Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 5

President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitry Kozak, denied reports in the Russian press that Chechen President Alu Alkhanov will be replaced by Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov in the near future. Kommersant wrote on January 25 that Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov’s elevation to the post of the republic’s president may be imminent. The newspaper reported that according to procedure, Kozak would have to send the president the names of two candidates for the post of Chechen president, and that Kadyrov had himself, during a republican government meeting on January 19, put forward Minister of Labor and Social Protection Magomed Vakhaev as the second presidential candidate. “Everyone perfectly understood that Ramzan Kadyrov, in fact, does not plan to cede the presidential post to anyone,” Kommersant wrote. It cited an unnamed source in Kozak’s office as saying that Vakhaev had been nominated as a second presidential candidate simply to make it appear as if there was more than one candidate, but that Putin would ask Chechnya’s parliament to confirm Kadyrov as president. Alkhanov, the paper claimed, would be given a high post in the federal Interior Ministry (Chechnya Weekly, January 25).

However, Kozak later told journalists on January 25 that he had heard “those two names” – Kadyrov and Vakhaev – “with surprise.” Vremya novostei, on January 26, quoted Kozak as having said that the question of “replacing the president in Chechnya is not being considered and not being discussed.” The newspaper also quoted Alkhanov, who on January 25, received a federal government award honoring his 50th birthday and his services in rebuilding Chechnya, as saying that the rumors about him stepping down before the end of his term in 2008 were baseless and being spread by those who want to “destabilize” the situation.

Kommersant, however, continued to insist that Kadyrov’s elevation into the Chechen presidency is imminent. In the January 29 edition of its weekly magazine, Vlast, it quoted the speaker of the Chechen People’s Assembly, Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, as saying that the change in power could happen “very soon” and that Kadyrov would “certainly” become the republic’s president. According to Vlast, unnamed sources from Kozak’s office confirmed Abdurakhmanov’s prediction.

Likewise, Vyacheslav Izmailov and Anna Lebedeva wrote in the January 29 edition of Novaya gazeta that the Kremlin has apparently decided “not to torment the population of the republic with a formal diarchy for the remaining year-and-a-half of Alkhanov’s presidency and to place Chechnya fully under Ramzan, given that he guarantees that it will remain part of Russia.”

Kadyrov, meanwhile, said that he plans to invite journalists and human rights activists to visit Chechnya and see for themselves the processes taking place there and to make an assessment of them, RIA Novosti reported on January 31. “Sometimes we are reproached for not using the right methods, but in a ruined republic, all manpower and resources had to be channeled into creating the foundations for the people’s future lives,” Kadyrov said during a meeting with representatives of youth organizations at the Chechen government’s headquarters. According to RIA Novosti, he said journalists and rights activists would be able to visit “any part of the republic to talk to people” and “given unrestricted access wherever they go.” He added: “I will be glad to listen to their criticisms and suggestions.” He also said that he would discuss the republic’s new economic development strategy with them. Kadyrov vowed that the republic’s infrastructure would be repaired and unemployment reduced to no more than 15 percent within three years.

On January 29, Kadyrov vowed to conduct an all-out fight against “Wahhabism,” the Caucasus Times reported. “The Chechen people did not initially accept Wahhabism, although hundreds of foreign mercenaries and so-called preachers who infiltrated the Chechen Republic from other regions and CIS countries tried to enforce it here,” he told reporters. “However, the Chechen people made their choice and Wahhabism could not take root among the Chechen people.” According to the website, Kadyrov said that “practically the entire nation,” realizing “the danger that Wahhabism might cause,” rose up to fight it and that as a result, “that evil was dealt with.” He added: “I meet with representatives of the clergy every day. I can see that our youth are on the path of true Islam and are practicing the religion that has existed for more than 1,400 years, and by eliminating Wahhabis, we have carried out the will of the Prophet Muhammad.” Islamic scholars “hundreds of years ago” were already “aware of the evil that could be caused by people promoting Wahhabism,” Kadyrov said. “But I believe that Wahhabis should be fought not only in Chechnya but also in any other place where they can try to rear their head. We have experience in doing this and we can help our neighbors with this.”