By Kevin Daniel Leahy (11/29/2006 issue of the CACI Analyst)
This past April, the speaker of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow parliament, Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, publicly suggested the formation of a new super-republic in the North Caucasus which would include Chechnya, Ingushetia, and possibly Dagestan. The same individual, known to be a close confidant of Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, repeated this ambitious proposal in August. For his part, Kadyrov gave Abdurakhmanov’s initiative a tentative welcome, remarking that unification was possible “if the peoples of Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Dagestan want it, and when Chechnya becomes prosperous”.
BACKGROUND:This past April, the speaker of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow parliament, Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, publicly suggested the formation of a new super-republic in the North Caucasus which would include Chechnya, Ingushetia, and possibly Dagestan. The same individual, known to be a close confidant of Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, repeated this ambitious proposal in August. For his part, Kadyrov gave Abdurakhmanov’s initiative a tentative welcome, remarking that unification was possible “if the peoples of Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Dagestan want it, and when Chechnya becomes prosperous”.
The mounting tensions between Kadyrov and just about every other key personality within the pro-Moscow regime led many observers to regard the timing of this initiative as specious in the extreme. While Kadyrov’s support for a territorial merger remains qualified, he has repeatedly requested that Chechen security forces be allowed to pursue militants into neighboring jurisdictions. Indeed, such pursuits have long been commonplace, with or without sanction from the relevant authorities. This activity would seem to have been directly responsible for a bloody episode involving Ingush police and Chechen OMON forces this past September. Angered by the impunity with which their Chechen counterparts were operating within their jurisdiction, Ingush policemen apparently decided to teach them a lesson: the resulting confrontation claimed the lives of six Chechens and two Ingush. Although Kadyrov quickly attributed this incident to a “misunderstanding”, it was clear that he did not principally disapprove of the actions of his countrymen. Notably, during an interview with Kommersant last February, Kadyrov talked up the growing capabilities of Chechnya’s MVD, letting slip the fact that he perceived it as less a local than a regional body: “…if you ask me if our Interior Ministry will make it on its own, I’ll say: Yes it will! And not only in Chechnya”.
Kadyrov has also declared his readiness to counter the outbreak of any “color revolution” that might occur in one of Chechnya’s neighboring republics. Furthermore, he has embraced, even fuelled, speculation that Chechen troops might be sent to either Abkhazia or South Ossetia in order to repel a hypothetical Georgian assault, insisting: “…if our forces are needed, we are ready to execute any order from the supreme commander”. As Kadyrov’s nominal political superior, President Alu Alkhanov has hastened to associate himself with both Abdurakhmanov’s initiative and the hypothetical idea of sending Chechen troops to Georgia’s breakaway regions. However, by lending his political support to his rival’s apparent expansionist designs, Alkhanov may in fact be damaging his own medium to long-term political viability; for it would seem that he has failed to correctly evaluate the implications these developments may hold for his own career.
IMPLICATIONS:During an interview he gave to the Moscow News in October, the pro-Moscow, FSB-affiliated Chechen field commander, Movladi Baisarov, denounced Kadyrov as a “medieval tyrant”. Baisarov’s issues with Kadyrov stretch back over a number of years, but this candid interview would seem to reflect the views of other influential pro-Moscow personalities. Said-Magomed Kakiev and Sulim Yamadaev are both said to hold Kadyrov in contempt. Thus far, both of these men have supported Alkhanov against his prime minister’s machinations – the former through direct action, the latter by maintaining a studied silence. Baisarov has strongly stated that he supports the Chechen president. If rumors of an emerging Alkhanov-Kakiev-Yamadaev axis are to be believed, then one could safely assume that such a grouping would enjoy Baisarov’s support (not to mention that of ex-Grozny mayor, Bislan Gantemirov). Given the scale of opposition toward him, therefore, is it not feasible that Kadyrov is manipulating the mantra of “expansionism” in order to thin the ranks of his opponents? Already, two platoons comprised of troops from Zapad and Vostok – Kakiev’s and Yamadaev’s respective battalions – have been deployed to Lebanon as part of a Russian-mandated peacekeeping detachment. Also, Kadyrov’s proposal to chase rebels out of neighboring jurisdictions would presumably place a heavy workload on Zapad and Vostok given the proximity of these units to Ingushetia and Dagestan respectively. These two battalions do not report directly to the Chechen government and are consequently beyond Kadyrov’s purview. As such, involving them in a foreign military adventure would at once dislocate them and deprive their respective leaders of political clout in intra-Chechen affairs. Put simply, involving the Kakievsty and Yamadaevsty in adventures of this sort would reduce the chances of a successful coup d’état against Kadyrov occurring. Should this strategy prevail, then Kadyrov would presumably rely on his own forces – recently re-organized into two new, MVD-affiliated battalions – to oversee the situation in Chechnya itself.
But herein lies a contradiction. Although formed out of the rump of Kadyrov’s formally disbanded militia, the loyalty of these new battalions is very much open to question. For example, the leader of Yug battalion, Muslim Ilyasov, is reportedly flirting with the burgeoning anti-Kadyrov axis. Indeed, the extent to which Kadyrov is capable of inspiring loyalty has been in dispute for some time, particularly since an embarrassing episode in March during which a member of his so-called Anti-terrorist Center, known only as “Mullah”, was exposed as a rebel double-agent; whereupon he fled to the mountains taking upwards of one hundred men with him. Bearing this information in mind, it is possible to conclude that the only winner in such a scenario would be Chechnya-based insurgents under Dokka Umarov, who might expect to enjoy greater operational scope with the Kakievsty and Yamadaevsty removed from their theatre of operations.
CONCLUSIONS:An analogous reading of the situation in the North Caucasus might suggest Chechnya as the eye of a political storm. Indeed, rebel activity within Chechnya is presently far less pronounced than in Dagestan or Ingushetia; certain anecdotal evidence suggests the first stirrings of an economic revival, while further accounts (again anecdotal) suggest that the ruling regime enjoys broad popular support. Of course, this is not to suggest for one moment that the Chechnya-based rebel movement has breathed its last. In fact, recent remarks by Russian security officials suggest that the opposite is the case: that the rebels are still very much a force to be reckoned with, both politically and militarily. Thus, while the Kadyrov regime may have succeeded in establishing a certain stability in the republic, it might yet prove a dangerous folly should he and his benefactors in Moscow decide to extend his security remit beyond Chechnya’s borders. Although the actualization of such a scenario would greatly undermine the anti-Kadyrov axis (in particular, Alu Alkhanov), it would also oblige Kadyrov to face a resurgent Chechnya-based insurgency with the aid of military formations whose loyalty to him is at best circumspect. Ironically, therefore, the Chechnya-based rebel movement is the sole party guaranteed to benefit from such a turn of events.
AUTHOR’S BIO:Kevin Daniel Leahy is a freelance writer on North Caucasian affairs and holds a postgraduate degree from University College Cork, Ireland.