Wednesday, 31 May 2006

RUSSIAN CHECHNYA POLICY: “CHECHENIZATION” TURNING INTO “KADYROVIZATION”?

Published in Analytical Articles
Rate this item
(7 votes)

By Emil Souleimanov (5/31/2006 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: Even with Vladimir Putin having made, as it turned out retroactively, a strategic wager on the Kadyrov clan, it appears that Moscow has never abandoned its tried and true system of checks and balances. For instance, Bislan Gantamirov, perhaps the most noteworthy “opposition leader” in modern Chechen history, along with some pro-Russian political figures, was long kept in Chechnya as a trump card that could be played as needed if the former mufti, Ahmad Kadyrov, were to become unmanageable. They had been promised a brilliant future in politics, but were told that their time simply had not yet come.
BACKGROUND: Even with Vladimir Putin having made, as it turned out retroactively, a strategic wager on the Kadyrov clan, it appears that Moscow has never abandoned its tried and true system of checks and balances. For instance, Bislan Gantamirov, perhaps the most noteworthy “opposition leader” in modern Chechen history, along with some pro-Russian political figures, was long kept in Chechnya as a trump card that could be played as needed if the former mufti, Ahmad Kadyrov, were to become unmanageable. They had been promised a brilliant future in politics, but were told that their time simply had not yet come. At election time, Ahmad Kadyrov and his backers had no real guarantees until the very last minute about whether the Kremlin might not be leaning toward some opponent, whether from among local or the so-called Moscow Chechens. Indeed, the stirring up of internal Chechen squabbles has been an integral part of the “Chechenization” strategy. As the opposing sides have become less secure (in their disputes), they have become more dependent on Moscow and therefore more loyal to her. The “divide and rule” policy in the fragmented Chechen society created a very tense atmosphere that is especially apparent in the environment of the armed formations that are considered loyal to Russia, especially of the mentioned Gantamirov and Yamadayev brothers (in charge of the Eastern battalion), who represent the three major power centers in current pro-Moscow Chechen forces. Recruiting and deploying (pro-Moscow) Chechen militia units in combat operations was Ahmad Kadyrov’s key mission by which he attempted to demonstrate in practice his loyalty to Moscow. Importantly, this strategy also had and still has a different, no less important significance. Kadyrov’s clan had many enemies in Chechnya, and their presence represented a nightmare for Kadyrov’s followers; to a certain degree, it was justifiable to claim that as long as at least one of the people that had declared a blood feud against Kadyrov was alive, neither he nor his relatives could feel truly safe. The growing numbers of Chechen militias and the ever increasing intensity of their involvement in combat operations against actual or presumed separatists and their relatives meant that the young men in the militias were becoming, as Chechens say, “bound by blood” to the Kadyrov clan by the constant killings, torture and humiliation that militia operations led to. Then, in order to be able to survive in the conditions of increasing insecurity, namely the very likely attacks by newly acquired enemies in blood feuds, newly recruited Chechen militia troops had to stick together with the Kadyrov clan – thus falling into a trap from which there is no escape as the bridges back have already been burnt.

IMPLICATIONS: But times are changing. While rebel groups have been somewhat weakened by the murder of Aslan Maskhadov in March 2005 and murders of some other leading field commanders, the influence of Kadyrov’s son and de facto successor in the republic is constantly growing. The former commander of the Presidential Security Service has gradually – since his father’s murder – been promoted by Moscow up to his present role as prime minister of the republic. Although the presidency has formally been “passed on” to Alu Alkhanov, a person viewed in Chechnya as being of little importance, military and political power remains concentrated in the hands of the Kadyrov clan. The Kremlin’s backing of the young Ramzan was supposed to protect the gains made through “Chechenization”. Ramzan’s life was to be on the line as a guarantee for the oaths and promises once made by his father. This was meant not only to provide effective assurance of continuity of Moscow’s past policy – just as his father had done – but also to ensure security for “Kadyrovized” rebel movement members from any attacks, whether by Russian generals or by enemies from the ranks of the different pro-Moscow Chechen factions. The result has been the closing of the ranks of Kadyrov supporters (kadyrovtsy), who today number at least 5,000 armed men, who are holding out despite occasional betrayals by various individuals and their flight to the camp of the separatists. Their identification with the younger Kadyrov is also growing. A no less important point is the growth of Ramzan’s influence among the Chechen population. Partly because of a clever media propaganda campaign and partly through his deeds, Ramzan has managed to gain the sympathy of many ordinary Chechens who see him as a guarantor of stability and of the country’s renewal. Rubble is finally being cleared away, roads, bridges and administrative buildings are being built, the number of so-called block posts is declining, and even residential buildings are being repaired, mostly in the downtown area of the capital. People have also been moved by seemingly trivial things that awaken strongly nostalgic reminiscences of pre-war Grozny, like the reconstruction of the House of Fashion and the building of a public fountain downtown. These signs of a peaceful life have unimaginable value to ordinary Chechens and are connected in people’s minds with Ramzan. Energetic campaigns by Kadyrov Jr. aimed at stopping the “moral decline of the Chechen nation” (like the banning of slot machines, casinos, the fight against prostitution, alcoholism etc.) are especially popular with older Chechens, while his success at a relatively young age and his influence have secured him a certain admiration among young people, some of whom have even started to imitate him. For his image as a Chechen devoted to his people, he has gone so far as to have been heard saying: “If the [Chechen] people demand that we fight against Russia, we shall obey.” Some of his pronouncements have been clearly nationalistic, and with a little effort one might even hear separatist undertones and demonstrative efforts to get as much money and sovereignty from Moscow as possible. He is ever more clearly permitting himself to criticize Moscow. This also gains him sympathy among the population and takes “electoral support” away from the separatists.

