Late in 2002, the third year of the second Chechen military campaign, the Kremlin started to implement its policy of “Chechenization.” The idea was to make Chechens fight Chechens in order to save the lives of Russian soldiers and to transfer the burden of war on to the local authorities. Since the start of this year, however, more and more signs have appeared suggesting that some of decision-makers in Moscow want to end the Chechenization strategy.
The Kremlin has been systematically building a pro-Russian power structure in Chechnya. Just like the power structure in Russia as a whole, this structure was expected to be a pyramid, with one man on the top responsible for everything in the troubled region. Akhmad Kadyrov, a former mufti, was chosen for this role. His death last May ruined all the plans. The pro-Russian Chechen camp was immediately divided into various factions. Ruslan Yamadaev, leader of the Yamadaev brothers’ clan from the town of Gudermes, Ramzan Kadyrov, son of the murdered president, and Aslanbek Aslakhanov, a Moscow Chechen and a former police general, all wanted to run for the republic’s presidency.
The Kremlin bet on a man who had no supporters and really did not even want to take the dangerous post. As a result, Chechnya’s Interior Minister Alu Alkhanov became the new pro-Russian president, while his rivals received certain consolation prizes. The Hero of Russia medal, the highest Russian award, was given to Ruslan Yamadaev, and Ramzan Kadyrov retained control over his personal guard.
At the same time, the military situation in the North Caucasus continued to deteriorate. The more rebels attacked Russian troops, the more angry Russian military and security officials became with the Chechen police and Ramzan Kadyrov’s forces. It became clear that Ramzan was simply unable to keep his promise to destroy the resistance and catch rebel leaders Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Basaev. On December 13 last year, Sekretny Materialy Rossii, a website very close to the Federal Security Service (FSB), published an article that sharply criticized Kadyrov’s followers, known as kadyrovtsy. The article gave examples of the inefficiency of the pro-Russian Chechen forces’ anti-guerilla operations. According to the website, on the night of October 31, the kadyrovtsy were supposed to lay an ambush near Turti-Khutor village while the police spetznaz (special forces) were supposed to do the same in the village of Gansolchu. However, the kadyrovtsy spent the night in the village club and the policemen in an empty house (see Informacia.ru, December 12, 2004 ). “What normalization of life in Chechnya can one talk about if the local law enforcement agencies put more and more obstacles in the way of special operations conducted by the federal troops?”, the article concluded.
The Hero of Russia medal that was awarded to Ramzan Kadyrov on December 29 was regarded by some people as a sign that his influence in Chechnya was declining. Ruslan Yamadaev had received the medal when he lost his bid to be chosen by the Kremlin for the post of Chechen president. Rumors started to circulate that Kadyrov would be given a post in Moscow and would leave Chechnya.
It was announced on January 27 that a new security service reporting directly to Alu Alkhanov rather than to Ramzan is being created in the republic (see Chechnya Weekly, volume 6, issue 5). Kommersant reported on January 28 that members of the new guard will be selected by Russians rather than by Alkhanov. Clearly, Chechen policemen who have never been in the rebels’ camp will be given priority. According to Vladimir Savchenko, Head of the Internal Affairs Directorate of the Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate in the Southern Federal District, the unit would be made up of experienced members of OMON special police units, SOBR special rapid deployment units and criminal investigation units from all of the Southern Federal District’s regions (see Chechnya Weekly, volume 6, issue 5). This means that the new service will be a Russian unit, not a Chechen unit. It will include only a few Chechens who proved their loyalty to the Russian Federation. If this force materializes, there is no need for federal authorities to continue to support the army of former rebels who are under Ramzan Kadyrov’s command. Kommersant on January 28 quoted a source in the office of Dmitry Kozak, President Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, as saying that Moscow wanted to get rid of Kadyrov and that his scandalous raid to Dagestan, during which he and his men stormed the police department in Khasavyurt, was the last straw for the Russian authorities.
According to the Grani.ru and Gazeta.ru websites (on February 1 and February 7, respectively), Alkhanov met with Ramzan in Grozny on January 27 to persuade him to resign and leave Chechnya for Moscow. This reportedly enraged Kadyrov, who refused and threatened to initiate an armed uprising by his supporters. After the meeting, Kadyrov rushed to a local TV station, where he made a speech and accused the Chechen police, who are under Alkhanov’s command, of collaborating with the rebels. The following day, Kadyrov ordered his squads to move to the Vedeno district, which is mainly controlled by separatist guerillas, in order to prove his strength and influence. In fact, the kadyrovtsy had nothing to be afraid of since, as Ramzan knew full well, the separatists were obeying Aslan Maskhadov’s ceasefire order at that time. The Kremlin, however, was frightened by his frank public statements about the situation in the republic and his threats. Gazeta.ru reported that on February 5 Alkhanov and Kadyrov were invited to Moscow for talks. The result of the negotiations was that the status quo would be maintained in the relations between the two pro-Russian Chechen leaders.
However, the Chechen branch of the FSB, which masterminded the plan to topple Ramzan and to concentrate all local forces in Alkhanov’s hands, continued to fight against Kadyrov. On February 14, Moskovsky komsomolets quoted an anonymous high-ranking official from the Chechen Republic’s FSB Directorate as saying that there was a diarchy in the republic, consisting of President Alkhanov and Ramzan Kadyrov. The officer also complained that the FSB could not totally control Kadyrov and his armed formations. The officer rejected the view that the kadyrovtsy would join the rebels if the federals would start “to work on them.” This phrase suggests that FSB is trying hard to get permission from the Kremlin to start a repression campaign against Ramzan and his people. Apparently inspired by the federal authorities, Moskovsky komsomolets published an article in which Kadyrov was accused of having secret links with Shamil Basaev. The newspaper suggested that Aslan Maskhadov is also interested in having Ramzan rule Chechnya because this would create instability and make it easier for Maskhadov to hide.
After the newspaper had published this article, Ramzan tried to fight back. Speaking on Radio Liberty on February 18, he called the author of the article “a liar” and sent an open letter to the editor-in-chief of Moskovsky komsomolets, which was published in the newspaper on February 21. Ramzan listed in his letter his deeds in fighting terrorism in Chechnya and specifically mentioned that he had “nothing in common with Maskhadov or Basaev, who are enemies of my people.”
It is still not clear who will win in the standoff between the federal authorities and Ramzan Kadyrov, but what one can say for sure is that the Russian siloviki would like to go back to 1999, when there was no Chechenization and all the rebels were enemies. Russian security officials are trying to restore a pure occupation regime in Chechnya. Clearly, they only trust people like Alkhanov, who fought on the Russian side from the very beginning of the Chechen conflict. This means that federal authorities do not want to have any more amnesties for the rebels and are going to “take no prisoners.”
However, the Kremlin should understand that this strategy is the quickest way to lose the war. In any case, one can now see that neither the Chechenization policy nor direct occupation has produced any positive results, and that neither is capable of bringing the war to an end.