The murder of Akhmad Kadyrov, a former mufti turned politician handpicked by the Kremlin to lead the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya (see yesterday’s EDM), dealt a severe blow to the assertions of the Putin government that it had reestablished full control over the rebellious region.
After the news about the terrorist act at the Grozny stadium was announced, top officials both in Moscow and in the Chechen capital tried to play down the dramatic effect the killing of Kadyrov might have on Moscow’s policies in Chechnya. The thrust of the official message was as follows: By assassinating Kadyrov, the “bandits” – whom some of the commentators likened to fascists – had tried to disrupt the movement of Chechen society toward peace and stability. However, the terrorists will fail, the message ran. With the help of the federal center, the Chechen republic will proceed along the path charted by the two leaders – President Putin and the late Chechen President Kadyrov.
Having praised Kadyrov in his televised remarks on Sunday, Putin specified that the key thing is to preserve order in the republic. “It’s important,” Putin said, “that today’s tragedy didn’t negatively affect the lives of the people [in Chechnya].” For his part, Chechnya’s prime minister, Sergei Abramov, who was named acting president of the republic, assured Putin, with whom he had an urgent meeting in the Kremlin on May 9, that “despite the events that happened in the republic, our work didn’t stop and will not stop even for a single minute.” Abramov said that, “All the plans will be realized.”
All the Kremlin’s efforts to put on a brave face notwithstanding, the killing of Kadyrov represents a humiliating slap in the face for the Putin administration. Besides its merciless symbolism – the terrorist attack took place during the commemoration of Russia’s greatest military victory in the twentieth century and just a couple of days after Putin’s inauguration for his second presidential term – the slaying of the republic’s two top leaders makes a sheer mockery of Moscow’s statement about the stabilization of situation in Chechnya. Putin, who was catapulted into Russia’s presidency mainly due to the war he launched in 1999 to pacify the separatist region, has likely been stung personally by the murder of his man in Grozny.
What is more, the loss of Kadyrov – the sole influential Chechen politician who enjoyed the trust of Moscow’s powerful movers and shakers both in the civilian administration and the military – leaves the Kremlin with a thorny policy dilemma. The Putin government will have to decide whether it should continue pursuing its strategy of Chechenization, or whether it should opt instead for strengthening the role of the federal center both in the regional administration and in prosecuting the “anti-terrorist operation.”
It appears to be an intractable problem indeed. On the one hand, the terrorist attack that claimed Kadyrov has demonstrated that Chechenization has failed miserably. On the other, Moscow’s direct involvement in Chechen affairs – through the introduction of presidential rule in the region and the establishment of a state of emergency, the measures that had already been suggested by representatives of the pro-Kremlin parties – will reveal the artificiality of the normalization and democratization process in Chechnya. In particular, “the popularly supported” Constitution of the republic and “free and fair” presidential election at which Kadyrov won in a landslide will inevitably be exposed for what they really are, which is a sham (Itar-Tass, May 9; Interfax, May 10; NEWSru.com, Utro.ru, Gazeta.ru, Strana.ru).