Malik Offers Management for Chechnya
Ilya Maksakov, special to Prague Watchdog
Assessing the upcoming presidential elections in Chechnya on October 5 depends on one’s point of view. For Moscow it will be the key to a political resolution of the Chechen crisis; for Akhmad Kadyrov it will be an attempt at preserving his power and expanding it legitimately by a nationwide vote; for the other candidates it will be a tough political struggle with uncertain results and differing objectives. And for the Chechen separatists and their leaders, it is an outright farce or “pseudo-election.”
Assuming that the elections will be fair and democratic, the main “pretenders to the throne” are supposed to be Akhmad Kadyrov, Aslambek Aslakhanov, and Malik Saidullayev. And Husein Jabrailov may also become part of this quartet who are vying for the highest position in the republic.
Malik Saidullayev entered Chechen politics as an entrepreneur from Moscow. He is a successful businessman, almost a mogul, who is also a young pragmatist and generous benefactor. His political life began in October 1999, when Amin Osmayev and Ali Alavdinov, speakers of both chambers of the Chechen Parliament (the so-called “Zavgayev” parliament elected in 1996), appointed him to chair the State Council, which they established and declared the highest executive body in Chechnya.
Right from the beginning Saidullayev was beset by scandals. In February 2001, serious rumours swirled about that he was affiliated with the British intelligence. Another scandal was tied to a decision by Osmayev and other deputies to dissolve the State Council. However, none of this detered Saidullayev who, as Chairman of the State Council, came out with some political proclamations among which were the necessity of introducing direct presidential rule in Chechnya; having a leader on the level of deputy prime minister; and within 2-3 years, restoring the social and economic conditions of the republic to its 1990 level.
It is amusing that Saidullayev never considered the Council a legitimate body, and simply called himself “self-invited.” In reality, it was nothing more than a public or political organization, a sort of “trademark” for Saidullayev.
Money almost solves everything
Saidullayev’s business biography is more weighty than his political one. Politics for him is a special kind of business that brings no revenue, but requires good management. So, one way or another, many of his actions are connected to finance and economics.
His personal fortune is estimated at $500 million. “Since I successfully manage a holding company, I could also successfully manage the economic restoration of Chechnya,” he once boasted. And in fact, this is his favourite topic. If he could, he would set about organizing all the industries in Chechnya, provide more than 100,000 jobs that would bring in substantial revenue, and invest $7-8 million into helping restore the economy.
Hardly any problems exist that he doesn’t try solving with money. Three years ago he offered a $100,000 reward for details about the terrorist attack in the Pushkinskaya Square underpass in Moscow. This was his way of trying to prove that Chechens were not involved. But the criminals have yet to be found. Two years ago he announced a competition for the best project for disarming the rebels in Chechnya and allowing them back into society. The prize for the best entry was 100,000 Euro. People worked diligently on this and sent in their ideas, but so far no winner has been selected. Perhaps Saidullayev plans on announcing the results of the competition during the election campaign.
The main source of Saidullayev's popularity in Chechnya has always been his philanthropic efforts, especially during the beginning of the second Chechen war. He set up a commission, counted the number of refugees in tent camps and those living with families in Ingushetia, and stated that “from my own funds I bought 4,260 bags each of flour and sugar.” As a result he was able to declare that “not a single needy family remained without our help.” This entrepreneur also organized vacations to Russia for Chechen children, and bought them textbooks, reading books, shoes, clothing, and food.
Needless to say, Saidullayev became extremely popular among refugees. According to some sociological surveys, every third or fourth person would vote for him in 2001-2002. However, that number has now decreased to every tenth voter.
Relations with Kadyrov
His distinguishing trait in politics is his uncompromising and continuous opposition to Kadyrov. In the beginning, however, these two were not opponents. Saidullayev recalled that at the start of the second Chechen war he met with the official leader of Chechnya twice in Moscow. Kadyrov supposedly offered him the job of managing the oil industry. But Saidullayev replied that he was “not going back to Chechnya just to make money.” This was followed by an offer to become the head of the Chechen government. Saidullayev says he agreed, providing his nomination “would be confirmed by the President and Prime Minister of Russia,” not Kadyrov.
