Kadyrov Is the Better of Two Chechen Evils

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Modern Chechnya, like France under Louis XIV, is going through the final stage of its centralization. The latest victim in that process is the Vostok battalion commanded by Sulim Yamadayev. Vostok is an elite Defense Ministry unit that reports to the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff. Not counting insurgents in the mountainous regions, the unit, headed by Sulim Yamadayev and his two brothers, Ruslan and Badruddi, is the only significant group in the republic not controlled by President Ramzan Kadyrov.

Here is how the present conflict unfolded: On Sunday, two soldiers from the Yamadayev camp died when their vehicles collided with cars driven by Kadyrov loyalists. Such accidents are a typical occurrence in Chechnya, where drivers regularly ignore every street sign except the roadblock.

On Monday, Badruddi Yamadayev, who is Sulim's younger brother, and several Vostok servicemen set out for the burial of their comrades. (Badruddi Yamadayev should really be serving a 12-year jail term for attempting to murder a senior Moscow health official. But his brothers managed to take him back to Chechnya, where he is serving his sentence and assuming the unofficial role of deputy commander of Vostok.)

On the way to the funeral, the Yamadayev cortege collided with Kadyrov's motorcade of 50 cars traveling at high speed. This prompted Badruddi Yamadayev to open fire. His bodyguards pulled the pins on their hand grenades and stood ready to throw them. Observing all of this, Kadyrov stepped out of his car and exchanged hugs with Badruddi. You have to admit, it would not have been right for Kadyrov to arrest Badruddi for such a trifle as firing on the presidential convoy when the man was on his way to a funeral.

Kadyrov has persistently hounded the Yamadayevs, his main strategic impediment. Although the Yamadayevs once controlled all of Gudermes, the town gradually came under Kadyrov's control; the Chechen president even established his personal residence there. Furthermore, Kadyrov arranged for Ruslan Yamadayev to be replaced on the ticket of pro-Kremlin party United Russia in the December State Duma elections in an effort to further sideline the Yamadayev clan.

When Kadyrov rebuilt Chechnya, he became the virtual owner of the republic, with the Yamadayev brothers remaining as field commanders.

The party is not, as some believe, about to begin. It is nearing its end. In this deadly game of chess, Kadyrov waited until his opponent had only two pawns left on the board before he began to play.

Kadyrov's opponents always run to Moscow for help whenever they have a problem. But Moscow has no interest in helping them. The siloviki sell out every Chechen that they have bought in the past. When former Chechen President Alu Alkhanov's personal bodyguard, Alikhan Mutsayev, was gunned down in Moscow, federal law enforcement agencies turned a blind eye to the murder. But what was really shocking was that even Alkhanov remained silent.

Lastly, Kadyrov does not just take a dominating position in Chechnya's affairs. He starts conflicts only when he sees that his opponent is in an indefensible position. After all, nobody will ever have much sympathy for Badruddi Yamadayev, who has a nasty habit of shooting at presidential motorcades, not to mention a senior Moscow health official.

Despite its setting in the Caucasus, this is more a story of political strategy than of an isolated shootout after a car accident. This story illustrates that the surest way to defeat your opponent is to gain the strong upper hand. Since Kadyrov runs the show in Chechnya, you have to agree to his terms to get anything done in the republic. But things could be much worse. After all, if Kadyrov were to be swept from power, Islamic extremists could easily take his place. Imagine having to agree to their terms. In the end, it is better to agree to Kadyrov's terms than to Osama bin Laden's.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.