Saturday, July 18, 2009

Window on Eurasia: What Could the Kremlin Do If Kadyrov was behind Estemirova’s Killing?

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 18 – If as many believe but no one has yet proved, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov was behind the murder of journalist and rights activist Natalya Estemirova, Moscow would face a serious dilemma, according to “Yezhednevny zhurnal” commentator Leonid Radzikhovsky.
If it attempted to bring Kadyrov to justice, he writes, it could do so only at the risk of starting a new Chechen war, given that Kadyrov has a personal guard of several “tens of thousands” of armed men and given that anyone Moscow might impose on that republic would likely behave in much the same way to provide the “stability” the center wants.
But if it attempted to suppress or ignore evidence linking Kadyrov to this crime, then the consequences would be almost as bad: Moscow would in effect be “yet again LEGALIZING this ‘order of things’” and “yet again showing Kadyrov his COMPLETE INDEPENDENCE from the Center” (
“What is the way out?” Radzikhovsky asks his readers, and then suggests that the Russian government would do what most governments would do in such a situation: follow the principle of political expediency and do nothing. But while that likely reflects the attitudes of most in the Russian government, their feelings appear likely to be tested in the coming days.
Prosecutors have opened a murder investigation, but in Chechnya itself, Kadyrov, who has disclaimed any responsibility, has announced that he is taking direct control of it, something that those who suspect he had a role in the journalist’s death and thus has something to hide do not find reassuring.
Moreover, the Chechen president has announced through his lawyer that he will bring suit against Oleg Orlov, the head of the Memorial Human Rights Center for his statement that the Chechen president had threatened to kill Estemirova and was responsible for her death (
Orlov says he welcomes the chance to respond and to lay out the evidence he has – in much the same way some in other countries have used wrongful death suits in cases where a murderer has gotten away with it either because charges were not brought or the jury decided not to convict.
And rights activists have pledged to support Orlov and Memorial in this. But as Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group put it, there is only one way to find the truth: “Let Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin stop protecting Kadyrov … let the investigation against Kadyrov go forward” (
“Perhaps then,” the dean of Russia’s human rights activists said, “I will believe that sometime with us will appear a just court and organs that defend the law rather than violate it.” Given these passions and this court case, questions about Kadyrov are not going to go away quickly or easily, and that creates a serious problem for Moscow.
In Munich yesterday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev felt compelled, while rejecting Orlov’s charges that Kadyrov was behind Estemirova’s murder, to promise a careful investigation of the crime and to express his conviction that the guilty parties will be identified and punished “according to Russian criminal law” (
Meanwhile, in an interview with, Geidar Dzhemal, a prominent left-wing Muslim activist, underscored just how high the stakes have become. According to him, the attacks on Kadyrov are in fact attacks on Putin, intended to unsettle and possibly rearrange the political scene in the Russian capital (
While Dzhemal’s views may be extreme, there is a recent Russian precedent for what he says. Putin did everything he could to save Murat Zyazikov as president of Ingushetia after the latter was accused in the court of public opinion of being behind the murder of one of his political opponents, but Medvedev successfully sought his removal.
In place of Zyazikov, the Russian president appointed Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who now lies in a Moscow hospital recovering from an assassination attempt – a concatenation of events that cannot be comforting for either Medvedev or Putin as they are forced to contemplate the much bigger problem posed by the violent, often thuggish Kadyrov.

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