Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 33

Many observers have been predicting that Ramzan Kadyrov will assume the Chechen Republic’s presidency soon, after he reaches the constitutionally-mandated minimum age of 30 on October 5. On August 10, for example, Kommersant quoted Frants Klintsevich, deputy chairman of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party’s faction in the State Duma, as saying he had no doubts that Kadyrov, who is currently Chechnya’s prime minister, would become Chechnya’s president this fall. Other observers, however, have begun to express doubts about whether Kadyrov will become Chechnya’s president, at least in the near term.

Kadyrov himself put a question mark over his political future in an interview published in Nezavisimaya gazeta on August 14. Asked to comment on Klintsevich’s prediction, Kadyrov said: “Klintsevich’s comments mean nothing to me.” Kadyrov said he wanted “peace and stability in Chechnya” but that the presidential post is an “unhappy place” and occupying it is a “misfortune,” given that the president must be “responsible before the Almighty and the people.” He added: “Currently, I am not ready to become president. Do not think that these are [just] pretty words: I dream of leaving politics altogether. [The late Chechen rebel warlord Shamil] Basaev has been destroyed, we will destroy [Chechen rebel leader Dokku] Umarov, we will rebuild Grozny, and that’s it. Our team, the Kadyrov team, had the goal of ending the war and rebuilding the republic. In the near future we will destroy Umarov, we won’t have such odious ringleaders of the [gangs], and I will freely take up other pursuits.” Asked what those pursuits would be, Kadyrov said he had not yet decided. “I want to pick a profession that will bother no one, and get pleasure [from it],” he said. “Today I have big responsibilities, and that isn’t a life.”

Novye izvestia reported on August 15 that Kadyrov had a “long meeting” with President Vladimir Putin on August 9, officially to discuss the progress of the Chechen government’s efforts to rebuild the republic’s war-shattered cities. Novye izvestia, however, cited unnamed sources as saying that Kadyrov was told during the meeting that he “must abandon his presidential ambitions for a while.” The newspaper added: “In exchange for giving up the presidential post, Mr. Kadyrov got a decision important for the republic—the withdrawal of some troops from Chechnya. Vladimir Putin that same day signed the decree on withdrawing, in 2007-2006, Defense Ministry and MVD units deployed on a temporary basis” (Chechnya Weekly, August 10). Also on August 9, Putin conferred the “Services to the Fatherland, 4th degree” decoration on Kadyrov. According to Russian news agencies, the presidential decree conferring the award on Kadyrov said it was for “courage, valor and selflessness displayed during the discharge of duties.” In December 2004, President Putin conferred Russia’s highest award, the Hero of the Russian Federation, on Kadyrov (Chechnya Weekly, January 05, 2005).

The hints that Kadyrov’s anticipated accession to the Chechen presidency might not be on track follow reports of increased tension between him and the republic’s sitting president, Alu Alkhanov. Members of Kadyrov’s security forces and Alkhanov’s presidential bodyguards unit were reportedly involved in a shootout during a visit to Grozny by Sergei Stepashin, head of the Audit Chamber, the federal government’s budgetary watchdog agency, in April (Chechnya Weekly, April 27). Later, Kadyrov supporters in the Chechen government organized a poll aimed at highlighting his ostensible popularity in the republic and making Alkhanov look bad. Kommersant, however, reported in early May that Putin had held a meeting in the Kremlin with both Alkhanov and Kadyrov, during which Kadyrov demanded that Alkhanov resign and Alkhanov sought to find out where Putin stood, and that Putin had said Alkhanov should not resign (Chechnya Weekly, May 11). In any case, Chechnya’s Ministry of National Policy, Press and Information subsequently suspended the poll after Alkhanov threatened to launch an investigation into who commissioned it (Chechnya Weekly, May 25).

Still, Novye izvestia noted that a group of Chechen parliamentary deputies in May asked Alkhanov to leave office early—a request that Alkhanov rejected. And in mid-June, Chechnya held large-scale officially-organized celebrations of Kadyrov’s first 100 days in office. Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, the chairman of the People’s Assembly, the republican parliament’s lower house, praised Kadyrov’s performance as prime minister, while the parliament’s deputies wrote an open letter stating that they, “as members of Kadyrov’s team, believe in him.”

Meanwhile, some experts believe the federal authorities are losing patience with Kadyrov. “Certainly, one can say that the Russian president had complaints against Kadyrov, but it’s quite another matter that as of now there are no obvious alternatives to him,” Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center told Novye izvestia, adding that he nonetheless believed it unlikely that Kadyrov would become president this year. Despite Kadyrov’s insistence in his Nezavisimaya gazeta interview that he wants to leave politics, Malashenko said Kadyrov might wind up with a top job in Moscow: “Perhaps he has been promised some kind of federal post—for example, Russian Federation representative to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.”

Other observers, however, said they were skeptical that Kadyrov is serious about leaving politics. Independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov told Novye izvestia: “I think it’s a political game. He will soon be 30 years old, and the question of who will be the head of Chechnya will come up. I think that this statement was made to attract attention…and to spur the president of the country to make a decision in his [Kadyrov’s] favor.” Aleksei Mukhin, general director of the Center for Political Information, said he doubted Kadyrov has given up his pursuit of Chechnya’s presidency. “Alkhanov wants to keep the post of Chechen president; Kadyrov wants to occupy that post,” Mukhin said. “So Kadyrov’s declaration about leaving politics was most likely a tactical ploy to distract attention from his ambitions.”

Meanwhile, Kadyrov ordered his cabinet on August 14 to increase the pace of reconstruction work in Grozny by “100 times” and complete the rebuilding of the capital’s center by the end of the year. According to RIA Novosti, he emphasized that it was important not only to keep to that schedule, but to maintain “ideal quality” in the work. “Don’t forget that we are building not for one year and not for ten years,” Kadyrov told the cabinet meeting. “Each minister will bear personal responsibility for the course of the work; don’t forget that this is a common task: we are reconstructing our city. Although, it is not known whether this work will be financed by the federal center; but, in any case, we will complete what we started, even if we will be put behind bars for it.” RIA Novosti quoted Kadyrov as adding that the Chechen government had “at its own risk arranged credits from various financial organizations for the carrying out of construction-reconstruction work. This is a big responsibility, but someone must take it on, otherwise it will be a long time before we get out from under this devastation.”

Earlier, on August 11, Interfax reported that Alkhanov had conferred the title of “Honored Builder of Chechnya” on Kadyrov, “for merit in the area of reconstructing Chechen infrastructure and for achieving high efficiency in construction and reconstruction work.” In June, news agencies reported that Kadyrov had become a Doctor of Philosophy in economics after defending a thesis entitled “The Optimal Management of Contract Relations Between the Main Participants of Construction” (Chechnya Weekly, June 29). On August 16, Kadyrov conferred the Order of Akhmad Kadyrov on visiting Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov for his role in the rebuilding of Grozny, Interfax reported. Luzhkov, for his part, said after touring Grozny construction sites that Moscow plans to build hundreds of thousands of square meters of housing in the Chechen capital. “I visited a construction site where we plan by the end of this year to complete the construction of three apartment buildings and to put into commission 25,000 square meters of housing,” Luzhkov said. “This, I believe, is a weighty contribution.”