Staunton, January 24 – Ramzan Kadyrov’s outspoken comments on Ukraine and his organization of an enormous pro-Muslim demonstration in Grozny in response to the attacks and march in Paris are raising questions among some in Russia as to his current and future goals and how congruent they are with those Vladimir Putin has.
Those questions have acquired even more urgency, Polina Rostovtseva says in a report yesterday on URA.ru, because of the role Putin’s own eminence gris, Vladislav Surkov, played in Kadyrov’s rise earlier and of the role Surkov’s associates are said still to be playing with the Chechnya leader now (ura.ru/content/svrd/23-01-2015/articles/1036263907.html).
Until the Grozny meeting, no individual leader in Russia had been able to organize a meeting larger than those organized by Putin. (The Bolotnaya meeting was a collective enterprise.) And that, Rostovtseva says, leads one to ask what the Kremlin thinks about that and whether Kadyrov “could repeat the fate of Joseph Dzhugashvili.”
Polling agencies “close to the Kremlin,” she says, show that in recent months, Kadyrov ranks higher than most regional leaders and at a par with many federal ones. Moreover, he has shown himself more willing to speak out on issues like Ukraine about which others defer completely to the Kremlin.
According to one URA.ru source, this means that many in the Kremlin consider the Chechen leader “not only a regional politician who is responsible for controlling the Chechen region” but also “possibly” as someone who could assume a more powerful central post closer to Putin.
Konstantin Kalachev, the head of the Moscow Political Experts Group, says that in Russia today, there are only “two real politicians” – Putin and Kadyrov. “All the rest only play at politics” and even those within Putin’s command “are secondary relative to Putin. Kadyrov is also secondary but of all the regional politicians, he has the most informal authority.”
Surkov’s people may be promoting this. In 2007-2008, Kremlin sources told URA.ru, Surkov himself worked on Kadyrov’s image. He was interested in transforming the Chechen leader into “a quasi-Putin.” Now, these sources say, “several” of Surkov’s people “to this day” continue to work with Kadyrov.
One Kremlin source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that “the stronger Kadyrov’s postion has become, the more actively they advise him to swear his faithfulness to Vladimir Putin.” Another source who used to work in the Kremlin says Putin may view too much support for Kadyrov or anyone else as a warning sign.
That in turn raises the question as to how the Kremlin views the meeting in Grozny Kadyrov has just hosted. Pavel Svyatenkov, a political analyst and commentator, says it is clear that the Chechen leader viewed the meeting as a change to “position himself as a leader of the Muslims in Russia and correspondingly as a figure of federal importance.”
The Kremlin should be concerned about that because any strengthening of Kadyrov’s position will be opposed by some in Moscow particularly among those who will conclude that what Kadyrov is doing could “weaken Russia’s position in Chechnya.”
The URA.ru journalist says that people acquainted with the situation say that Surkov’s people were involved in organizing the meeting and that they did so along the lines of the Nashi street movement they had put in play earlier. If so, one of her interlocutors said, that means that the Kremlin “not only sanctioned this political show but helped organize it” possibly to advance Kadyrov as a link to Muslims at home and abroad.
.Some analysts, Rostovtseva says, believe that Kadyrov sought to use the meeting to “build up his own political capital and to demonstrate that not so much to the Kremlin as to society as a whole.” Obviously, there is “life after Vladimir Putin, [and] Kadyrov is a young politician” and it is far from clear that he will be as loyal to any successor as he is to Putin.
Aleksey Grazhdankin, deputy director of the Levada Center polling agency, says that Kadyrov will find it hard to build on his Chechen base because many Russians have anything but a positive view of him. But Kalachev suggests that his low ratings now could easily change given his backing for traditional values and Russia’s moves in Ukraine.
The political analyst suggests that one should consider what Kadyrov is doing from a longer-term perspective of perhaps ten to thirty years. If so, then many things become possible: “Could anyone have thought in 1914 that sometime a Georgian with the name of Dzhugashvili would head the territory of the former Russian Empire?”