Staunton, December 15 – Ramzan Kadyrov’s ouster as head of Chechnya has been rumored so often that it has become something “expected” by some, but if he goes, that is likely to entail “unpredictable consequences” for Chechnya, the North Caucasus and Moscow, according to Temur Kozayev.
Many had expected Kadyrov to be ousted last spring, the analyst says in an article on Versia.ru today, but the Chechen leader was saved by the events in Ukraine and his role in them. But “now after the October terrorist actions and the December battles in Grozny,” rumors about his possible replacements are swirling (versia.ru/articles/2014/dec/15/po_zakonu_gor).
Indeed, Kozayev argues that “it is entirely possible that an announcement about Kadyrov’s retirement will be made before the New Year’s holidays.” And the two most likely candidates are Aslambek Aslakhanov, who represents Chechnya in the Federation Council, and Alu Alkhanov, who headed the republic between 2004 and 2007.
In addition to the two cases of violence in Grozny, there has been a third development which has undercut Kadyrov’s authority. Ramzan Tsitsulayev, Kadyrov’s special representative in Ukraine, recently found himself at the center of a scandal in Moscow after promising to get a businessman out of jail, failing, and then fleeing to Ukraine where he again landed in trouble.
If such things happened in any other federal subject, Eurasianist leader Aleksandr Dugin says, its head would be out, but Kadyrov is a special case. On the one hand, it is difficult to imagine that Moscow could find anyone who would represent as effective a “compromise” with the various factions in Chechnya as Kadyrov does.
And on the other, Dugin says, “to remove Kadyrov is not simply about removing him from the levers of power. At the same time,” Moscow would have to get rid of his inner circle, “and at present, this circle is not so narrow.” Consequently, the Kremlin would have to be ready for the kind of wholesale change that would lead to destabilization.
But others are not so sure that even that risk will now keep the center from acting, Kozayev says. Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, for example, says that for many in Russia, Chechnya under Kadyrov is something Russia would be better off without and should be cut loose. That is not a view the Kremlin wants to encourage.
Heads of federal subjects like Chechnya are supposed to keep their republics in order, and those who fail to do so are thus at risk. Vladimir Putin may even have been reminding Kadyrov of this when he said to the Chechen leader at their most recent meeting: “I ask you unconditionally to carry this work through to the end.”
Versia.ru appends to Kosayev’s article the opinions of three other Russian analysts, Andrey Okara, Dmitry Oreshkin, and Aleksandr Cherkasov.
Okara says he does not believe that in the possibility that Kadyrov will be replaced anytime soon, let alone that there is any need for Moscow to do so. According to him, “at the present moment in Russia, there are only two real politicians: Putin and Kadyrov. The rest are bureaucrats, propagandists, or clowns.”
While it is possible that a clown or propagandist as head of Chechnya would be more pleasant for Moscow, the real question is how the elites and population of Chechnya itself would react to such a change. So far, he is holding his own, but while the ambitions of the Chechen elites are growing, “the Kremlin’s possibilities of satisfying them are declining.”
Oreshkin says it would be better to ask not whether Kadyrov’s ouster is being prepared but rather to inquire about the motives for removing him. Those exist: the recent violence in Chechnya suggests that Kadyrov has lost control over part of the Chechen siloviki and that means “automatically” that he is losing “the Kremlin’s trust.”
But what is even more important, he suggests, is the following: the money is running out and problems are beginning. Kadyrov has been paid out of oil profits for his loyalty to Moscow, and he in turn has purchased the loyalty of the local elite.” With the decline in the price of oil, there is no longer enough to do so, and conflicts within the Chechen elite are inevitable.
And Cherkasov, who works with Memorial, says that he has his doubts that Moscow will move against Kadyrov now. The Chechen leader can and will argue that the violence in Chechnya came not from its own people but from other republics like Ingushetia and Daghestan which have not imposed order by the kind of draconian measures he has employed.
Given Putin’s proclivities and Moscow’s fear of disorder, Kadyrov is likely to win his case, at least for now. And consequently, no “sudden cadres changes” are to be expected in Grozny, he argues, even though in the longer term Kadyrov’s approach like Putin’s won’t solve the problems of that republic or the larger region.