Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 114

On June 8, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree establishing what is, in essence, direct presidential rule over Chechnya. The move involves the creation of an administration for the Chechen republic while abolishing the office of the Russian government’s representative in Chechnya. According to the Kremlin press service, a draft law will be submitted to the State Duma to set up a provisional system of executive organs in Chechnya. Putin’s decree significantly reduces the rights of citizens on Chechen territory, limiting freedom of movement and banning demonstrations and other such gatherings. It is so far unclear who will head the republic’s new administration.

According to Sergei Ivanov, secretary of Putin’s advisory Security Council, the presidential decree means direct presidential rule for Chechnya. Putin, he said, has taken “full power” in Chechnya upon himself. The Security Council secretary said it was as yet uncertain how long this form of rule over Chechnya would last, but that it conditionally could last two to three years. He said also that the head of the provisional administration in Chechnya would be accountable to the president, the government and the president’s authorized representative in the newly formed North Caucasus federal district, Viktor Kazantsev. As for the fact that the head of Chechnya’s administration has not yet been chosen, Ivanov said that Putin was taking a “pause.” Informed Kremlin sources said that Putin plans to name the head of Chechnya’s administration in the near future, probably before the Duma takes up his draft law.

Meanwhile, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Putin’s point man on Chechnya, denied the rumor among some journalists that a new “power vertical” was being developed for Chechnya that could be applied later to the rest of Russia. “Chechnya is a deeply and seriously ill subject of the Federation for which special methods of therapy have to be applied,” Yastrzhembsky told a leading newspaper. “The rest of Russia does not need such therapy. Chechnya will be functioning under a different regime from the rest of the country for two or three years. During that period it will be necessary to refrain from having an elected parliament and head of Chechnya” (Segodnya, June 10; Russian agencies, June 8).

In principle, Putin’s decree simply ratifies a situation in Chechnya which already existed de facto. For example, during both the current military campaign and that of 1994-1996, freedom of movement and the right to hold demonstrations were curtailed–meaning that limitations existed of the kind possible only under direct presidential rule. In addition, during both military campaigns, all power in those parts of Chechnya controlled by Russian military forces was concentrated in the hands of the center. This is how a territory would be run under a state of emergency. It is true that the Kremlin probably wanted to create power structures in Chechnya that were like those in other federation subjects. However, this was simply unrealistic, given local conditions: Any Chechen agreeing to cooperate with Moscow automatically became a traitor in the eyes of the local population and, correspondingly, could only be a nominal Chechen leader.

Putin’s decree in essence means that Moscow has given up on trying to subordinate Chechnya while observing–or, at least, while declaring adherence to–democratic principles. At the same time, the decree puts the Kremlin in a rather ambiguous situation. Earlier, Moscow recognized the presidential elections in Chechnya as legal, meaning that for now–at least until special legal measures are taken–Aslan Maskhadov remains the republic’s legally elected president.

The situation in Chechnya, meanwhile, remains extremely tense. Attacks on Russian soldiers occur practically daily. On June 7, two kamikaze rebel fighters penetrated an area where OMON troops from Omsk were located, blowing up a car and killing two servicemen. In the middle of the day on June 9 in Djohar [Grozny], the Chechen capital, rebel fighters opened fire on a car with Red Cross markings. Two doctors were killed, while one of their colleagues, along with two workers from the Ministry of Emergency Situations, were wounded by shrapnel (Russian agencies, June 8, 10). Over the weekend, an armed confrontation took place between residents in the town of Shali and federal troops. The violence grew out of an incident which occurred the evening of June 9, when a man was killed and a young girl critically wounded after an armored personnel carrier hit the wagon they were traveling in. Several local inhabitants were killed in the ensuing street violence (Russian agencies, June 10).