By Murad. B. Al-Shishani (1/28/2004 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Kadyrov intended his visit to win him recognition in the Islamic World as the President of Chechnya, successfully as Saudi Arabia was concerned. He was officially received, and presented himself as “the President of all Chechens”. He announced that the Republic of Chechnya is going to sign a “historic” agreement with Russia giving Chechnya large economic powers by which it will not be exempt from taxes to the Russian Federation, instead using them to rebuild its infrastructure.
Kadyrov intended his visit to win him recognition in the Islamic World as the President of Chechnya, successfully as Saudi Arabia was concerned. He was officially received, and presented himself as “the President of all Chechens”. He announced that the Republic of Chechnya is going to sign a “historic” agreement with Russia giving Chechnya large economic powers by which it will not be exempt from taxes to the Russian Federation, instead using them to rebuild its infrastructure. Kadyrov also talked of a strategy to reduce the Russian troops in Chechnya to 10,000 soldiers, positioned in barracks away from inhabited areas.
To further emphasize his status as the “legitimate” President of Chechnya, as opposed to those who came before him, Kadyrov indicated that Dudayev and Maskhadov did not consult with Chechens on the matter of separation from Russia “because they feared the Chechen people will vote for remaining a part of Russia”. At the end, he said he would establish a dialogue with Maskhadov provided the latter “surrenders and puts and end to terrorist attacks and apologizes to the Chechen people, and then the courts will decide his fate”.
Rebuilding Chechnya is nevertheless the largest and most obvious problem facing Ahmad Kadyrov in his efforts to assert his power in a country ravaged by a war that lasted 10 years and left large numbers of refugees and unemployed. In that spirit, it was clear that Kadyrov wanted to use his visit to Saudi Arabia to obtain much-needed aid. He noted that the economic agenda was one of the most important discussed in the talks, including with the President of the Islamic Development Bank. He also met with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Saudi businessmen, discussing the possibility of investing in Chechnya.
Kadyrov emphasized that humanitarian aid from the Saudi Kingdom was discussed, but added that any delay in receiving these aids “from the Arab and Islamic countries capable of offering such aid will delay the process of rebuilding [Chechnya] more than we think”. These elements illustrate Kadyrov’s efforts to solve his dilemma of reconstruction by channeling support from Arab and Islamic countries.
Besides recognition and economic, counter-terrorism was a focal point of Kadyrov’s visit. The Russian Ambassador to Riyadh declared that a joint committee of specialists responsible for discussing bilateral coordination in the fight against terrorism had been formed. The specifics and targets of this cooperation remain unclear, though the Arab fighters in Chechnya are likely to be a main concern in this coordination effort, especially given that the most notorious ones have been Saudi nationals. Indicating the sensitivity of the topic, Kadyrov actually contradicted himself on the issue, In response to a question regarding Arab fighters in Chechnya, he said that there are no precise numbers of the Arab fighters in Chechnya, but named a Saudi national called Abu Omar as the head of the Shari’a Court in Chechnya during 1997-99. In another interview, Kadyrov declared that there were no Saudi fighters volunteering in Chechnya. “Not one Saudi national was captured among the terrorists … Arab fighters came to Chechnya between the years 1996 and 1995, but now they have no presence on Chechen territory”.
IMPLICATIONS: The visit was clearly a continuation of the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s recent visit to Moscow. Together, these initiatives illustrate Russia’s Eurasian approach to foreign policy – seeking to form alliances that make Russia a pole in the new world order equal to the United States by fostering relations with China, India, Iran, and other the Islamic countries. In this context, Russia recently applied for membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference. This rapprochement with the Islamic World is coupled with attempts to improve Russia’s image in the Islamic World, especially given general solidarity with the Chechen resistance and opposition to the brutal war that Russia is waging in Chechnya. According to sources, Kadyrov delivered a letter to the Saudi government from Vladimir Putin in which he said, “Moscow promotes a joint understanding of the Chechen matter with the Islamic World”.
The presence of 20 million Muslims in Russia is one reason for this policy of fostering relations with the Islamic World, a policy based on finding Muslim representatives from the core of the Russian State to use for foreign policy purposes. Incidentally, this same policy was used by the Soviet Union through “Official Islam”, represented by Muslim clergymen appointed by the State.
A look at the names in Kadyrov’s delegation make this attempt clear: The Chief Chechen Mufti, Ahmad-Khadzhi Shamayev; the Mufti of the Republic of Daghestan, Ahmad-Khadzhi Abdullayev; the Mufti of Ingushetia, Mohammad-Khadzhi Albogachiev; Chairman of the Coordination Center of North Caucasus Muslims, Ismail Berdyev; and the Dean of the Islamic institute in the Chechen Republic, Mohammad Khaskhanov. Kadyrov explicitly stressed his approval and support for Russia’s application to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
As for Saudi Arabia, this rapprochement comes as a part of its efforts to deny accusations leveled against the Kingdom since September 11, 2001, accusing it of funding terrorism. Saudi Arabia wants to be seen as dealing with the “official Islam”, and denying any relations with other Islamic parties.
Apart from being a step in the policy of Russian rapprochement with the Islamic World, the visit represents an effort by the Official Muslim clergy in both countries to prepare Islamic clergymen to counter radical Islamic movements. During his visit to Saudi Arabia, Kadyrov presented a proposal to establish an international Islamic center to interpret Islam, to be responsible of issuing fatwas in matters relevant to Islam and Muslims, and to be recognized by all Islamic countries.
CONCLUSIONS: Kadyrov succeeded in playing the international state of affairs to his benefit, including the global war on terrorism, and the ambiguity in the case of the Chechen resistance and its right to self-determination. He succeeded in getting his authority recognized by an Islamic country as significant as Saudi Arabia, which proves the advances in Russian foreign policy. The problem is that recognizing Kadyrov’s authority will fulfill Russia’s intention of alienating the legitimate Chechen resistance and authority represented by Aslan Maskhadov. It will also drive other countries to recognize this authority without referring to the fact that few international or humanitarian organizations recognized the elections that led Kadyrov to authority. This might lead to isolating the few remaining voices that call for a solution to the tragedy of the Chechen people, which is in its tenth year.
AUTHOR’S BIO: Murad B. Al-Shishani is a Jordanian-Chechen writer, author of the book \"the Islamic Movements in Chechnya and Chechen-Russian Conflict 1991-2000\" (Amman 2001, in Arabic.)