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Tom Kitchin

Chechen president doing too well for his own good

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Published Date: 03 December 2009
RAMZAN Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya, recently proposed to Ahmed Zakaev, a leader of the nationalistic and comparatively moderate Chechen opposition, that he return to Chechnya. Kadyrov promised Zakaev amnesty and various positions ranging from director of the local theatre to minister of culture.

Zakaev looked ready to accept the proposal. His position in the nationalist opposition was weak. There seem to be few, if any, fighters in Chechnya who recognise him as commander; his recent attempt to send an emissary to create a fighting unit d
irectly under his command was unsuccessful.

At the same time, Zakaev maintained rather friendly relations with Kadyrov, whose achievements – making Chechnya practically independent – he implicitly acknowledged. The Kremlin supposedly would not have opposed the deal.

However, although Zakaev was one of the most moderate members of the Chechen resistance, an amnesty for him needed the Kremlin's approval, and he does not seem to have received it, which is probably why he refused Kadyrov's offer.

But the reason the Kremlin balked at offering Zakaev an amnesty is unlikely to be related to him personally, but rather to Kadyrov.

For most of the past two decades, jihadists in the Caucasus and Central Asia were a major source of concern for the Kremlin. Fear of "Talebanisation" of the Caucasus prompted the Kremlin's recent announcement that Russian Muslims should be protected from extremist propaganda from abroad, and that Russian Muslim education and spiritual life should be controlled in order to direct them away from extremism.

It was fear of extremism, as well as a more general increase in violence, that led to the rise of the Kadyrov clan in 2004, when the Kremlin decided to engage in a "Chechenisation" of the conflict.

The plan implied that the Kremlin would provide the Kadyrovs – first Akhmad Kadyrov, and then, after his death, his son, Ramzan – broad autonomy (independence in all but name) and huge sums of money.

The Kremlin closed its eyes to Kadryov's amnesty of former guerrillas and their inclusion in his paramilitary units. In exchange, Kadyrov was to wage war against the remaining Islamist resistance and thus relieve Moscow of the burden of shedding Russian blood, or at least minimise the cost in Russian casualties.

The plan initially worked. Kadyrov was able to create a strong force that could fight the guerrillas, basically on its own. Kadyrov's efforts can also be credited with ending major terrorist attacks in Russia's heartland, such as those that occurred in Moscow in 2002 and in Beslan in 2004.

Kadyrov seemed an effective antidote to the jihadists. Still, the logical conclusion of the Kremlin's Kadyrov policy appears to be precisely what it sought to prevent – Chechen independence – when it engaged in the first Chechen war almost a generation ago.

Receiving from the Kremlin virtual carte blanche to do what he wants in Chechnya, Kadyrov made genuine efforts to transform himself into a popular leader. It is clear that he has not brought down the unemployment rate and has no intention of ending corruption.

Still, he can be credited for some tangible results in bringing Chechnya a modicum of normality.

The restoration of the capital, Grozny, which was totally destroyed in the first Chechen war, was one of his clear achievements.

Kadyrov also catered to the spiritual aspirations of the Chechen majority. He rejected Wahhabism – the ideological framework of the jihadists. But he maintained that Islam is an essential part of the Chechen tradition and presented himself as a leader who fully understood this.

So he encouraged an Islamic dress code and built a huge mosque – one of the biggest, if not the biggest, in Europe.

All of this brought Kadyrov wide support among the Chechen population. Even those who dislike him sometimes conclude that he is the best of all the options.

It was probably inevitable that Kadyrov's increasing power would worry the Kremlin, especially after the Kremlin itself created a precedent for secession by recognising the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia of the war with Georgia of 2008.

Allowing Zakaev's return would have worsened matters by increasing Kadyrov's prestige at home, as well as his international visibility and legitimacy.

That would have pushed Kadyrov even further away from Russian control at a time when the Kremlin has become increasingly unable, and possibly reluctant, to purchase his loyalty.

• Dmitry Shlapentokh teaches history at the University of Indiana.

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  • Last Updated: 02 December 2009 10:34 PM
  • Source: The Scotsman
  • Location: Edinburgh


03/12/2009 13:09:51
Comment Removed By Administrator


Edinburgh 03/12/2009 16:07:04
Interesting article, but there are a few things in it that could be picked up.

1) Although Zakayev and his allies have conducted talks with representatives of the Kadyrov regime, Zakayev himself has always remained opposed. While acknowledging that the Kadyrov regime has lead to the removal of Russian federal forces from Chechnya Zakayev has described what Kadyrov has done, in terms of getting into bed with the Putin regime, as 'treason'. Zakayev is currently acting head of the government of the Chechn Republic of Ichkeria, the original secessionists - Kadyrov posed over the body of the last elected leader of the ChRI (and the last geniunely elected of Chechnya), Aslan Mashkadov, a close ally of Zakayev.

2) The article describes Zakayev as having a "weak" position in the "nationalist opposition". Currently, Zakayev is basically the leader of the Chechen nationalist movement. The declaration in 2007 by Dokku Umarov of a Caucausian Emirate - the de facto abolition of the ChRI, which was the political, moral and legal basis for Chechen independence and both Chechen wars - has split Zakayev from his former cadres. Although there were dissenters, most of the armed fighters within Chechnya went with Umarov and the Emirate, which commits the resistance to fight for the establishment of Sharia rule across the NOrth Caucausas - a completely unrealistic, Taliban-esque goal. Although there isn't really any accurate barometer of Chechen opinion most observers hold that the move towards out and out jihadism hasn't served the resistance well.

What is interesting in terms of the future of Chechnya is that while Kadyrov has moved the republic towards autonomy, this is all based on the protection (real and implied) by Russian forces. If Kadyrov tried to move towards any sort of formalised independence he'd be pushed out. The only realistic way for Chechnya to move towards formal independence is for the political situation in Russia to radically change. A liberal,


03/12/2009 16:07:45
A liberal, democratic regime that would recognise democratic pressure for change could allow for Chechnya to move towards independence. In this situation the return of the diaspora, where the moderate Zakayev enjoys a lot of support, could provide a stimulus for change. However, with the Putin regime still in place the people of Chechnya, and the Chechen issue, seems destined to remain in stasis for some time.

Oh and the previous comment is infantile.


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