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Exasperated Moscow Backs Kadyrov

The warring heads of Chechnya's puppet administration have tried the Kremlin's patience to breaking point
By Erik Batuev

One of the senior members of Chechnya's pro-Russian administration, Beslan Gantamirov, has announced his departure from politics following a bitter power struggle with the head of the puppet government, Akhmad Kadyrov.

Last week, in what many see as a final admission of defeat, the Kremlin effectively sided with Kadyrov against Gantamirov.

Clearly dissatisfied following a series of subsequent meetings in Moscow with the Russian defence minister and senior Kremlin officials, Gantamirov said he now planned to pursue a career in business.

Some observers fear the Kremlin's decision to back Kadyrov could provoke a bloody power struggle between opposing loyalist factions vying for control of the "occupied territories".

The two Chechens have been squabbling since July when Gantamirov, then head of the pro-Moscow militia, was appointed to the post. The rivalry almost erupted into armed confrontation on July 16 when Gantamirov ordered his troops to march on Gudermes and "cleanse the town of all terrorists, extremists and nationalists".

A bloody clash between the rival factions was averted by the intercession of Lieutenant-General Vladimir Bokovikov, the newly-appointed deputy head of the Southern Federal District, but subsequently sparked a schism within the Russian general staff.

General Ivan Babichev, the top federal commander in Chechnya, interior ministry chief General Ivan Golubev and General Bokovikov came out in firm support of the ex-mufti, Kadyrov.

This cabal believes that, in the event of an amnesty, Kadyrov will be able to unite all the factions which support Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov and stage a peaceful revolution in the breakaway republic.

Gantamirov, however, enjoys the backing of General Staff supremo Anatoly Kvashnin, his deputy, Valery Manilov, and other military commanders who are categorically opposed to any talks with Maskhadov and are committed to the complete annihilation of the rebel forces.

At the time, the Kremlin chose to adopt a conciliatory stance and tacitly supported both sides.

Recent events, however, have made neutrality impossible. Last week, Kadyrov announced a decision to appoint a number of Chechen officials to the Grozny administration without consulting the city's mayor, Supyan Makhachev.

Makhachev, a Gantamirov ally, promptly threatened to resign whilst his mentor openly called Kadyrov "a bandit" and refused to take any further orders from his superior.

The Kremlin is very aware that the ongoing vendetta is seriously discrediting the civilian administration in Chechnya and playing into the hands of the rebel government.

Hence, Russia's spokesman for Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, has reiterated federal support for Akhmad Kadyrov, adding that "a new role" would be found for Gantamirov.

Victor Kazantsev, governor of the Southern Federal District which includes the North Caucasus, has already offered the Chechen commander a place in the president's Administrative Academy with a view to taking on a government post. Meanwhile, defence minister Igor Sergeev has invited Gantamirov to enter the General Staff Academy.

Gantamirov has yet to react to Moscow's proposals, fuelling concerns that he may join forces with Supyan Taramov's pro-Russian militia and attempt to oust Kadyrov.

Shamil Beno, representative of the president's Temporary Administration in Chechnya, accepts that this is a real possibility, adding, "That's hardly going to be an option for any Russian president interested in resolving the Chechen conflict."

Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechen deputy to the State Duma, told IWPR that he had always thought the union of Kadyrov and Gantamirov was "artificial" but believed "the tragedy of Chechnya would force them to set aside their personal ambitions and join together in a common goal - to establish law and order in Chechnya."

Erik Batuev is a regular contributor to IWPR

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