The period of attempting to “become close” did not last very long. Soon after, Saidullayev became an almost unrelenting Kadyrov opponent, and a consistent champion for his resignation. He blamed all of Chechnya’s misery on Kadyrov, claiming the main reason for the ongoing-armed conflict was lack of popular support for the country’s executive powers. According to him, Kadyrov was not worthy to be head of the nation, and likened his appointment as a “Khasavyurt betrayal of the people of Chechnya.”
Opposition to Kadyrov became the main theme of Saidullayev’s election campaign. He sees his task as “ending all illegal activities” perpetrated by Kadyrov and his cronies. What’s more, he announced the establishment of an “anti-Kadyrov coalition.” According to him, in the event of any campaign infringements, several candidates would jointly announce their withdrawal from the election and consider the voting results invalid.
At least give me some power
As a politician, Saidullayev has always been extremely ambitious. Back in 2000 he said: “Only a person elected by the people may become the leader of Chechnya. Russia must bet on a man who will not only be accepted by peaceful Chechens, but the guerrillas as well; and moreover, one who has not been involved in the fighting. Therefore, I recommend myself.”
His boldest statements do not lag far behind the catchphrases of Vladimir Putin. “There is only one ‘overhead force’ for me - and that is God. But in politics that force is Putin,” he once said. During one of the first meetings he had with Putin, Saidullayev claims he explained the necessity for leading talks with the Chechen people. He pleaded with Putin to entrust him with “at least some powers” and appoint him head of the republic for one month in which time he promised to prepare a nationwide presidential election.
He also claims he spoke about the delegation of powers with Aslan Maskhadov, the President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. During one of their meetings he proposed that Maskhadov should transfer powers to him under specified conditions, and guaranteed Maskhadov complete safety.
Saidullayev maintained permanent contact with the separatist leaders. In 1999, before the beginning of the war, he met with Basayev, who asked him for “$4 million to fight the gangs.” He received not one single rouble.
During the second Chechen war, Saidullayev claimed he was leading talks with some Chechen brigadier generals. But here again, he had no power to pursue this.
Elections – just another stage in life
Several days before the referendum on the Chechen Constitution, the Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky introduced to the Moscow press three deputies of the “Maskhadov parliament” who supported the referendum and called upon Chechens to take part in the voting. Yastrzhembsky introduced them along with Saidullayev, who clearly masterminded this.
Nowadays, Saidullayev evasively answers any question about the possibility of talking with Maskhadov. “The possibility of leading talks with Maskhadov should have happened long ago.” He admits, however, that he helps Chechen fighters when approached by them, but it doesn’t involve finances; he primarily secures medical aid for their families. Most probably he also counts on gaining their votes. Nor does he rule out the possibility that the rebels would vote. “When the nation goes to the polls, so will the rebels,” he contends.
Whatever the outcome of the election, it is clear it will become another chapter in the political biography of Malik Saidullayev. Being young, energetic, capable, and influential, he ranks among those young pragmatists who will shape the future of Chechnya.
Malik Saidullayev was born October 5, 1964, in the Alkhan-Yurt village of Chechnya. He will be 39 on the day of the Chechen presidential election. He has worked as a construction worker, then in a meat factory, and eventually served in the army. Afterwards, he became a lab assistant in the Department of General Physics and pursued his studies at the Faculty of Physics and Faculty of Economics. In 1989 he became acquainted with German Sterligov, president of the infamous company “Alisa,” who opened up an avenue to business for him. In 1993 Saidullayev founded his own company “Milan” with support from another infamous entrepreneur, Artyom Tarasov. One of the main achievements of his life was the “Russkoye loto,” a Russian lottery that is still ongoing. In 1995, he was a candidate for the State Duma.
Ilya Maksakov is a correspondent for the Russian newspaper Izvestiya and a frequent contributor to Prague Watchdog.
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· Website of Malik Saidullayev