Ramzan Kadyrov’s New Challenges To The Russian Government
For months now, Ramzan Kadyrov has been calling for Russia’s constitution to be altered so that President Putin would be allowed to stand for a third term. Putin, however, is on record as saying he does not want another term. Therefore, the time is fast approaching when Kadyrov must acknowledge, with as much grace as he can muster, that Putin will indeed be relinquishing the presidency for at least four years. Given the range of opponents now arrayed against him, Kadyrov will be in dire need of a powerful patron once Putin leaves office.
BACKGROUND: Ramzan Kadyrov’s first four months in office have yielded a number of political triumphs. He successfully campaigned for Chechen convicts held in Russian jails to be allowed serve out their sentences in Chechnya. He also presided over though the extent of his direct involvement is unclear the assassinations of two top rebel field commanders, Tahir Bataev and Khairulla. A number of Kadyrov’s political initiatives have also caught the public imagination, such as his campaign to have the so-called ORB-2 bureau and its detention facilities closed down.
But not everything touched by the new president has turned to gold. Chechens’ concern about the resumption of the military draft in their republic continues to fester. This, in large part, is because Kadyrov, who is actively preparing for its reintroduction, has yet to say whether Chechen draftees will be allowed to serve in their home republic (the preferred option for the vast majority) or whether they will be eligible for service anywhere in the Russian Federation. Kadyrov’s response to the recent death of Boris Yeltsin also rankled with many Chechens. In a letter to Yeltsin’s widow he stated: “It was with profound sorrow that the Chechen people took the news of the passing of your husband…” While Kadyrov could scarcely have painted Yeltsin in a negative light, given the context, this was nevertheless a clear misrepresentation of most Chechens’ attitudes toward Russia’s first post-Soviet president, who presided over the first invasion of Chechnya in 1994.
Relations between Kadyrov and the Interior Ministry (MVD), at both local and federal levels, have degenerated markedly since the turn of the year. With respect to Kadyrov and the federal MVD structures, relations were most likely soured by the Chechen president’s high-profile campaign against ORB-2, which operates under the auspices of the Southern Federal District’s MVD department. The departure of Alu Alkhanov, a former MVD General and Kadyrov’s immediate predecessor, from Chechnya’s political scene may also have antagonized certain MVD officials. The recent decision by the Russian Interior Ministry to slash the salaries of Chechen policemen is most likely a calculated, and potentially fateful, response to Kadyrov’s campaign against ORB-2.
Many of these policemen are former rebels who were wooed over to the pro-Moscow side by promises of secure, well-paid employment. It has been reported that in some cases, policemen’s salaries have been reduced by 50 percent with many feeling cheated and bitter as a result. Perhaps not coincidentally, this development has been accompanied by renewed reports of conflict between Kadyrov and the leader of Chechnya’s MVD-affiliated “Yug” battalion, Muslim Ilyasov. While Kadyrov’s relations with the FSB and the Russian military have always been poor, until recently his relationship with the MVD was at least equivocal.
IMPLICATIONS: Kadyrov is opposed in principle to any representative(s) of federal authority being stationed in Chechnya indefinitely. Over the past seven years he and his late father, Akhmed-Hajji Kadyrov, have seen off a procession of Prime ministers invariably Russians imposed on them from above. The Kadyrov clan has also steadfastly insisted that the Russian military must eventually leave Chechnya. The latest overt manifestation of this implicit agenda involves the republic’s prosecutor, Valeri Kuznetsov, one of the few remaining Russians in Kadyrov’s government. A campaign to oust Kuznetsov from his post began in late January when he reacted sceptically to Kadyrov’s aforementioned proposal to repatriate Chechen convicts. In mid-May Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman, Nurdi Nukhazhiev, (seemingly fast on his way to becoming President Kadyrov’s de facto deputy spokesman behind Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov) denounced Kuznetsov, accusing him of “criminal inactivity in protecting the rights of the local population.”
According to Nukhazhiev, Kadyrov is personally “dissatisfied” with the performance of the prosecutor; but why this sudden eagerness to rid himself of this relatively inconspicuous, virtually inconsequential official? Kadyrov’s concern is not so much about Kuznetsov personally, but rather his station and the importance it might assume over the coming months. The Chechen president already has one eye on Russia’s upcoming presidential election. Even a casual analysis of President Putin’s public pronouncements over the past year will reveal a particular emphasis on fighting corruption. Indeed, the beckoning presidential contest may well be preceded, or immediately followed by, a nationwide anti-corruption campaign with particular emphasis on corruption in the regions. In such a scenario, the role of the local prosecutor’s office would assume greater significance. So too would regional-based federal organs in the mould of ORB-2. Kadyrov’s persistent, almost desperate, calls for Putin to remain in office for a third term betray a definite sense of insecurity on his part about his post-Putin relationship with the Kremlin. Essentially, the Putin-Kadyrov relationship is bereft of any real ideological or inter-personal depth and amounts to Kadyrov receiving a license to govern his fief as he sees fit in exchange for his perpetuating, and consolidating, the image of Chechnya as a peaceful, renascent society, emerging phoenix-like from the ashes of war.
But Kadyrov’s unwillingness (or perhaps inability) to cultivate a benign working relationship with federal agencies such as the MVD has, of late, made it especially difficult for him to hold up his end of the bargain. The MVD’s decision to cut police salaries precipitated a plethora of rumors suggesting that dozens of law enforcement officers were joining the rebels. Given the ongoing campaign against Kuznetsov, it is perhaps not surprising that the federal Prosecutor-General’s office was to the fore in spreading these rumors, announcing that together with the MVD, it was taking “all the necessary measures to detect such people.”
CONCLUSIONS: It can now be said with authority that President Kadyrov has burned his proverbial bridges with all of the federal agencies currently active in Chechnya. On occasion, Kadyrov has shown a certain political deftness, but just as often he has manifested a virtually unparalleled capacity for making enemies gratuitously. To a large extent, local opposition to Kadyrov has been cowed: Alu Alkhanov has relocated to Moscow, while Said-Magomed Kakiev and Sulim Yamadaev may as well have followed him, so inconspicuous have they become since his departure. But with Chechnya’s rebel movement becoming increasingly active against a backdrop of popular discontent concerning issues like the economy and conscription, perhaps it would behoove Kadyrov to seek out some allies for a change. Kadyrov and his advisors are clearly worried about Russia’s pending changing of the guard. In response, their strategy has been to agitate in favor of preserving the status quo rather than ingratiating themselves with either (or both) of the presidential frontrunners, Sergei Ivanov and Dimitri Medvedev. Given that Putin now seems certain to step down early next year, out of sheer necessity, this strategy will soon be altered. As Kadyrov has singularly failed to cultivate good relations with his immediate federal superiors, he must take steps to ensure he has the ear of the next Russian president just as he did the last. Kadyrov has already met with Medvedev (generally viewed as the candidate best disposed toward Kadyrov) during April. A meeting between Ivanov and Kadyrov is expected to take place soon.
AUTHOR’S BIO: Kevin Daniel Leahy holds a postgraduate degree from University College Cork, Ireland.
Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst
June 27, 2007
By Kevin Daniel Leahy