Published: February 22, 2007 (Issue # 1248)
The circumstances of Chechen President Alu Alkhanov’s departure and replacement by Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, right down to the date, was worked out with President Vladimir Putin in December 2006. This information comes from Kremlin and Southern Federal District sources who have become more talkative since the announcement.
One of the terms of the deal was that all of the parties concerned would stick to the agreed-upon script during the announcement. Strangely, Kadyrov, who is often considered difficult to manage, stuck to the bargain. It was Alkhanov’s side that staged a counterattack in the press, suggesting that they should hang on to their positions or at least be provided with golden parachutes.
Up until last week, there had been two centers of power in Chechnya: the actual leader of the republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, and Russia’s ambassador to Chechnya, Alu Alkhanov. Alkhanov was clearly no threat to Kadyrov, whose attention had been focused on next year’s national presidential election. Because Kadyrov’s authority is based on Putin’s personal support, the only way he could avoid losing his position amid the Kremlin’s pre-election power struggles was either to immediately become president of Chechnya or hope that Putin would remain president past 2008.
Let’s be frank here: Any way you look at it, Chechnya is a mess. NATO ranks Chechnya’s guerrilla forces as the strongest of their type in the world. It’s not hard to understand when you consider that the republic was laid to waste three times in the 20th century: in 1944, 1995 and 1999. It is hard to hope for much when dealt such a hand, and it is hard to spell out a positive future using the letters “m,” “e,” “s” and “s.”
The only realistic options open to the Kremlin under the current circumstances — besides granting Chechnya independence — are simple. One is to create a federal regime free of strict Kremlin oversight. This is what we would have had under federal military officers like Captain Eduard Ulman and Colonel Yury Budanov, for whom every male Chechen is a terrorist and every female Chechen they rape is a sniper. Theirs was a reign of terror during which a “clean-up operation” involved tossing a grenade into a cellar full of children, ultimately creating more separatists than they destroyed. Such a regime would be run by a political puppet who would have no realistic hope of maintaining order. In that case, the Kremlin would end up having to sacrifice the lives of federal soldiers to kill Chechens in order to prop up the government.
The second option could be labeled “Ramzan Barbarossa,” in which Chechnya has a single functioning social institution by the name of Ramzan Kadyrov. Can anyone really doubt that Kadyrov would ever do anything but follow his own best interests in his dealings with Russia? And if Moscow can set things up so that Kadyrov’s interests become identical to Russia’s, he would manage the republic pretty much on his own. The results aren’t likely to be pretty, but they give those in power on both sides what they want.
The Kremlin siloviki favor the first option, while Putin prefers the second. It is hard to say whether or not the decision he reached in late December came as a result of political squabbling, but it is clear that there are two ways to govern Chechnya: with Putin’s personal support or with a bureaucrat puppet loyal to the Kremlin. These two systems are too contradictory for the state to allow them to try to weather the pre-election storms this year.
What remains to be seen is whether current loyalties in Chechnya will shift along with conditions there and in Moscow. The Spanish grandees of the 12th century solemnly swore they would maintain vassal loyalty to the king “as long as the king could force it from them.”
Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.