Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 4

Kommersant wrote on January 25 that Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov’s elevation to the post of the republic’s president may be imminent. The newspaper reported that Kadyrov had ordered a “comprehensive check” of all of the republic’s ministries and agencies and started reshuffling posts in the republican Interior Ministry, all of which will be completed in a month. At that time, the newspaper wrote, “Mr. Kadyrov may become president.”

Kommersant noted that according to procedure, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitry Kozak, would have to send the president the names of two candidates for the post of Chechen president, and that Kadyrov himself, during a republican government meeting on January 19, had put forward Minister of Labor and Social Protection Magomed Vakhaev as the second presidential candidate. “It was a regular meeting, during which the realization of national projects in the republic was discussed, and no one expected this turn of events,” Vakhaev told Kommersant. According to the newspaper, Kadyrov declared at the end of the meeting: “Here is the only minister who is doing good work. I have proposed his candidacy to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin for nomination to the post of Chechen president.” The newspaper commented: “In Chechnya, it is not only uncustomary to challenge Ramzan Kadyrov’s statements, but even to discuss them. No questions about Mr. Vakhaev’s candidacy arose among those who participated in the meeting. Everyone perfectly understood that Ramzan Kadyrov, in fact, does not plan to cede the presidential post to anyone. Mr. Vakhaev himself has no presidential ambitions. ‘To compete with Ramzan Kadyrov for the post of president – I don’t have that in mind,’ Mr. Vakhaev told Kommersant.” The newspaper quoted an unnamed source in Kozak’s office as saying that Vakhaev had been nominated as a second presidential candidate to make it appear as if there are alternatives, but that Putin would ask Chechnya’s parliament to confirm Kadyrov as president.

Alkhanov, who said in late December that he had no intention of resigning as Chechnya’s president, told journalists in Rostov-on-Don on January 24 that he had “no desire” to remain in the post for a second term after the first ends in 2008, RIA Novosti reported. However, he added: “If I am destined to be the republic’s leader for a second time, I will.” Kommersant reported that he has already been offered a high-level position in the federal Interior Ministry.

Moskovsky komsomolets correspondent Vadim Rechkalov, for his part, reported in the newspaper’s January 22 edition that Chechen Minister of Labor and Social Protection Magomed Vakhaev will in fact replace Alu Alkhanov as the republic’s president. Rechkalov wrote, however, that Vakhaev will simply be another “technical” president who is in fact “controlled by Premier Kadyrov.” According to Rechkalov, the reason why the federal authorities want to replace Alkhanov with Vakhaev is that even though Alkhanov has thus far has been a stabilizing factor in the republic, he could eventually “lose patience and revolt against his humiliating role as a respectable wedding general [“svadebny general” is a Russian expression meaning ceremonial bystander] under a spoiled heir” and possibly even dismiss Kadyrov.

Rechkalov said that while such a scenario is “theoretically possible” but unlikely, an even bigger potential problem is Kadyrov himself, given that he is too “energetic,” “hot-tempered” and ambitious to remain in the post of prime minister and thus could initiate a conflict with Alkhanov. While the federal authorities could replace Alkhanov with Kadyrov, this would be “dangerous” from their point of view, particularly in the run-up to Russia’s presidential election in 2008, when the Kremlin will have a particular interest in ensuring that Chechnya remains quiet.

According to Rechkalov, Kadyrov could enjoy undisputed power as prime minister with Vakhaev as president, and this could be even more advantageous to Kadyrov than assuming the presidency immediately. “Premier Kadyrov under President Alkhanov has looked like an underage prince for whom an older, more respectable and indulgent colleague is holding the presidential seat,” Rechkalov wrote. “The same Premier Kadyrov under President Vakhaev will look like a power broker, an influential vizier under a khan-puppet.” Unlike Alkhanov, Vakhaev would be “fully” under Kadyrov’s control, Rechkalov wrote, and, at the same time, Kadyrov would not have to worry about term limits since his formal assumption of the presidency would be well off in the future. Such an arrangement would have the added benefit of making it look like Kadyrov’s main concern is working for “the rebirth of the republic in any post” rather than simply seeking the presidency as a career move.

Rechkalov reported that along with Vakhaev’s assumption of the presidency, Ruslan Alkhanov would soon be removed as Chechnya’s interior minister and replaced by Surkho Demilkhanov, the brother of Adam Demilkhanov – the Chechen deputy prime minister who “took an active part in the removal of the last serious opponent of Ramzan Kadyrov – Movladi Baisarov.” Baisarov was shot to death in Moscow last November (Chechnya Weekly, November 22, 2006). “According to our information, Adam personally shot Movladi, and now his devotion will be rewarded in full with a key post for his younger brother,” Rechkalov wrote.