Ramzan Kadyrov Fails to Demonstrate His Counter-Insurgency Capabilities

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 26

It seems that the Kremlin has decided to give its proxy in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, another chance to prove his ability to restore order in the volatile region. In May, there were rumors in the republic that Kadyrov would be replaced as the local leader by Ruslan Yamadaev, who heads the clan of the Yamadaev brothers, which opposes Kadyrov. According to other rumors, if not Kadyrov, at least his closest allies among Chechen officials—Prime Minister Odes Baisultanov or Muslim Khuchiev, the mayor of the republican capital Grozny—would have to go. Some observers expected that after a visit to the republic by Vladimir Ustinov, the newly appointed Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, Baisultanov would be replaced by a federal official—Oleg Zhidkov, who is deputy head of the Russian National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK) and a Federal Security Service (FSB) general (RBK Daily, June 3). It should be noted that Zhidkov used to be the mayor of Grozny.

None of these rumors, however, turned out to be true. On June 3, following Ustinov’s departure from Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov triumphantly declared at a meeting with his ministers and district chiefs: “No changes in the government are expected in the near future.” Kadyrov blamed the Yamadaev brothers for spreading such rumors and asked Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov “to take appropriate measures to neutralize the rumors” (RBK Daily, June 3).

Kadyrov already knew in early June that the Kremlin had decided to continue to support his regime, first of all with financial resources (North Caucasus Weekly, June 26). Nevertheless, the Chechen leader was fully aware that Moscow’s policy could change any time if there were no real success in fighting the insurgency, which has intensified its activity this summer. It was very important to Kadyrov to demonstrate to the Russian authorities, especially to the security officials, that the local police forces loyal to him are strong enough to fight the rebels and that no additional troops—like these of the Vostok battalion, which is under the control of the Yamadaev brothers—are needed any longer in Chechnya. At the same time, Kadyrov knew that his units cannot in reality defeat the militants, so his strategy was to involve Russian troops in joint operations, for which he could take credit were they successful. On June 18, Kadyrov convened the leaders of the republic’s security bodies and declared: “It is necessary to carry out a joint military operation. The units of the Russian Federation Defense Ministry, the Sever (North) and Yug (South) battalions, and the Akhmad Kadyrov regiment all should be put into action. Acting together we must put an end to these crimes” (North Caucasus Weekly, June 26).

The Russian military command in Chechnya needs a local partner on whom the main burden of the war against the militants can be put. This year, Russia’s generals, as well as some political leaders in Moscow, started to doubt that Kadyrov was the person to back in Chechnya. That was the main reason Kadyrov could not finish off the Vostok battalion and the Yamadaev brothers however hard he tried. The Russian generals needed to have an alternative to the Chechen leader. Now the Russian military wants to see what Kadyrov’s forces look like in practice.

After the rebel raid on Benoi village on June 18, combined forces of Russian troops and Kadyrov’s battalions moved to the Nozhai-Yurt district to conduct a large-scale mopping-up operation. According to the rebel Kavkaz-Center website, the Russian troops and Kadyrov’s forces surrounded almost all the district’s villages while mountain forests were shelled by artillery. The Russian troops did not go further into the woods, however, making the kadyrovtsy continue the offensive on their own. Well-armed and equipped with armored personnel carriers, Kadyrov’s units had the mission to find and destroy all rebel squads in southeastern Chechnya, mainly in the Vedeno district.

Skirmishes near the villages of Agish-Batoi and Dargo, where Akhmad Kadyrov’s regiment were ambushed, demonstrated that the kadyrovtsy were unable to fight in the Chechen mountains on their own. At the same time, Chechen policemen conducted an ill-calculated operation in southwestern Chechnya near the village of Roshni-Chu. On June 29, a group of Chechen policemen moved into a forest near a rebel base, bringing two relatives of a rebel with them. It is likely that the relatives were taken hostage in order to force the rebels to surrender. When the policemen and the civilians moved closer to the base, they were ambushed and killed (Interfax, June 29).

The most disappointing event for Ramzan Kadyrov happened the same day in the village of Elistanzhi in Vedeno district. According to Kavkaz-Center, dozens of rebels entered the village and attacked the Russian and Kadyrov’s garrisons (Yug battalion). The authorities initially tried to describe the event as little more than a quick hit-and-run attack, but then Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov had to admit that it was a rebel raid. On June 30, Alkhanov said that “the bandits aimed to terrorize us but failed to do it. Let the bandits be scared of us. … They will either sit in the prisoners’ dock or will be eliminated” (RIA Novosti, June 30).

It is noteworthy that Alkhanov said the same thing following the recent rebel raid on Benoi village. Such threats look empty, given that Kadyrov’s men have thus far failed to prove that they are the real masters of Chechnya.