01.12.2003
A Unique Entity of the Russian Federation
№4 2003 October/December
Political developments in Chechnya

The Chechen crisis is now one of the most serious political
problems that Russia faces. This problem is having a domestic
impact on the country, as well as repercussions on the
international scene. The international community’s attention on the
dramatic developments in Chechnya is understandable, and it is
important to know how things really stand there. The actual state
of affairs in Chechnya is a far cry from the black and white
picture drawn by the Russian authorities and by the champions of
Western human rights.

The present situation in Chechnya is very complex. According to
an August 2003 public opinion poll carried out by the Validata
sociological service throughout Chechnya, more Chechens are
expressing the desire to be Russian citizens. The survey showed
that 79 percent of those polled would like Chechnya to remain a
part of Russia; six months prior this figure had been 67 percent.
And although one needs to make allowances for the extraordinary
situation in the region (not every Chechen will dare tell Russian
sociologists, for example, that he or she sympathizes with the idea
of independence), it would not be an exaggeration to say that a
majority of people in Chechnya now vote for the “Russian
choice.”

On the other hand, the Chechens’ “pro-Russian” sentiments are
not due to the actual results of efforts made by federal or local
authorities. Most of the arguments in favor of remaining a part of
Russia rest on the bitter experience of the past years. The first
argument is that there is no alternative to this choice: the people
understand that no one in Moscow will allow a repetition of the
1996 Khasavyurt agreements. At that time, the Kremlin actually
admitted its defeat in the first Chechen war and gave Chechnya a
status which differed little from sovereignty.

 Another argument is the failure of Chechnya’s
“independence” under Aslan Maskhadov. Chechen separatists did not
take avail of the opportunity, provided to them by Moscow, for
building a state of their own. In 1997-1999 the Chechen Republic,
deserted by Russian troops and government authorities, was terribly
close to civil war. That situation ended with the invasion of
neighboring Daghestan by Chechen armed groups led by field
commanders Shamil Basayev and Hattab, later declared as
international terrorists.

 The third argument places vague hope for future stability
that may be guaranteed through “life in Russia.” Besides, both the
local population and analysts hold that separatists will not win in
Chechnya. Whereas the local residents construct their reasoning
through their own experience, specialists believe that the
successful guerrilla warfare in Vietnam and Afghanistan cannot be
repeated in the North Caucasus.

 One must bear in mind that the Vietcong, for example,
actively used the territory of North Vietnam, while Afghan
mujahideens had bases in Pakistan. Chechen separatists do not have
such opportunities. While at one time they had logistic bases in
Georgia, these have been denied them: Moscow and Washington have
demanded that Tbilisi stop supporting the terrorists. The funding
of separatist activities from private Arab sources (which also
support international terrorist organizations, such as al Qaeda)
cannot compensate for the absence of state-level assistance.
Representatives of the member states of the Islamic Summit
Conference and the League of Arab States have established closer
contacts with Chechnya’s new president Akhmad Kadyrov than have
their Western colleagues. They have added a degree of legitimacy to
the March referendum and the presidential elections in Chechnya by
sending their observers to monitor the results.

 The above does not mean that the separatists will be
defeated in the near future; on the contrary, in the mountainous
regions their activity is quite strong. Yet they are unable to
establish control over a single village (during the first Chechen
war they seized several towns). No wonder combat activity in
Chechnya goes parallel with political processes: the Chechens have
adopted a constitution and elected a president, while Russian
political parties have opened up branches in Chechnya.

 Chechens have become weary of war and are ready to
sacrifice the phantom of independence for the sake of a “normal
life” (i.e. life as it is in the other Russian regions). And of
course, the political elite of Chechnya strongly desires peace and
tranquility in their republic. It opposes both the Wahhabis
(radical proponents of independence) and the arbitrary actions by
the federal security forces. In Chechnya there has emerged a
“pro-Russian consensus” representative of a majority of the local
establishment. It manifested itself at the March referendum, when
politicians from the opposing camps campaigned for Chechnya staying
in Russia. This is understandable: in the present situation, which
makes the notorious “wild West” seem like a civilized place, it is
altogether impossible to peacefully engage in politics, management,
business, teaching or journalism.

 On the other hand, the “pro-Russian” political elite of
Chechnya is now divided. It includes administrators of the former
Chechen-Ingush Republic, which in Soviet times was part of the
Russian Federation, intellectuals who turned to politics during
perestroika developments in the last years of the Soviet Union,
former members of the Maskhadov administration, and businessmen who
have made a fortune in Moscow. Many of them entertained high hopes
on the October 2003 presidential elections in Chechnya; not
everyone was satisfied with their outcome. For various reasons,
several strong candidates were barred from the race, which
guaranteed an easy victory for the incumbent president Kadyrov.
This man has a checkered background: he was a mufti under
Chechnya’s first president Dzhokhar Dudayev, but in 1999 he took
sides with the Russian Federation. Therefore, there arises the
question of how democratic the Chechen elections were, and to what
extent they have consolidated the Chechen elite.

