Ramzan Comes of Age

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 38

Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov turned 30, the minimum age under the republic’s constitution for the post of president, on October 5. Kadyrov gave several interviews that covered a wide variety of subjects. Perhaps most significantly, Kadyrov once again insisted in one of the interviews that he is not seeking to become president, at least in the immediate future (Chechnya Weekly, September 28 and August 17). “I don’t know how great they are [his ambitions], but I already decided that it is still too early for me to become president,” Newsru.com on October 5 quoted Kadyrov as telling Interfax. “Moreover, even as much as I might like to, I cannot do it. We have an elected president of the republic, and until his term ends, it is premature to talk about me as a candidate for the post of head of the republic.” There has been widespread speculation in the media that Kadyrov would, after his 30th birthday, move quickly to replace Chechen President Alu Alkhanov, whose term officially ends in a year. This speculation has been accompanied by reports of growing tension between the two men. “The whole Internet is teeming with material [saying] that I cannot wait for my birthday so that I can occupy the post of president [of Chechnya],” Kadyrov told Interfax. “I have repeatedly said that I am not prepared for this job. Thousands of inhabitants of Chechnya have disappeared without a trace; hundreds are sitting in [prison] colonies for crimes they did not perpetrate. The people expect a solution to these problems.” Kadyrov said he is not working on plans for the future. “We work day and night, [and demand] that all members of the government work the same way,” he said. “Today, they neither sleep nor rest.”

Asked about his relations with Alkhanov, Kadyrov responded: “Chechen President Alu Alkhanov and I have the kind of relations that a government chairman and president often have. They are not strained. Can they always be unclouded? No. But we do not have any complaints of a personal nature about one another.”

Kadyrov also spoke again in favor of the idea of polygamy (Chechnya Weekly, January 19, February 2 and 16). “I don’t see anything wrong in someone taking a second wife if he has the strength and means to support two wives and raise children,” Interfax quoted him as saying. According to the news agency, Kadyrov said his support for polygamy was based on the demographic situation in Chechnya. “War dealt an irreparable blow to the demographic situation,” he said. “Tens of thousands of young people were killed. I am saying that thousands of young women became widows, thousands of girls do not have the chance to become somebody’s wife [and] mother because there are tens of thousands fewer young men than girls.” At the same time, Kadyrov said that no one is imposing polygamy on anyone. “It is imputed to me that I am trying to introduce polygamy,” he said. “How can a person be forced to have two wives? Nobody’s thinking about this.”

Newsru.com quoted Kadyrov as saying that around 250 rebel fighters had voluntarily surrendered since July, when Federal Security Service (FSB) head Nikolai Patrushev, who also heads the National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK), declared an amnesty for militants who had not committed grave crimes. Kadyrov also said that the process of forming the Chechen Interior Ministry had been completed and that the Chechen police was “capable of destroying our internal enemy in the person of the illegal armed formations.” In addition, Kadyrov said it was pointless to deploy police from other Russian regions to Chechnya. “I don’t see the need to have police [deployed from other parts of Russia] standing at several dozen guard posts,” he said. “I don’t see any benefit from that because they are not catching militants. The militants are not, apparently, such simpletons as to drive through guard posts and report that they are coming from the forests.”

At the same time, according to Newsru.com, Kadyrov said that Russia needs to secure its southern borders and should consider this when determining how many troops should be deployed in Chechnya. “It should not be forgotten that in Russia’s immediate proximity the war in Iraq is going on, tensions in the Middle East remain, [the situation] around Iran is uneasy, and NATO is already knocking at the door of Georgia—which is, in any case, wide open. It is necessary to keep this in mind when we talk about the number of troops in Chechnya.” At the same time, Kadyrov said it has been a long time since Russian army units have carried out any special operations in Chechnya. “They are busy with combat training, the construction of military camps. How many [troops] are needed? As many as the General Staff and the Supreme Commander in Chief consider necessary to provide security for the country’s southern borders.”

Kadyrov’s repeated insistence that he is not seeking the Chechen presidency lends credence to reports that such a move is opposed by powerful figures in Moscow and that even President Vladimir Putin is hesitant about Kadyrov’s elevation, at least in the near future. The Moscow Times on October 5 quoted Rostislav Turovsky, an analyst with the Agency for Regional Studies, as saying that Putin “never makes quick personnel decisions, especially under pressure.” The English-language newspaper quoted both Turovsky and Nikolai Silayev, a political analyst with the Center for Caucasus Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, as saying that powerful Kremlin officials, including Igor Sechin, deputy head of the presidential administration, do not want to see Kadyrov become Chechnya’s president. The newspaper noted that Kadyrov has aggressively sought control over Chechnya’s oil sector, but that the state oil company, Rosneft, which is chaired by Sechin, runs the republic’s oil infrastructure and is reluctant to give it up.

Writing in Vremya novostei on October 5, Ivan Sukhov sought to explain in more general terms why the federal center might be hesitant to allow Kadyrov to become the president of Chechnya. “Ramzan Kadyrov’s buttress of support in Chechnya is provided by the multi-thousand-manned armed structures created mainly from former rebel fighters who, in spite of their current membership in legal departments, are hardly likely to become law-abiding Russian policemen,” he wrote. “The size of these forces is comparable to that of the federal units that remain in Chechnya on a permanent basis, and they are loyal not to Russia, but to Ramzan Kadyrov personally. Police in the territories contiguous to Chechnya know not just by hearsay what disturbing neighbors their new Chechen colleagues are. This situation, to all appearances, has already worried the Russian siloviki, who are taking an increasingly attentive look at other Chechen commanders who switched to the Russian side but are not closely linked to the current premier. The Kadyrovite fighters are unlikely to start fighting against Russia if it tries to limit the ambitions of their leader. However, any hints of a redistribution of the balance of forces in Chechnya are already today leading to the emergence of conflicts between armed groups reminiscent of the stormy ‘90s.”

Still, some observers believe it is simply a matter of time before Kadyrov assumes the Chechen presidency. Nikolai Silayev of the Center for Caucasus Studies told the Moscow Times that Kadyrov has “emerged victorious in the struggle for power” in Chechnya. “All that is left is to formalize the results,” he said. Kadyrov reportedly has a “powerful patron” in Moscow in the person Kremlin deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov (Chechnya Weekly, September 28).

Meanwhile, Ekho Moskvy radio reported on October 5 that some 5,000 Chechen policemen would be providing security for events timed to celebrate Kadyrov’s birthday, including the planned opening of the Chechen capital’s renovated Severny Airport, which is to be renamed Grozny Airport. The Moscow Times on October 5 quoted Kadyrov’s spokesman, Lema Gudayev, as saying that a monumental arch at the eastern entrance of Grozny would be unveiled and that a new shopping center and kindergarten would open in Gudermes, Chechnya’s second-largest city and the heart of the Kadyrov clan. “Formally, these events do not have any relation to Kadyrov’s birthday, but the construction workers decided to thank Ramzan Akhmadovich in their own way, by completing these projects by that date,” Gudayev said. Kadyrov’s actual birthday party was set to take place in his vacation house outside Gudermes and several Russian pop stars, including Filipp Kirkorov, Soso Pavliashvili and Sofia Rotaru, were expected to attend, Gudayev said. Newsru.com reported on October 5 that the heads of neighboring republics would also attend Kadyrov’s birthday party. Schools were planning to hold “sports festivals” to mark the day, the website reported.