Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 6

The rumors that Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov is imminently poised to replace Alu Alkhanov as the republic’s president intensified this past week (Chechnya Weekly, February 1 and January 25). The Caucasus Times, citing a source close to Kadyrov, reported on February 6 that Alkhanov may step down as Chechen president as early as February 10. According to the website, the issue of Alkhanov’s future employment is currently being decided. The same source said Alkhanov would be offered the post of chief of the transport police in the federal Interior Ministry. Likewise, Izvestia, in an article posted on February 7 on its website, Izvestia.ru, quoted unnamed sources as saying that Alkhanov’s resignation could happen in “the very nearest future.” The newspaper also pointed to, among other things, an interview that Kadyrov gave to Profil, which was posted on the weekly magazine’s website on February 5.

In the interview, Kadyrov openly criticized Alkhanov, taking him to task for, among other things, an interview he gave to Moskovsky komsomolets that was published on January 23, in which the Chechen president made comments about Kunta-Khadzhi Kishiev, the Ghandi-like 19th century Sufi sheikh who still has many followers in Chechnya. Alkhanov told Moskovsky komsomolets that Imam Shamil, the leader of the anti-Russian resistance in the Caucasian War, was at odds with Kunta-Khadzhi. “Shamil didn’t like him: the sheikh [Kunta-Khadzhi] called for living in peace with the Russians; and taught that war was savagery,” Alkhanov told the newspaper. “That person [Kunta-Khadzhi] was banished and died in exile.”

After Alkhanov’s Moskovsky komsomolets interview was published, Chechnya’s mufti, Sultan-Khadzhi Mirzoev, who is close to Kadyrov, sharply criticized the Chechen president for his comments about Kunta-Khadzhi Kishiev. As Vremya novostei reported on January 29, the mufti said during an address on republican television on January 27 that he considered Alkhanov’s comments “intolerable” because the followers of Kunta-Khadzhi believe that he did not die and will eventually return. According to Vremya novostei, the broadcast of the mufti’s comments was “interrupted,” and German Bok, secretary of Chechnya’s Council for Social and Economic Security and an ally of Alkhanov, subsequently warned the mufti “not to play with fire” or “stir up religious hatred.” Bok also said he viewed any talk of replacing Alkhanov with Kadyrov as baseless and inappropriate. “Alu Alkhanov is the elected president and a worthy person; he is more and more perceived…as a model of the Chechen people,” Bok told Vremya novostei. “And those who are trying to bring Ramzan Akhmatovich [Kadyrov] to power are doing more harm than good.” Still, Bok insisted that there is no conflict between Alkhanov and Kadyrov, saying their “common task” is “stabilization.”

Kadyrov responded to all of this in his Profil interview. “I do not have presidential ambitions,” Kadyrov told the magazine. “Although many said that Ramzan is young and ready to become president, it is not so. If I manage to convince the people standing behind me, people who depend on me, that I am not needed, I will gladly leave politics. Alkhanov is not very comprehensible to me as a president. His most recent statements caused a revolt in the republic. His statements about the deaths of Imam Shamil and Kunta-Khadzhi [were] the height of human tactlessness and political shortsightedness. These are our principal saints, honored by an absolute majority of Chechens; we await them and are certain that they will return. Tens of thousands of people do not believe that they died. And he [Alkhanov] says such a thing. I am so furious with him that I am ready to make an announcement and become his official opponent. Hundreds of murids [Sufi initiates] are coming to me and asking why I don’t tell him that he is wrong, that they are our ustaz [Islamic religious teachers].”

Kadyrov also made a broader criticism of the Chechen president. “Alkhanov, in general, has a good life: this person is on business trips 170 days a year,” he told Profil. “This is a good result. I will not succeed in being such a president. If I give my word that I will faithfully serve the people, then I must fully devote myself to that. Inside, I am not ready to become president, because I must be answerable for such promises to the Almighty and the people. No one knows what awaits a person in this life, but I do not want to be held accountable for unfulfilled promises. Nor do I want to be a president like Alkhanov.” In the same interview, Kadyrov questioned whether German Bok was even a real Chechen, given his name. Coincidentally or not, Vesti.ru reported on February 8 that Bok had resigned as secretary of Chechnya’s Security Council. However, Alkhanov’s press secretary, Isa Zakriev, denied that any members of the Chechen president’s team had tendered their resignations, Kavkazky Uzel reported on February 8.

According to some observers, an even more significant sign that Kadyrov may be poised to replace Alkhanov is the fact that President Vladimir Putin referred only to Kadyrov when answering a question about Chechnya during his February 1 Kremlin press conference. According to the transcript of the press conference provided by the Kremlin’s website, Kremlin.ru, Putin said, “First of all, I would like to point out that the present government and the prime minister of the Chechen Republic have been able to accomplish a great deal lately. I attentively watched how the present government worked in Chechnya. I must say that what is happening there is even unexpected. We are witnessing the mobilization of citizens living in Chechnya, and there is an obvious desire for a religious peace, the restoration of order, discipline, the rule of law and economic revival. And there are simply visible results of this effort.” Putin added that there is still “a lot that we can do and must do” related to Chechnya.

In a piece posted on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russian-language website, Svobodanews.ru, on February 2, correspondent Andrei Babitsky quoted Islam Tekushev, chief editor of the Caucasus Times, as saying: “Such praise from Putin was previously conferred only upon Ramzan Kadyrov’s father, Akhmat. And, one may assume, such support unties Kadyrov’s hands in his confrontation with Alkhanov. All the more so given that the Chechen president wasn’t mentioned at all by the Russian leader – neither in a positive nor a negative light. For the Caucasus, this kind of ellipsis is more eloquent than any words, given that a violation of the order of names assigned by rules of precedence there looks something like a death sentence. Did Vladimir Putin consciously not mention Alu Alkhanov in speaking about the successes of the current Chechen leadership? Perhaps it was a coincidence. It will, however, have catastrophic consequences for the Chechen president. One may assume that Ramzan Kadyrov will now deprive him of his last centimeters of living space.”