IS THE GLASS HALF-EMPTY OR HALF-FULL?

When people start discussing the presidential elections in
Chechnya, their opinions can be reduced to the well-known adage
about the half-filled glass of water – some say it is half-full
while others say that it is half-empty. Similarly, there are
different points of view on the situation in Chechnya.

 Those who maintain that the glass is half-empty insist
that there were gross violations of democratic procedure during the
elections and appeal to the experience of the developed
democracies. It is not fortuitous that the Parliamentary Assembly
of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe chose not to send election observers to
Chechnya. According to the aforementioned Validata service, several
months before the elections Kadyrov could count on only 12.5
percent of voter support. State Duma deputy Aslambek Aslakhanov and
businessman and public figure Malik Saidullayev enjoyed much
greater support – 17.6 and 20.1 percent, respectively. Moreover,
61.5 percent of those polled said under no circumstances would they
vote for Kadyrov. Yet, Kadyrov won over 80 percent of the votes.
This happened after Saidullayev was denied the right to participate
in the presidential race by a court decision, Aslakhanov was
promoted to an aide of the Russian president, and Moscow
businessman Khusein Dzhabrailov, who had money and connections in
the Chechen elite, withdrew from the elections on his own
initiative. As a result, Kadyrov found himself facing no popular
rivals in Chechnya, which predetermined the outcome of the
elections. Many believe the Kremlin had a hand in the removal of
the popular politicians from the race.

 Those who say that the glass is half-full argue that
Chechnya cannot be compared to Belgium or Sweden. A real
alternative to Kadyrov was not his colleagues in the Chechen elite,
but an undesirable power regime, under which the actual power in
the republic would be in the hands of the federal security forces,
not the local administrators. This would be very similar to the
regime that existed in Chechnya in 2000-2003. Thus, the very fact
that elections were possible, which succeeded in establishing
legitimate bodies of power in the republic (even though foreign
specialists may be skeptical about their legitimacy), can be viewed
as a positive step toward political settlement.

 Besides, in the given situation the Kremlin could not
simply hand over power in that conflict-torn area to “outsiders”
who were not involved in the local system of government built over
the last few years; such a scenario would have initiated a painful
process of power redistribution. Kadyrov had been made the
centerpiece of local government long before the elections:
President Vladimir Putin made his strategic choice in favor of
Kadyrov back in 2000 when he appointed the former mufti to head
Chechnya’s provisional administration.

 So the range of options that the Kremlin considered as
serious was not wide. It could either assign the key role to
Kadyrov, or appoint a sort of governor-general in Chechnya. The
second option would not have translated into an idyllic situation
where an arbitrator from Moscow would invite opposing Chechen
politicians to participate in roundtable discussions (as some
Russian liberals had imagined), but an unattractive scenario aimed
at preserving the absolute power of the security forces. However,
this latter variant would prove to be a dead-end option, since the
security forces were unable to act as an effective peace-keeping
authority that would provide for political solutions to the Chechen
problem. Also, they saw no real alternative to Kadyrov as the
Chechen leader: although the security forces get annoyed by the
criticism they receive from the incumbent Chechen president, other
prominent politicians in the republic censure the arbitrary actions
of the military in even harsher terms.

 There is also one more factor that must be considered. The
Kadyrov administration is actively involved in the economic
developments in Chechnya: restoration of local industrial
enterprises and major projects. Kadyrov heads the Board of
Directors of the Grozneftegaz oil and gas company, in which the
Chechen government has 49 percent of the shares. The controlling
interest belongs to Rosneft, a federal state-owned company.
Initially, the relations between the two companies were strained,
as Kadyrov sought full control over Chechnya’s oil industry. But
now the parties seem to have found a common language: Kadyrov’s
people now guard the oil wells, while a Grozneftegaz deputy
director general – who was one of Kadyrov’s rivals during the
presidential elections – is most loyal to him. And even though the
issue of control over the Chechen oil industry is far from settled,
Rosneft would, no doubt, wish to negotiate with the well-known and
predictable Kadyrov than with a newcomer whose ambitions may be
undesirable.

