Tensions Rising Between Kremlin And Kadyrov Clan

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 30

A strikingly candid discussion of the behind-the-scenes tensions between the Kremlin and the Kadyrov clan appeared on the Strana.ru website on July 23. The article by Fyodor Chekhoev predictably gave the Kremlin’s viewpoint—or at least the viewpoint of that faction within the Kremlin which is least sympathetic to the Kadyrovs—which probably makes it even more useful as a guide to the fault lines which may become chasms after Chechnya’s upcoming pseudo-election.

In Chekhoev’s view, it has not taken long to establish beyond any doubt that the pro-Moscow administration’s acting president Sergei Abramov is “not tough enough” to counter the raging ambitions of his nominal subordinate Ramzan Kadyrov. The latter has made little effort to conceal his active interest in “questions that extend far beyond the limits of his competence as a security officer.”

A recent example: In mid-July, Abramov signed a decree dismissing Adlan Magomadov from his post as the pro-Moscow administration’s representative to the Kremlin. Magomadov’s ostensible promotion to a position as an aide to Kremlin deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, according to Chekhoev’s sources, was planned not in Moscow but in the Kadyrov stronghold of Tsentoroi in eastern Chechnya. (Like others before him, Chekhoev made clear his firm belief that Tsentoroi, not Grozny, is now functioning as Chechnya’s de facto capital city.) Magomadov’s successor as emissary to the Kremlin is Ziyad Sabsabi, former chief of staff of the pro-Moscow administration’s cabinet, described by Chekhoev as “a loyal, proven member of the Kadyrov team.”

Chekhoev sees Alu Alkhanov’s loyalties as being up for grabs. The shoo-in favorite to be anointed in next month’s phony election is seen simultaneously as the candidate of the “Kadyrov team” and as the Kremlin’s choice to run Chechnya. The contradictions between those two roles are already hard to conceal, and, in Chekhoev’s view, they will inevitably grow more serious.

Alkhanov’s “main plus” from Moscow’s standpoint, according to Chekhoev, is his willingness to be controlled by Moscow. From that standpoint, the whole point of the upcoming election is to bring Chechnya back under federal control after the excessive independence of the elder Kadyrov. “The main question of the elections is this: Whose candidate will Alkhanov be?”, Chekhoyev wrote. The Kremlin wants a scenario in which Alkhanov gradually increases the role of officials and servicemen loyal to Moscow and weakens that of the unreliable former rebel guerrillas who make up the backbone of Ramzan Kadyrov’s personal army.

“Unfortunately, for the time being the balance of forces is on the side of the Kadyrov team,” Chekhoev wrote. Ramzan sticks close to Alkhanov, accompanying him even to events “which have nothing to do with his [Ramzan’s] security duties.”

Chekhoev sees hardly any chance that the conflict of interests between Moscow and Tsentoroi will be resolved before the August 29 election, since any outcome might destabilize the situation in a manner which nobody needs at this point. But after that, an increasingly open conflict seems unavoidable.

Another indication of the tensions between Ramzan and the Kremlin came in the July 21 edition of Russky kurier, which quoted on unnamed official of the pro-Moscow administration’s Interior Ministry on the deployment of a new elite regiment which will apparently act independently of Ramzan’s private army. The official hinted that the latter might even be disbanded, saying that “no spontaneous organization following its own rules will exist any longer.”

Andrei Riskin, a long-time critic of the Kadyrov family, provided more details about this new unit in Nezavisimaya gazeta on July 22. In what may have been wishful thinking on his part, Riskin presented the decision to liquidate Ramzan’s “presidential security service” as an established fact. The new regiment, according to Riskin’s sources, will formally belong to the Chechen Republic’s Interior Ministry but will have authority to take part in “anti-terrorist” operations outside the republic. The formation of the new unit was said to be nearly complete as of early last week; reportedly it has even been equipped with armored personnel carriers.

Unlike Ramzan’s private army, it would seem that the new unit will not be particularly hospitable to new recruits from among the ex-rebel guerrillas. In a July 26 article for the Politcom.ru website, Tatyana Stanovaya quoted State Duma deputy Frants Klintsevich as insisting that the regiment should be selective in its personnel policies. He also said that ex-members of the presidential security service should understand that “as a rule they have all been amnestied, and there’s plenty of work to do in the republic now—let them go off and work. It is necessary to restore Chechnya, and strong young men are needed everywhere now…Or they could be assigned to other organs. Today we need to take a look at, and perhaps even purge, the other structures of the interior ministry and fill them with sensible young men.” As Stanovaya observed, these words suggest that young Kadyrov “may find himself deprived of those very ex-guerrillas who have formed the core of his support.”

An official close to the Kadyrov clan, however, took pains to deny the reports that Ramzan’s personal security service is facing liquidation. On July 22, Muslim Khuchiev, a spokesman for acting president Abramov, called the reports “unfounded.” A July 26 article on the Gazeta.ru website quoted Khuchiev as insisting that “the presidential security service will be preserved as it is, with Ramzan Kadyrov, the first vice prime minister of the Chechen government, at its head, regardless of the creation of a special-purpose police regiment under the Interior Ministry.” On the other hand, Ruslan Yamadaev, a Chechen deputy in the State Duma and leader in the pro-Putin United Russia party, told Gazeta.ru that “nearly 100 percent of the staff of the former security force of Akhmad Kadyrov will join the regiment. But, unlike the presidential security guard service, that regiment will be entirely subordinated to the Interior Ministry.”

Adding his voice to the critics of the presidential security guard was Beslan Gantamirov, the former Grozny mayor and former member of the elder Kadyrov’s cabinet. He told Moskovsky komsomolets in an interview published on July 22 that it is impossible either to disband that unit or to keep it in its present form. Gantamirov charged that “in fact, it has not really engaged in battle with the [rebel] guerrillas—not now and not previously. In the best case, it has walked up to the edge of the woods, bringing along journalists and giving eloquent interviews, fired into the air and then returned. Only two battalions have really fought the guerrillas—those led by Kakiyev and Yamadayev and the Chechen OMON.”

According to Riskin of Izvestia, Ramzan has now further strengthened the federal center’s distrust of him with his recent statement that if the Chechen people should call on him to start fighting the Russians again, he and his men would dutifully do so.