On May 25, President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with Russian Cossack leaders in Rostov-on-Don, the political center of southern Russia. During the meeting, the Cossacks expressed to the president their concern about the current situation in the North Caucasus, especially the continuing violence in the Chechen republic. They proposed forming special Cossack military units “to restore order on Chechen territory.” Vladimir Putin immediately rejected this idea, saying Chechens should restore order in Chechnya themselves.
However, Russian Cossacks are not the only ones who have doubts about Moscow’s so-called “Chechenization” policy. At the start of this year, the Kremlin appeared ready to change its policy in Chechnya from “Chechenization” to “Russification” of the conflict. At that time, Vladimir Savchenko, head of the Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate, announced the formation of a new police unit made up of both experienced Russian and Chechen police officers. The idea was to strengthen the position of Alu Alkhanov, Chechnya’s pro-Kremlin president, by clipping the wings of Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, and to establish a police force that could do what local security forces had failed to do effectively – fight the rebels (see Chechnya Weekly, February 23).
Nevertheless, several months after Savchenko’s announcement, nothing else has been heard about the special police unit, while Alu Alkhanov’s position remains weak. Alkhanov continues to play the role of a talking head whose mission is to go around the globe telling stories about the atmosphere of peace and creativity in Chechnya. Even though Ramzan Kadyrov is not as powerful a figure now as he used to be, he is still “top dog” in the pro-Kremlin camp in Chechnya – and the kadyrovstsy, his guard, continue to conduct mopping-up operations and secret detentions in Chechnya with the support of Russian forces.
In short, the Chechenization policy continues – and apparently, Russian authorities are still convinced that it is the only way to resolve the “Chechen problem” which has so plagued the Kremlin.
Nevertheless, complaints about this policy can be heard throughout the country. Human rights activists and democratic leaders claim the Kremlin is supporting local criminals who have simply changed their loyalties. While these voices are too weak to be heard by the Russian authorities, dissatisfaction with Chechenization is now more often expressed by those whose opinions the Kremlin cannot ignore – security officials.
Unlike independent public figures, officers of the security agencies are not allowed to take part in open discussions or to criticize official policy, especially regarding such issues as policy towards Chechnya. But they can speak out anonymously, and through journalists and media sources controlled by them. For example, during serious discussions earlier this year about whether Chechenization should continue, representatives of the Chechen branch of the FSB (Federal Security Service) who masterminded a plan to topple Ramzan Kadyrov and to concentrate the power over all local forces in Alkhanov’s hands used Moskovsky komsomolets to express their views (see Chechnya Weekly, February 23).
The fact that many security officials are not happy with Chechenization becomes obvious when one analyzes recent articles published in media outlets with close ties to military and security circles.
Kavkaz-strana.ru, an official source that has close ties with security officials in Chechnya, wrote in an article published last November 11 that “not all former gunmen have become loyal to the authorities after being amnestied and getting jobs.” Another article, published by the website on April 12 and entitled “The Campaign to Forgive Gunmen Produces Turncoats,” said that according to military intelligence, there were attempts to legalize members of the bandit underground by hiring them in the Chechen presidential security service, which is well known to be under the control of Ramzan Kadyrov. The author of the article also expressed concern about the fact that “there are people in the press-services of the president of Chechnya and of the Chechen government, who are now as active as before, when they worked for other masters – terrorists and bandits”. The article said that one of Alkhanov’s image-makers used to be a press secretary for Aslan Maskhadov, the separatist president killed in Chechnya this past March, while another used to work for a TV channel owned by Shamil Basaev. The special services suspect that some of these former rebels did not break with the separatists, and are “loyal to the legitimate authorities only in words.”
Kavkaz-strana.ru is unhappy with the fact that a Chechen official told a German journalist that Aslan Maskhadov was the only person “on the other side” with whom it was possible to negotiate, and that the situation in the republic would deteriorate after his death. The website also reported that somebody removed from the official publication of an interview with Alkhanov such phrases as “We want to live in the brotherly family of the peoples of Russia” and “One cannot see a monument to Dudaev or Maskhadov in the Republic.”
It is interesting that the person whom the author referred to as an image-maker for Alkhanov is Taus Dzhabrailov, Chairman of the Chechen Republic’s State Council and the number-three figure in the republican hierarchy after Alkhanov and Ramzan Kadyrov. Dzhabrailov was indeed at one time a press secretary for Maskhadov, and the FSB apparently still does not trust him completely.
If even Dzhabrailov is blacklisted by FSB, what about ordinary Chechen policemen and officials who used to work for the separatists? That is why security officials do not like the idea of further Chechenization. They are totally against granting more economic autonomy to the Chechen government. “Even now we do have not sufficient control of the budget money being spent in the region,” Ilya Shabalkin, press spokesman for the federal forces in Chechnya told kavakz-strana.ru on January 25. Shabalkin intimated that there was a threat that some of the money was going to the insurgents.
Kavkaz.strana.ru is full of stories about how Russian officers were killed because they were betrayed by Chechen policemen, about kadyrovtsy who simply pretend to fight the insurgency and about corrupt Chechen officials who pretend that they love Russia. It looks like the FSB-controlled website is aimed at discrediting the Kremlin’s official policy of Chechenization and providing more economic freedom to the pro-Russian authorities.
Articles on the website, like those published by other sources of this kind, demonstrate the current mood of Russian security officials: tired of guerilla warfare, they want to go back to the tactics of General Yermolov, who did not try to find Chechens loyal to Russia because he regarded all Chechens as belonging to a hostile nation.