Three notable events last week became a final brushstroke in the picture of Chechnya’s immediate future envisaged by those directing the actions of the Chechen government by proxy from Moscow.
The old question of what will become of Chechnya after the end of former President Vladimir Putin’s term is becoming a lot clearer as the policies of Russia’s new leadership on Chechnya are beginning to take shape. The carrot-and-stick principle remains the centerpiece of Russia’s approach to Chechnya and her leader.
To cite an example, much ado about nothing came after Ramzan Kadyrov was appointed as a member of the Presidium of the Russian Federation State Council (a presidential advisory body that never passed a decision of any importance to the Russian state), which admits two leaders of the federal autonomous republics as new members every six months. Upon his appointment to the State Council, Kadyrov lost no time in declaring that this decision by President Dmitry Medvedev was a sign that the degree of Medvedev’s attention to Chechnya and that the president’s position toward
Kadyrov personally will remain unchanged (https://www.chechnyatoday.com/texts/t629.htm). That, however, does not explain why Kadyrov was passed up for Council membership in the past in favor of North Ossetian President Taimuraz Mamsurov and Tuva President Sholban Karaool. What is clear is that this second-rate appointment should not be given much importance within Russia’s uber-bureaucratic administrative apparatus.
Most intriguingly, Ramzan Kadyrov’s initial interpretation of his new post alluded to those who predicted his fall after Dmitry Medvedev’s election: Kadyrov said that his new appointment should be a lesson for the naysayers. Paradoxically, this only served to confirm the reality of the risk that the new Russian president may adopt a different view toward someone who has always claimed that his loyalty was reserved exclusively for Putin. Perhaps very soon we should expect Kadyrov to profess his loyalty to the current Russian president as well—all the more so because at the height of Kadyrov’s clashes with the Yamadaev brothers, some of Kadyrov’s adversaries invited both brothers to attend Medvedev’s inauguration as president (www.regnum.ru/news/1001590.html), which caused some concern in Kadyrov’s camp. That someone managed to extend invitations to both Yamadaev brothers, Sulim and Ruslan, when the total invitee count was only 2,500, is a clear indication that some Kremlin officials are not too fond of Vladimir Putin’s protégé.
As for the appointment of Vladimir Ustinov, the former Prosecutor General (who suggested that terrorists’ family members should be taken hostage) and Justice Minister, to the post of presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, it should be noted that he is a member of Vladimir Putin’s team and will not create trouble for those favored by his patron. Unlike Dmitry Kozak, who as presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District quietly attempted to bring the state of affairs in his region to Vladimir Putin’s attention and thus put a damper on Ramzan Kadyrov’s demands and methods of governance (see Aleksandr Khinshtein, “Caucasus for Sale. Price Negotiable,” Moskovsky Komsomolets, June 16, 2005), Ustinov has no such ambitions. He is a team player and will remain on Putin’s team. It is therefore unsurprising that his first official visit took him to the place that needs the federal center’s support the most, i.e. Chechnya (Chechnya Weekly, May 29).
Ustinov’s visit lasted for three days, during which he met with Chechens across the republic and tried his best to pretend that he can do something for them. In truth, the position of federal district presidential envoy was created solely to provide a future alternative to the current version of federalism (the multi-faceted form of federalism with autonomous republics, autonomous ethnic entities, oblasts, krais, etc.) and today serves as a duplicate layer of Kremlin control but without any real points of leverage over local leaders other than forcing them to look constantly over their shoulder at Moscow. Ustinov’s declarations that those searching for relatives listed as missing need help (https://www.rosbalt.ru/2008/05/30/489521.html) baffled the Chechens, who fail to see why the Russian army, police and FSB cannot simply release the identities of those who were executed or are still imprisoned in Russia’s secret jails, given that these thousands of Chechens were abducted by the Russians, not the Chechen rebels.
In the meantime, Regional Development Minister Dmitry Kozak said something that everyone had previously suspected but could not attribute to a high-level Moscow official. While discussing regional subsidies, he noted that the other Russian Federation jurisdictions cannot even dream of the amount of funds earmarked for Chechnya: according to Kozak, investment in Chechnya’s development will reach over a billion dollars a year through 2012, or a total of $4.7 billion (110 billion rubles) (www.rosbalt.ru/2008/05/23/487102.html). In his moment of candor, Kozak noted that the funds are directed not merely for Chechnya’s rebuilding, but rather to “implement the commitments to improve social and economic conditions in the region and ensure improved economic growth indicators.” That is, the money is being spent to pacify Chechnya, as a price for ostensible “stability” propagated forcibly by proclaiming “popular” affection for the “great son of the Chechen people,” Ramzan Kadyrov.
At the very same time—and with timing most unfortunate for the Chechen leadership— the commander of the Unified Group of Forces in the North Caucasus, Nikolai Sivak, stated specifically, and in contradiction to Ramzan Kadyrov’s statement, that young men are continuing to leave for the mountains to join the rebels (Chechnya Weekly, May 22), and that a significant number of the people his troops are arresting today are under the age of twenty. The general lamented that the local populace is providing the rebels with all kinds of support and that the reality of the situation still presents a significant risk of attacks on Russian interests (Kommersant, May 27).
Assuming this is true, it appears that someone is trying to mislead the public, because while the military claims that the rebel fighters are a continuing threat, the regional leaders, to a man, are trying to paint the region as the best spot in all of Russia. According to Lyoma Gudaev, the head of information and analysis of President Kadyrov’s administration, the military is deliberately exaggerating the dangers. “The military is manufacturing information about the mass rebel armies and the popular support they enjoy because the army has to justify their presence in Chechnya and extract new ranks and awards,” he said. That is, the Chechen leadership is trying to discredit the too-truthful and unwelcome candor of the Russian army officials. A lack of coordination between the military and the Chechens has been a permanent fixture of the entire military campaign in the region and therefore Sivak’s comments were probably not a deliberate attempt to pressure Kadyrov. The more likely explanation is the lack of coordination between branches of government commonly encountered in Chechnya campaign and across Russia more generally.
Therefore, it can be concluded that Ramzan Kadyrov’s self-actualization period is not yet over: he is waiting for tangible support from the new president, who needs to ensure peace and stability in Chechnya, even if it is achieved by means of terror and pressure on its people. Neither Moscow nor Rostov nor Grozny wants to destabilize the ostensibly safe Chechnya. A real war may be brought about only by the armed resistance forces, which at present are spending more time on political gamesmanship with the Europe-based opponents of their recently announced Emirate.