…leaving Moscow With A Tricky Balancing Act

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 33

With Chechnya’s latest rigged election now safely behind them, Kremlin decision-makers will now probably pursue a balancing game in their relations with Grozny’s pro-Moscow administration—trying to keep in power both Ramzan Kadyrov and the newly “elected” president Alu Alkhanov. That was the prediction of commentator Aleksei Makarkin in an August 30 analysis for the Politcom.ru website. Makarkin suggested that the Kremlin would try to “divide spheres of influence” between the two leaders, and would “resort to ‘surgical’ methods only if the two should prove to be totally incompatible.”

Makarkin expressed skepticism of the theory that Alkhanov would pursue a policy closer than the late Akhmad Kadyrov’s to the agenda of the federal “siloviki.” He noted that as president of Chechnya, Alkhanov is now “obliged, as far as he can, to represent Chechnya’s interests in conflicts with the siloviki”—much as Kadyrov did before his assassination. Nor will the installation of Alkhanov, in Makarkin’s view, “lead to any serious change in the armed conflict between the federals and the separatists….especially if one takes into account the fact that the guerrillas are now enlarging the scale of their operations.”

“Possibly there will be some isolated changes, such as limiting the functions of amnestied ex-rebels who are now subordinate to Ramzan Kadyrov,” Makarkin continued. “The hope that these ex-rebels would be effective in tracking down and wiping out their former ‘colleagues’ has not been realized in practice: The current guerrillas are not so much Chechen nationalists as they are Islamic radicals, with a new network of connections which cannot easily be destroyed. Also, this structure [Ramzan’s personal army] which in effect is subordinate only to its own commander and is only weakly controlled by the federals, produces too many undesirable side effects in its operations. But even a change of this kind would only be a matter of shifting the center of gravity within the framework of the existing security structures…”

On the other hand, Makarkin conceded that there are some significant differences between the late Kadyrov’s situation and the new president’s. The former was not only the Kremlin’s man, but also a widely recognized leader with a broad power base of his own. Politicians within the system who failed to show him loyalty—such as Bislan Gantamirov—found themselves out of power, no matter how faithfully they had previously served the federal center. By the spring of 2004 Kadyrov had even succeeded in neutralizing the prime minister’s office as an independent power center, securing the appointment of the weak Sergei Abramov.

But now, wrote Makarkin, “the situation looks completely different….Even before the election signs of rivalry between Alkhanov and the younger Kadyrov had begun to appear,” such as the former’s plan to reorganize the presidential security service. In Makarkin’s view, Putin took it upon himself to mediate between the two in his pre-election trip to Tsentoroi; he succeeded in quelling or at least in postponing open conflict between the two. Precisely what Ramzan received from the Kremlin in return for his public support of candidate Alkhanov remains to be seen; one possibility is “a guarantee that he will retain his status as head of the security structures” within the pro-Moscow administration. In effect what has been created is a kind of “collective Kadyrov”—aptly symbolized by the fact that Alkhanov, Kadyrov and prime minister Abramov all cast their ballots together at the same polling station.

As reported by RIA Novosti on August 30, Alkhanov told journalists after his victory that he does not plan major personnel changes in the cabinet that he will now inherit from Akhmad Kadyrov and Abramov. In particular, he said, both Abramov and Ramzan Kadyrov will retain their positions as prime minister and as deputy prime minister.