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

Kazantsev Cracks the Whip

Warring Chechen leaders Akhmad Kadyrov and Beslan Gantamirov are told to bury the hatchet
By Yuri Akbashev

Russia's governor in the North Caucasus claims to have brokered an uneasy peace between the two warring heads of the civilian administration in Chechnya - but there is little reason to hope that the truce will last.


General Victor Kazantsev, head of the newly created Southern Federal District, held a private audience with Akhmad Kadyrov and his deputy Beslan Gantamirov in the run-up to this month's 23rd Session of the North Caucasus Association (NCA).


He later told delegates in the Kabardino-Balkarian capital of Nalchik that both men had agreed to bury the hatchet and unite in the common goal of bringing order to Chechnya.


The conflict between Kadyrov, the ex-mufti, and Gantamirov, head of the pro-Russian Chechen militia, broke out just days after Gantamirov was appointed first deputy to the republic's civilian administration.


Infuriated to discover that Kadyrov had dismissed four of his supporters from top administrative posts, Gantamirov rallied 200 militiamen and marched on Gudermes, Kadyrov's seat of government.


He gave his men orders to "cleanse Gudermes of all terrorists, extremists and nationalists". Bloodshed was only averted by the intercession of Lieutenant-General Vladimir Bokovikov, Kazantsev's deputy.


Consequently, the conflict between the two Chechen leaders was top of the agenda at the NCA meeting which brought together the heads of all seven North Caucasian republics.


However, Kazantsev's reprimands were delivered behind closed doors, with only Valery Kokov, president of Kabardino-Balkaria, attending. "You won't leave this room until you've come to an agreement," the general reportedly told the wayward Chechen leaders.


Publicly, General Kazantsev stated, "The conflict has run its course. Gantamirov has understood his mistake and admitted that he didn't behave correctly. We've punished him for that mistake." He declined, however, to reveal what form this punishment had taken.


Journalists at a subsequent press conference attempted to throw further light on the future of the civilian administration in Chechnya. A Radio Liberty reporter asked outright how Kadyrov intended to govern a republic in which he enjoys almost no authority.


The question prompted an angry retort from General Kazantsev who openly expressed his contempt for the radio station which, he said, had lost all its credibility in the region [a reference to the scandal surrounding Radio Liberty's Andrei Babitsky in January of this year].


Kadyrov answered the question through gritted teeth. "At the present time, there is a queue of 100 people for every job vacancy in the new administration. Isn't that authority? If I didn't have any authority amongst the Chechens, do you think these crowds of people would come to me for work?"


Suggestions that the crowds of hopefuls might simply be desperate for a job were angrily quashed by General Kazantsev.


Most observers have noted that the 23rd session of the NCA gave a disturbing insight into President Vladimir Putin's master plan for the pacification of the Caucasus. The administrative entity known as the Southern Federal District has erased the concept of the North Caucasus per se whilst the Russian general staff is being given increasing control over administrative matters.


The new regime will also devote increasing efforts to blurring ethnic divisions across the region. General Kazantsev told delegates, "Very soon a person's worth won't be decided by his national origins but by whether he's a good person or a bad person." Certainly, the recent conflict between Kadyrov and Gantamirov gives little cause to hope that this will happen any time soon.


Yuri Akbashev is a regular IWPR contributor


More IWPR's Global Voices

Why Did Cuba Jail This Journalist?
Rights defenders say that unusually harsh punishment reflects wider troubles for Havana regime.
Under A Watchful Eye: Cyber Surveillance in Cuba
Cuba's Less Than Beautiful Game