An incident that took place in Chechnya on March 24 has raised tensions between the government of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and federal forces in the republic and, perhaps more importantly, has given fresh impetus to the Chechen leader’s push to monopolize power in the republic. The Associated Press reported on March 24 that unidentified gunmen had opened fire on a group of women picking garlic in a forest in southern Chechnya, killing one and injuring two others. The news agency quoted a spokesman for Kadyrov as saying that the women were fired on after they tried unsuccessfully to gesture that they represented no danger.
As the Gazeta newspaper reported on March 27, the Military Prosecutor’s Office of the North Caucasus Military District detained four servicemen from the Shatoi district commandant’s office on March 26 in connection with the shooting, which took place near the village of Urdyukhoi. And while the Shatoi district commandant’s office insisted that the women were mistaken for gunmen because they were wearing camouflage, did not respond to radio messages and continued to move, a staffer in the office of the Chechen human rights ombudsman told the newspaper: “They saw very clearly that they were women, but they still opened fire on them.” Deputy Chechen human rights ombudsman Ibragim Zubairaev said that murders have been going unpunished in Chechnya for years and that “not a single serviceman has been punished for the crimes committed, and those court cases that are under way have been dragging on for years.” He added: “There should not be so many servicemen in the republic; regeneration and rebuilding are under way here.” Kadyrov also denounced the federal forces over the incident. “Nobody is permitted to kill our citizens with impunity,” he said. “Those times have passed.” According to Gazeta, Kadyrov demanded that “superfluous” troops be withdrawn from Chechnya.
The newspaper reported that Chechen opponents of Kadyrov believe he is attempting to take complete control of all security agencies in the republic. “He wants total power and is gradually obtaining it,” Gazeta quoted a well-known Chechen political analyst as saying in Moscow. “People in the Kremlin still believe they have established order in the republic. But do they know how many of our people are actually going missing? I do not think so. And these abductions are being monitored, not by the Russian security agencies but by the Chechen ones. Behind a facade of combating terrorism, blood feuds are continuing in our republic.” Aleskei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center told the newspaper that a partial withdrawal of federal troops would leave Kadyrov in de facto control of the Chechen Interior Ministry forces, which, he said, is essentially “an army which earlier fought against Russian forces.” Malashenko added that this would create a “very complex” situation that would become a burden on Putin, although it would be left to his successor to “disentangle” everything. “The two people who can decide what to do are Putin and FSB head Nikolai Patrushev,” Malashenko told Gazeta. “And if they now permit some of the forces to be pulled out, then they will be signing off on a very important turning-point: they will be recognizing that Chechnya can manage itself as it likes. But I don’t think such a withdrawal of federal forces will take place before the election of a new president.”