Monday, April 11, 2016

Will Putin’s New National Guard Rein In Kadyrov?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 10 – Most commentaries about Vladimir Putin’s decision to create a special national guard have suggested that this move reflects the Kremlin leader’s fears that he may face popular unrest that could be exploited to challenge his power.   But one Moscow analyst suggests that Putin took this step to rein Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov.

            That is because the new arrangements will eliminate Kadyrov’s ability to control the force structures on his territory and to use them against his enemies with relative impunity; and while a move against Kadyrov and one designed to protect Putin are not mutually exclusive, the former may have even more immediate consequences than the latter.

            The “Kadyrov explanation” is offered by longtime Russian interior ministry official Pegr Zaikin in an interview with Elena Milashina published in Saturday’s “Novaya gazeta” puvb(

            As the journalist points out, under the terms of Putin’s decree, “all the force structures of the Russian interior ministry … will now be shifted to the National Guard.”  Although they will be subordinate to the interior ministry and its regional units until 2018, these forces can be deployed “exclusively” on the basis of an agreement of the director of the Federal Service of the Forces of the National Guard, thus centralizing control of internal troops.

            Moreover, the ranks and status of the personnel in these units will be determined not by their separate commands but by Moscow alone, something that “will mean that the former staffers [of these various forces] will become military personnel and finally be shifted from the jurisdiction of the ‘regional’ vertical of the Russian interior ministry.

            As Milashina points out, this “reform will have colossal political consequences for one of the regions of the Russian Federation – the Chechen Republic.  It will remove from the zone of influence of the leadership of the republic the most militarily capable force units and make them immediately subordinate to the director of the National Guard and the president of Russia.”

            That in turn will open the way to “the cleansing of the Chechen special forces” of former militants and the elimination of “the ethnic principle of the formation of force structures” in Chechnya, something not found elsewhere and unacceptable to the good order of the Russian state.

            Zaikin points out that these changes will limit Kadyrov’s powers over these forces and thus lead him to “refrain” from any moves against people outside of his own republic.  And they will mean that Moscow rather than Kadyrov will have the dominant voice in the use of force even within Chechnya.

            He notes that Kadyrov will no longer have the ability to protect his people from charges of crimes and that he will not be able to maintain the Chechenization of the force structures there. That will bring Chechnya back into the Russian legal field and restrict what Kadyrov will be able to do.

            Given Kadyrov’s past behavior, many Russians will be pleased if this is what the national guard reform means.  But two things remain to be seen. On the one hand, it is far from clear whether Putin and Moscow will succeed in making all these changes.  And on the other, it is uncertain how Kadyrov will respond if he begins to lose his autonomy.

            Moreover, it is entirely possible that the Kremlin has put out this explanation to distract attention from the authoritarian implications behind the new security arrangements and that Putin whose relationship with Kadyrov is far closer than with many of the heads of the force structures may not follow through in the ways Milashina and Zaikin suggest.

            At the very least, there is likely to be an intense struggle not just on the streets of Moscow and major Russian cities but in Chechnya and the North Caucasus more generally.


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