Akhmad Kadyrov for the first time confirmed publicly on February 16 what many Chechnya-watchers already had considered obvious: Anatoly Popov will not be returning to his post as the Kadyrov administration’s prime minister. According to a February 17 article on the Gazeta.ru website, Kadyrov revealed late the previous evening that the decision about whom to select as Popov’s replacement was “being discussed.” As recently as his visit last month to Saudi Arabia, Kadyrov had left open the question of the prime minister’s position, telling journalists that it would be decided only after his return to Chechnya.
Musa Muradov, who covers Chechnya for the Moscow daily Kommersant, told Chechnya Weekly in a February 23 telephone interview that he had no doubt that Popov, who now “holds his position only formally,” is “on the way out.” Muradov predicted that a final decision about his successor will be made in March. However, the journalist said that he sees a strong possibility that the outcome will be less than a full victory for Kadyrov, who obviously would like to see the position filled by an ethnic Chechen loyal to him.
Instead of that, said Muradov, the Kremlin is likely to insist on naming yet another ethnic Russian, probably one with deep roots in Chechnya. He suggested that one possibility is Oleg Zhidkov, a veteran KGB/FSB officer who was born in Chechnya and (a great rarity among Russians) speaks fluent Chechen. Zhidkov was appointed as the pro-Moscow administration’s mayor of Grozny in July of 2001. Since it was Kadyrov himself who eased Zhidkov out of that position in June of 2003 (see Chechnya Weekly, June 12, 2003), the latter’s return as prime minister would be an especially strong signal that the Kremlin does not intend to give the former carte blanche.