Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 115

President Vladimir Putin has named Akhmed Kadyrov, Chechnya’s mufti, to head the republic’s provisional administration. Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev made the announcement yesterday following a meeting with the head of state (Russian agencies, June 12). After Putin signed a decree instituting direct presidential rule over the republic, many observers had mentioned Kadyrov as one of the most likely candidates to become the Kremlin’s chief administrator in Chechnya. The president appears to have had two possible candidates in mind–Kadyrov and General Gennady Troshev, commander of the federal forces in Chechnya. There is little doubt that picking Kadyrov is the better choice of the two: He is one of the few Chechens who can retain his influence within at least part of Chechen society while agreeing to cooperate with the Kremlin.

The main basis for Kadyrov’s credibility is that he fought against the federal forces during the war of 1994-1996. After those forces withdrew in 1996, Kadyrov was elected mufti and became one of the most ardent supporters of the idea of establishing an Islamic state in Chechnya, which also served to raise his rating among the republic’s population. The Kremlin managed to “win over” Kadyrov only by using the fact that he had come into conflict with the so-called “Wahhabis.” Kadyrov adheres to the Sufi current in Islam, which is traditional in Chechnya, and denounced Wahhabism, a fundamentalist trend that was new for Chechnya, as an “export” from the Middle East. However, in 1998, Kadyrov tried to cut a deal with the fundamentalists. “During the war in Chechnya, units of Wahhabi volunteers came to us from the Arab countries,” he told the Monitor’s correspondent that year. “These units were well armed and therefore our Chechens gladly joined them. Many of them joined [that branch of Islam] and tried to teach us, claiming that we were distorting Islam. We long tried to avoid washing our dirty linen in public and claimed that there was no problem of Wahhabism in the republic. We tried to reach a peaceful agreement with the Wahhabis, [saying]: ‘Please, do what you want, but do not force your convictions on us, do not accuse us of heresy.’ Alas, the dialogue did not work out.”

In June 1998, fighters loyal to Kadyrov fought fundamentalists in the town of Gudermes. Fifty people died in the battle. From that moment, Kadyrov went into open opposition against the fundamentalists, while the latter made four attempts on his life. In August 1998, when the rebel field commanders Khattab and Shamil Basaev led fundamentalist forces in a raid on Dagestan, Kadyrov went over to the Kremlin’s side. Thanks to Kadyrov’ authority, fighters in Gudermes, where the mufti has great authority, gave up to the federal authorities without a battle.

Having become head of Chechnya’s provisional administration, Kadyrov can exploit the fact that significant portions of the republic’s inhabitants do not like the fundamentalists, whom he can blame for having dragged the Chechens into a war with Russia. On the other hand, the Kremlin, by staking its bets on Kadyrov, is getting into a rather dangerous game. Kadyrov has never declared unqualified support for Russia’s actions in Chechnya. Last November, Putin was forced to concede that the mufti was raising questions and giving answers “not how we would like it” (Russian agencies, June 12). Kadyrov is undoubtedly not the kind of person who will be easily to manipulate, and it cannot be ruled out that as soon as the Kremlin deals with Kadyrov’s sworn enemies, the fundamentalists, the mufti will again come out against the Kremlin, under the banner of Sufi Islam.