Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 10

Chechnya’s parliament confirmed Ramzan Kadyrov as the republic’s president on March 2, just one day after he was nominated by President Vladimir Putin (Chechnya Weekly, March 1). According to Reuters, 56 of the parliament’s 58 deputies cast their ballots for Kadyrov, with one voting against and one abstaining. “We will continue the great course started by my father and president of the country Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,” the news agency quoted Kadyrov as telling Russian television after the vote. “If not us, who will restore our republic?” The separatist Chechenpress news agency, for its part, on March 2 quoted residents of Chechnya as saying that all the members of what the website called the “puppet parliament” were in danger until Kadyrov’s “secret opponent” turned himself in. At the same time, Chechenpress wrote that following Kadyrov’s “inevitable elimination,” all of the pro-Moscow parliament’s deputies would claim to be the one who voted against him.

In Moscow, meanwhile, Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, who spent several days in Chechnya and attended a controversial human rights conference in Grozny sponsored by the Chechen government and boycotted by several leading rights groups, sharply criticized the human rights situation in Chechnya. According to Reuters, Hammarberg told reporters in the Russian capital on March 2 that while the economic situation had improved in Chechnya, torture to extract confessions was widespread. He said a commission should be set up on the model of those in Latin America – where thousands people also disappeared as a result of political violence – to discover the fate of the estimated 2,600 people who disappeared in Chechnya without trace during two wars since 1994. “This is a serious human rights matter not only for those who actually disappeared, maybe killed, maybe alive somewhere, but also for the relatives who have no knowledge of what happened,” Reuters quoted Hammarberg as saying.

Immediately following his confirmation as president, Kadyrov lost little time in assuming his new role and exercising his new formal powers. Kommersant reported on March 3 that immediately after the previous day’s parliamentary session confirming him as president, Kadyrov had taken part in an outdoor celebration in the capital marking the event (which, according to one estimate, was attended by about a thousand people). He was joined by Ingush President Murat Zyazikov and Dmitry Kozak, President Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, who had come to witness Kadyrov assume Chechnya’s presidency. “The newly-fledged president of Chechnya dragged Mr. Zyazikov into a circle of dancers, after which he himself danced,” the newspaper wrote. “After the dancing, Ramzan Kadyrov sat Dmitry Kozak and Murat Zyazikov in his automobile and drove the guests to Magas (the Ingush capital) for a meeting devoted to the prospects for cooperation between Ingushetia and Chechnya.” Interfax quoted the Ingush president’s press service as saying that the meeting focused on “issues of socio-economic and cultural cooperation” between the two republics and was also attended by Ingush elders.

On March 4, Kadyrov called for another amnesty for rebel fighters, saying it would help strengthen peace and stability in Chechnya. “If such a decision is taken, then there will be hundreds of more lives saved,” he told the Vesti 24 television channel. He said a new amnesty should be aimed at those who were in “illegal armed formations” for a time but then decided to drop out of the fight and leave Chechnya. Such people, he said, are not guilty of having “unleashed” the war. “These people … who run (abroad) are not guilty; they didn’t start the war,” he said, adding that “certainly they must be forgiven and given the possibility to return to peaceful live” and that “we will be asking for this.” Kadyrov said his government also plans to return refugees living abroad, and that “informational video material” will be sent to Chechen refugees living Poland, France, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia to convince them that positive changes are taking place in Chechnya.

Kadyrov said he plans to reduce the number of checkpoints in the republic, that his government will give priority to housing construction and job creation, as a result of which all temporary housing for displaced persons will be closed down by the end of the year. He also vowed that Grozny would be 80% rebuilt this year. Asked about the issue of delimiting power between Moscow and Grozny, Kadyrov told Vesti 24 that what is most important is to ensure Russia’s unity. “I am for a powerful Russian state,” he said. “There must not be a differentiation between Russia and Chechnya.”

