New Faces on Both Sides of the Frontlines

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 13

Chechnya has recently witnessed several important personnel changes among both the members of the resistance movement and the pro-Kremlin rulers of the republic. By nominating Ramzan Kadyrov to the position of Chechen president, Vladimir Putin demonstrated his commitment to the policy of “Chechenization.” The freshly appointed Kadyrov did not even wait to be officially inaugurated before he began making appointments to his cabinet.

There were no real surprises, since all appointments were based upon personal loyalty to Kadyrov himself. That said, one particular appointment deserves to be noted. Hussein Dzhabrailov was appointed to the post of special envoy to Moscow and given the rank of minister, even though he has held the position of vice-prime minister for the past six months (Regnum, March 12). This is a functional demotion for a well-known Chechen who was supposed to, in Moscow’s view, noticeably change the composition of Ramzan Kadyrov’s administration. The new position, with very little responsibility attached to it, is a way for Dzhabrailov to pursue his own business interests in Moscow, and is best perceived as a form of honorable exile, rather than as a sign of Kadyrov’s respect.

The main issue is the enormous amount of hype that surrounded Dzhabrailov’s arrival in Chechnya and his decision to, in his own words, leave his business in the United Arab Emirates in order to be of use to his homeland (, October 17, 2006). Unlike many of the individuals surrounding Ramzan Kadyrov, Hussein Dzhabrailov has always been completely independent. He has no need to embezzle the money that Moscow sends to fund the reconstruction of the republic. He is both independently wealthy and possesses his own vision for Chechnya, a vision that does not fit Kadyrov’s plans. He is too well educated and too smart not to see that the actions of Moscow’s pawn are simply a facade for a lawless dictatorship. All of today’s economic victories are victories of harshness, and not of intelligent rule by Kadyrov’s administration. With Dzhabrailov’s departure, this administration is left entirely without any individuals with significant professional experience in economics, politics or administrative management.

Hussein Dzhabrailov may have chosen to leave after he realized that he is unwanted in Chechnya and that his plans simply cannot be fulfilled under the Kadyrov regime. This is a notable schism in the Kadyrov administration, in which the Moscow celebrity simply could not find a home. Moreover, it is possible that Dzhabrailov is not alone. Recently, Kadyrov called together a conference of Chechen businessmen based in Moscow and attempted to convince them to return to Chechnya and invest in the republic, but the venture attracted only one man of distinction – Abubakar Arsamakov. He has started appearing more frequently in Chechnya, but is currently searching for his abducted brothers (, March 21).

A different sort of appointment was recently made by the leadership of the Chechen resistance movement. Almost eight months after the death of Shamil Basaev, Dokka Umarov, originally designated as Basaev’s replacement, has finally chosen his own potential successor (, July 10, 2007). This important position has been given to Supyan Abdullaev. Even though there is no need to discuss Abdullaev’s entire biography, one aspect of his life should be noted: he was from the same village, family and clan as Islam Khalimov (who was one of the most influential persons in the Islamic Revival Party during the 1990s prior to the breakup of the USSR), and along with Islam and Isa Umarov, was one of the founding fathers of the Salafite movement in the North Caucasus [1].

After the First Chechen War, Supyan Abdullaev held the rank of colonel and following the appointment of Islam Khalimov to the post of minister of internal affairs in 1997, became his deputy. Both of the men left the ministry following the gun battle in Gudermes between the Salafites and the supporters of Aslan Maskhadov on July 15, 1998. In the aftermath, Abdullaev grew distant from politics and was well known as a “second stringer.”

During the Second Chechen War, Supyan entered the ranks of the resistance in the very beginning, and even though he was a dzhamaat member, remained loyal to Aslan Maskhadov. Known for his calm and deliberate manner, Abdullaev never became part of any internal disputes and reached the level of brigadier general by the end of the conflict. He also started out as a leader of a dzhamaat and eventually became the commander of a front and a member of the Maskhadov government (, August 5, 2004).

The choice was made in favor of Abdullaev because he is a member of the old guard who began his career with Dzhokhar Dudaev. Even though he was not one of the primary figures during that time, his involvement with the resistance traces back to the early 1990’s; today, there are very few remaining who have experienced both of the Chechen wars. And it is because of this that Dokka Umarov chose this man out of his group of comrades that have been in close contact with him for almost twenty years.

This is not, however, the only reason for Abdullaev’s new position. The leader of the Chechen resistance movement understands that Supyan has significant influence over the Salafites, who are one of the best-organized groups within the Dagestani dzhamaat. This is an important concern for Umarov, since the “Shariat” dzhamaat of Dagestan has recently followed in the footsteps of Karachai’s dzhamaat by creating its own website. This is a notable departure from the times of Aslan Maskhadov and Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, when all of the dzhamaats were united in using the services of the “Kavkaz-Center” internet portal controlled by Movladi Udugov.

Both of the recent appointments can be seen as indicators of the changing situation in Chechnya. The position given to Hussein Dzhabrailov is a sign of the Kremlin’s weakness, since a man intended to change the atmosphere in Grozny has been quickly removed from the city. Supyan Abdullaev’s appointment, on the other hand, is an indication of gathering strength and an attempt to rectify the situation brought about since the summer 2006 deaths of Sadulaev and Basaev. It is a move intended to improve the position of Dokka Umarov, whose apparently conservative leadership is expected to undertake some sort of decisive military action to show he is still capable as a commander and to show that he has the skills worthy of his predecessors.


1. The Tsadarkhoi teip is a Chechen teip of Dagestani origin. A Dagestani ethnic group named the Tsydarins exists and resettled in Chechnya during the time of Imam Shamil, coming to live in the Shali region and in the villages of Khatuni and Makhety.