North Caucasus Weekly, The Jamestown Foundation - November 13, 2008 - Volume IX, Issue 43 (Russia)


Kadyrov's Strategic Victory


(12.11.2008)

Following a long debate, Ramzan Kadyrov has finally won support for his stance against the Russian army colonel and Hero of Russia award recipient, Sulim Yamadaev. On the evening of November 8, 2008, Kadyrov's supporters went into the streets of Grozny and opened celebratory gunfire after the news of dissolution of their nemesis' group, the Vostok battalion-the pro-Russian military unit in Chechnya that was under Sulim Yamadaev's exclusive command and not under Kadyrov's direct control. In the eyes of many, Vostok acted as a counterweight to keep Kadyrov's ambitions in check; preserving the battalion was the military's way of letting Kadyrov know that his powers in Chechnya had limits. Kadyrov initially attempted to eliminate the group by using legal tactics: he declared its commander and several of his close associates to be a danger to society and they were subsequently charged with crimes for which, according to the Chechen government, Sulim Yamadaev bore full responsibility.

The dissolution of Vostok and Zapad special-forces battalions of the Russian Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence (GRU) was announced during a personal meeting between Kadyrov and Deputy Chief Commander of the Russian forces Valery Moltenskoi (www.newsribbon.ru/news/6285.html).
Moltenskoi said that the defunct battalions will be replaced by two soon-to-be-formed infantry companies totaling 200 servicemen under the Defense Ministry's 42nd Motor Rifle Division, which is permanently stationed in Chechnya. Kadyrov was thus able to realize his longtime dream of quashing his last remaining opponents and onetime allies in the fight against the separatists.

The other group, Zapad battalion, is linked to another infamous pro-Russian military man Said-Magomed Kakiev, who despite his appointment as Chechnya's deputy military commander in 2007, was known to sometimes disagree with Kadyrov's actions. Kakiev's unit did not and could not include any former separatist fighters, as Kakiev saw that as a betrayal of those who defended Russia's interests alongside the Russian army.

The man who replaced Kakiev as Zapad commander was his close associate Major Beslan (Magomed) Elimkhanov, who was devoted to Kakiev and had always stood by him. Four Zapad battalion members were killed in a clash with Kadyrov's fighters in June 2007, and Elimkhanov himself was targeted in an assassination attempt on September 19, 2008. According to Sulim Yamadaev, after this incident Elimkhanov was forced to leave Chechnya and move to Moscow due to a threat of death from Kadyrov (www.kavkauzel.ru/persontext/person/id/1213144.html;
www.grani.ru/War/Chechnya/m.141604.html). It is generally understood in Chechnya that those who dare challenge the Chechen president will not enjoy their freedom for long, regardless of the powerful backers that they may have in Moscow. Movladi Baisarov, Ruslan Yamadaev, Ruslan Atlangeriev and many others have fallen victim because of their belief that their influential patrons would be able to shield them from the wrath of Chechnya's young and ambitious ruler.

Kadyrov blacklisted both the Zapad and Vostok battalions because he believed that they were plotting a merger or, in the best-case scenario, a united coalition of pro-Russian Chechen political elites opposed to him. As such, the battalions became the object of suspicion on the part of Chechnya's Kremlin-appointed president (www.axisglobe-ru.com/article.asp?article=346).

By eliminating the two battalions Kadyrov has won an unquestionable victory over his enemies. Kadyrov's success was probably the outcome of a recent visit to Chechnya by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. It appears that Putin was satisfied with Kadyrov's reconstruction efforts, which have resulted in striking changes in Chechnya. Putin may have decided to reward Kadyrov by putting an end to his longtime tensions with the Defense Ministry and removing the last impediments to Kadyrov's control over Chechnya.

Yet, Kadyrov's victory may ring hollow if Russian media reports about Sulim Yamadaev's appointment to the post of the deputy commander of a GRU brigade stationed in Taganrog, a seaport city in Rostov Oblast, prove to be true (Ekho Moskvy Radio, November 10). That would mean that even after the dissolution of the Zapad and Vostok battalions, Sulim Yamadaev himself remains under the Defense Ministry's informal but nevertheless real protection.
An alternative explanation is that Yamadaev's appointment as commander of a Caucasus-based brigade (which otherwise would have clearly meant a promotion) is designed to give his enemies a chance to kill him in southern Russia as opposed to Moscow, where it would be more difficult to find him.
There is speculation that the difficulty in tracking down Sulim Yamadaev while he was in Moscow earlier this autumn was the reason for the assassination of his older brother Ruslan, who ran a business in Moscow (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1030899).

No organization or person in Chechnya today dares make their opposition to Kadyrov public. Even human rights organizations such as Memorial, Glasnost and others prefer to keep their commentary on human rights violations in the third person with no implied links or attributions to Kadyrov's regime (http://kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1208560.html). This in no way signifies a change in their fundamental operating principles of protecting human rights in Chechnya, but rather is an indication that there is currently no other way to survive and continue to operate under the authoritarian regime of Kremlin's protégé.

Still, things are not going as well as Kadyrov might hope for. Prior to receiving the satisfying news that his two rival battalions were being dissolved, several of his requests were denied by the Russian government. For instance, Kadyrov's long-standing desire for Grozny's airport to be granted international status was denied due to the absence of security guarantees from the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Defense Ministry. Kadyrov could not keep his emotions in check when he was informed about Moscow's decision by the chairman of Chechnya's government Odes Baisultanov during the Chechen state television's evening news broadcast on October 27. He responded by stating that the Russian military should be reminded about the eight-story high-rise apartment buildings on Khankalskaya Street in Grozny that they blew up several years ago. The residents of the buildings were not offered an explanation and were not even allowed to pack their belongings. These buildings have not been restored to date and Kadyrov commented that the Russian military should be pressured using every available method, including legal recourse, to admit responsibility and restore the buildings. The buildings in question were blown up in 2002 after a chopper carrying servicemen was shot down not far from the buildings at the Khankala military base. Russian soldiers based in the Khankala camp consequently mined more than ten high-rise apartment buildings, eight of which were blown up after the hasty eviction of all of their residents. A school and kindergarten buildings were also demolished (www.grozny-inform.ru/main.mhtml?Part=8&PubID=9324).

The second piece of bad news for Kadyrov was Moscow's refusal to establish a laboratory for the identification of exhumed bodies in Chechnya. The reason given for Moscow's decision was "exuberant financial cost" (www.regnum.ru/news/fd-south/medicine/1077577.html). Yet another negative development came when the Defense Ministry adopted a decision to halt the clearing of minefields and recommended that the task be turned over to private contractors. The news is particularly striking considering that 7,000-10,000 people, including 5,000 children, have been victims of anti-personnel mines in Chechnya. Out of these, 1,300 children died and about 2,000 have been severely wounded. In all likelihood Kadyrov, like all other regional leaders, will have to get used to hearing "no" from Moscow. Putin has a history of tightly controlling local chiefs and is unlikely to allow any one of them to become too powerful.

Dr. Mairbek Vatchagaev is the author of the book, "Chechnya in the 19th Century Caucasian Wars."

Von: 13.11.2008, by Mairbek Vatchagaev, www.georgiandaily.com

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