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Analysis: Has Chechnya's Strongman Signed His Own Death Warrant?

By Liz Fuller

Over the 10 months since the killing of his father, pro-Moscow administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, Ramzan Kadyrov, 28, has emerged as the most influential and the most feared man in Chechnya.

In what was widely seen as a bid by Moscow to secure his loyalty, Ramzan Kadyrov was named Chechen first deputy prime minister in May 2004, and then appointed in October as an aide to Dmitrii Kozak, President Vladimir Putin's envoy to the Southern Federal District. Then in late December, Putin bestowed on Ramzan Kadyrov the prestigious Hero of Russia award, thereby tacitly signaling approval of the mass reprisals against Chechen civilians routinely undertaken by the so-called presidential security forces subordinate to Kadyrov.

But according to "Newsweek-Russia" of 14-20 February, many representatives of the Russian federal forces in Chechnya have come to view Kadyrov as a potential threat that needs to be neutralized, given that Moscow is apparently unable or unwilling to rein him in. For the time being, however, no one is prepared to challenge him openly, "Newsweek-Russia" reported, as doing so would inevitably spark a major armed conflict.

Several recent moves by Kadyrov may nonetheless serve as the catalyst for his undoing. According to "Newsweek-Russia," Kadyrov alienated the Federal Security Service (FSB) by sending armed men into Daghestan in January to secure the release of his sister Zulay, who was detained by police in Khasavyurt for travelling without identity papers.

Then in an interview published in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 23 February, Kadyrov swore that he will kill radical field commander Shamil Basaev -- the man who claimed responsibility for the bombing that killed Ramzan's father. The death or capture of Basaev would demolish the main official rationale for the continuation of the "antiterrorism" operation in Chechnya, given that, according to official logic, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov allegedly does not wield any influence over the resistance forces.

But as journalist Anna Politkovskaya pointed out in the most recent issue of "Novaya gazeta," there are numerous figures, including some within the Russian military and security forces, who have a vested interest in seeing the war continue indefinitely insofar as they either stand to profit from it financially or in terms of promotion, or, in the case of the pro-Moscow Chechen forces, because they have no skills that would provide them with a livelihood in peacetime.

"Izvestiya" published a five-part series last December detailing the reasons why, after five years of war, the Russian military has still not succeeded in hunting down and apprehending Basaev: the Chechen civilian population admires and respects Basaev and will never betray him to the Russians; and Basaev has unlimited funds at his disposal that have enabled him to establish an extensive network of well-equipped hiding places (see also "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 5 November 2004). But those factors may be only secondary: some Russian analysts have suggested that the primary reason Basaev remains at liberty is that he has links with the GRU (Russian military intelligence), which would intervene to warn him of any impending danger.

According to Politkovskaya's most recent analysis, Kadyrov has challenged the GRU by dismissing all police officials appointed in Chechnya's southern Vedeno district by GRU protege Sulim Yamadaev, commander of the so-called Eastern battalion. Politkovskaya construed those dismissals as just one more episode in the power struggle between the GRU and the FSB. But if the FSB were indeed angered by Kadyrov's intervention in Khasavyurt, it could conceivably make common cause with the GRU to get rid of Kadyrov, which would also serve to remove a threat to Basaev -- and to ensure that the war continues indefinitely.

In addition, Kadyrov has, according to Politkovskaya, forcibly closed schools in Vedeno and recruited all male students as members of his security force to preclude their joining the resistance. Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov called two weeks ago for more effective measures to deter adolescent boys from joining the resistance.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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