Several leading Russian political analysts have weighed in on the confrontation between the GRU’s (Russian military intelligence) Vostok battalion, led by Sulim Yamadaev, and forces loyal to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. Reuters on April 16 quoted Moscow-based defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer as saying that armed units on both sides of the current stand-off in Chechnya, while nominally belonging to Chechnya’s Interior and Defense ministries, are in reality private armies containing some of the toughest and most battle-ready soldiers in Russia. “They may fight under the Russian flag but their loyalty is with their commanders,” Felgenhauer told Reuters. The news agency noted that while the two forces have a long history of mutual distrust and dislike, it has usually remained out of public view. “This is more serious as it’s out in the open and publicly embarrasses the Kremlin at a time when Putin is leaving and one of his achievements is being touted as making Chechnya peaceful once more,” Felgenhauer said.
The Moscow Times on April 17 quoted Aleksei Malashenko, senior expert on the Caucasus at the Carnegie Moscow Center, as saying that the standoff is a signal to Kadyrov from those in Moscow who oppose him. “This standoff, and the fact that the Yamadaevs are not giving ground easily, is a signal to Kadyrov that he should not think he is the only one calling the shots in the republic,” Malashenko told the English-language daily. “There are powerful people in [federal] power agencies that do not like the way he runs things, and they will side with the Yamadaevs.” Malashenko said that one of the two sides may have decided to make a move during the transition period in which President Vladimir Putin, Kadyrov’s patron, is preparing to transfer power to President-elect Dmitry Medvedev. Both Putin and Medvedev support Kadyrov but are currently preoccupied with the handover ahead of Medvedev’s May 7 inauguration, the Moscow Times quoted Malashenko as saying.
Forum.msk.ru political observer Ruslan Saidov wrote on the website on April 17 that “to remove Ramzan Kadyrov from his post with a decree from Moscow is impossible.” Saidov added: “More precisely, it is possible to issue a decree but impossible to ensure that it is carried out without getting into a third Russian-Chechen war, which Dmitry Medvedev absolutely does not need. On the threshold of establishing the Putin-Medvedev diarchy in Moscow after May 7, the Chechen leadership is consolidating state power in order to avoid ‘the Chechen factor’ being used in Kremlin score settling. Under these conditions, the existence of feudal armed formations on the republic’s territory that are not under the control of the country’s president, Ramzan Kadyrov, [and] which are carrying out criminal-political and criminal-economic activities in Chechnya, is completely intolerable. No self-respecting state—which the Chechen Republic, de facto, is—would allow this. And so there can be no doubt that the GRU’s Vostok and Zapad battalions will be disbanded.”
Likewise, the journalist and political commentator Yulia Latynina wrote that Kadyrov is defeating Sulim Yamadaev and his brothers, methodically and strategically. “The GRU’s ‘Vostok’ spetsnaz battalion, which … is subordinated to the Defense Ministry but historically originated from the former unit of the former [rebel] field commander Sulim Yamadaev, was probably the most serious opponent of Kadyrov,” Latynina wrote in a commentary posted on Gazeta.ru on April 17. “Yamadaev is neither an appointee nor a thug nor a person brought in on the carts of the federal forces. He was one of the most outstanding field commanders, who was the first to look for contacts with the federal forces after his own conflict with the Wahhabis—a conflict which in fact grew into a civil one and then into the second Chechen war. And Kadyrov has besieged the Yamadaevs strategically. First of all, he built his residence in Gudermes, and the Yamadaevs turned gradually from the bosses of Gudermes into the residents of a kind of high-security district fenced off by barriers. Secondly, Kadyrov drove Frants Klintsevich, a loyal ally of the Yamadaevs, out of the [leadership position in the] Chechen United Russia [chapter], which allowed [Kadyrov] subsequently to drive Sulim’s brother, Ruslan Yamadaev, out of the [State] Duma. And … Kadyrov rebuilt Chechnya. That, is he became the boss of Chechnya, and Yamadaev simply remained a field commander.”