Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 62

Yesterday, the heads of the administration in Chechnya and the Russian military commanders there jointly called on President-elect Vladimir Putin to bring the region under direct presidential rule. Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Koshman, the Russian government’s representative in Chechnya, said he believed that the republic would be brought under direct Kremlin control after Putin’s inauguration, scheduled for May 5. According to Koshman, direct presidential rule will allow a ban on demonstrations, the naming of officials for specific terms and the introduction of “strict responsibility” on the part of the federal center for Chechnya (Russian agencies, March 27).

Direct presidential rule in Chechnya makes sense from the Kremlin’s point of view, given that any Chechen who agrees to become the head of the republic will be seen as a traitor in the eyes of most of his countrymen and thus will be leader in name only. It should be recalled that, Doku Zavgaev, who had headed the Supreme Soviet of Checheno-Ingushetia before 1991 but who was later removed by armed supporters of Djohar Dudaev, enjoyed great authority in the republic before 1995. After he agreed to head the pro-Moscow government in 1995, his rating in Chechnya fell to approximately zero.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin has reportedly won more than 65 percent of the presidential votes cast in Chechnya on March 26. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov came in a distant second there, with 16 percent of the vote, followed by Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, with 11 percent. Sources in the election commission said that Putin won 82 percent of the vote in the Chechen capital, where Zyuganov came in a distant second. A minor candidate, Umar Dzhabrailev, a Moscow-based Chechen businessmen who is co-owner of the Radisson-Slavyanskaya hotel complex, came in third (Russian agencies, March 27).

It is hard to take the results of the voting in Chechnya seriously. In fact, it is virtually impossible to believe that an overwhelming majority of the residents of a republic destroyed by the federal armed forces would support the initiator of that military campaign. Indeed, in June 1996, at the end of the first Chechen war, a majority of Chechens supposedly voted for Boris Yeltsin’s re-election. At that time, the Monitor’s correspondent, as part of a journalistic experiment, voted at ten different polling stations without presenting any documents or identification. One can assume that there was even more voting fraud in Chechnya in this election. In 1996, journalists were able to work freely in Chechnya and reported numerous violations at polling stations. During this latest election, media representatives were able to travel only if accompanied by Russian troops, who determined what the reporters “needed” to see.