CONCLUSIONS: It seems that instead of the policy of “Chechenization” promoted by the Kremlin, the era of “Kadyrovization” has definitely entered full speed. Through its own actions, Moscow has contributed to the creation and consolidation of a disproportionally strong internal force in the republic, resting both on the support of the population and on armed units. Edilbek Khasmagomadov stated it quite succinctly: “The advantages created for him by central federal authorities have let him transform himself into the sole politician. Since he has no real opponents in the country who could challenge him for his position, being the absolute master of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov is naturally beginning to play the role of opposition in relation to the federal government. Thus he is starting to promote other regional and national interests.” While overlooking some of Ramzan’s clearly populist remarks like the one cited above, his ever growing real power in the republic is letting him take an open stance against the federal government if and when he feels that federal authorities are hurting his interests or those of the Chechen Republic. We are also witnessing a paradoxical situation: the weaker the separatists become, the less dependent Kadyrov’s people become on Moscow, thereby also lessening the need to take Moscow’s wishes into consideration. A new strategic situation is thus arising, in which it is now in Ramzan’s vital interest to suppress the separatists as much as possible, while Putin would benefit from a certain degree of presence of the separatist factor as a way to ensure the loyalty of Kadyrov Jr . Indeed, as a result of the marked strengthening of kadyrovtsy, their numbers and their connections, the time would seem to be irretrievably past when it would have been enough to back the Gantamirov clan or Yamadayev’s militants, each having only several hundred armed men. Although the modern history of Chechnya has seen more abrupt transformations, it would be misleading to predict that Ramzan would turn out to be a separatist in the Dudayev mold. It is, however, true that with its “one-clan” policy; the Kremlin has strongly limited its own room for maneuver. Should the Kremlin want to get rid of Ramzan or rein him in, for instance during the forthcoming 2008 presidential elections in Chechnya, for which Ramzan takes his candidacy for granted, it will likely meet strong resistance from the young Kadyrov, whose confidence and demands will strengthen in direct proportion to his cognizance of this fact.

AUTHOR’S BIO: Dr. Emil Souleimanov is senior lecturer at the Department of International Relations, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. He is author of “An Endless War: The Russian-Chechen Conflict in Perspective“ (Peter Lang, autumn 2006)

Read 2638 times

Visit also

silkroad

AFPC

isdp

turkeyanalyst

Joint Center Publications

Article S. Frederick Starr, "Why Central Asia Counts", Middle East Insights, November 6, 2017

Article Mamuka Tsereteli, “Russian Aggression in the Black Sea Cannot Go Unanswered” The Hill, September 11, 2017

Article Bilahari Kausikan, Fred Starr, and Yang Cheng, “Asia’s Game of Thrones, Central Asia: All Together Now.” The American Interest, June 16,2017

Article Svante E. Cornell “The Raucous Caucasus” The American Interest, May 2, 2017

Resource Page "Resources on Terrorism and Radical Islamism in Central Asia", Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, April 11, 2017.

Silk Road Monograph Nicklas Norling, Party Problems and Factionalism in Soviet Uzbekistan: Evidence from the Communist Party Archives, March 2017.

Oped Svante E. Cornell, "Russia: An Enabler of Jihad?", W. Martens Center for European Studies, January 16, 2017.

Book Svante E. Cornell, ed., The International Politics of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict: The Original 'Frozen Conflict' and European Security, Palgrave, 2017. 

Article Svante E. Cornell, The fallacy of ‘compartmentalisation’: the West and Russia from Ukraine to Syria, European View, Volume 15, Issue 1, June 2016.

Silk Road Paper Shirin Akiner, Kyrgyzstan 2010: Conflict and Context, July 2016. 

Silk Road Paper John C. K. Daly, Rush to Judgment: Western Media and the 2005 Andijan ViolenceMay 2016.

Silk Road Paper Jeffry Hartman, The May 2005 Andijan Uprising: What We KnowMay 2016.

Silk Road Paper Johanna Popjanevski, Retribution and the Rule of Law: The Politics of Justice in Georgia, June 2015.

Book S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell, eds., ·Putin's Grand Strategy: The Eurasian Union and its Discontents, Joint Center Monograph, September 2014.

The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

Newsletter

Sign up for upcoming events, latest news and articles from the CACI Analyst

Newsletter