WARNINGS SOUNDED OVER CHECHEN ELECTION
Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 34
According to Anna Politkovskaya, even some officials in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) secret police are privately admitting that the likely result of Akhmad Kadyrov’s now inevitable victory in Chechnya’s rigged presidential election will be a third Chechen war–this time a civil war of Chechen against Chechen. The Novaya gazeta reporter was interviewed by Chechnya Weekly during her recent visit to Washington. She said that campaign workers for opposition candidates, the strongest of which have all now been persuaded or pressured to drop out of the race, had told her that a Kadyrov win would force them to leave Chechnya as refugees.
The Moscow-based French journalist Anne Nivat, who like Politkovskaya addressed a September 16 conference co-sponsored by the Jamestown Foundation, the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya and the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of Johns Hopkins University, agreed that many Chechens expect violence to worsen after the October 5 election. She said that in light of the previous week’s events, which effectively made the presidential campaign a one-man race, one no longer even need ask whether the election will be a “farce.” Now “the real question,” as she put it, is “whether this farce will have a real impact on the situation.” Her answer was “No.”
Underlining the threat of civil war, Politkovskaya emphasized that, after a period of decline, the number and quality of weapons in Chechnya has grown substantially in recent months. Lord Frank Judd of the United Kingdom, the former Council of Europe rapporteur for Chechnya, said his sources indicated that young recruits joining the rebel guerrillas in the districts of Chechnya adjoining Ingushetia have doubled in number since the federal authorities’ crackdown on the Ingush refugee camps.
Nivat said that, at this point, the Russian authorities themselves do not know what they want from these elections–“except not to lose face.” She told the audience that neither the federal forces nor the rebel guerrillas are winning the war, and that the former are suffering about 100 combat deaths every month.
Lord Judd told Chechnya Weekly that the Council of Europe does not at present plan to send official observers to Chechnya’s presidential election. Nevertheless, he said, it remains possible that a high ranking Council of Europe official might make an informal visit to Chechnya on election day. This, in Lord Judd’s view, “would be a big mistake.” He told the September 16 conference–and also a hearing later that day of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe–that it is “inexplicable folly” for the west to support a Russian policy that “effectively recruits more young Muslims into terrorism.”
Politkovskaya and Nivat, who are both frequent visitors to Chechnya, gave the September 16 conference a picture of Kadyrov as an increasingly unpopular ruler who is kept in power by ever more brutal tactics. Nivat said that she had found an intense hatred of Kadyrov among her Chechen interviewees, and that she had heard such comments as “We are living in a ghetto because of him.” Politkovskaya said that she often hears terms such as “traitor” and “snake” to describe Kadyrov. By August, she said, Kadyrov’s personal army had established a presence in every city, town and large village in the republic–where it is “terrorizing the populace.”
At this point, said Politkovskaya, Kadyrov has entrenched himself strongly enough that he could probably be ousted from power only by Russian military force. If he were to be removed by the ballot box, which of course now seems very unlikely, he and his gunmen would simply turn themselves into a guerrilla force based in the forests and highlands like Maskhadov’s.
Politkovskaya later told Chechnya Weekly that she continues to believe that the GRU (Russian military intelligence) and the FSB are pursuing different lines in Chechnya. She said that the GRU has many more ethnic Chechen officers than the FSB, and that some of these are people who have trained and worked with the rebel terrorist warlord Shamil Basaev. In her view, a pattern has now formed whereby these GRU officers are and will remain anti-Kadyrov. The FSB’s stance in her view is currently pro-Kadyrov, but less stable and predictable.