FORMER SEPARATISTS AT RUSSIA’S SERVICE

The federal center has always perceived Akhmad Kadyrov as a
politician who can enter into dialog with the moderate separatists,
to whom he himself once belonged. However, foreign observers may
find his way of addressing this problem bizarre. The process of
attracting separatists into the federal service is far from the
accepted methods of a political protocol. No one is going to enter
into roundtable negotiations with them about Chechnya’s future.
Contacts with prominent figures in the opposition are established
not by the politicians, but through secret service officers and
people from the Kadyrov team, who set down quite definite terms to
them: recognize the Constitution and laws of Russia, denounce
separatism and join in the resolute struggle against the “unlawful
armed groups,” thereby proving their loyalty to their new
patrons.

 Obviously, the more prominent leaders of the separatists
cannot accept such terms – this is why contacts with people like
Ruslan Gelayev, a famous field commander, or Maskhadov’s “defense
minister” Magomed Khambiyev ended in failure. However, an
increasing number of medium-level commanders are taking Russia’s
side, especially since Kadyrov offers former ‘field commanders,’
who are ready to swear their allegiance to Russia and to serve
loyally to the Chechen president, not only his protection, but also
a job. In former times these individuals, even if they surrendered
to the authorities, could be convicted and sentenced to long prison
terms.

 The federal center is now turning over to the Chechen
authorities not just the powers, but also the responsibility for
security in the republic. To this end, Chechnya has established a
Ministry of the Interior, as well as armed units which formally are
part of the ministry but are actually subordinates of Kadyrov. His
son Ramzan heads the most influential armed agency in Chechnya –
the presidential Security Service. Kadyrov maintains that the
separatists will best be fought by former separatists, and actively
encourages the admission of “repentant” separatists, both
rank-and-file members, as well as commanders. Examples of the
latter include former “brigadier general” Shamil Khatayev and
former “colonel” Artur Akhmadov. Akhmadov is now a kind of liaison
in the negotiations between the Russian secret services and
separatists, encouraging the latter to “legalize themselves” and
accept a position with Kadyrov.

 The “conversion” of former separatists does not stop
there: upon serving in Kadyrov’s Security Service, they are given
jobs at civilian administrative organizations. Former “brigadier
general” Musost Khutiyev, who commanded the Northern Front of
Maskhadov’s troops, has been appointed deputy mayor of Argun,
Chechnya’s third largest city. His administration includes several
of his former “brothers-in-arms.” The administration of the
Kurchaloi District is now headed by Idris Gaibov, who held a
similar post under Maskhadov. Gaibov believes that there are now
not more than 500 irreconcilable separatists left in Chechnya.
“None of them falls under amnesty, they all are outlaws and in our
sights,” he said. “Each agency and organization must do what they
should do, then seperatists will not remain at large for long.”

 Kadyrov’s efforts to build armed groups, which would
include former separatists and would be subordinate to him, have
drawn criticism from various political forces. The liberals believe
that the former mufti is using his security forces to remove
rivals. Human rights advocates accuse Ramzan Kadyrov’s Security
Service of playing a role in the disappearance of several people.
Whatever the case may be, it would be surprising if the former
separatists will loyally serve Russia and abide by the democratic
rules of the game, considering that they have known nothing but war
for years. Actually, a civil war is now underway in Chechnya, and
its participants use methods that they think are best. As regards
the local population, Kadyrov’s actions are more preferable than
the harsh mopping-up operations conducted by the federal
forces.

 Kadyrov’s critics also include the consistent proponents
of Chechnya’s belonging to Russia, who have always been in
opposition to Dudayev’s and Maskhadov’s regimes. To these people,
the recruitment of former separatists into the security forces
means their revenge. Chechnya’s first minister of the interior,
Ruslan Tsakayev, strongly opposed the practice of offering former
separatists positions at the ministry. But he headed the ministry
for only a few months and was replaced shortly after the March
referendum. General Sayeed-Selim Peshkhoyev of the Federal Security
Service, now a deputy to the Russian president’s representative in
the South Federal District Victor Kazantsev, is also critical of
the practice of recruiting former separatists by the security
forces. “They should be made tractor drivers, let them plow,” he
said. “It is absurd to say that their combat experience and ability
to use guns can be employed to fight their former
‘brothers-in-arms.’ How can we arm people who only yesterday
committed crimes with arms in hands?” There are also fears that the
former separatists may get out of control.

