June 3rd 2008 · Prague Watchdog / Sergei Gligvashvili · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Russian ruler’s personal spetsnaz

By Sergei Gligvashvili, special to Prague Watchdog

Rumours that the ground is crumbling under Ramzan Kadyrov’s feet and that his demise is imminent are sending tremors of excitement through Chechnya with enviable regularity. During Dmitry Medvedev’s presidential campaign, the community of experts and political analysts put into circulation the idea of a "thaw", claiming to perceive some prospects of a new, more liberal course. According to the predictions Kadyrov was to be the first victim of the liberal model, as he is the most odious Russian regional politician and is not linked to any normal standards of democracy.

The rumours have acquired such threatening proportions that Kadyrov himself has been forced to issue a denial. At a cabinet meeting on June 1 he announced that no personnel changes are planned.

Dmitry Medvedev’s behaviour in the role of master of the Kremlin is giving fewer and fewer reasons to suppose that in the short term at least he will try to escape from Vladimir Putin’s control and present his own political agenda (if indeed he has one). Meanwhile if Putin, who has helped Kadyrov to realize all his ambitions, remains in the leading role, nothing threatens the well-being of Chechnya’s leader.

Kadyrov as head of Putin's spetsnaz

It seems obvious that after the death of his father Kadyrov junior was ill-suited to play the role of civil servant and agent of the State, for one or two simple reasons: in addition to having no minimum level of education or any experience of government, he also lacked a fully-formed civilian identity.

Ramzan Kadyrov was ideally suited to the role of avenger. He would faithfully serve the same people with whom his late father associated. While this was not sufficient for him to clearly articulate and embody the public interest, it was perfectly good enough for him to be able lead a special security service with a specific range of repressive tasks and functions – especially since his activism and the ease with which he resorts to violence were invaluable qualities for a silovik, who is destined mainly for “working in the field”. Thus, Kadyrov became the head of a unique kind of special taskforce whose mission was to crush the insurgency in those narrow places where the arm of the legal law enforcement agencies does not reach.

Having become Chechnya’s prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov continued to fulfil the duty with which he had been charged – that of waging war on the "shaytans" [satans], as he calls the militant Muslim radicals from the underground. But his ambitions were growing rapidly and excessively. He claimed the role of leader, the leader of the nation, which meant that he wanted to get his hands on the entire extent of political and civil authority in Chechnya. Kadyrov was trying to win back the presidential throne. From this point onwards he would go far beyond the limits of the role assigned to him and would start to play an independent game.

This game consists in his introducing a parallel legal system in the republic, creating his own economy, entering into conflict with the various federal agencies (including the law enforcement bodies) which are trying to control his actions. The political regime he has established is a “soft dictatorship” which permits no serious divergence of opinions or criticism of the authorities.

The prevalent atmosphere in Kadyrov’s Chechnya is an outlandish mish-mash created from the preferences of Kadyrov himself (among other things, his passion for noisy, glittering contests and sumptuous festivals), national customs, Chechen messianism, twisted fragments of Shariah, secular social practices, abstract slogans of unity with Russia, and many other things. With the best will in the world, it is hard to call this a coherent social doctrine.

One realizes that a way of life built on such foundations is going to be highly idiosyncratic and to bear only an indirect relation to the order that prevails in the rest of Russia. No wonder, then, that even now (when the authorities are saying that peace and law and order reign in Chechnya) a large section of Russian society perceives the region as a foreign entity. Ordinary Russians are unlikely to muster the courage to spend their vacations in the picturesque Chechen mountains.

Kadyrov as a permanent irritant

On May 20, Major General Nikolai Sivak, commander of the Joint Troops Group (OGV) in the North Caucasus, gave an interview to the Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper. It was really an extended report on the theme: "The special taskforce headed by Ramzan Kadyrov is not up to the job.” During the course of the year the situation in the republic has not improved. With the start of the spring-summer period, the armed underground has put into action exactly the same volume of forces as it did a year ago. The conclusion is plain: the means used by Kadyrov to fight the rebels are now exhausted. And he is not in a position to offer new ones.

There are also other complaints about Kadyrov. These are of a different sort. He has not abandoned his aim of taking Chechen oil under his control, and believes that the revenue derived from it should belong to the republic. But this the federal centre cannot allow. Oil is the principal resource through which the Russian authorities ensure the unity of Russia, and which they use to finance the economic and political order and secure the welfare of their foremost representatives. An assault on the oil revenues is akin to an attempt to pick the pockets of the men at the top.

In addition, there are complaints on the part of Chechen society, which views the republic’s territory as separate from Russia. Most Chechen citizens are certain that Kadyrov has concentrated in his hands a more than reasonable amount of power, and that this has enabled him to ensure the republic’s independence. The experience of Chechnya is provoking other regions of the Federation to go the same way – towards national autonomy and the creation of an extra-legal space that cannot be penetrated by the central government..

I shall avoid examining the justification or otherwise of all these complaints. Some of them are justified, others are not, but they all show the depth of the discontent that various interest groups feel in relation to the Chechen leader.

What next?

On May 30 Army General Anatoly Kulikov gave an extremely interesting interview to the RIA-Novosti agency. In response to a question about the fate of the unit led by the Yamadayev brothers, he said: "Formations like the Russian Defence Ministry’s Vostok battalion, which are created primarily on an ethnic basis, can be disbanded after their core objectives of anti-terrorism have been achieved. Ethnic formations of this kind are put together in order to confront certain challenges at certain times – for example, in the case of an outbreak of violence, or in the fight against terrorism. This particular problem has been solved. Today the forces that ought to be in Chechnya are federal ones. To avoid complaints about their activities by the people or by local authorities, their work ought to be subject to supervision by the [Russian] Prosecutor’s office."

Here is a ready prescription prepared in the bowels of the Ministry of Defence for all of Chechnya’s special forces. Of course, the general does not mention Kadyrov directly, but the principle according to which groups that have served their purpose are turned into scrap and recycled is the same for all recruits, regardless of the nominal position they occupy. Movlady Baysarov, who was shot dead by Kadyrov’s men in the centre of Moscow, carried a Russian FSB colonel’s identity card.

It is hard to tell whether Vladimir Putin (or Dmitry Medvedev?) is ready to follow the prescription without long deliberation. From an objective point of view, however, the extravagant Chechen leader is already creating more problems than he is bringing benefits. This gap will grow, and sooner or later the day will arrive when a final decision has to be made. It is possible that in the light of his past merit Kadyrov will not be replaced in a radical shift of power, as is customary in Chechnya. Either an attempt will be made to modernize him into an average civil servant (something that will be hard to attain), or he will be tucked away into some elevated but unimportant post in Moscow.


Novaya gazeta archive photo.

(Translation by DM)




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