Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 15

The time has come,” President Putin solemnly told leaders from Russia’s southern regions gathered in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi on May 16, “to extend the powers of the chairman of the Chechen administration.” Putin then read out the text of a decree that gave Kadyrov the authority to appoint heads of district administrations and members of the Chechen government at his own discretion. “This [decree] is a sign of trust in the Chechen leadership,” Kadyrov subsequently boasted to reporters (Gazeta.ru, March 17).

On May 22, Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky underlined that the “political question” in Chechnya would soon be resolved “constitutionally.” The referendum on a new Chechen constitution, he predicted, could be held as early as “before the end of 2002.” After that, he added, elections would be held to the “organs of the Chechen Republic in accord with the new constitution” (RIA Novosti, May 22). Yastrzhembsky appeared to be suggesting that Kadyrov could be elected Chechen president as early as in 2003. (The elections would presumably be rigged, on the analogue of the recently held Ingush presidential elections.)

The only official now remaining independent from Kadyrov, Vremya Novostei pointed out on May 17, is Chechnya’s prime minister, Stanislav Il’yasov, who reacted calmly to Putin’s announcement, noting that “Kadyrov has started firing and appointing men on his own, without coordination with Viktor Kazantsev [plenipotentiary Russian presidential representative in the Southern Federal District], long ago.” Basically, Vremya Novostei observed, “all the posts in the Chechen government are [now] occupied by Kadyrov’s and [former convicted embezzler Bislan] Gantamirov’s men. Though a few outsiders remain in the government, there is actually no one to be dismissed. Konstantin Makaev, the envoy of presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky, is working in the Press Ministry. Chechen Vice Premier Bislan Gantamirov has failed to get rid of him so far. Mr. Il’yasov’s protege Sergei Abramov is heading the Finance Ministry. But his days are numbered…. Gantamirov, who is known for his ability to achieve what he wants, has set his sights on finances…. Kadyrov has to please Gantamirov, who will head Kadyrov’s election campaign in the upcoming presidential election.”

In an article entitled “Who Will Become the Next Premier of Chechnya?” the May 23 issue of Novye Izvestia referred to a swirl of rumors circulating in Grozny (Djohar) that Il’yasov would soon be losing his job. As is well known, the newspaper wrote, relations between Il’yasov and Kadyrov, “who is distinguished by a harsh and independent character,” are not good. Also there are “the scandals which accompanied the recent audit [in Chechnya] by the Accounting Chamber. Moscow charges local officials with the ‘inappropriate’ expenditure of many millions of rubles which had been earmarked for restoration of the destroyed housing sector and production sphere.” In Djohar, however, they charge that this money was embezzled directly in Moscow. There is also the fact, the newspaper continued, that Il’yasov is simply suffering from “fatigue.” Candidates mentioned as likely replacements for Il’yasov are two leading members of the Chechen diaspora in Moscow, Malik Saidullaev, chairman of the State Council of the Chechen Republic, and Bakar Arsamakov, the head of one of the largest banks in Moscow. Also mentioned is Usman Masaev, the leader of the social-political movement “New Times,” who has now been named a deputy premier of the Chechen Administration in charge of industry.

The Russian media pointed to a number of ways in which Kadyrov has recently succeeded in strengthening his position. A Chechen, Ruslan Yamadaev, has been appointed first deputy to the military commandant of Chechnya, Sergei Kizyun, while his brother Sulim has been appointed second deputy commandant (Gazeta.ru, May 17). Movsar Said-Alievich Khamidov, who formerly worked in the central apparatus of the FSB, has been appointed a deputy premier of the Chechen Republic. “He will be in charge of the coordination of the activity of state structures in the republic with the power ministries who are carrying out their tasks within the frame of the counterterrorist operation” (Chechenskaya Respublika, Kavkaz.strana.ru, May 21). This key post now occupied by Khamidov had been empty for more than six months, resulting in the inability of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration to in any way moderate the excesses of Russian military and police units on Chechen soil.

Clearly, Kadyrov intends to keep up the heat to effect a rapid “Chechenization” of the republic’s power structures. On May 20, Presscenter.ru reported Kadyrov’s announcement that “a full-fledged MVD of Chechnya will be created by the end of September.” Kadyrov also “subjected to sharp criticism the activity of the military commandants’ offices” in Chechnya, charging them with “insufficiently ensuring the safety of citizens.” Each officer at each checkpoint in the republic, he said, “considers himself the chief boss” and ignores the orders of his superiors.

In an obvious effort to curry favor with local Chechens, Kadyrov assailed the fact that Order No. 80, issued by General Vladimir Moltenskoi, “is not being carried out properly.” “As before,” Kadyrov stressed to journalists, “people disappear without trace, while participants in the operation, in violation of the order [no. 80] do not identify themselves and do not inform anyone where the people they arrest are being taken and what they are being charged with.” On May 20, Kadyrov noted, he had met with “women from various population points who request that at least the bodies [of those summarily executed by the federal forces] be returned to them for burial” (Interfax-AVN, May 20). In a similar vein, Kadyrov strongly protested against the determination by Russian psychiatrists that Colonel Yury Budanov had been temporarily insane at the time that he killed El’za Kungaeva. Kadyrov called for a new medical examination of Budanov (Lenta.ru, May 21).

Why is Vladimir Putin acting to strengthen Kadyrov at this juncture? Putin, a leading Russian journalist, Sanobar Shermatova, commented, “is strengthening the powers of his civilian appointee in Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, in a new bid to get a grip on the intractable conflict by reining in the army…. The Kremlin’s new idea of ‘Chechenization’ is to strengthen local civilian organs of power and security structures on the eve of a withdrawal of surplus federal forces. The second step will be the formation of legitimate organs of power and the adoption of a constitution.”

Putin’s move, Shermatova speculated, may also in part have been connected with this past week’s summit with President Bush: “The Bush-Putin summit on May 23-26 will provide another stimulus for a political solution in Chechnya. Some observers are expecting that President Bush will propose a big new program for dealing with Caucasian ‘hot-spots,’ worth no less than one billion US dollars. One target for this money will be Chechnya, and the Americans will want to see a process of democratization take place there in return for their funds” (IWPR, May 23).

To conclude, it will be interesting to observe the political ups and downs of the ambitious and problematic program of Chechenization over the course of this spring and the coming summer.