Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Chechnya: Gantamirov Takes on Kadyrov

The one-time mayor of Grozny wants a seat in the future Chechen parliament.
By Timur Aliev

Colourful and controversial Bislan Gantamirov has gone head-to-head with the country’s pro-Moscow government, the start of his campaign for a seat in the Chechen parliament.

Gantamirov, the one-time mayor of Grozny, launched his parliamentary bid with a bang May 30, complaining to Moscow about wrongdoing by First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, the republic’s most powerful figure.

He accused Kadyrov’s “people” of breaking into his house and that of his younger brother and taking two million roubles and other valuables. He also called Kadyrov “the bandit boss of the republic” and said his home was targeted because he plans to run in the November elections.

Kadyrov denied any attacks took place or that money was stolen. Media reports said both men have been summoned to the Kremlin and advised to end the quarrel for the sake of both their political futures.

But as the elections draw closer, that doesn’t seem likely to happen.

Taus Jabrailov, head of the State Council of Chechnya, and Chechen prime minister Sergei Abramov have waded into the dispute, sending a letter to the Russian presidential administration accusing Gantamirov of furthering his political ambitions by exploiting grave socio-economic situation in Chechnya.

The letter also says that Gantamirov is using the media to develop a “libel campaign against the Chechen first deputy prime minister and hero of Russia, Ramzan Kadyrov”.

In his turn Gantamirov declared that the Chechen parliament and State Council were in a pitiful state. “The entire government is a house of cards. Take out one piece, and the whole thing collapses,” he said.

Kadyrov also seems unwilling to make peace, recently claiming that Gantamirov maintains close connections with rebel armed groups in Chechnya and cited a criminal case in which Gantamirov is implicated involving stolen vehicles, including an armoured car.

According to Russian political analyst Ilya Maksakov, “the most amusing thing is that you couldn’t call either Gantamirov or Kadyrov an angel”.

“The accusations they are throwing at each other are completely appropriate to both of them,” he said. “This is one of the peculiarities of the present situation in Chechnya. The powerful forces loyal to Moscow can find no common language. It’s not surprising. There is too much money and too many interests in the destroyed and destitute republic. And when these interests intersect, even allies are prepared to take up Kalashnikovs. This is really what’s going on.”

Now 42, Gantamirov is one of the few survivors of the “Chechen Revolution” of 1991 when as a police officer he joined the opposition to the Communist government in support of nationalist leader Jokhar Dudayev.

In 1993, he was mayor of Grozny when he changed sides and joined the opposition to Dudayev’s regime.

The following year he was among a handful of opposition leaders who supported the Russian military intervention in Chechnya, and became mayor again under the federal authorities, but increasingly worked as a third force.

Accused of embezzling 57 billion roubles (10 million US dollars) intended for the reconstruction of Grozny in 1997, he was sentenced to six years in prison, but was specially pardoned at the beginning of the second Chechen war in 1999 and formed a Chechen police force working alongside the Russian military.

In the summer of 2000, Gantamirov, having aspired to the Chechen leadership, was again appointed mayor of Grozny. But he fell out with Kremlin appointee Akhmat Kadyrov and lost the position again.

As Chechnya’s press minister, he supported Hussein Jabrailov against Kadyrov in the 2003 presidential elections. His ministry was disbanded, and Gantamirov was again dismissed.

Since then, Gantamirov has been working as a businessman and is part owner of a Grozny market and a printing house in the southern Russian town of Kislovodsk.

In October 2004 he became a member of the Rodina (Motherland) party, a nationalist-leaning pro-Kremlin group, heading its Chechnya branch.

So far, Gantamirov is the only prominent opposition figure to have started a campaign for a seat in the two-chambered Chechen parliament which will comprise an upper house of 21 members from each of the republic’s regions and a lower house of 40 deputies.

In Chechnya, nobody has any doubt that Gantamirov has decided to play on the unpopularity of Ramzan Kadyrov to help in his campaign. “Very many people in the republic do not like Ramzan. By criticising him, Gantamirov obtains supporters from a number of unsatisfied Kadyrov supporters,” said 34-year-old Grozny resident Idris Amayev, who thinks Gantamirov is unlikely to get his parliamentary seat.

“He will undoubtedly be in politics here but he won’t be popular with the people. It is even more doubtful that he will get into parliament. [Nationalist politician Dmitry] Rogozin and his Rodina party are not liked in the republic because of their anti-Chechen policies,” said Amayev.

Others agree Gantamirov’s campaign is in vain as the election results are pre-determined. In March, the Moscow newspaper Kommersant, referring to a source in the Chechen government, reported that the list of future deputies had already been drawn up according to instructions from Kadyrov.

Chechen analyst Murad Magomadov agrees that the Chechen opposition will find it difficult in the upcoming elections.

“The overwhelming majority of seats in the future parliament will be won by representatives of [pro-Putin party] United Russia because they will use government resources. Even [Chechen president Alu] Alkhanov is in United Russia,” said Magomadov.

“Gantamirov won’t bring about real opposition. He doesn’t have the armed forces behind him like he did in 2000. Any political group in Chechnya has practically no chance of getting into power without serious armed support.”

Timur Aliev is the IWPR coordinator for Chechnya.

More IWPR's Global Voices