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)