Several Russian newspapers reported that a worsening security situation in Chechnya (see Andrei Smirnov’s article below) is lessening the likelihood that Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov will replace Alu Alkhanov as the republic’s president. Other media, however, reported that Kadyrov continues to strengthen his position at Alkhanov’s expense.
Writing in Nezavisimaya gazeta on November 13, Andrei Riskin noted the assessment made earlier this month by Colonel-General Yevgeny Baryaev, the commander of the Russian military group in Chechnya, who said that young Chechens are continuing to join the rebels and that up to 700 rebel fighters are hiding in Chechnya’s mountains (Chechnya Weekly, November 9). Echoing Baryaev, Riskin wrote that the rebels “have apparently managed to reestablish ties and build up strength” and that new field commanders, “who were unknown earlier but can fight as effectively as their predecessors,” have emerged. This, Riskin wrote, has “allowed militants to move from the tactics of occasional explosions on motor roads to active combat encounters, including daring attacks on military and law enforcement personnel deployment sites.”
Again echoing Baryaev, Riskin wrote that local functionaries have to try to avoid incurring the wrath of both the pro-Moscow authorities in Grozny and the rebels, “who can freely walk in and out of mountain villages where they rob local inhabitants, replenish supplies, and intimidate people. According to Chechen People’s Assembly deputy Aslambek Borshchigov, this is only natural, since in the Sharoi district, for instance, there are no checkpoints of federal forces in any population center.” Riskin noted that the ambush that killed seven members of an OMON special police unit from Mordovia took place as the unit was traveling by car to the Sharoi district.
Riskin concluded from this that despite the claims which followed Chechnya’s legislative elections that all branches of power in the republic had been legitimized and that it was possible to move on to building a “peaceful life,” its effectiveness remains in doubt and its writ does not extend beyond Grozny and the other district centers. “The point is that nobody will recognize this kind of authority as long as people in remote villages do not trust its ability to defend them from bandits,” Riskin wrote.
Riskin concluded: “It is clear that under these circumstances, nobody in the federal center will be in a hurry to transfer power to incumbent Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. Yes, he is currently the federal center’s mainstay in Chechnya, but he has not yet accomplished his main goal: To achieve total stability in the republic. Meanwhile, it was Kadyrov who was the main advocate of the so-called Chechenization of the separatism problem. It was Ramzan, the man in charge of the security structures, who insisted on the withdrawal of [federal] troops and asserted that the Chechen law enforcement organs were capable of ensuring stability in the region. It seems, however, that stability is a distant prospect. And so is the day when the federal center will decide to replace the Chechen president.”
Writing in the November 16 edition of Moskovsky komsomolets, correspondent Vadim Rechkalov also noted the ambush of the Mordovian OMON unit, as well as the November 14 media reports that in reaction to the deaths of the seven Mordovian policemen, three members of the same unit had deserted. Rechkalov claimed that the desertions took place because, despite official claims to the contrary, no reinforcements had been sent in to assist the Mordovian OMON officers as they were being ambushed. While the desertion of the three officers meant an end to their careers and reputations, Rechkalov wrote, “On the other hand, their wives didn’t become widows and their children didn’t become fatherless. For what were these guys awaiting their deaths in Chechnya? So that Ramzan Kadyrov could receive another [Hero of Russia medal]?” According to Rechkalov, Lt. Gen. Oleg Khotin, the head of the federal Interior Ministry’s forces in Chechnya and an ally of Ramzan Kadyrov, was removed from his job in Chechnya just hours after the November 9 ambush. Khotin was appointed as the head of the Interior Ministry branch Voronezh Oblast, which meant, in essence, a demotion.
Kadyrov, for his part, denied that rebel forces have stepped up their activities in Chechnya. “Some siloviki have reported that the illegal armed formation have become more active,” RIA Novosti on November 14 quoted him as telling officials. “I do not agree with that and can confidently say that there has been no such [increase in rebel activity] on the territory of the Chechen Republic. A few bandits showed themselves, shot up a car, but that does not signify an increase in activity.” He did say, however, that since 2000, “More than 70 heads of district and city administrations and more than 60 imams of mosques have died at the hands of terrorists.”
Kadyrov called for the strengthening of “propaganda work” to thwart the spread of extremist forms of Islam and the activities of the “Wahabbis,” and also for the strengthening of traditional Islam, fighting “international terrorism” and creating more employment opportunities for the youth in order to rob the “illegal armed formations” of the economic means to attract young people. Kadyrov added that mandatory military service for young Chechens would also help solve “the problem of the employment of young people” and contribute to their “military-patriotic upbringing.”
However, if Kadyrov has been put on the defensive over an increase in separatist attacks, it appears that he won a significant victory on November 14 when, according to Kavkazky Uzel, 33 members of the Gorets special forces unit, which was previously under the command of the Federal Security Service (FSB), laid down their weapons. Earlier this year, kadyrovtsy reportedly blockaded the Gorets unit at its base in the Chechen village of Pobedinskoe (Chechnya Weekly, September 28, September 15 and August 17). Kavkazky Uzel reported on November 10 that police in Moscow had been ordered to detain the Gorets unit’s former commander, Movladi Baisarov, who was put on Chechnya’s wanted list for his alleged involvement in the January 2004 kidnapping of a family in Grozny’s Staropromyslovsky district. The family is believed to have been murdered. Baisarov has claimed that the charges against him are false and part of a politically motivated campaign by Kadyrov. Baisarov has also voiced support for Alu Alkhanov (Chechnya Weekly, November 2).
There were conflicting press reports over whether the Gorets fighters had surrendered their weapons under security guarantees from Kadyrov or from Alkhanov, or from both. Still, Gazeta wrote on November 16 that the surrender of the Gorets unit members marked a decisive victory for Kadyrov. “The de facto capitulation of the Gorets fighters means one thing: Alu Alkhanov will not be able to affect the situation, and the prime minister’s capabilities turned out to be far greater than the president’s,” the newspaper wrote. “They are now saying in the republic with complete confidence that Alkhanov will not serve until the end of [his] presidential term [in March 2008].”