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

Kadyrov Stakes Leadership Claim

A confident Ramzan Kadyrov turns 30, and looks to the Chechen presidency.
By Timur Aliev
A three-metre column towers above the main highway through western Chechnya, covered with a huge poster with three figures depicted on it: Chechen prime minister Ramzan Kadyrov, Russian president Vladimir Putin and the late pro-Moscow Chechen president – and father of Ramzan - Akhmad Kadyrov. The poster is visible from a great distance and passing drivers have been heard to call it “The Holy Trinity”.



This is not the only monument of its kind – similar ones can be seen on the approach to the towns of Argun, Gudermes, Urus-Martan and Grozny. Posters, calendars and even paintings of the younger Kadyrov are on walls in offices all over Chechnya. And some young people wear government-distributed T-shirts with his portrait done in Che Guevara style.



Last week, Kadyrov told journalists the portraits were not his own initiative but were spontaneous gestures by grateful citizens – and then gave orders for them to be taken down. The two other figures, Putin and his father, were worthy of having their portraits put up in public, but he was not, he said.



Despite his orders, the portraits have stayed up. “Spontaneous demonstrations took place in Urus-Martan, Shali, Vedeno, Kurchaloi and other regions” asking for the posters to stay, Chechen television reported, quoting the government press service.



Ramzan Kadyrov turns 30 on October 5, an age at which he is constitutionally entitled to stand for the presidency of the Chechen Republic.



He has already eclipsed the man formally elected president in 2004, Alu Alkhanov, and several Russian analysts have predicted that the Chechen parliament will soon propose a vote of no-confidence in Alkhanov and then nominate Kadyrov to replace him. Under current Russian legislation, all that would then need to happen was for Putin to confirm the nomination.



That his candidacy should be discussed seriously is a sign of how the younger Kadyrov has changed in the past two years. He has been written about extensively in the Russian and foreign media as a brutal warlord, but now he is making an effort to project a different image.



Kadyrov has started befriending the media and now willingly gives interviews, even letting journalists stay with him for several days. He now even has an English-speaking press secretary from Moscow, Tatyana Georgieva.



Ordinary Chechens, too, believe Kadyrov has changed. “He is not as uncouth as he was two years ago,” said university lecturer Shirvani Kadiev, adding that his popular appeal stems from work he has done, especially to rebuild the city of Grozny, where destroyed buildings are being repaired and new homes and roads are being built.



“What no other Chechen politician has done in five or six years, Ramzan has done in less than a year,” said 33-year-old Grozny resident Ramzan Bagapov. “The methods he used to achieve this – did he borrow the money or something else? – well, that’s secondary. The main thing is that from an economic point of view, if not a political one, Ramzan is doing it.”



Another Grozny resident, Magomed Sambiev, said he welcomed the rebuilding programme, “But why do they have to do it to meet certain deadlines, such as Ramzan’s birthday? Why not do it to a set timetable?”



Others, concentrating on his human rights record, say Kadyrov is still doing a lot of harm in Chechnya. “There is no justification for what Ramzan is doing,” said human rights activist Sultan Abubakarov. “For example the policy of ‘snatching’ rebel fighters, which was invented by his father. The seizure of their relatives amounts to a policy of collective punishment.



“In the future it could lead to major bloodshed, when the mechanism of endless blood feuding is triggered.”



However, many Chechens now support their prime minister. “People like the authoritarian style of his rule, when for example he dresses down officials in public,” said political analyst Edilbek Khasmagomadov. “That’s logical. When there is no rule of law, Ramzan is perceived as a kind uncle who cares about the ordinary man in the street.”



Human rights activist and analyst Tatyana Lokshina warns that this style of rule may prove very damaging for Chechnya in the future.



“Kadyrov is bad for Chechnya not only because his security agencies resort to violence and because abductions and torture are continuing, but also because he is completely depriving the republic of the space in which the law operates,” said Lokshina.



“Everything is being done outside the law – illegal prisons, the so-called ‘amnesty’ offered under personal guarantees, the way the people are made to contribute to the [Kadyrov government] fund, which is the main funder of the reconstruction work, right up to the declaration that our men can have four wives – and no law is needed for this.



“This is dangerous for Chechnya, as it destroys the chance that the situation can be sorted out in a normal fashion. And it’s dangerous for Russia – it has to live with this kind of Chechnya. What is happening today is in many ways reminiscent of the period between the two wars [1996-99, when a pro-independence government was in power], in its worst manifestations.”



Many analysts both in Moscow and Grozny believe it is only a matter of time before Kadyrov becomes president of Chechnya.



“I think the issue… has already been solved,” said Moscow-based analyst Sergei Markedonov. “And although the candidate himself is being modest and says he’s tired of the burden of power, he is very likely to take on that burden. As with the story with the portraits, the people will beg and public opinion will press for it.”



“Scenarios have definitely been designed to make Kadyrov president of Chechnya quickly,” said Khasmagomadov. “But now the situation in both Moscow and in Chechnya is being reassessed by [Russian] federal representatives. A lot will depend on how Ramzan himself behaves.



“Maybe he will have to wait for the end of Alkhanov’s presidency [in 2008]. But in any case, he doesn’t have long to wait.”



Timur Aliev is IWPR’s Chechnya coordinator.