Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 22

On May 28, Bislan Gantamirov, the former Grozny mayor and Chechen vice-premier, sent a letter to the federal authorities asking for protection for his family from what he characterized as illegal actions by forces loyal to First Deputy Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. Gantamirov claimed in the letter, which was quoted verbatim by Moskovsky komosmolets on June 3, that “people from the so-called Kadyrov security service in police cars” arrived at his brother Ali’s house in Grozny on April 17 of this year, demanding that Ali pay $100,000 and threatening to blow him up along with the Sabita shopping center that he runs if he failed to pay. When Ali refused, the kadyrovtsy left but later that evening staged “an armed attack” on the Gantamirov family home in the village of Gekhi, seizing around 2 million rubles (more than $70,000), personal weapons, carpets, and other property. According to Gantamirov, his brother filed complaints with the Chechen branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the district prosecutor’s office and the office of the Southern Federal District’s main federal inspector for the Chechen Republic, on which basis a criminal case was opened. However, members of “the same armed grouping” arrived in Gekhi on May 27 and tried to take Ali with them, Gantamirov said, “but when they saw that many people had started to gather around, they demanded that my brother voluntarily come to see Ramzan Kadyrov in Gudermes and then left.” Gantamirov told Kommersant that during the May 27 raid, the kadyrovtsy threatened Ali with “physical reprisals” if he did not close down the criminal case.

Gantamirov claimed in his letter to the federal authorities that there had been earlier “attacks and provocative actions” against his family, which he dated back to two years ago, when he “declined to support Akhmad Kadyrov during the presidential election in Chechnya and left his government on ideological grounds.” (In fact, the elder Kadyrov fired Gantamirov as republican media minister after Gantamirov refused to back him in the presidential election.) These attacks, Gantamirov told Vadim Rechkalov in an interview published in Moskovsky komsomolets on June 3, included seizures of Gantamirov-owned properties. Still, Gantamirov insisted that he left Chechnya two years ago in order “to avoid complicating the political and operational situation” and has since been doing everything possible “not to incite civil let alone armed confrontation in the republic.” He said, however, that his efforts have been in vain and that his patience is running out. “It is for this reason that I ask you to intervene in the situation, for in the long run it will affect not only my family and me, but also all the people in the Chechen Republic,” Gantamirov concluded in his letter to the federal authorities.

Kadyrov and his allies have challenged Gantamirov’s version of events. Urus-Martan district police chief Ramzan Dzhamalkhanov insisted that members of the Chechnya’s presidential security service had gone to the Gantamirov home in Gekhi simply to collect “illegal arms,” including automatic rifles, a machingun and an RPG. Gantamirov told Moskovsky komsomolets that his family had “officially purchased” the weapons “on the market back in Dudayev’s day” and that while they did not have a copy of the receipt for the weapons, the weapons had been registered with the Interior Ministry. “We have always had licenses to own them,” Gantamirov said. “And now, as far as I understand, the licenses have been revoked.” He also said that those who confiscated the weapons had no search warrant.

Urus-Martan police chief Dzhamalkhanov dismissed Gantamirov’s complaints as a political stunt. “Gantamirov, has apparently decided to re-enter politics and is thus making a commercial for himself,” Dzhamalkhanov told Kommersant. Gantamirov, for his part, did not deny that he had political plans, but told Kommersant that the “Kadyrov clan” feared his participation in the republican parliamentary elections scheduled for this fall and were trying to scare him out of running.

On June 1, Ramzan Kadyrov confirmed that “the law-enforcement organs” had seized “illegal” weapons from Gantamirov’s home and upped the ante, accusing Gantamirov of having links with the rebels, Kavkazky Uzel reported. “Gantamirov assisted the militants’ escape from the encircled city [of Grozny] at the very beginning of the counter-terrorist operation and, according to available information, still maintains steady contact with the illegal armed formations,” Kadyrov claimed.

Rechkalov of Moskovsky komsomlets noted that Gantamirov has a checkered career: he was imprisoned in 1996 for misappropriating budget funds and released in September 1999 after receiving a pardon from then-President Boris Yeltsin. But Rechkalov also suggested that Gantamirov might have the backing of forces in both Chechnya and Moscow who oppose “the reckless Ramzan Kadyrov.” This is significant given that Gantamirov led armed pro-Moscow Chechen forces in 1994 and again in 1999.

Whatever the case, the Kadyrov-Gantamirov tensions open up the possibility that an additional armed conflict could erupt in Chechnya. Gantamirov noted somewhat ominously in his letter to the federal authorities that his “comrades-in-arms” were gathering in Gekhi to “prevent illegitimate activities” from happening there. Later he told Moskovsky komsomlets that the armed men were no longer there because “the deputy head of the presidential staff” had promised that “nothing illegal would happen” and to “talk with Ramzan.” Still, Gantamirov made it clear that he remains angry about the raid on his brother’s house. “It was simply a bandit raid,” he told Moskovsky komsomlets. “Forget the weapons, but why did they take away the money and the carpets?…It will be better if the court punishes these people, because if it does not, others will punish them. They came to my house with arms in their hands. This means they do not regard me as a man. Since they came with arms, this means they desecrated my home.”

Chechen President Alu Alkhanov told journalists in the Leningrad Oblast town of Pushkin on June 3 that he had not followed the exchange between Gantamirov and Kadyrov. “I have not read any statements by Kadyrov or Gantamirov, I haven’t seen them,” RIA Novosti quoted Alkhanov as saying. “I only know that the situation in the republic is stable.”