In Kadyrov’s footsteps
The solemn ceremony marking the official inauguration of Alu Alkhanov into the office of elected president of the Chechen Republic took place on October 5 in Grozny without incident, but also without any pleasant surprises for the new Chechen leader who was compared with the old president and exhorted to follow in his footsteps.
APCs in camouflage and ministers in line
Alu Alkhanov, a 47-year-old police major general, was officially appointed president of the republic almost five months after the assassination of his predecessor, Akhmad Kadyrov and exactly one year after Kadyrov’s inauguration. Following the invitation of Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov, chairman of the Chechen central electoral commission, Ramzan Kadyrov, son of the previous president, presented the presidential certificate number two to Alkhanov.
The ceremony itself took place under tight security, with its location, a specially constructed spacious marquee in the yard of the Government Office in Grozny, kept top secret right up until the day before. Members of the inauguration organization committee had given three possible locations for the event: the Chechen Government Office or the Palace of Culture in Grozny, or the Gudermes administration building.
True, on the day of the inauguration it became clear that preparations for the ceremony had already been underway for four days, the time needed for builders to erect a structure of pipes and planks covered with tarpaulin that would seat 700 people and accommodate a stage and rostrum.
The many guests included representatives of the Russian President and the South Federal District, and leaders from several North Caucasus republics. The security services requested that even high ranking guests pass by two cordons of guards. Ministers and members of the State Council were forced to line up and, elbowing each other, search for their names on the guest list.
All together, all 12,000 members of the Chechen Interior Ministry and around 4,000 federal troops were deployed to ensure public law and order in the republic. Security posts were stationed every 100 meters along the federal highway that crosses Chechnya, and on the roadsides the situation was controlled by armored personnel carriers disguised by branches.
An open inauguration
Taus Dzhabrailov, head of the Chechen State Council, opened the ceremony. Evidently the topic of the rigging of the August presidential elections remained still fresh, as the first thing Dzhabrailov said to Alkhanov in his address was: “You have become president by means of elections which were attended by journalists from all over the world and whose legitimacy was recognized by a number of international observers.”
Afterwards, Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov touched on this same topic, officially confirming the authority of Alkhanov, who then, before his people, proclaimed the presidential oath in both Russian and Chechen.
After the oath of allegiance, the presidential standard with the new coat of arms was brought and Alkhanov was presented with the orb as a symbol of power. Handing it over, Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov said, “Democracy is of the people, [by the people, for the people] but government has to be strong.”
The only innovation in this quite conservative procedure was that the presidential certificate was handed to Alkhanov not by the head of the electoral commission, but by the son of the previous president, Ramzan Kadyrov. “It would only be correct,” Arsakhanov said when asked to comment on this.
Following Kadyrov's course
Overall, the delicate subject of relations between Kadyrov and Alkhanov was the most topical question at the inauguration. There was no mention of Ramzan in this context, evidently to avoid raising any conflicts in the Chechen leadership, and the entire focus of the ceremony was on the late Kadyrov.
Thus, every congratulatory speech emphasized two points: the merits of former president Kadyrov and the necessity of the new Chechen leadership to continue his polices. In addition, apparently bearing in mind the “unusual” circumstances of Kadyrov’s “departure”, the speakers, including Magomedali Magomed, head of the State Council of Dagestan; Alexander Chernogorov, governor of the Stavropolsky Region, and Chechen mufti, Akhmad-khadzhi Shamayev, also wished Alkhanov good health.
Even children, the best students from Grozny’s schools, appeared on stage to congratulate Alu Alkhanov, and sang “We have faith in you as a worthy successor to the work of Akhmat Kadyrov and Hussein Isayev.”
All in all, everything was strongly reminiscent of a party meeting from Soviet times. The speeches, the slogans and appeals. The only difference was that instead of Lenin, everything was about Akhmat Kadyrov. His numerous supporters, in their striped suits a la Kadyrov, could fittingly be called “Kadyrovtsy”. Like the Soviet “oktyabryata”, members of the communist organization for children, they even wore badges, sporting Akhmat Kadyrov’s image.
And Alu Alkhanov did not disappoint. “We will always remember the name of the first president of Chechnya, Akhmat-khadzhi Kadyrov, and follow his course,” he said in his first speech as president of the Chechen Republic. “The state and the people should be one. This was Akhmat Kadyrov’s mission and we will fulfill it.”
Flowers for the president
The new Chechen leader received few presents. Apart from the orb, he was given only a handmade vase with flowers from Alexander Chernogorov. Apparently recalling the Mauser given a year ago to President Kadyrov, Chernogorov said, “We agreed that we will no longer give weapons,” as he handed over the vase.
The guests, however, were expecting two big presents: the arrival of Russian President Putin and news from Ramzan Kadyrov of the capture of Aslan Maskhadov, Chechen resistance leader and president of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. But, to their obvious regret, neither was forthcoming. Nevertheless, their disappointment was somewhat eased by the distribution of gifts and everybody was given a package containing a couple of notebooks and an album. Ministers and members of the state council held their packages in their hands and were very pleased.
In the absence of the Russian President, his representative in the South Federal District, Dmitriy Kozak, read aloud a message from him that included the standard congratulations. “Your victory in the elections was the beginning of the great and crucial work needed to establish a peaceful life, and to revive the economy and the social sphere of the Chechen Republic. The faith, shown you by the inhabitants of the region, is connected to their hopes for the establishment of interethnic concord and the strengthening of law and order in the Chechen Republic. I am convinced that the constructive cooperation of regional and federal authorities will bring about the resolution of these vitally important tasks.”
After the ceremony, Ramzan Kadyrov told journalists that no, Aslan Maskhadov had not been arrested, but that “this could happen in the very near future.”
In fact, a present for Alkhanov had been delivered the night before when the Grozny football team, Terek, defeated Arsenal from Tula, and secured themselves a place in the Russian premier league. “This is the best of presents,” he said to journalists after his inauguration.
Terek coach, Vait Talgayev, was a guest at the inauguration. Whether as a joke or in all seriousness, he told the PW correspondent that Terek’s place in the premier league had been planned all along. “This was our present to Alu on the day of his inauguration,” he said with a smile.
Timur Aliyev is Prague Watchdog's North Caucasus correspondent and editor-in-chief of the independent weekly Chechen Society.