The recent appointment of Hussein Djabrailov as a vice prime minister of Chechnya has generally been ignored by the media, despite the fact that this is a demonstration of the increasing strength of Ramzan Kadyrov’s position in the republic as the Prime Minister of the Federal government Russian republic of Chechnya (Interfax, October 17). This is but one more piece of evidence that Kadyrov is still trusted by the Kremlin, and that a whole network of well-known Chechens, including both Djabrailov brothers, is being created at the center of the federally-governed Chechnya with Ramzan at its center.
The oldest Djabrailov brother, Umar, holds the post of Chechen senator and spends most of his time these days searching for new sources of income for Kadyrov. His candidacy for the post, then filled by Hussein, was not proscribed by Moscow despite the fact that Umar has been identified in a number of criminal investigations, some of which have been closed, but some of which are still being investigated. This includes his potential involvement in the 1996 murder of one of the co-owners of the Slavyanskaya Hotel in Moscow, an U.S. businessman named Paul Tatum, the attempted murder of Moscow deputy mayor Iosif Ordzhonikidze, as well as six counts of tax evasion by companies once controlled by Umar (Kommersant, July 20). Such a reputation would seem to make Umar a less than ideal choice for the political establishment.
Hussein, on the other hand, has never had significant problems with the law and has a reputation as a good manager. He first tried his hand at politics during the 2003 presidential elections in Russia-controlled Chechnya. His chances seemed far better than those of his competitors and incomparably superior to the poorly known figure and the eventual victor, Alu Alkhanov. However, following an hour-long conversation with Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin, the younger Djabrailov withdrew his candidacy, and has never subsequently given any clear explanation of what he discussed with the Kremlin. Prior to this, Hussein had never aspired to political office. Nonetheless, as a businessman, he was well known in Chechen society as an important person due to his connections with virtually all of the political elite in the republic. It seems he has long understood that he could have a broad base of influence by being in close contact with the leaders of the Sufi brotherhood.
It is almost impossible that Hussein’s recent appointment could have occurred without Moscow’s approval. Apparently, the Kremlin believes that it needs to strengthen Kadyrov’s status by connecting him to those who are active in Russian big business. The fact that both Ramzan and Hussein Djabrailov come from the same clan, the Benoy teip, has been deliberately ignored by Moscow, even though Kadyrov has been previously accused of using clan affiliation as a criterion for others who want to ascend to high positions in the Chechen government.
Kadyrov does not seem to understand why Moscow is delaying his appointment to the Chechen presidency. Nevertheless, there has been some troubling news in Chechnya lately, including the recent attack on the Mordvian OMON unit. Even more troubling is that as opposed to Ramzan’s constant declarations that there are only several dozen fighters left in the mountains, the military leadership has officially stated that around 700 Chechen guerrillas remain free. Kadyrov needs to keep these incidents from undermining his authority and offer something constructive to President Vladimir Putin. This is particularly true since Kadyrov has been accused of being connected to the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Putin was actually asked about this connection by German journalists and categorically denied such allegations (www.vesti.ru, October 10). It is possible that the Kremlin is still searching for a Chechen president that would provide the dual benefits of being more active than Alkhanov, and yet more predictable than Kadyrov.
The current situation provides an opportunity for the Djabrailov brothers to play a larger role in the contracts offered by the Russian government for work in Chechnya. These contracts are used by the Federal government as a way of avoiding direct investment into the republic. Based on the current situation, Umar Djabrailov, with his parliamentarian’s immunity, can remain the brains of the family business, while Hussein, as a member of the Kadyrov administration, can focus on enlarging the business.
This is a new phase in the Djabrailov brothers’ relationship with the Kremlin. The crucial issue is the existence of joint business operations, including those with key figures from the Kremlin. A recent interview with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov revealed that the Presidential Representative in the Southern Federal District, Dmitry Kozak, and the deputy head of the Presidential Administration, Vladislav Surkov, served together for two years in a GRU spetznaz unit, thus shedding some light on their early careers (www.gazeta.ru, November 13). This evolving relationship between the Djabrailovs and the Kremlin must been seen in light of the fact that the Djabrailovs’ family business has suffered in the last few years, with the brothers having to relinquish the ownership of numerous companies that were founded and operated in the Moscow region. For example, the businessman Malik Saydulaev tried to export his business to France in 2003 in order to be more independent of the Kremlin. Yet, Moscow’s interference at the last minute prevented this from taking place. Saydulaev was then forced to try to reorganize other companies that he owned and had ignored for far too long. Hussein Djabrailov has been more successful at exporting his businesses and has taken much of his business to the United Arab Emirates. This makes him more independent of Russia’s rulers, but if he wants to continue to use his Russian connections for personal and political gain, he must take into account the views of those men overseeing Chechnya within the Russian Presidential Administration.
By assigning Hussein Djabrailov to supervise the crucial aspects of the Chechen economy, such as the energy sector, manufacturing, transport and small business development, Moscow is hoping to attract investment to the republic without fulfilling the crucial demand of all potential investors – security in the region. This development is yet another blow to Alu Alkhanov, as he has failed to create his own team of supporters capable of standing up to his detractors. These detractors have gone so far as to demand Alkhanov’s voluntary resignation, and have made him a pale imitation of a true leader.
If Kadyrov is appointed president of Chechnya (and, according to the new Chechen constitution, he can be appointed by Moscow once he is first nominated by the Chechen parliament, 90% of which is comprised of his own supporters, making his nomination an almost foregone conclusion), there is a chance that Hussein could become the new prime minister. Of course, one must still take into account one of the current vice-prime ministers, Odes Baisbulatov, who is one of Kadyrov’s most trusted men. Baisbulatov is less popular than Djabrailov, but since they are both from the same clan, he may choose to give up his claim on the post in order to keep someone from another clan from filling it.
The appointment of Hussein Djabrailov is an attempt to change the poor image of the republic’s government and also to use his connections to attract investment into Chechnya. Ramzan Kadyrov has also been able to strengthen his own cabinet by including a highly-regarded man who can hopefully help change Chechnya’s negative image in both the domestic and international arenas as a region that has been able to survive economically only because of the massive monetary transfers emanating from Moscow. This, therefore, represents an enormous opportunity for Hussein Djabrailov to either succeed or fail, in politics.
1. Molodezhnaya smena interview, November 11