Some people say that Chechnya’s pro-Russian leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, controls the republic firmly and has no rivals, at least in the Chechen pro-Russian camp. However, secret conflicts inside that camp surface from time to time, demonstrating that Kadyrov still has competitors in Chechnya.
Late in 2006, Movladi Baisarov, the commander of the Gorets (Russian for “highlander”) squad controlled by the Federal Security Service (FSB), was killed in Moscow by an agent of Kadyrov. About a week before from his murder, Baisarov gave an interview to Moscow News in which he criticized Kadyrov and mentioned some of the crimes committed by Kadyrov’s men against Chechen civilians. The Chechen president was apparently able to get rid of Baisarov once Baisarov’s murder was sanctioned by the FSB. The FSB leaders thought Baisarov had talked too much, and the kontora (the unofficial name for the FSB in Russia) no longer needed him.
However, Kadyrov did not stop simply with eliminating Baisarov. He initiated a campaign in Russia against Akhmed Khasambekov, head of the Investigation Bureau of the Russian Interior Ministry in Chechnya (ORB-2). Ramzan Kadyrov blamed ORB-2 for all human rights violations committed by security agencies in Chechnya.
In July 2007, Kadyrov forced the Russian authorities to replace Khasambekov with a Chechen police officer loyal to Ramzan. Nevertheless, Akhmed Khasambekov got the position of Deputy Head of the federal Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate for the Southern Federal District, so he is still able to control the entities he used to head.
In the wake of Movladi Baisarov’s murder and Khasambekov’s departure, the Yamadaev brothers’ time has come. Ruslan Yamadaev is currently a deputy in the State Duma while Sulim Yamadaev is the commander of the Vostok battalion, which is controlled by Russian military intelligence (GRU). The battalion is also part of the 42nd Russian Army stationed in Chechnya.
Kadyrov is using the same tactics that he used against Baisarov and Akhmed Khasambekov against the Yamadaev brothers. Razman points to the Vostok battalion as the unit responsible for all human rights violations in the region.
On February 26, Ramzan Kadyrov had a meeting in Grozny, the Chechen capital, to discuss the reconstruction process in Vedeno District, one of the “hottest” places in the republic. State Duma deputy Adam Demikhanov, a Kadyrov henchman, and Ruslan Alkhanov, Chechnya’s Interior Minister, told Kadyrov about their recent trip to Vedeno. Demilkhanov said that the residents of Vedevo fully support the Chechen president’s policy. According to Demikhanov, even relatives of rebels support Razman and condemn the militants. At the same time, civilians in the district complain about abuses committed by members of the Vostok battalion and are demanding that the authorities withdraw the unit from Vedeno. Kadyrov agreed that “if somebody oppresses our civilians we should consider all complaints” (Grozny-Info, February 26).
After the meeting, Demikhanov rushed to the local TV station, where he came down on Vostok more harshly. “The Vostok battalion is responsible for many crimes against civilians,” he said. “People complain and ask that the battalion be removed. They (members of battalion) have brought only evil to the district [Vedeno] and to the whole republic. They are of no use. They should be removed” (Forum.msk.ru, February 29).
Thus started a campaign of criticism against Vostok. In an interview with Chechen TV on March 5, Magomed Khambiev, a former rebel field commander who is now a close ally of Ramzan Kadyrov, named Vostok as one of the main reasons why young Chechens are still joining the insurgency. “There is no doubt that the Vostok battalion is a source of discomfort for our young people,” Khambiev said. “Its fighters detain anybody they want and beat them. Of course, there are good fighters in the battalion, but most of the unit members are drug addicts who kill people and ignore our traditions and all human laws. The Vostok battalion headed by Sulim Yamadaev commits grave crimes” (Regnum, March 5).
It is noteworthy that Khambiev called Vostok fighters drug addicts. In 2006, Adam Demilkhanov told Moscow News that Movladi Baisarov used heroin. Several days after the interview was published, Demilkhanov himself shot Baisarov in the center of Moscow.
On March 4, Razman Kadyrov appointed Chechen Deputy Interior Minister Shemil Magomaev the new head of Vedeno District. Kadyrov is trying his best to demonstrate to the Kremlin that he, unlike Yamadaev, can control the hotbed of the Chechen insurgency.
In order to weaken the Yamadaevs’ positions, Kadyrov met on February 19 with an ally of the brothers in Chechnya: Said-Magomed Kakiev, commander of the Zapad (West) battalion and a deputy military commandant of the republic. Kadyrov promised more financial support to Kakiev and his men. However, according to the Kavkaz-Center rebel website, Kakiev, who is fully aware of Ramzan’s plans to eliminate Vostok, does not want to get closer to the Chechen president. Kakiev understands that if Kadyrov manages to disarm Vostok, Zapad will be next.
At the same time, Razman Kadyrov is trying to take control of regional military registration and enlistment offices. Vostok and Zapad recruit new fighters through these offices, so to control them means to control recruitment for the battalions. Late last year, Kadyrov met with Said Selim Tsuev, the military commissar of Chechnya, and promised “large-scale support” to Chechnya’s enlistment offices (Grozny-Info, December 25, 2007).
The answer to the question of whether Kadyrov will win his battle with the Yamadaev brothers depends totally on the Kremlin and the Russian military command. Vostok plays a crucial role in Russian anti-insurgency tactics in Chechnya, so it will not be an easy decision to allow Razman to annihilate it. However, it seems that the Kremlin is interested in seeing just one pro-Russian dictator in the region, so political considerations may prevail over military ones.