Chechen Power Struggle Hots Up

Differences between Chechnya’s president and prime minister burst into the open.

Chechen Power Struggle Hots Up

Differences between Chechnya’s president and prime minister burst into the open.

Russian head of state Vladimir Putin last week called Chechen president Alu Alkhanov and prime minister Ramzan Kadyrov to a meeting in the Kremlin to try and mediate in a power struggle that has almost got out of control.

Officially, Putin’s invitation on May 5 was to discuss the socio-economic situation in Chechnya, and make plans for future development. But few doubt that the reason for the unprecedented meeting was the clash between the two men, which led to shooting on the streets of Grozny last month.

On April 25, Kadyrov’s and Alkhanov’s security guards exchanged fire outside the government buildings in Grozny and men on both sides were wounded.

“The armed group of Kadyrovtsy [as Kadyrov’s men are generally known in Chechnya] wanted to go through onto the territory of the government buildings, but the security guards refused to let them through with weapons, because apart from anything else, the head of the Russian Audit Chamber Sergei Stepashin was there,” a source from one of the republic's law enforcement agencies told IWPR. “An argument broke out, and both sides started to shoot, mainly into the ground and air. Several men were wounded, but fighters from the GRU [military intelligence] West special forces battalion arrived on the scene and managed to take control of the situation and prevent bloodshed.”

A few days later, cabinet ministers loyal to Kadyrov, led by the republic's finance minister Eli Isayev, proposed that Alkhanov resign in order to ensure the “stability of the republic”. Alkhanov promised to consider this and to take a decision after his meeting with President Putin in the Kremlin. But he apparently stood firm after receiving Putin’s support.

Although Alkhanov is nominally the elected leader of Chechnya, following an election in 2004, real power currently lies with 29-year-old Ramzan Kadyrov, son of Alkhanov’s predecessor Akhmat Kadyrov who was assassinated two years ago.

The two men come from very different backgrounds, with Alkhanov being one of the few Chechens who fought alongside federal forces in the 1994-6 conflict, while the elder Kadyrov and his supporters fought alongside pro-independence rebels, only to switch sides in 1999.

Daily news broadcasts on local television begin and end with shots of the prime minister and what he is doing: Ramzan Kadyrov reprimanding ministers; Kadyrov visiting a children’s shelter; Kadyrov returning to a female Russian resident of Grozny a flat stolen by criminals; Kadyrov meeting security forces, and so on. By contrast Alkhanov is shown only rarely, and then in reports of his next trip to Moscow, or signing agreements with the heads of Russia’s regions.

Most people in Chechnya are convinced that as soon as the younger Kadyrov turns 30 he will take over as president. The current electoral law bars anyone under 30 holding the post.

“Ramzan Kadyrov sees himself as leader of the republic and that's what he is to all intents and purposes,” said Hasan, 40, a teacher in one of Chechnya’s institutes. “Alkhanov is no more than a temporary leader and I think he realises that. He was and has remained an ordinary functionary, someone who is used to carrying out orders. After the death of Kadyrov senior the Kadyrov clan backed Alkhanov and put him forward for the position of president.”

“People here have even been saying he swore on the Koran to hand the post over to Kadyrov when the latter turned 30.”

However, the latest turn of events may be upsetting these expectations, as Alkhanov seeks to strengthen his position.

“The shoot out in Grozny was not at all because of an ordinary argument between security guards,” Movsar Makhmudov, a resident of the Chechen capital, told IWPR. “One of my wife’s relatives works for Ramzan Kadyrov’s security service, and he has quite a different story. He says they did not want to let Ramzan Kadyrov into the meeting with Stepashin.

“It turned out that Alu Alkhanov had invited the former mayor of Grozny, Bislan Gantamirov. Sulim Yamadayev and Said-Magomed Kakiev (commanders of the two GRU battalions) were also present. They were trying to agree on how to form a coalition against Ramzan Kadyrov. Apparently there was even a plan to appoint Gantamirov interior minister of the republic and begin a “clean-up” of the security agencies, to force out Kadyrov’s supporters and replace them with their own people.

“Ramzan Kadyrov somehow found out about this plot and this was precisely the reason for the conflict with Alu Alkhanov.”

Gantamirov is a veteran of Chechen civil strife since 1991 and has switched sides several times, always keeping a strong group of armed supporters under his control. Like Alkhanov, he comes from the western town of Urus-Martan.

Hasan speculates, “It looks like Alkhanov is tired of constantly being in the shadow of Kadyrov junior and has decided to play his own game.

“In short, the situation is not as simple as it might appear at first glance, and I do not rule out that by the autumn something could happen here.”

This month the Kadyrovtsy have been weakened by the disbandment of the “Anti-terrorist centre” which they staffed and its replacement by two interior ministry battalions named North and South and directly subordinate to the Russian interior ministry.

“In Chechnya, the Kremlin is using the old imperial principle of ‘Kill your enemies with the hands of your enemies!’” says a Chechen political analyst who wished to remain unnamed. “They actively used Kadyrov and his ‘guard’, which is made up mostly of amnestied fighters, against their former brothers in arms. Now, when a large part of the dirty work can already be considered to have been done, they have decided to clamp down on them.

“I think that in future Moscow will continue to weaken the position of Ramzan Kadyrov and on the contrary to strengthen Alkhanov. A former police boss and executive civil servant is far closer to them than the unpredictable and conceited Ramzan.”

However, the analyst pointed out that Putin is still making up his mind. He now has the right to appoint the heads of regions following the nomination of parliament, but the Chechen parliament is currently packed with supporters of the younger Kadyrov.

Umalt Dudayev is the pseudonym of a Chechen journalist and IWPR contributor.

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