THE NEWEST PRIME MINISTER, “A MODERN MAN OF AFFAIRS”
When push comes to shove, Akhmad Kadyrov is now more indispensable to Russia’s policies in Chechnya than any other one political figure in Grozny. But he is not so much so as to be able simply to dictate terms to the Kremlin, such as seizing complete control over the personnel and budget of the Chechen administration. Two recent events confirmed both of those realities: Kadyrov’s final victory over fellow Moscow-appointee Mikhail Babich, who has now formally resigned as Chechnya’s prime minister, and his failure to install a candidate of his own as Babich’s successor. Instead, Kadyrov was forced last weekend to accept the appointment of Anatoly Popov, who, like Babich, is an ethnic Russian and an ally of the federal military and security agencies.
After winning a January power struggle with Babich over the appointment of Chechnya’s minister of finance, a crucial post for the allocation (and, some say, embezzlement) of federal subsidies to the desperately impoverished republic, Kadyrov sought to consolidate his victory. He even included some ethnic Chechens in his list of candidates to succeed Babich, a list including Kadyrov’s own deputy Usman Masaev (according to the Moscow daily Kommersant). Sources told that newspaper, as it reported on February 10, that the Kremlin rejected both Masaev and another Kadyrov candidate, Moscow businessman Adnan Muzykaev. Kadyrov then joined forces with Stanislav Ilyasov, the federal minister for Chechen affairs, to promote the candidacy of Nikolai Aidinov, Chechnya’s representative to the federal government.
According to the account of the website Vremya.ru, Kadyrov and Ilyasov thought “that they had found a compromise choice–a premier with whom they could work comfortably and against whom the Kremlin would have nothing.” Aidinov has abundant experience in Chechnya, having served during the Soviet era as deputy to the head of the Council of Ministers for the Chechen-Ingush Republic. (With the collapse of the Soviet Union, that republic was divided into the present republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia.) But at the last minute the Kremlin made it clear that it opposed Aidinov’s candidacy. According to Kommersant’s sources, on Friday evening, February 7, just after Ilyasov and Kadyrov had agreed with each other about who should be appointed, Vladimir Putin himself telephoned them “and politely announced that Mr. Popov would be the new premier of Chechnya.”
The newspaper’s sources told it that Popov’s candidacy had been promoted by the security agencies, which did not want to allow all the federal subsidies for economic and social restoration to come under the complete control of Kadyrov and Ilyasov. Popov is an old friend of the siloviki (armed ministries) from his past service as financial director of “Rosvooruzhenie” firm, the state arms firm. In 2001 Popov became head of a federally owned firm for restoring the Chechen economy, and has since August 2002 also been deputy head of the federal commission for the restoration of Chechnya. An economist by training and a Volgograd native, he has held a variety of posts with the Volgograd provincial administration, the Moscow city government, the Soviet and Russian Federation governments, and the now-defunct Menatep Bank.
The website Grani.ru commented that Popov is “a modern type of the man of affairs who has successfully combined his personal business with state service. His duties… have always had one unquestionable advantage: They have allowed Popov simultaneously to serve both the state and himself. At Menatep he worked on creating channels by which state funds could be transferred into the accounts of the bank. At Rosvooruzhenie he unleashed flows between state and private capital…. With the food resources of Moscow he further developed his ability to combine his personal interests with the state’s.” The website described Popov’s position with the firm for restoring Chechnya’s economy as “one of the most lucrative posts…. Even in peaceful Russia the construction business provides favorable conditions for the laundering of criminal money; in war-torn Chechnya, where whole tons of accounting records fly off into the air, it is a Klondike for shady dealings. The Kremlin, of course, knew whom it was assigning to this responsible position, and knows today whom it is appointing as premier. Perhaps the ‘reconstruction of Chechnya’ will become, along with Gazprom, one of the main sources of funds for the Russian election campaigns of 2003-2004. Anatoly Popov will have to work hard in order to justify the trust of Vladimir Putin.”
Consistent with that view would be the suggestion made to Sanobar Shermatova of the weekly Moskovskie Novosti, that Popov is close to Nikolai Koshman, who is now head of the state construction firm Gosstroi and who served in various posts connected with Chechnya in the second half of the 1990s.
It was clear from a Sunday interview with Ilyasov, Kommersant said, that he is not happy with the new appointment–quoting him as saying of Popov “for now it’s hard to evaluate him, let him put in some time working.” Vremya.ru claimed that even before Babich’s departure, Popov and Kadyrov had already had disagreements–and opined that the appointment “promises nothing pleasant” for the latter.