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Kadyrov Slams Chechen Congress

The pro-Russian administration in Chechnya is set to move to Grozny on April 15
By Erik Batuev

Akhmad Kadyrov, the Russian-appointed leader of Chechnya's civilian administration, is bitterly opposing plans to hold a congress of Chechen peoples next month.

The idea has been mooted by Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Duma representative for Chechnya, and enjoys support from fellow deputy Ruslan Khasbulatov and prominent Chechen businessman Malik Saidullayev.

The organisers plan to bring together delegates from all levels of Chechen society in a national forum aimed at shaping the future of the war-torn republic.

"This is not the time for congresses," Kadyrov told IWPR. "The war is not over yet and we should remember the congress of the Chechen people in 1990. We know only too well how that ended - a year later Djokhar Dudaev came to power."

Kadyrov went on, "At the current time, it's not even possible to hold presidential elections here. Life must get back to normal first. We need a single body which will resolve any questions connected with elections and referendums."

And he concluded, "The people who are trying to organise this congress are only thinking about the political dividends. They see the event as a springboard into the political arena."

However, it is likely that Kadyrov has other reasons to oppose the congress. His authority in occupied Chechnya remains shaky and a national referendum could easily hasten his political downfall.

Many people in Chechnya still consider Aslan Maskhadov to be the legally elected president of the breakaway republic. There is a real danger that a congress could unite a significant opposition faction made up of Maskhadov supporters.

If Kadyrov is to win the trust of the Chechen people, he needs to focus on rebuilding the shattered towns and villages and boosting the local economy.

However, his authority is constantly undermined by the actions of the Russian armed forces who continue to police the occupied territories with an iron fist. On the one hand, Kadyrov is wary of crossing swords with the federal high command; on the other, he faces criticism for his failure to protect the rights of the population at large.

Furthermore, the former Chechen mufti faces opposition within his own administration - particularly from Grozny mayor Bislan Gantamirov, who commanded the pro-Russian Chechen militia during the 1999 siege of the capital.

This conflict could flare up again after April 15, when Kadyrov is due to move his headquarters from Gudermes to Grozny.

But the Chechen leader claims the hatchets are well buried. "[Gantamirov] is my subordinate. He obeys me," Kadyrov told IWPR. "We work as one team."

His confidence may stem from the recent reshuffle in the Russian government which saw Gantamirov's old enemy, Vladimir Rushailo, appointed secretary of the Security Council. Most observers agree that Rushailo will keep the Grozny mayor on a short lease.

Rushailo - the former interior minister -- is said to be rebuilding Chechnya "without chucking money out of the window". His tactics are likely to involve a harsh clamp-down on corrupt Chechen officials and close controls on the way money is spent across the republic.

Erik Batuev is a regular IWPR contributor

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