Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 36

President Vladimir Putin took several questions from residents of Chechnya in a live link-up from Grozny during his nationally televised three-hour call-in show on September 27. As the Moscow Times reported the following day, a woman told Putin her son had disappeared without a trace after being abducted four years ago and that thousands of people in Chechnya were in a similar situation. “We will continue work to search for both disappeared people and those who are guilty of these crimes,” newsru.com quoted Putin as saying. The problem, he said, is linked to the fact that the problem of security has not been resolved fully, adding that it is sometimes impossible to determine whether abductions have been carried by disguised “bandits” or are “abuses by official law-enforcement organs.” Dozens of criminal cases, including those targeting officials and federal servicemen, have been launched in connection with kidnappings in Chechnya, Putin said. “The main solution to the problem is political regularization in Chechnya, bringing in the largest number of people in the process of this regularization,” he said, adding: “I attach very great importance to the upcoming parliamentary elections in Chechnya…It seems to me that people with the most varied political convictions should appear there [in parliament], so that all divisive issues are resolved openly, in a civilized manner, in a political process, and not through the use of force.”

It should be noted that while a group of senior Kremlin officials and party leaders—Including presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak, deputy Kremlin administration chief Vladislav Surkov, United Russia member Vyacheslav Volodin and Rodina leader Dmitry Rogozin—visited Grozny on September 12 and called for, as Kozak put it, “democratic, transparent and honest elections” in the republic, human rights activists have expressed doubts that this will happen. Tatyana Lokshina, who is chairwoman of the DEMOS Center for Information and Human Rights Research and Moscow representative of the International Helsinki Federation, was quoted by Interfax as telling reporters in Moscow on September 14 that Chechnya’s parliamentary vote, scheduled for November 27, “cannot bring anything new,” and adding: “And there are sufficient reasons to think that the parliamentary seats have been distributed in advance.” Yuri Dzhibladze, president of the Center for the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights, told the same press conference: “Elections will only have meaning when the situation with violations of human rights in Chechnya changes fundamentally; when…the separatists have the possibility to come forward from political and not military positions.”

Meanwhile, gazeta.ru reported on September 22 that among the former rebels who will run in the November 27 parliamentary elections is former rebel Defense Minister Magomed Khambiev—who, according to the website, will run on the slate of the Union of Right Forces (SPS), the democratic party that opposes many of the Kremlin’s policies. As gazeta.ru noted, Khambiev’s presence on the SPS slate “is somewhat curious,” all the more so given that the rebels “have never definitively acknowledged that the former defense minister gave himself up voluntarily,” insisting instead that Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov’s people forced Khambiev to surrender by kidnapping his relatives.

According to gazeta.ru, two other former top rebels will participate in the election: Ibragim Khultygov, who was formerly a rebel field commander and head of the rebel government’s security service, and Salambek Kunchalov, who was a deputy in the Chechen parliament of the early 1990s. Khultygov fell out with Aslan Maskhadov in 1999, when the rebel leader accused him of cowardice and took away his job. In May 2000, Maskhadov stripped Khultygov of his brigadier general’s rank “for refusing to participate in combat activities.” Khultyrov surrendered to federal forces in August 2000.