The Increasingly Deadly Struggle for Power between Kadyrov and Alkhanov

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 37

The statements made by the pro-Moscow Chechen leaders Alu Alkhanov and Ramzan Kadyrov are becoming ever more comical as the two leaders consistently contradict each other while addressing the same issues. The complex relationship between the head of the pro-Moscow government, Ramzan Kadyrov, and the other local Russian pawn, the nominal president of the republic, Alu Alkhanov, has been a topic of discussion for a long time, starting almost immediately after the death of the previous pro-Russian leader, Ahmad-khaji Kadyrov. According to certain sources Ramzan Kadyrov, while still the interim head of the Chechen government, made it clear to Alu Alkhanov that he would not honor Alkhanov’s formal status and intends to be the sole leader of the republic. All of Alkhanov’s attempts to prove that he is actually part of the Kadyrov team have been futile.

The motivations for the conflict between Moscow’s Chechen pawns cannot simply be found within the republic. Ramzan Kadyrov has a powerful patron in the person of Vladislav Surkov, one of the most influential men to be found in the Administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Surkov seems to have convinced Putin that Kadyrov can be groomed, along Oriental lines, into a worthy successor to his slain father Ahmad. Alu Alkhanov, however, is supported by influential figures in the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB, who see in him a man that they can control. The only thing that stands in his way is Ramzan Kadyrov, who is never shy about portraying himself as Putin’s personal choice for republican leader.

Chechen sources note that this past July, while attending a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov warned that any minister meeting with Alu Alkhanov without Kadyrov’s permission would be fired immediately.

All of the republic’s media outlets are run with Kadyrov’s money, and it is unsurprising that Ramzan Kadyrov fills the TV screens from morning until night. Some Chechens don’t even know that Alkhanov is technically the republic’s president. With much of Chechnya working for him, Kadyrov behaves like an Oriental despot. He can order to have anyone arrested, and the man vanishes without a trace. He can have a criminal pardoned, regardless of Russia’s laws. He can give tens of thousands of dollars to someone on live local TV, or order a petitioner to be immediately helped by the republic’s officials. The list goes on and on. And people like it! This doesn’t necessarily mean that they love or support him, but they do like these types of actions and they like the results. This is particularly evident in the building boom that has hit the republic. Schools and hospitals are being rebuilt and mosques are being constructed, and all of this is portrayed as one of Kadyrov’s personal achievements. At the same time, all schools and mosques bear the name of A-h. Kadyrov, while anything to do with sports bears Ramzan’s own name. Almost all regions now have monuments dedicated to A-h. Kadyrov, and essentially all settlements must have a street named after the older Kadyrov as well.

This makes the conflict between Kadyrov and Alkhanov all the more obvious, as they deliberately contradict each other in everything they say. Alkhanov is actually afraid of openly criticizing his opponent and does everything behind the scenes, all the while hoping for Moscow’s support. In order to better illustrate just how the conflict between Moscow’s pawns unfolds, it is possible to focus on just ten out of the numerous disagreements between Alu Alkhanov and Ramzan Kadyrov.

1. The Presidential Elections. Though Kadyrov’s supporters like to emphasize that Ramzan supported Alkhanov as the only viable successor to A-h. Kadyrov during the republic’s presidential elections, this is not actually true (, August 30, 2004). How else can we make any sense of the fact that Kadyrov participated in the election as Vakha Visiev’s vice president. The entire republic was plastered with photographs and posters calling on people to choose Ramzan Kadyrov. Only Putin’s involvement during a meeting with both candidates, a meeting that took place on August 22, 2004, only four days before the election, changed the situation. According to the media, the meeting was called in order to end the conflict between the Kremlin’s two main protégés, showing that the choice was actually made in Moscow, not Grozny, thus exacerbating the problem (Kommersant, August 23, 2004).

2. The Parliament. The main “issue” in the parliamentary elections was the question of who would be able to show himself to be more loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov. Unsurprisingly this led to a parliament that was overwhelmingly dominated by Kadyrov’s supporters. The chair of the lower house, Dukvakh Abdurakhmanov, even declared that the parliament would support Kadyrov, the prime minister of Chechnya, should he declare his candidacy for the presidential post. Later, in August 2006, the parliament did almost everything possible to make way for Kadyrov’s candidacy by removing all age limitations and even, after Alkhanov made it clear that he would not vacate the post, changing the law so that the president would be elected by the parliament, and not by the general public.

3. The Shooting of Alkhanov’s Men. Two of Alkhanov’s men (from the so-called “Security Service of the President”) were killed and three civilians were injured during an attack in Chechnya. The men’s Zhiguli automobile was attacked in the Kurchaloev region of the republic, which is essentially in Kadyrov’s personal domain. The media attributed the killing to “members of one of the republic’s security services currently involved in anti-terrorist operations” (Itar-Tass, February 18, 2005). People in Chechnya had already started talking about the Kadyrov-Alkhanov struggle, a struggle that already included armed confrontation, murders, and hostage taking. Many of these incidents are provoked by Kadyrov’s men.

