Kadyrov’s Likely Heir Is Not Without Challengers

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 25

Removing whatever slight shade of doubt might have existed about his willingness to accept the artificially engineered “draft Alkhanov” campaign of the last few weeks, Alu Alkhanov visited President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on June 15, RIA Novosti reported. The Kadyrov clan’s chosen presidential candidate proposed to the Kremlin that while he is campaigning, his duties as head of the administration’s Interior Ministry should be carried out by the ministry’s deputy head, Ruslan Alkhanov.

An interesting nuance of Alkhanov’s meeting with Putin, pointed out by Vitaly Portnikov in a June 17 commentary for the Politcom.ru website: Though everyone quite naturally is interpreting that meeting as the Kremlin’s putting its stamp of approval on Alkhanov’s candidacy, for some reason, nobody from the Putin administration thus far has explicitly said that. The formal pretext for the meeting was to discuss Alu Alkhanov’s proposal to appoint Ruslan Alkhanov as his temporary replacement—a topic which of course hardly requires a personal meeting with the president of the Russian Federation. It may be that Putin is still keeping his options open.

Ramazan Abdulatipov, head of the Assembly of Peoples of Russia and an expert on the country’s ethnic minorities, told Andrei Riskin and Sergei Sergievsky in an interview published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta on June 17 that the Kremlin might opt for a “Tajikistan scenario” in Chechnya. According to this scenario, after a period of coalition rule, all opponents of the Moscow-handpicked Chechen president would be squeezed out of the security agencies. Abdulatipov suggested that Ramzan Kadyrov might turn out to be a “transitional” figure: “If he is still alive at the time of the next presidential election, I think that all the same they will find some other job for him.”

Riskin and Sergievsky emphasized that Alkhanov’s loyalty to the Kremlin has been greater and of course more consistent than Ramzan’s. According to their sources, it was only under pressure from Akhmad Kadyrov that Alkhanov agreed to the recruitment of former rebel guerrillas into the pro-Moscow administration’s police.

Even more tantalizingly, another new candidate has now surfaced who has the potential to offer Alkhanov some serious competition—and whose willingness to run reinforces suspicions that major elements within the Kremlin and the federal security agencies would like to keep alive a viable alternative to Alkhanov. The surprise candidacy of Movsar Khamidov, a Federal Security Service (FSB) colonel, “could hardly have been decided on without the agreement of part of the federal security structures,” opined Tatiana Stanovaya in an analysis posted by Politcom.ru on June 21.

As quoted by Stanovaya, Khamidov said last week that “a group of my fellow Chechens approached me just a few days ago with such a request [i.e. to run for president], and I have accepted their proposal.” According to Stanovaya, the leader of this draft-Khamidov group was one Badrudin Dzhamalkhanov, a deputy chief of the inspectorate of Russia’s Audit Chamber and one of the most pro-Moscow Chechen bureaucrats. The Khamidov candidacy is just what the pro-Moscow faction in Chechnya needs: an ethnic Chechen with strong FSB ties and the ability to unite that faction’s “anti-Kadyrovites.”

Nevertheless, concluded Stanovaya, Putin’s public, televised embrace of Alkhanov means that the latter is still the front-runner. On June 20, according to Russky Kurier, Alkhanov officially informed the election officials of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration that he will indeed run.

The Grani.ru website reported on June 14 that two more minor candidates have formally registered to take part in the election campaign. They are Magomed Aidamirov, a resident of the town of Tolstoy-Yurt northeast of Grozny, and Khusein Bibulatov, former head of the Soviet-era state statistics agency for the Chechen-Ingush republic and an adviser to the head of the Elektrogorsk research center on nuclear power plants. Bibulatov was also a candidate in last autumn’s presidential race. According to RIA Novosti, three more minor candidates filed their documents for registration on June 16. They are Zura Magomadova, a businesswoman from Moscow, Sergo Khachukayev, a lawyer from Grozny, and Umar Abuyev, a resident of the Moscow oblast and general director of the Chechenneftekhimprom oil company. On June 18, Grani.ru listed two more candidates: Roza Vakhidova, an unemployed Grozny actress, and Abdula Bugaev, head of the office in Chechnya of the Moscow-based Modern Humanities Academy.

Itar-Tass, meanwhile, reported that Mariyat Gorchkhanova, an official in the pro-Moscow administration for the Urus-Martan district, withdrew from the presidential race on June 16. She told the news agency that she had decided to pull out “because I support Ali [Alu] Alkhanov as a candidate and I would like to be of use to him in the election campaign.” Another recent dropout is Ruslan Yamadaev, who in fact never even reached the stage of formally registering as a candidate. Yamadaev’s family has a strong base in the town of Gudermes east of Grozny. But he is also a former separatist guerrilla and thus as unattractive as the Kadyrov clan to the federal security agencies (see Chechnya Weekly, June 9). Yamadaev’s decision not to run suggests that he and his circle have concluded that the Putin administration is going to stick with Alkhanov—or at least that one should not gamble otherwise unless one has, like Movsar Khamidov, well-placed friends in the FSB.

Not surprisingly, Alkhanov is not a popular figure within Chechnya. According to sources cited by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the Kremlin quietly commissioned an opinion survey in Chechnya during the weeks after the senior Kadyrov’s assassination in May. The pollsters found that Alkhanov enjoys an approval rating of only 3 percent.