists in Gudermes that day. “At that time, I told Alu Alkhanov that he, as president, should raise this question before those in charge of the investigation, and, if he sees that others are keeping silent, demand that the investigation be carried out. But he has not done anything. As [Chechen] interior minister [in 2004], he [Alkhanov] was responsible on that day [on which Akhmat Kadyrov was killed], and he should have resigned according to the code of honor. I told him that he should have shown adherence to his principles.”

Perhaps even more significant was the article published in a Spanish newspaper four days after Kadyrov’s appointment. El Pais reported on February 19 that detectives investigating last October’s murder of Novaya gazeta special correspondent Anna Politkovskaya have been focusing on Kadyrov’s inner circle and believe that he, at a minimum, knows the identity of her killers. The Spanish paper quoted Vyacheslav Izmailov, the retired army major and Novaya gazeta military correspondent, as saying that the murder trail leads to Kadyrov’s entourage but that the Russian authorities are “exerting pressure” on the investigation to pin the crime on Boris Berezovsky, the London-based exiled oligarch; Izmailov belongs to a group of journalists that Novaya gazeta set up to investigate Politkovskaya’s murder. “We don’t know if Kadyrov himself ordered the murder, but we know that he is well-informed about who did it,” the Spanish newspaper quoted Izmailov as saying. He added that “at a minimum, three sources with no connection to one another” have alleged Kadyrov’s involvement in the murder. “Politicians are sticking to the version that enemies of Russia – specifically, Boris Berezovsky – are behind the murder,” Izmailov said. According to El Pais, Izmailov also indicated that evidence against Berezovsky, which was collected “under pressure” even before Politkovskaya’s death, has been introduced into the criminal investigation. Izmailov, however, did not want to go into detail about this because the evidence remains confidential.

El Pais also reported that bodyguards were recently assigned to Izmailov after his wife spotted suspicious persons inside the entrance to their apartment building. According to the newspaper, Izmailov noted that following Politkovskaya’s murder, it was discovered that security cameras had photographed her killer inside the entrance to her apartment building on two separate occasions several days before October 7, the day she was shot to death.

In January, members from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), who were in Moscow to push for more aggressive investigations into the murder of Russian journalists, claimed they were told by a Foreign Ministry official that Chechen policemen were being investigated for the murder of Politkovskaya. That official, Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Boris Malakhov, subsequently denied that he had told the CPJ representatives about a possible Chechen police role in Politkovskaya’s killing (Chechnya Weekly, January 25).

The day after the El Pais article was published, Kadyrov directly blamed Berezovsky for the murder of both Anna Politkovskaya and former Federal Security Service (FSB) Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko. “It’s obvious that this person killed Litvinenko and Politkovskaya,” the Regnum news agency quoted Kadyrov as telling reporters during a press conference in Grozny on February 20. “Today, someone is trying to look for tracks in Chechnya while the person who ordered this murder is sitting in London. It’s like the Russian proverb about the hunter who sees a bear in front of him but is looking for its tracks in the snow.” Kadyrov added that “both Politkovskaya and Litvinenko” had done “everything Berezovsky needed” so they were no longer of any use to him. Kadyrov added, according to IYAR-Tass: “Politkovskaya was not a hindrance to us at all. We were reading her articles like children’s fairy tales. She relied on rumors and not on hard facts.” The acting Chechen president also asserted that the deaths of Litvinenko and Politkovskaya were only of benefit to Berezovsky, who wanted to use their deaths to “undermine the image of the state.” Litvinenko and Berezovsky, Kadyrov claimed, had “started a process” aimed at “undermining the basis of a sovereign state, Russia,” but once Litvinenko “fully had his say,” he was no longer useful to Berezovsky, and the latter “disposed of him.”

Last month, a senior aide to President Putin, Igor Shuvalov, suggested that the murders of Anna Politkovskaya and Aleksandr Litvinenko were both linked to people who were trying to discredit Putin. “There are strong groups which have joined together to constantly attack the president’s line and him personally,” RIA Novosti quoted Shuvalov as saying on January 18. “None of these murders are in our interest.”

Kadyrov also claimed during his February 20 press conference in Grozny that Berezovsky had “openly financed” Chechen separatist guerrillas. “During the first two military campaigns in Chechnya, Berezovsky was the one who financed the militants,” ITAR-Tass quoted Kadyrov as saying. Berezovsky and Litvinenko, he claimed, “gave [the late Chechen rebel field commander Shamil] Basaev money. I was a witness to their talks myself.”