 Yet, the federal center continues to support Kadyrov. One
of the reasons is that, with Kadyrov ruling Chechnya, the conflict
in the republic is becoming “intra-Chechen.” The duty to fight
separatists is assigned not just to the Chechens but to people who
know “who’s who” in the republic and who would use force
selectively. Besides, the Chechen armed groups that were
pro-Russian from the beginning show more support for Bislan
Gantamirov than Kadyrov. The ambitious Gantamirov held several
posts in the Chechen administration (mayor of Grozny, deputy prime
minister, and minister of the press) and is known as a bitter rival
and, therefore, unreliable ally of Kadyrov. The Kremlin is not
going to encourage any competition within the Chechen security
forces. As for loyalty, irreconcilable separatists despise their
former colleagues even more than those who have always been on the
side of the federal forces. Salman Abuyev, one of the first
“brigadier generals” to take Kadyrov’s side, was assassinated by
separatists in the autumn of 2001.

ALL BRANCHES OF POWER

The Chechen Constitution was drafted in 2002 under Kadyrov’s
control. It should be no surprise, therefore, that it gives broad
powers to the Chechen president. The only thing the representatives
of the local establishment have achieved was the annulment of a
ten-year residential qualification for candidates for the
presidency. This provision had earlier prevented Chechen
politicians, who had left the republic during the war, from
participating in the elections. Chechens used to joke bitterly at
that time that the only ones from among the famous people, who were
entitled to take part in the elections, were Maskhadov, Basayev and
Kadyrov. Nevertheless, the abolition of the notorious provision did
not assist the influential Moscow-based Chechens, who were not
permitted to join in the presidential race.

 Chechnya now has elective executive power. The judicial
branch was formed earlier – there are the Supreme Court and
district courts, as well as the judicial and notary offices. It
remains only to form the legislative branch, parliament, whose
functions have so far been performed by a surrogate body – the
State Council, whose members are “delegated” by Chechnya’s
districts, rather than elected by the people. But even this
“selected” body of power has been hit by differences: during the
election of the State Council’s chairman, Kadyrov’s prot?g?
Khussein Isayev was opposed by Ruslan Yamadayev, a former field
commander who had taken the side of the federal forces. And
although the chairmanship went to Isayev, his rival won the support
of a large number of State Council members.

 The Chechen elite needs a representative body that would
unite different interests and, to some extent, would provide a
counterbalance to Kadyrov’s rigid regime. There should be a
civilized mechanism for harmonizing the opposing parties’ positions
and relations within the pro-Russian elite. Otherwise, the Chechen
authorities may lose contact with the elites. This may have grave
consequences where one-man leadership is not universally
recognized. Suffice it to recall Dudayev and Maskhadov, who were
first perceived as charismatic leaders, but then, having failed to
find a common language with the elites, found themselves in
isolation. (There are good reasons to believe that the Dudayev
regime would have collapsed on its own had there not been a
reckless invasion of Chechnya by Russian troops in 1994. Many
Chechens thereafter rallied around their “military leader.”)

 The Kremlin seems to realize the need to diversify its
Chechen policy. While assigning the strategic role to Kadyrov, the
Russian authorities are not in a hurry to break off their contacts
with other Chechen groups that are in opposition to the newly
elected president. Russian presidential aide Aslakhanov can play
the role of an intermediary between the Kremlin and the Chechen
elites, as he can provide an alternative channel of information for
the head of state, in addition to the information that is being
received from Kadyrov.

 Besides, through Aslakhanov’s appointment the Kremlin has
given Kadyrov the message that there is a ready “standby” for him
in Moscow. In accordance with the Chechen Constitution, the
president of Russia can remove a Chechen president from his post
without any explanations (a unique provision for Russian regional
legislation). Such precautions do not seem superfluous, considering
the ambitions of the former mufti. In early 2003, Kadyrov forced
Moscow to dismiss Mikhail Babich – his rival and Moscow’s prot?g? –
from the post of the Chechen prime minister. Also, Kadyrov had
unilaterally taken control over Chechnya’s Ministry of Finance long
before his victory at the elections. Furthermore, the Kremlin
regards as too ambitious Kadyrov’s draft treaty on the delimitation
of powers between the center and the republic, since they would
give very broad powers to the local authorities in the economy
while hurting federal interests.

 Yet, the Moscow-based presidential aide cannot be an
effective counterbalance to Kadyrov. A parliament is another thing,
especially as its powers could later be extended: following the
referendum, Russian officials stated that the Chechen Constitution
might be amended in the future. It was not very fortuitous that
after his election as president, Kadyrov hinted that parliamentary
elections might be postponed. Vladimir Putin immediately intervened
and insisted that the elections be held without delay.

 So, despite the continuing hostilities in the republic,
the federal center demonstrates that it regards Chechnya as a
full-fledged entity (however unique) of the Russian Federation, in
which all the branches of power must operate to ensure, at least to
some extent, a balance of forces within the pro-Russian elite. This
balance will ensue that the political process in the republic will
not be corrupted and thus discredited.