On March 6, Kadyrov ordered that five checkpoints in Grozny and on its outskirts be closed down, according to Chechnya.gov.ru, the Chechen government’s official website. The new president gave the order after taking an inspection tour of checkpoints with Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov, Chechen Deputy Interior Minister Aslambek Yasaev, Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the law-enforcement agencies Adam Delimkhanov and Mikhail Shepilov, the first deputy commander of the Joint Group of Forces in the North Caucasus. According to Chechnya.gov.ru, the officials inspected checkpoints in Grozny, at the entrance to Urus-Martan and at the crossroads of the villages of Shali, Mesker-Yurt and Argun. They found them to be in an “unsanitary” state. “In addition, there is no need to have them [checkpoints], and checkpoints look rather unattractive while we are restoring the capital city,” Kadyrov said, according to Chechnya.gov.ru. The website reported that a checkpoint on the road to the Grozny airport would also be closed in the coming days.

On March 6, President Kadyrov announced that Chechnya will build an oil refinery with an annual output capacity of five million tons. “Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Khusein Dzhabrailov has prepared an industrial policy draft plan for 2007-2015, which will be part and parcel of the republic’s social and economic development strategy in the years to come,” he told journalists, Itar-Tass reported. “First of all, we should guarantee security and we have necessary institutions and mechanisms for that. We also need to build ties with (the Russian state oil company) Rosneft. The republic’s leadership is working on this. I hope we will come to agreement and start cooperation on mutually advantageous conditions at the earliest possible date.” According to the news agency, Kadyrov said his government will also support small and medium-sized businesses, allocating 400 hectares of land for a complex of business centers, offices and hotels that will be serviced by a railway line.

On March 7, Kadyrov, together with Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, the chairman of the People’s Assembly of the Chechen parliament, and Sultan-Khadzhi Mirzaev, Chechnya’s mufti, held a meeting with the heads of district administrations and qadis (local Islamic judges) on the issue of public morality and what needs to be done to improve the moral state of Chechen society, Chechnya.gov.ru reported. The meeting’s participants said that apart from secular institutions, the republic’s religious leaders should play a leading role in this effort and that, to this end, the administration heads and qadis in Chechnya’s districts should intensify their work with youth. “Our nation has always had strong traditions, and we should bring up our young people in the spirit of ethnic self-consciousness and in accordance with our national traditions,” Kadyrov said. “After the victory over Wahhabism, we should fight against new threats to our youth such as drug addiction and prostitution. This horrible evil should be defeated immediately.”

Kadyrov called on district heads to increase their collaboration with clergy. “Throughout the years of hardship the clergy has been carrying out necessary public work, and those administration heads who do not support the qadi of the district will lose their posts,” he said. He also said that the administration heads should give financial assistance to religious leaders and provide them with transportation means so they can carry out their work. According to Chechnya.gov.ru, at the end of the meeting, the participants agreed to hold an expanded session that will be attended by village imams and representatives of high school faculties.

Kadyrov made a number of changes in the republic’s government. On March 7, he removed Movsar Temirbaev as Grozny’s mayor, replacing him with Muslim Khuchiev, who was previously in charge of the republic’s governmental and presidential apparatus and was one of the republican presidential candidates that Southern Presidential District presidential envoy Dmitry Kozak had suggested to Putin. Gzt.ru reported on March 7 that upon becoming mayor of Grozny, Khuchiev would resign as head of the Chechen branch of A Just Russia, the recently-formed pro-Kremlin political party. Kadyrov also named Magomed Vakhaev chairman of the republic’s Constitutional Court. Vakhaev served for six years as the republic’s minister of labor and social development. In addition, Kadyrov named Khalid Vaikhanov as the republic’s new Security Council secretary, replacing German Vok, who was a close ally of former Chechen president Alu Alkhanov, Itar-Tass reported on March 7. Vaikhanov previously served a vice premier of the Chechen government in charge of social issues.