Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 8

The reaction of Akhmed Zakaev, the London-based foreign minister of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI), to Ramzan Kadyrov’s accession as acting president of the pro-Moscow Chechen Republic raised some eyebrows. Referring to the fact that Kadyrov had fought on the separatist side during the first military campaign in Chechnya, while Alu Alkhanov was always on the side of Moscow, Zakaev said in a statement posted on the separatist Chechenpress information agency’s website on February 17: “We consider the dismissal of the so-called Chechen president Alu Alkhanov and the appointment of Kadyrov in his place to be a natural step, and, on the whole, appraise it positively. Regardless of whether Putin deliberately made the rearrangement in question or was forced to do so, it is evidence of the indisputable preponderance in the republic of a disposition in favor of the Ichkerians, as we are often called. It is gratifying that Moscow has finally begun to act in accordance with reality, and not rosy dreams.”

Zakaev added in his statement that with Alkhanov’s appointment to “a new role” (he has been appointed a federal deputy justice minister), “the Russian leadership will start to reevaluate the significance of the mythical and absolutely unlawful referendum of March 23, 2003 [in which Chechnya’s new constitution was adopted] and the ensuing ‘popular elections of presidents’ in the person of one or another appointee. The sooner that Russia comes to the realization that Chechens will reckon only with a government that they themselves have elected, the sooner this longstanding and expensive confrontation will end.”

According to some observers, Zakaev’s “praise” of Ramzan Kadyrov as acting Chechen president may have been designed to sow greater distrust of Kadyrov in Moscow. In any case, Kadyrov’s response to Zakaev’s statement clearly indicated that the acting Chechen president was less than enchanted with the ChRI foreign minister’s “praise.” Kadyrov addressed the issue during his February 20 press conference in Grozny, during which he invited Zakaev, who was once an actor, to return to Chechnya and take up his previous profession.

“Zakaev is a good actor,” quoted Kadyrov as saying. “Everybody knows this. In his time, he performed on the stage of the local theater, devoted a lot of energy to culture. I know him well – I know that he is not a warrior; I know that he is an artist. We are completing the repairs to the theater; we will find work for him. We are proposing to him that if he is not guilty of anything, if his conscience is clean before the Chechen people and Russia, then he should come to Grozny and work in his republic. He performed very well and is performing very well in London. Sometimes he speaks the truth and he also tells lies well. We are waiting for him to come home in the near future and will be pleased by his arrival. If he is a Chechen, then he needs to be in the Chechen Republic, in Grozny, and we don’t understand why he is hiding in London if he says that he is not guilty.” As noted, Kadyrov alleged earlier that Boris Berezovsky had handed $1 million over to Zakaev to finance the bombing that killed his father, Akhmad Kadyrov, on May 9, 2004 (Chechnya Weekly, March 6, 2006).

On February 20, Chechenpress posted a more blunt assessment of Kadyrov’s elevation to the Chechen presidency, written by Zaurbek Galaev. It stated, among other things: “If the largest country in the world, fighting against Chechnya, is able to pick only a criminal and a degenerate like Kadyrov out from a million Chechens for the role of chief traitor to the nation, then you have to admit that the Chechen people have something to be proud of.”