4. The Firefight between Kadyrov’s and Alkhanov’s Men. The cause of this whole affair was an argument that occurred between the bodyguards of Mr. Alkhanov and those of Mr. Kadyrov on April 25, 2006. Unofficially it is said that the neighborhood containing the republic’s governmental building was torn apart by a real firefight that led to several men being wounded from each of the opposing sides. This occurred during Alkhanov’s meeting with Sergei Stepashin, who had been sent to Grozny from Moscow in order to check up on the situation in the republic (Kommersant, May 6). The firefight was about to expand into a much more serious conflict, but the soldiers of the “Zapad” (“West”) spetznaz battalion, commanded by Said-Magomed Kakiev, interfered. The official explanation of the whole incident was that “an ordinary quarrel” had occurred between two men who worked in the security services, and that no shots whatsoever were ever fired.

5. The Unification of Kadyrov’s Opponents. The analysts at Kommersant believe that this “ordinary quarrel” led to a serious conflict between the president and the prime minister. Feeling threatened by Kadyrov, Alkhanov apparently decided to secure the support of those influential men not aligned with the prime minister (Kommersant, May 6). Thus the president met with the commanders of the special Ministry of Internal Affairs “Vostok” (“East”) and “Zapad” (“West”) battalions, Sulim Yamadaev and Said-Magomed Kakiev, as well as the former mayor of Grozny, Bislan Gantamirov. It is notable that the meeting took place in Alu Alkhanov’s hometown of Urus-Martan, and not in the capital of Grozny, just as Ramzan Kadyrov’s meetings often take place in his home village of Tsentroi or in the city of Gudermes. This meeting aroused Kadyrov’s suspicions, since he saw this as an attempt to create an “anti-Kadyrov front” within the republic. Later, in Tsentroi, Kadyrov essentially forced all influential men to take an oath of fealty to him, an oath indicating that he was the only leader capable of creating the sort of order that Moscow wanted within the republic.

6. Alkhanov’s Resignation. According to Kommersant’s sources in Grozny a group of men particularly loyal to Kadyrov and led by the republic’s minister of finances, Eli Isaev, approached Alu Alkhanov and suggested that the president resign. Alkhanov, realizing that such decisions must be made only with Moscow’s approval, refused to give an immediate answer. Much to his own astonishment and to the surprise of Kadyrov’s followers, President Vladimir Putin supported Alkhanov. This led many to prematurely suggest that Kadyrov’s influence had come to an end (, May 6).

7. The Survey. Though Putin did not support Kadyrov in this particular case, it was most likely someone within his administration who suggested that if Alkhanov was to be removed from his post, it was necessary to have the appropriate grounds for doing so. This led to a survey conducted by Kadyrov’s supporters in all of the settlements of the republic, with questions about who was providing the most benefit to the republic, and who was trusted more by the populace. For instance, one of the questions was phrased as “Who should deserve credit for rebuilding Chechnya? Alkhanov or Kadyrov?” (Radio Svoboda, May 18, 2006).

8. The Question Regarding the Secretary of the Security Council. Using the excuse of reorganizing the Security Council of the republic, Alu Alkhanov replaced Kadyrov’s appointee to the post of secretary with German Bok, a man well known to be one of the president’s close allies. Ramzan Kadyrov replied with a set of media appearances sharply criticizing Bok and declaring the uselessness of the whole Council as an institution (Voice of America, May 28, 2006).

9. The Question of Renaming the Republic. Chechen president Alkhanov has made the suggestion that the republic be renamed, since the word “Chechnya” has no legal basis (a strange thing to say since the name appears in Russian sources from the 16th-17th centuries) and has purely negative connotations today (something unlikely to be altered by a name change, since the negative image of the Chechens has been fabricated by Moscow since the 1980’s). One option for a new name was “republic Nokhchiyn,” and Ramzan Kadyrov condemned the whole concept on economic grounds (Echo Moskvy, September 6). This rationale is a strange one to come from Kadyrov, since he’s proposed the construction of a water park and a Disneyland in his city of Gudermes. And this at a time when even the official Russian statistics indicate that 500,000 Chechens live below the poverty line (Groznenski rabochii, August 6).

10. The Reaction to the Events in Karelia. Alu Alkhanov and Ramzan Kadyrov responded in very different ways to the recent events in Kondopoga, Karelia. During an everyday drunken brawl, several men were killed and others wounded, leading to mass demonstrations demanding the removal of all migrants from the Caucasus from the republic of Karelia. Alkhanov termed the events in question “ordinary hooliganism” and the actions of Karelia’s authorities as “correct.” According to Kadyrov, on the other hand, the events in Karelia “had an obvious anti-Chechen and an anti-Caucasus character.” The prime minister also threatened that if the Karelian government was unable to handle the situation, he would take care of it himself (no concrete explanation of how this would be done was provided) (, August 5). This sort of approach was positively received in Chechnya, where Kadyrov has done anything and everything to be seen as an able man of action.

All of these conflicts are linked with Ramzan Kadyrov’s struggle for sole power within Chechnya. His only real opponent is Alu Alkhanov, since no other man has any support from within the administration of the Russian President. This barely concealed contest leads one to believe that Moscow will be forced to choose one man within the republic, and very few in Chechnya doubt that Ramzan Kadyrov will be the winner.