Kadyrov’s assassination hampers Putin’s strategy in Chechnya

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Crescent International

Rabi' al-Thani 13, 1425 2004-06-01


by Crescent International (World, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 4, Rabi' al-Thani, 1425)

The assassination of Ahmed Kadyrov, Chechnya's pro-Kremlin president, on May 9 has thrown into chaos president Vladimir Putin's plans for ending the Chechen resistance to Russian imperialism...

The assassination of Ahmed Kadyrov, Chechnya's pro-Kremlin president, on May 9 has thrown into chaos president Vladimir Putin's plans for ending the Chechen resistance to Russian imperialism, and securing the Muslim republic in the Russian Federation. It is four years and a half since Putin ordered Russian forces into Chechnya, but the fighting has never abated, and the Chechens show no sign of giving up their resistance. The death of Kadyrov (who was a mufti and a leader of the resistance before his defection in 1999) confirms that Putin's plans to tame Chechnya are foundering.

Another bad sign for Putin is the manner in which his agent in Chechnya was disposed of. An explosive device was detonated under the crowded VIP stand at Grozny's Dinamo stadium during the annual celebration of the victory of Russia and its allies in the second ‘world war' (1939–45). Moscow's military commander in Chechnya was left fighting for his life, and Valery Baranov, general commander of joint forces in the Northern Caucasus, lost a leg. The failure of security on a national holiday was an insult to the Russians' pride. Putin felt it was necessary to act quickly when the news reached him.

A few hours later Putin received Kadyrov's son, Ramzan, head of the Chechen presidential security service, at the Kremlin, and paid tribute to the late president, referring to him as "a real hero". He also received Sergei Abramov, former prime minister of Chechnya, and appointed him acting president pending elections, which are to be held within four months. "It is necessary that this dreadful event should not reflect negatively on the lives of [Chechen] people," Putin said. Two days later he appointed Ramzan, 27, first deputy to the interim president.

Ramzan was appointed despite accusations from human-rights activists that, as head of his father's security service and collaborator with Russian interior and security police forces, he had been involved in torture and the disappearances of many Chechens. The acting president justified his promotion as a measure to "strengthen the fight against terrorism", and the continuation of his late father's policies. Putin did his best to raise Ramzan's profile by appearing with him on several television programmes, and by travelling to Johar-Gala (the capital of Chechnya, also known as Grozny) to honour Kadyrov's family. He has been resisting pressure from Moscow to appoint a Russian as ruler of Chechnya. He appointed Kadyrov president in 2000, and rigged the elections last October to ensure his victory. Putin prefers to see Chechen leaders oppressing their own people, instead of Russian presidents doing it for them, as this would provoke the resistance to even more vigor.

But the leaders of the Chechen resistance are not intimidated, despite the fact that Putin is now sending additional reinforcements to fight them. Nor is Putin is worried by the prospect of any campaign by the ‘international community' in Chechnya's favour. In fact, the assassination of Kadyrov was condemned strongly by many foreign officials, including those of Germany, Japan, the US, the European Commission, the UN and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Although these were all condemning not only the assassination but also the blast, in which many people died, Putin is certain to interpret their statements as support for his "war on terrorism". After all, the leaders of these governments and organisations are not condemning the crimes of Israeli forces in Ghazzah on the patently false grounds that they are fighting terrorists. They also see the Chechen resistance fighters as Islamic fundamentalists, and have no sympathy for their struggle to secure their self-determination.

Putin announced the despatch of the additional forces during his swift visit to Johar-Gala on May 11. He told his government to add 1,125 policemen to the region's police force by the end of the day: a move that is mostly symbolic in a country where there are already 70,000 Russian troops and thousands of pro-Moscow Chechen police and security forces. The presidential guard (the Kadyrovtsy), led by Kadyrov's son, alone number 4,000. But Putin's problem is that, no matter how many troops or police he sends to Chechnya, the situation there is so insecure that bringing it into control is effectively impossible. In fact, things are so bad that his visit to the capital was announced only after he had returned to Moscow.

Another of Putin's problems is the question of who is to take over from the interim president after the elections (September 5). He is certain to attempt to rig them, as he did last October. Then, only approved candidates were allowed to stand: even a Chechen businessman, Malik Saidullaev, living in Moscow, was not allowed to stand, although he could hardly be described as an Islamic activist or resistance leader, but he was still believed to be a threat to Kadyrov. The Chechen response to the rigging is going to be fierce. But even if the polling itself is not rigged, those who stand for office will generally be regarded as collaborators by the Chechens.

Putin knows that the resistance will continue, yet he is unlikely to change his policies. He believes that by allowing the Chechens to fight themselves, thereby minimising Russian casualties, he can persist in his policy of attrition. The Chechens will pay a heavy price, but they will triumph eventually. Those Muslim leaders who are cooperating with the "war on terror" should take Kadyrov's assassination as a timely warning, and a lesson of the Chechens' courage and determination.

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