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Learning from Chechnya
05/04/07
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Shusharin) –

The inauguration of Ramzan Kadyrov, the new president of Chechnya, has added color to Russian political life – a serious political event was the subject of mockery for the first time. A group of young people gathered at the Chechen Republic’s Moscow mission to congratulate Mr. Kadyrov on his new position and nominate him for the Russian presidency. One of the slogans was “Putin today – Kadyrov tomorrow.” Strictly speaking, this was not open challenge to Kadyrov or the federal authorities, but in reality this action reflected what a large proportion of citizens and public associations with diverse political views think about Kadyrov’s presidency – not much, to put it mildly.

Ramzan Kadyrov irritates both Western-democracy-oriented human rights activists and those who consider themselves patriots of Russia. The former cite numerous evidence of his complicity in abductions, murders and tortures. The latter are furious that a former warlord has assumed power in Chechnya after a lengthy war. Moreover, he inherited this power from his father Akhmad. In other words, a Russian region has modeled itself on Azerbaijan, Syria and North Korea.

The gathering near the mission was preceded by a campaign to change the name of Akhmad Kadyrov Street in Moscow to Pskov Paratroopers Street in memory of the tragic fate of the 6th company of the Pskov Airborne Division, which died a heroic death in Chechnya. The campaign’s opponents argued there was nothing wrong with immortalizing Akhmad Kadyrov’s memory because his defection to the side of the federal government saved many lives. By the same logic, betting on his son was a good thing because there was no other way of pacifying Chechnya. The only option was to come to terms with one of the warring clans by giving it power in the rebellious republic.

So far Ramzan Kadyrov has shown respect for the federal government. His numerous declarations of loyalty do not count – words are just that. But his renunciation of the treaty on division of powers, which would give Chechnya a special status in the federation, is a serious political, or rather, a PR move. To be more precise, it is PR for the time being and will become political when we know what Kadyrov wants in return for rejecting the treaty. Most analysts believe he wants control over the republic’s oil industry.

Chechnya has been pacified using a tried-and-tested colonial method. But tsarist Russia’s accords with the local elites of incorporated territories (Georgia or the Bukhara Emirate) are poles apart from Russia’s agreements with those who control what is part and parcel of its own territory. The discontent with the current situation is largely rooted in the lack of official recognition of these agreements – instead there is constant chatter about “restoration of the constitutional system” in Chechnya. But everyone understands what this is all about, and many say bluntly that this clichÊ is purely ceremonial, and that Chechnya is ruled by a clan regime.

This negative impression is reinforced by the total absence of federals (those whose political biographies are linked with the federal government) in the republic’s key positions. Government at all levels and in all spheres of life belongs to people called militants – those who once formed illegal armed gangs.

Maybe this would be acceptable if their sphere of influence were limited to Chechnya. But the Kadyrov clan’s economic interests go far beyond the republic’s boundaries. It is enough to mention the recent participation of Kadyrov’s units in the seizure of the Samson meat-processing plant in St. Petersburg or the conflict around a factory in Kislovodsk. Kadyrov does not pursue only economic interests – during the clash between locals and the Chechen community in Kondopoga, Karelia, he warned that he could send paratroopers there.

Many experts believe that Kadyrov’s armed units could be used to suppress protests in Russia. This forecast does not seem so incredible considering that in the last few months the authorities have obviously been trying to suppress any demonstrations by the opposition using the police or combat units of youth organizations.

There is another possibility. Kadyrov’s clan-based state is not so different from the federal political arrangement, in which power depends on where one comes from or how cozy one is with government officials. For this reason, events in Chechnya deserve very close attention – the Chechen model may become federal.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti. -0-