Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 19

Kommersant published an article on May 6 confirming that the Kremlin had sided with Chechen President Alu Alkhanov following the reported shoot-out between members of his security service and members of security forces loyal to Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov (see Chechnya Weekly, May 4). According to the newspaper, Alkhanov and Kadyrov met with President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on May 5, ostensibly to discuss Chechnya’s socio-economic development. The meeting, however, ended up focusing on the growing conflict between Alkhanov and Kadyrov, with Kadyrov demanding that Alkhanov resign and Alkhanov seeking to find out where Putin stood. Putin spoke against Alkhanov’s resignation, Kommersant reported.

According to Kommersant, Putin had planned a regular meeting with Alkhanov, but the list of attendees grew at the last moment. Citing a source in Grozny, the newspaper reported that several days earlier a group of pro-Kadyrov Chechen officials headed by Chechen Finance Minister Eli Isaev had gone to Alkhanov and urged him to resign. “They told him that he needed to do it for the sake of preserving a stable environment, which is threatened with destabilization because of the confrontation between the president’s and premier’s teams,” the source told Kommersant. Alkhanov heard them out but said he would make a decision after consulting with the Kremlin. The reason for the pro-Kadyrov officials’ demarche was the April 25 shoot-out. Citing “unofficial information,” Kommersant reported that several people on both sides were wounded in the gun-battle. Various media had earlier reported that several people were killed in the shoot-out (see Chechnya Weekly, May 4). The newspaper also cited rumors that the shoot-out might have grown into a serious conflict had the GRU’s “Zapad” unit, commanded by Said-Magomed Kakiev, not intervened (see Chechnya Weekly, April 27). Moreover, while Chechen officials played down the significance of the incident, claiming that it was a “banal altercation” between two members of the respective security services, Kommersant cited sources as reporting that the altercation had developed into a serious conflict and that Alkhanov decided to enlist the support of influential Chechens who are not Kadyrov supporters, including Kakiev, the Zapad battalion commander; Sulim Yamadaev, commander of the GRU’s “Vostok” battalion; and former Grozny mayor Bislan Ganatamirov. Alkhanov’s meetings with these people “alarmed the premier’s entourage, which saw them as an attempt to create an anti-Kadyrov front in the republic,” Kommersant reported.

The newspaper noted that Alkhanov has been unable during his year-and-a-half as Chechen president to place his people into government posts, which remain occupied by people who were appointed by Akhmad Kadyrov. Even the post of first deputy prime minister, which was vacated by Ramzan Kadyrov when he became prime minister, was filled by a cousin of Ramzan, Odes Baisultanov. In addition, the new Chechen parliament elected last autumn is made up almost entirely of Ramzan’s supporters, Kommersant noted. According to the paper, the parliament’s speaker, Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, has developed a plan to remove Alkhanov from power through a parliamentary vote of no-confidence.

Kommersant also cited examples of Kadyrov’s increasingly high-handed behavior. The paper reported that during a concert in Chechnya given by the singer Nikolai Baskov, Chechen Culture Minister Movla Osmaev read out a decree issued by Alkhanov conferring the title of “Honored Artist of Chechnya” on the singer. Kadyrov came on stage and told Osmaev: “You are mistaken, minister. Not honored [artist], but people’s [artist].” Afterward, Alkhanov’s decree was hastily re-issued to reflect Kadyrov’s correction. Kadyrov has ignored Alkhanov’s views on other more significant issues: for example, Kadyrov banned the activity of the Danish Refugees Council in Chechnya without first consulting Alkhanov, and withdrew his ban on the NGO only after the Kremlin protested it.

At the same time, Kommersant reported, within the “federal power structures” there exists “a powerful anti-Kadyrov lobby whose opinion Mr. Putin also cannot fail to consider. Therefore, the Kremlin, according to Kommersant sources in the [presidential] administration, decided for the time being not to remove the last counterweight to Mr. Kadyrov in the person of Alu Alkhanov.” The newspaper noted that Alkhanov’s premature departure would force the Kremlin to search for a temporary Chechen president, given that Ramzan Kadyrov will by law be eligible to assume the republic’s presidency only when he reaches the age of 30 in October of this year. “If the Kremlin is all the same determined to make Mr. Kadyrov the republic’s lord and master (it’s not important whether it’s next fall or a bit later), then Mr. Alkhanov’s departure will probably be arranged not as a firing, but as a transfer to a more important job in the federal structures.”

