The recent murder of Movladi Baisarov, a pro-Russian Chechen field commander, in a shootout in Moscow has trigged a discussion about the uneasy relations between Ramzan Kadyrov, the most influential leader in the pro-Russian Chechen camp, and Russian security officials. Movladi Baisarov was the commander of one of the numerous death squads operating in Chechnya that carry out special missions given to them by the Federal Security Service (FSB) and military intelligence (GRU). Baisarov was killed because of a serious conflict between him and Ramzan Kadyrov. It is no secret that as soon as the FSB withdrew its men who had been guarding Baisarov, he was killed by Kadyrov’s men in the Russian capital. The fact that the FSB resisted Kadyrov’s attempts to eliminate Baisarov for quite some time suggests that a conflict between Kadyrov and the federal security officials may actually exist.
In an article published by Gazeta.ru on November 24, Yulia Latynina, a Russian journalist who regards Ramzan Kadyrov as the best solution for Russia to solve the old and irritating “Chechen problem,” said that low-ranking FSB officers – “majors and colonels” – could be behind this anti-Kadyrov plot, but that President Vladimir Putin did not take them seriously. The situation, however, could become more complicated if the FSB as a whole, and not just a number of its officers, opposed Ramzan Kadyrov.
On October 5, Ramzan Kadyrov reached the age of 30 – the minimum age, according to Chechnya’s constitution, to become Chechen president. Many observers in Russia believed at the time that Putin would soon appoint him to the Chechen presidency. This, however, did not happen. Moreover, it was evident even before Kadyrov’s birthday that there were forces that were blocking his presidential ambitious.
On September 27, just eight days before his 30th birthday, Ramzan Kadyrov stunned the public with a statement that there had been two attempts on his life and that both of them had been organized by special services (Interfax, September 27). Kadyrov did not explain which special services he meant, but it is unlikely that any of them were of foreign origin. He may have been referring to the Russian special services or those of the Chechen rebels.
The first open confrontation between Ramzan Kadyrov and the FSB occurred late last August, when Ramzan Kadyrov organized a spectacular show, during which dozens of former insurgents surrendered their weapons and were personally pardoned by Kadyrov. This scene was broadcast by all of Russia’s TV channels and covered widely by the Russian press. Two days later, on August 31, Sergei Bogomolov, the acting chairman of the Chechen branch of the FSB, declared that “the facts of the militants’ surrender are being juggled by the Chechen law-enforcement agencies” (Kavkazky Uzel, August 31). This statement was a direct blow to Kadyrov and his reputation.
In early November, some FSB-controlled Russian media sources initiated a campaign against Ramzan Kadyrov. “Bandit formations in Chechnya are still threatening factors and local security officials do not fully realize it…saying that there are few militants in the republic,” wrote German Pronin in an article published on November 15 by Utro.ru. Pronin was clearly referring to Kadyrov, who has repeated from time to time that there are almost no rebels left in the republic. It should be noted that Pronin specifically criticized the work of two Chechen senior police officers who are very close to Kadyrov. Pronin stated that Chechens who had been fighting on the Russian side for many years, like Musa Gazimagomedov and Buvadi Dakhiev, had been killed, while former rebel field commanders like Artur Akhmadov and Adam Demilkhanov occupied high positions in law-enforcement agencies or in the regional government. Pronin added that the Chechen police were full of traitors who provided the insurgency with intelligence while Russian servicemen were being killed every day. “In August 2006 alone, during the period of the so-called ‘peaceful construction and resurrection of the republic,’ Russian security officials lost 30 men in Chechnya,” Pronin wrote. “It is a pity that the Kremlin does not subscribe to the Chechen newspapers where complaints against the central government are sometimes the same as they were during the Ichkeria period” [when the separatists were in power in Chechnya].
The day after Utro.ru ran Pronin’s article, Moskovsky komsomolets published an article stating that Russian troops continue to suffer heavy casualties in Chechnya, but that very few people know about this. The author’s article, Vladimir Rechkalov, mentioned heavy casualties among the military’s special forces in Chechnya’s mountains two months ago, a fact that was not reported in the media. Rechkalov hinted in his article that important changes were going to happen soon in Chechnya. The journalist pointed out two indications of this – the appointment of an ethnic Russian as the new deputy Interior Minister of Chechnya and the disappearance of Ramzan Kadyrov from Russian TV screens.
What changes could Rechkalov, a Russian journalist long known to have connections with the FSB, be talking about? The deteriorating military situation in Chechnya is forcing Russian security officials, both the FSB and the military, to look for new options and scapegoats. The Russian siloviki are proposing to the Kremlin to forget about Chechenization and go back to the old General Yermolov-style tactics of mass terror and large-scale zachistki – “mopping up” operations – in Chechen towns and villages. Officials of law-enforcement agencies are suggesting, “One should act even harsher in the republic,” Pronin wrote, adding: “Otherwise one day the rebels will go beyond the Chechen borders to spread the war into other regions.”
As for a scapegoat for their military failures in Chechnya, the security officials believe that Ramzan Kadyrov could be the best candidate. It seems that whenever their commander-in-chief criticizes them for their inability to solve “the Chechen problem,” the FSB and military leaders readily point to Kadyrov as the main obstacle for victory over the Chechen insurgency.