Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 31

Zoya Svetova of Russky kurier suggested on August 18 that the election’s outcome, which until recently seemed to be a guaranteed victory for Kadyrov, is now uncertain. The most shocking new development, in her view, was Bislan Gantemirov’s declaration of support for Dzhabrailov. She noted that “literally just a few weeks ago” Gantemirov had been proclaiming his support of Kadyrov, and she called his new position a “180-degree reversal.” Especially puzzling, she said, was Dzhabrailov’s statement that if he loses in the first round of voting, he will support Kadyrov in the second.

Dzhabrailov and Gantemirov were the subjects of strikingly favorable articles by the Kremlin-controlled website on August 14 and 15. The website quoted Dzhabrailov as saying that Chechnya has a future “only within the structure of Russia.” But he also said that if he wins, he intends to enter into “consultations” with the rebel guerrillas.

Dzhabrailov specifically denied being party to any agreement with Malik Saidullaev and other candidates under which they would all withdraw from the race in order to protest election rigging. He said that Saidullaev’s statement last week about such an agreement had “surprised me very much…We have not discussed these things.” noted that Gantemirov planned to continue his active support of Dzhabrailov without resigning even temporarily from his post in Kadyrov’s cabinet and concluded that a “serious schism” had emerged within the Moscow-recognized administration. The minister of the press criticized his boss as sharply as if he were running against him, declaring that Kadyrov had achieved “nothing” in the areas of reconciliation or of economic development during his three years in office–and that “there is no hope that anything will be achieved even if he should be in office for thirty years.”

According to Musa Muradov, the Kommersant correspondent, Gantemirov’s defection came as a shock to the Kadyrov team, not least because they can no longer take for granted that they will be able to use the state media for one-sided campaign propaganda. (Chechnya has no independent print or broadcast media, or at least not above ground.) One source close to Kadyrov complained to Muradov–correctly–that the normal thing for a cabinet minister to do under such circumstances is to resign. Even Gantemirov himself said that “I understand that it will not be easy for me now to continue to work in Mr. Kadyrov’s team, but I do not intend to leave.”

Gantemirov seems to have timed his move cleverly, announcing his support of Dzhabrailov only after Kadyrov had formally resigned as “acting president” so that he can run in the October contest. Kadyrov no longer has the legal power to dismiss his rebellious minister. Legally, only the acting president, Prime Minister Anatoly Popov, can now do that. And for Popov, the most important consideration will undoubtedly be the preferences of the Kremlin. Thus, as Muradov observed, a decision by Popov not to fire Gantemirov will be seen as another anti-Kadyrov signal from the Putin administration.

Sanobar Shermatova of Moskovskie novosti noted that Dzhabrailov has managed to win over not only Gantemirov and Khasbulatov, but also the Moscow banker Abubakar Arsamakov. Like the other two, he had seriously considered becoming a candidate himself. The support of these three prominent Chechens, in her view, “means that they have concluded an agreement with him with all the consequences that follow: In other words, Khasbulatov, Gantemirov and Arsamakov (or people trusted by him) have been promised appointments to high offices suiting their ambitions if Dzhabrailov should win.”