Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 32

Writing in the August 28 issue of Novaya gazeta, Anna Politkovskaya envisioned a scenario in which rival federal security agencies might end up backing rival presidential candidates–with the FSB behind Kadyrov and the GRU signaling a possible switch to another contender.

According to Politkovskaya’s sources, Moscow has warned Kadyrov that it can no longer guarantee his personal safety. She wrote in an August 28 article that “this is very significant–it seems that the Kremlin is preparing to give up its old ally…i.e., to deprive him of the ‘administrative resources’ without which he is an empty vessel.” Kadyrov’s gunmen are threatening to take to the woods again as guerrillas if necessary.

Politkovskaya met with the one-armed Said-Magomed Kokiev, whom she called a “key figure” and whose support is sought by various presidential candidates looking for a force capable of resisting Kadyrov’s gunmen. Kokiev is a major in the GRU with 386 highly trained men under his command, and is based on the outskirts of Grozny. Recently he also became deputy head of the military command for Chechnya, responsible for the entire western half of the republic. This means that he and his troops will dictate the election returns in that half. On top of that, he is a “bridge” to the 86,000 federal troops (to use the figure of the Russian General Staff) now stationed in Chechnya. According to Politkovskaya’s sources, these troops will cast almost one-third of the votes necessary to win in October.

Kokiev had never previously agreed to be interviewed by Politkovskaya, and in her view their conversation is yet one more signal that the Kremlin is no longer placing all its chips on Kadyrov. The GRU major told her that “his” candidate at that point was Dzhabrailov. “I am not against Kadyrov,” he explained, “I cannot be against the man designated by the president [that is, Putin]. It’s just that since 1991 I have rejected the path of robbery and murder. People are disappearing, being robbed. How can one close one’s eyes to this? But he [Kadyrov] has closed his own….We have already had gunfights with the Kadyrov people. I don’t have the right to stand aside, I’ve already lost too many of my own men.”

Asked why he had picked Dzhabrailov (who, as the item above indicates, has since withdrawn from the race) rather than some other opposition candidate, Kokiev said that the Moscow businessman had been the only one to provide material support to him and other Chechens opposed to the separatist Dudaev government from 1991 onward. Politkovskaya objected that as an army officer, surely Kokiev would have to vote as ordered by his superiors, but he answered “No, there will be no order; I know that.”

As Politkovskaya sees it, Kokiev’s counterpart for eastern Chechnya is Sulim Yamadaev–well-known as a strong Kadyrov supporter. He and the other members of his influential family, in her view, are “FSB people” who function more or less openly under that agency’s “patronage and sponsorship.” Thus the FSB is dominating one half of Chechnya and the GRU the other, each acting through its own Chechen middleman.

Kokiev told Politkovskaya that he will not even try to work for honest elections: That would only increase the risk of bloodshed, which however is inevitable in any case. In his view either the Kadyrov forces will continue their current reign of terror, or they will suffer revenge from their many enemies within Chechnya.

Seemingly by chance, Sulim Yamadaev visited Kokiev during Politkovskaya’s visit. One can only guess the subject of their discussion, or its result.