Meanwhile, both Kommersant and Nezavisimaya gazeta reported—on May 10 and May 11, respectively—that supporters of Kadyrov in the Chechen government are planning to carry out a poll to determine which of the republic’s public figures enjoys the greatest popular support. According to Kommersant, members of Alkhanov’s inner circle are convinced that the results will be rigged in Ramzan’s favor. Indeed, both newspapers noted that that one of the poll’s questions asks: “Have your hopes connected with the confirmation of Ramzan Kadyrov to the post of chairman of the government been realized?” The respondents are given four responses to choose from: 1) The socio-political situation has stabilized. 2) Confidence in the future has been created. 3) The republic’s socio-economic sphere has improved. 4. It is hard to answer. As Nezavisimaya gazeta noted, whichever answer is checked off, except for the last, “the result is the same.”

According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, Chechnya’s Ministry of National Policy, Press and Information has distributed the poll, which includes a total of seven questions, to various officials around the republic. The head of President Alkhanov’s press service, Said-Magomed Israev, called the poll part of a campaign to “drive a wedge” between Alkhanov and Kadyrov. “We are one team, and to put questions like those on the questionnaire is simply inappropriate.” Israev said that he was told in the Ministry of National Policy, Press and Information that only 1,000 questionnaires had been printed and distributed, while 5,000 were actually printed. “This was apparently done so that a thousand [answers] that would suit Kadyrov could be selected,” Israev told Nezavisimaya gazeta.

Commenting on the poll gambit, Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center told Nezavisimaya gazeta: “Ramzan is in a hurry. He doesn’t have a sense of proportion. This is explained by the fact that a transition period is going on and no final decisions have been made in Moscow: the Kremlin is diverse and there are supporters of both the president of Chechnya and the prime minister there. Kadyrov doesn’t have a strategy, he acts impulsively, and when it seems to him that he can just about knock Alkhanov down, he takes steps of this kind. When it goes wrong, he runs back and begins to lick his wounds. This struggle, however it turns out, is very harmful to both Chechnya and Moscow. Chechenization means a certain unity between those Chechens who support Moscow. You have a situation in which the more consistent supporter of the federal Center is Alkhanov, but the force and energy is emanating from Kadyrov.”

Fedor Shcherbackov, press secretary to President Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitry Kozak, told Nezavisimaya gazeta that his office was aware of the plans to conduct the poll in Chechnya but had no comment on it.

Adding to the sense of a growing split between members of the pro-Moscow camp in Chechnya, a new pro-separatist website, Chechenews (Chechenews.com), reported on May 8 that Sulim Yamadaev, commander of the GRU’s “Vostok” battalion, vowed during a recent meeting with his subordinates and relatives to kill Ramzan Kadyrov in revenge for the murder of his brother Dhabrail by kadyrovtsy in the village of Dyshni-Vedeno on March 5, 2004. “Until now, the yamadaevtsy tried not to allow their plans concerning taking revenge on the kadyrovtsy to become known,” the website wrote. “However, after the well-known statement by ChRI President A-Kh. Sadulaev, in which the Chechen leader named the true organizers and executors of the murder of Dzhabrail Yamadaev, Sulim Yamadaev, the head of the one of the sub-units of the Russian GRU, was compelled to promise to find and destroy the murderers of his brother.” On April 3, Chechen separatist leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev said in a statement posted on the separatist Daymohk website that Ramzan Kadyrov and his father Akhmad were behind the March 2003 killing of Dhabrail Yamadaev, who was deputy military commandant of Chechnya (see Chechnya Weekly, April 6).

Chechenews wrote: “Considering the already difficult relations between the Kremlin protégés Alkhanov and Kadyrov, the Yamadaevs’ plans could upset the plans of the Russian directors of the bloody conflict in Chechnya.”