On January 22, Vladimir Putin relieved Abdul Sultygov from his position as the Kremlin’s special representative for human rights in Chechnya. Independent observers see two possible results: Either the human rights situation in the republic will remain the same, or it will get worse.
Putin’s staff emphasized that all responsibility for protecting human rights within Chechnya has now been transferred to Akhmad Kadyrov. The latter, not surprisingly, welcomed this transfer as a logical consequence of his own “election” as Chechnya’s president. Apparently neither the Putin nor the Kadyrov administrations found it necessary even to pay lip service to the concept of checks and balances, of the dispersion of power among various government structures.
Sultygov’s human rights post, now abolished, had been created at the beginning of the second Chechen war, apparently as part of the Kremlin’s efforts to manipulate public opinion at home and in the West. Within Chechnya itself, as Radio Liberty correspondent Oleg Kusov observed on January 23, both Vladimir Kalamanov–the first appointee to the position–and his successor Sultygov failed to win popular respect within Chechnya. “Chechens often likened them,” he said, “to the many Russian politicians, bureaucrats and soldiers who have used the Chechen war to advance their own personal career and material interests….From the very beginning, the office of the president’s special representative for human rights in Chechnya carried out not the defense of human rights, but political assignments from the Kremlin.”
Radio Liberty’s veteran Chechnya expert Andrei Babitsky spoke even more harshly of Sultygov, charging that he had “uniformly, without any exception, praised every decision that the [Moscow] authorities made about Chechnya….When he accused human rights advocates of being financed by international terrorist organizations…even the Kremlin bureaucrats were shocked.” In Babitsky’s view, Sultygov’s predecessor, Kalamanov, “at least tried, within the extent allowed by his extremely limited opportunities, to identify some violations of human rights and to cooperate at least formally within organizations such as Memorial. Sultygov, on the other hand, had no interests other than slavishly serving whatever ideas he thought closest to the most repressive policies of the Kremlin….He did not even try for tactical reasons to seem independent.”
Babitsky suggested that Sultygov’s departure would make no concrete difference: “Most likely it will remain unnoticeable in the constant personnel reshufflings which have accompanied the Chechen war for the last four years.”
On the other hand, since there will now be no structure at the federal level formally charged with monitoring his administration’s human rights record, Kadyrov may now feel emboldened to take even harsher measures against anyone who stands in his way.