Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 37

Ramzan Kadyrov has again insisted that he does not want to become Chechnya’s president but will do so if the people demand it. According to the Associated Press, Kadyrov told reporters in Gudermes on September 27 that he was not ready to become president “because I must be sure that I can ensure completely all the rights of people in the republic,” but added, “If it is the will of the people…we must agree with them.” Speaking at a boxing club that is part of a sports complex named after him, Kadyrov insisted that he was not power-hungry but wanted “to continue the work my father began: to end the war and revive the republic.” On October 5, Kadyrov will turn 30, the constitutionally mandated minimum age for becoming president. The term of Chechnya’s current president, Alu Alkhanov, expires in 2008, but an early election could be called if he resigned or were otherwise unable to finish his term.

Kadyrov praised President Vladimir Putin as “the only person who can save Russia” and repeated his call for Putin to stay in office indefinitely. But he strongly criticized “those who run around him, certain ministers and bureaucrats,” and accused Moscow of failing to deliver on its financial promises and refusing to give Chechnya a fair share of profits from its oil. “If the federal center had given what it owes to the people (of Chechnya), we would have revived this republic long ago,” the AP quoted Kadyrov as saying. “They steal everything from us – gas, oil, light.” As the news agency noted, the comments underscored the uneasy relationship between the federal authorities and the increasingly assertive Chechen prime minister. Kadyrov also criticized the amnesty for Chechen rebels who surrender and Russian servicemen accused of crimes during the conflict – which was approved by the State Duma on September 22 and went into effect the following day – saying it would be difficult for any former Chechen fighters to qualify. He also threatened to seek international legal recourse if Russian generals who committed human rights abuses are not brought to justice.

At the same time, Kadyrov ordered all the large wall posters bearing his portrait that currently adorn buildings in the republic be taken down. According to Interfax, Kadyrov said he had already twice ordered that the posters be removed but that there were people who insisted on “expressing their feelings” in this way. There are “two leaders worthy of having their portraits put up,” Kadyrov said. “They are Russian President Vladimir Putin and the first president of the Chechen Republic Akhmat Kadyrov, who in the hardest of times took upon himself the entire responsibility for the situation in Chechnya and gave his life, not deviating from the chosen path.” Newsru.com on September 27 quoted the head of the apparatus of the Chechen president and government, Muslim Khuchiev, as saying that Kadyrov’s order that his portraits be removed would not be published in the form of a document, but that Kadyrov’s verbal request was “enough so that today the portraits were taken down.”

Against this backdrop, it is worth noting that North Caucasus presidential envoy Dmitry Kozak was recently delegated the power to oversee spending in the region. As the Moscow Times reported on September 22, a decree signed on September 20 by President Vladimir Putin set up the Commission for Improving the Socio-Economic Situation in the Southern Federal District, which Kozak will chair. In that capacity, Kozak will oversee requests for federal funds and exercise broad authority over his district’s 13 regions, which include the republics of the North Caucasus. The weekly magazine Profil noted on September 25 that this latest attempt to increase federal control over the region came on the eve of Ramzan Kadyrov’s 30th birthday and his possible assumption of the Chechen presidency. “Kozak wants to remind all who is boss in the North Caucasus,” the magazine wrote.

Meanwhile, there have been further signs of tension within the pro-Moscow Chechen camp. During his September 27 press conference in Gudermes, Kadyrov told journalists that there have been two plots to assassinate him. “Twice there have been carefully prepared plots with the object of murdering me,” he said. “They were organized on the orders of Chechens. I uncovered both plots.” It was not clear whether the Chechens who allegedly plotted his assassination were from the pro-Moscow or rebel side. Earlier this year, the Chechen rebels released a video tape on which rebel warlord Shamil Basaev said he was offering $25,000 for the killing of Ramzan Kadyrov, but would pay $50,000 if necessary (Chechnya Weekly, June 15). Basaev himself was reportedly killed on July 10 (Chechnya Weekly, July 14).

In another sign of the continued tensions, the Chechen prosecutor’s office announced that it had put Movladi Baisarov, the head of the Gorets special forces unit that was under the command of the Federal Security Service (FSB) until earlier this year, on its wanted list for his alleged involvement in the January 2004 kidnapping of a family – a man, along with his wife, mother and two sisters – in Grozny’s Staropromyslovsky district. Kommersant reported on September 25 that the kidnappers had never put forward any demands, and that investigators believe the five family members, who have never been found, were murdered. Suspicions reportedly fell on Baisarov after witnesses claimed he had accused the head of the kidnapped family of killing his brother. The newspaper Gazeta reported on September 25 that a member of the Gorets unit was also behind the June 2003 kidnapping of three FSB officers, who were later rescued, but not before being severely tortured.

While the Gorets unit was removed from the FSB and was supposed to have been put under the command of the Interior Ministry, forces loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov have reportedly blockaded the unit at its base in the Chechen village of Pobedinskoe for a number of months, and some observers have speculated that the two sides were on the brink of an armed conflict (Chechnya Weekly, August 17 and September 15). Kadyrov reportedly met on September 22 with members of the Gorets unit, as well as the commanders of the recently-formed Yug (South) and Sever (North) battalions of the federal Interior Ministry (Muslim Ilyasov and Alibek Delimkhanov, respectively). During the meeting, he reportedly accused Baisarov of involvement in the January 2004 kidnapping and involvement with “forces who are trying to shatter the peace that has arrived in Chechnya.” Newsru.com reported on September 25 that during the meeting, Kadyrov also denied that the Gorets unit had been blockaded and dismissed the reports that the two sides were on the verge of a battle as a “provocation,” adding that “nothing of the kind” was being considered. “We are working for the good of the people,” Kadyrov said. “We must work according to the republic’s constitution.”

Baisarov, for his part, said in a pair of interviews – one with Ekho Moskvy radio on September 21, the other published in the Gazeta newspaper on September 26 – that the allegations that he and his unit were involved in the June 2003 abduction of the FSB officers and the January 2004 kidnapping of the family in Grozny were false and that forces loyal to Kadyrov had indeed blockaded his unit. Baisarov, who was formerly a bodyguard to Ramzan Kadyrov’s father, Akhmad Kadyrov, said he thought that the younger Kadyrov was trying to eliminate potential competitors, adding that Chechnya was today subject to “the laws of the younger Kadyrov.”