Staunton, August 12 – Angry that the Russian government has provided more support to Chechnya than to any of them and furious that Moscow has not reined in Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and the Chechen militia, the heads of the federal subjects in the North Caucasus are stepping up their calls for President Dmitry Medvedev to change course.
While the latest demands of the governors and presidents are not yet public, they almost certainly will include the replacement of Kadyrov with someone more ready to play by the rules they follow. And today, in an interview with Interfax, the Chechen president made several remarks that suggest he may be feeling the heat and even preparing to depart from his office.
Yesterday, “Argumenty nedeli” reports that “the situation in the North Caucasus is becoming ever more explosive,” with “the leaders of the regions very disturbed and angry at the selective preferences of the federal center in relation to Chechnya,” noting that there appears to be emerging “a conspiracy against Grozny” (www.argumenti.ru/politics/n250/71985/).
In July, the weekly continues, the federation subject heads in that region tried to raise this issue at a meeting of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee, complaining openly about the special financial “subventions” Chechnya now receives and about Moscow’s “de facto approval of everything, even the doubtful actions of the official Chechen powers that be.”
But at that time, the magazine continues, “the supreme power preferred not ‘to take note’ of the demarche of the governors.” But that has not stopped the latter, and now, it says that “the governors are preparing against an appeal to President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.”
Last week, “trusted aides of several heads of the North Caucasus regions discussed certain aspects of the appeal under preparation. In particular, the new document will talk about the commission of illegal actions by the Chechen militia.” One North Ossetian MVD official said Chechen forces are simply out of control, going where they want and doing what they like.
That should come as no surprise to Moscow. Earlier this month, “Argumenty nedeli” reports, “one of the Russian special services at the request of the leadership of the country prepared a very harsh report about the situation in the North Caucasus” that was especially critical of what is going on in Chechnya.
In that republic, the report said, “anti-Russian literature which calls for jihad is openly being distributed,” even though Kadyrov could stop this if he wanted to. And efforts by Russian officials on the scene to secure the suppression of such materials are simply being ignored by Chechen officials.
Just what form of the new “letter of the governors” against the situation in Chechnya will take is still under discussion. A source close to Daghestani President Magomedov told the weekly that it might be handed to the president personally and privately. “But if this does not have results, the letter would be published in the form of a leak to the Internet.”
No one should doubt that the federation subject heads are serious: “the situation is already simply critical and remaining silent is a death sentence,” the Daghetani aide stressed.
This report is intriguing for three reasons. First, it represents a strikingly new willingness of governors to work together against one of their own and to plan to go public with their concerns if Moscow ignores them, steps that will limit the center’s freedom of action in playing one off against another.
Second, the reference to the report prepared by one of the intelligence services at the request of the top leaders suggest that their patience with Kadyrov’s increasingly independent moves may be wearing thin and that the Putin-Kadyrov compromise of loyalty to Moscow in exchange for the appearance of stability may be fraying.
And third, the two forces – one from the heads of the federation subjects neighboring Chechnya and the other from the senior most people in the Russian state – may be coming together in a way that will lead to Kadyrov’s ouster, even if that might in the short term lead to more violence in Chechnya.
That Kadyrov himself may be feeling the heat is suggested by a curious remark the Chechen president made today to Interfax. He said that he does not see the title “president” as appropriate for his position. Instead, he said, he might very well be called “imam” (www.interfax.ru/politics/txt.asp?id=149275).
Kadyrov said that there should be only one president in the Russian Federation, a statement many in Moscow will find reassuring, but his suggestion that he should be called imam will have exactly the opposite effect, possibly leading some at the center to decide that Kadyrov like his late father before him should indeed be an imam but not in any case a president.
That could prove an interesting, albeit a tricky way, of solving Moscow’s and Chechnya’s Kadyrov problem. It could push him aside from the day to day administrative questions and allow Moscow greater control. But at the same time – and this may be the biggest constraint against such a step – it could trigger a still larger conflict in the North Caucasus.
Medvedev and Putin clearly are not entirely happy with where things are in Grozny under Kadyrov, but it is almost certain that they are afraid of what might happen if they are the ones who move against him. Thus, the forthcoming letter of the North Caucasus governors may prove to be just the weapon they need to try to rein in an increasingly out of control Chechen regime.