Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 210

President Boris Yeltsin has signed a decree pardoning the former mayor of Djohar, Bislan Gantemirov, who last held that post in 1995-1996, when the city was occupied by Russian troops. Gantemirov told NTV television that he is ready to help the federal authorities in their military campaign in Chechnya by reestablishing his private army, which numbered about 1,500 men, and leading it into the current war. Gantemirov is currently holding talks on this issue with the Russian Interior Ministry. Gantemirov said that if the Kremlin does not allow him to do this, he will act in any case, skirting the federal authorities (NVT, November 5, 10). Moscow, however, may have bigger plans for Gantemirov. Malik Saidulaev, head of Moscow-based State Council of the Chechen Republic–the new structure recently created by the Russian authorities to rule in areas controlled by their troops–said today that he is ready to offer Gantemirov the post of prime minister (Russian agencies, November 11).

Gantemirov was prosecuted in 1996 for embezzling state funds earmarked for the rebuilding of Chechnya and sentenced to six years in prison. The court found that Gantemirov spent the money not for his personal enrichment, but for the upkeep of his private army. In the past, Gantemirov was one of the main allies of Djohar Dudaev and was mayor of Grozny [Djohar] from 1991 through 1993. In 1993, however, a conflict emerged between Gantemirov and Dudaev (according to local observers, it concerned control over revenues from the republic’s oil industry), which ended with troops loyal to Dudaev storming the Grozny mayor’s office. Gantemirov and his followers retreated to the Urus-Martan region, which was an anti-Dudaev stronghold right up until the introduction of federal forces in December 1994. In November of that year, just prior to the introduction of federal forces, the Kremlin tried to use the armed opposition against Dudaev, and the strongest anti-Dudaev armed force was Gantemirov’s. But after the anti-Dudaev forces, backed by disguised Russian soldiers, failed in an attempt to storm Grozny, Moscow decided on open intervention.

The creation today of a pro-Moscow government in Chechnya and the unexpected pardoning of Gantemirov is evidence that the Kremlin is again playing the Chechen opposition card.