Still Betting on Kadyrov: The Kremlin’s Strategy in Chechnya

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 4

Last year was a fairly successful one for Ramzan Kadyrov, even though his main goal – to become the republic’s president – has remained unmet. The conditions within the republic are such, however, that none can doubt that Kadyrov is the only man in charge. Kadyrov is currently the only significant political figure remaining in Russian-controlled Chechnya. He continues to be invincible and free from competition due to his special relationship with the Kremlin leadership, specifically the patronage of Vladislav Surkov and the benevolent attitude of Vladimir Putin. It is not surprising that Kadyrov’s personal website cites the endorsements of only these two men, since any other opinion would be largely superfluous [1].

Thanks to the influence of the Kremlin, all other Chechen politicians have gradually disappeared from the public eye, including such men as Beslan Gantamirov, the Yamadaev brothers, Kakiev and many others. Gantamirov’s attempts in 2006 to oppose Kadyrov, along with the petitions asking Moscow to reign in its pawn, led to naught. The insults directed at Gantamirov by Kadyrov’s men during a so-called roundtable discussion clearly revealed that Moscow is not interested in creating a political counterweight to Kadyrov within the republic (APN, September 14, 2006). Movsar Baisarov made the mistake of thinking that he could act as an official opposition while hiding behind the backs of his FSB backers. However, even these backers were unable to prevent the bloody resolution of the Baisarov-Kadyrov conflict [2]. It is even possible that certain circles within the FSB wanted to use the situation as a way of feeling out the Kremlin’s attitude toward the possibility of an opposition camp within Russian-controlled Chechnya. The result is now well known – murder on the streets of Moscow – and was a convincing demonstration to all those who continued to foolishly believe that it was still possible for someone except Kadyrov to secure Moscow’s backing.

The timid steps of Alu Alkhanov, the president of the Chechen republic, to pull together a coalition of those inclined to stand against Kadyrov (B. Gantamirov, S. Yamadaev, M. Kakiev, M. Baisarov, etc.), failed completely. It is worth remembering that Alkhanov was the only person to publicly express his condolences for the murdered Movsar Baisarov. It was a vague demonstration of independence, an attempt to show that Alkhanov could still have his own point of view, independent of Prime Minister Kadyrov. Yet, it was such an insignificant demonstration; a declaration so uncertain that it was drowned out by Alkhanov’s other statements, including one suggesting that the “law enforcement has yet to properly evaluate the actions of the Chechen OMON.” All of this has led certain observers to label the “incident on the Leninskii prospect of the capital as a demonstrative execution, something that Kadyrov’s men had never dared to do before” (, November 20, 2006).

Sadly, certain serious western analysts have drawn far-reaching conclusions based upon articles published in the Russian media. For example, the works of journalists such as Vadim Rechkalov and Yulia Kalinina can only be treated as attempts at humor. One recent article penned by Rechkalov suggests that Alu Alkhanov may be replaced by Magomet Vakhaev, the Chechen minister of labor (Moskovskii Komsomolets, January 20). The article completely ignores the fact that Vakhaev has no real influence within the Chechen political elite and is simply one of Ramzan Kadyrov’s many pawns.

The Kremlin is still betting on Kadyrov, which means that 2007 will bring many more declarations about the increasingly stable situation in Chechnya. This makes Ramzan a juicy target for the Chechen resistance (which has shifted back to the tactics of Aslan Maskhadov, with its simultaneous attacks across all of Chechnya and away from the large, elaborately planned operations typical of Shamil Basaev), especially since it has no military victories to brag about since the ascension of Dokku Umarov to the post of resistance leader.

Kadyrov’s elaborate claims about improving life in Chechnya are demonstrably untrue. The exodus of Chechens from the Russian Federation continues and uncorroborated data shows the presence of over 100,000 Chechen refugees across Europe. 27,000 Chechens crossed the western border of Belarus during the past three years, though the main outflow continues though the Ukraine [3]. The numerous amnesties, intended to show that someone, somewhere is surrendering, have become a media spectacle, even for the Russian public. Not a single resistance fighter surrendered during the last several months, necessitating the use of Zelikhman Yandarbiev’s relatives to demonstrate the results of a “successful amnesty.” The fact that these people had spent years living in their village and working in official government institutions was simply ignored. This is just another example of Russia’s inability to improve the situation in the region, and the sort of activity that has been recurring in the republic for the past seven years.

The unsettled situation in Chechnya and the North Caucasus region as well as throughout the Russian Federation is exemplified by the recent alarm raised by the Russian security services about “the possibility of a massive terrorist attack in Moscow.” The juxtaposition of the amnesties and the images of guerrillas gratefully surrendering to Ramzan Kadyrov as well as the endless announcements of Chechnya’s recovery alongside the increasing security precautions in Russia’s capital is startling. Ahmed Zakaev nicely pointed out that “the supposedly super-successful amnesty has not impacted those Chechens actually fighting, something implicitly confirmed by (the head of the FSB) Mr. Patrushev himself, since who can be left to fight if all of the guerillas have surrendered?” (Kommersant, January 18). This idea was echoed by the editor-in-chief of the “Ekho Moskvy” radio station. “It was a strange sort of governmental warning. Let me explain what bothered me about it. Six months ago, Shamil Basaev is killed, along with several other influential and terrible guerilla leaders. Every day we are told that life in Chechnya is becoming ever more normal and peaceful. And then, thunder out of a clear sky! A serous terrorist threat! Hadn’t we sorted all of them out?” [4].

It is this constant expectation of possible attacks by the Chechen resistance movement that makes Ramzan Kadyrov indispensable to Moscow. Kadyrov is the Kremlin within Chechnya – its face and its flesh. Without the support given him by Moscow, Kadyrov is nothing. All of Kadyrov’s power and cruelty, the fact that no control is exerted over him by those who have the ability to do so, all shows that today, he is needed as a player in Chechen affairs. Yet, even Ramzan himself cannot ignore the fact that at some point (in the not-so-distant future), he will cease to become a necessity and his career will end badly. But that is still in the future. Today, he is needed and will be needed as long as the Chechen resistance movement is active, since he has managed to make himself into a “heroic figure.” That said, there is some truth to Russian analyst Ruslan Martagov’s view that the war-weary Chechens are willing to temporarily accept the rules of the game currently established by the Kremlin in Chechnya and thus tolerate Kadyrov (Radio Svoboda, October 5, 2006).

In the end, the issue is not that Ramzan Kadyrov is the Kremlin’s puppet. It is the fact that he is given limitless power within the republic, and that he has superiors who are willing to let him do absolutely anything he wants. This is not just the crux of the problem, it is the very reason behind all of his actions in Chechnya today.




3. “Sovetskaia Belorussia,” #12, 22667, 01/19/2007.