Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly flew to Chechnya on the morning of May 11, announcing the visit only during a Cabinet meeting he chaired after returning to Moscow later in the day. While in Grozny, Putin presented the gold star-shaped Hero of Russia medal to the family of Chechnya’s slain president, Akhmad Kadyrov, and the Order of Courage to Rosa Isaeva, widow of Khusein Isaev, chairman of Chechnya’s State Council, who also died in the May 9 terrorist bombing in Grozny’s Dinamo Stadium. Putin also met with relatives of other victims of the attack.
The Russian president also sat in on a meeting of the Chechen government, one that was attended by Chechen Prime Minster Sergei Abramov and Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of the assassinated president, among others. Putin then visited the hospital where Colonel General Valery Baranov, commander of the Joint Group of Forces in the North Caucasus, is recovering after losing a leg in the bombing. Back in Moscow, Putin told Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev to fulfill a request by Chechen Interior Minister Alum Alkhanov for 1,125 additional police officers. Putin also ordered Fradkov to send a cabinet delegation to Chechnya to “look again” at the issue of the republic’s reconstruction, suggesting that Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref head the group (RIA Novosti, ABNews.ru, May 11; Moscow Times, May 12).
Meanwhile, Kremlin administration chief Dmitry Medvedev named former Grozny mayor Oleg Zhidkov as a deputy to Vladimir Yakovlev, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District. A source in Yakovlev’s office told Kommersant that Zhidkov, who headed the KGB branch of the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic’s Vedeno district from 1984 to 1991, will concentrate on “everything going on in Chechnya,” including new presidential elections. Zhidkov was Grozny’s mayor during 2001-2003 (Kommersant, May 12). Putin said that during his trip to Grozny he introduced Zhidkov to Chechen officials. Several newspapers saw this as a sign that Putin may favor Zhidkov as Chechnya’s next president (Moscow Times, Kommersant, May 12).
Also on May 11, Chechnya’s State Council elected Taus Dzhabrailov, formerly the republic’s minister of nationalities, information and external relations, as its chairman, and confirmed Ramzan Kadyrov as first deputy prime minister. A number of observers saw the elevation of the younger Kadyrov, who previously headed his father’s feared security service, as a sign that Moscow may be grooming him to replace his father as Chechnya’s president.
But Aleksandr Veshnyakov, head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, said Chechnya’s constitution stipulates that a president cannot be younger than 30 – Ramzan Kadyrov is 27 years old – and that the constitution can only be amended via a referendum. However, Aslanbek Aslakhanov, the former interior ministry general who pulled out of last year’s Chechen presidential race to become an adviser to Putin, told Radio Russia that Kadyrov’s age should not be an obstacle because Chechnya’s constitution “allows him” to run for president. However that issue is resolved, Veshnyakov said that Chechnya’s new presidential election must be held no later than September 5 and that the exact date for the elections would probably be determined within two weeks (Novye Izvestia, May 12; Ren TV, May 11).
Ramzan Kadyrov’s elevation and the possibility he is being groomed to replace his father undoubtedly makes many Chechens nervous. In a May 10 interview with Ekho Moskvy, Novaya Gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya alleged that Ramzan had abused some his father’s political opponents in the run-up to Chechnya’s October 2003 presidential election. “He is an extremely cruel man,” Politkovskaya told the radio station. “His chief of staff used to be one of the most cruel men among the militants led by (Chechen rebel field commander Shamil) Basaev before switching sides after and amnesty.”
Politkovskaya said she had met several people associated with rival presidential candidates who said they were personally tortured by Ramzan Kadyrov in his hometown of Tsenteroi, and that the torture included having narrow strips of skin peeled from their backs. “This is the sort of torture you would call medieval brutality,” Politkovskaya told Ekho Moskvy. “That is perhaps the best characterization of the kind of person he is, if he is to be judged by his deeds” (Ekho Moskvy, May 10).
Last month, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, and Memorial said in joint statement on the situation in Chechnya and Ingushetia that Ramzan Kadyrov’s armed group was blamed for an “increasing portion” of disappearances in Chechnya and that “many Chechens say they fear the Kadyrovtsy more than federal troops” (Human Rights Watch, “The Situation in Chechnya and Ingushetia Deteriorates,” April 7; see also Chechnya Weekly, April 14, 2004). Ramzan Kadyrov, meanwhile, told Interfax that he intends to guarantee security for Chechnya’s residents and that their rights are observed: “That is what the late president Akhmad Kadyrov wanted, and I will follow that same course as long as live,” he said (Interfax, May 11).
ABOUT THE KADYROV ASSASSINATION, THEORIES ABOUND
Speculation continues over who planted the bomb that killed Akhmad Kadyrov on May 9. Citing unnamed sources in the Prosecutor General’s Office, Kommersant speculated that those who planted the bomb were seeking “to create a situation in the republic in which the thousands of former [rebel] fighters who put down their arms under the personal guarantees of the head of the republic [i.e., Akhmad Kadyrov], and then became members of his security service, might return to the mountains.” And this, the newspaper said, could lead to a “sharp aggravation” of the security situation in Chechnya.
An unnamed top official in the republic’s Interior Ministry told the newspaper that only a small circle of people around Akhmad Kadyrov – not including his son and security chief, Ramzan – knew he would be attending the Victory Day parade in Grozny’s Dinamo Stadium, meaning that whoever detonated the bomb, which had been planted under the reviewing stand much earlier, must have been tipped off by someone inside the Chechen president’s inner circle (Kommersant, May 12).
That Akhmad Kadyrov was assassinated by Chechen rebels, aided by “traitors” within the Chechen administration, remains the main theory about the bombing. It is held not only by Kommersant, but by Southern Federal District Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky and former Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Kovalev (see EDM, May 10).
But this is by no means the only theory. Contrary to Kommersant, Aleksandr Litvinenko, the former FSB lieutenant colonel and ally of fellow exile and Putin opponent Boris Berezovsky, argued that Ramzan Kadyrov, being Akhmad Kadyrov’s son and head of his security service, must have known the Chechen president’s schedule and movements on May 9. After the elder Kadyrov’s murder, Ramzan, rather than immediately setting out to apprehend the assassins or even “crying for his father,” flew to Moscow to “report to Putin,” Litvinenko wrote (Chechenpress.com, May 12).
Moskovsky Komsomolets put forward another possible scenario. “The fact is, [Akhmad] Kadyrov had recently gathered strength and had begun to pressure the federals, attempting to force them out of the republic,” the newspaper wrote. “On the eve of the terrorist attack, his son Ramzan talked about this completely openly on television, saying that the problem of Chechnya must be solved by the Chechens themselves, and that the military (that is, the non-Chechens) should leave…The center doesn’t much like this talk, although naturally no one speaks about this aloud…The terrorist attack in the stadium saved Putin from the looming need to deal with Kadyrov, which would have been fraught with a new round of warfare” (Moskovsky Komsomolets, May 11).
The murder of Akhmad Kadyrov, a former mufti turned politician handpicked by the Kremlin to lead the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya (see yesterday’s EDM), dealt a severe blow to the assertions of the Putin government that it had reestablished full control over the rebellious region.