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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Who Will Rule Over a Post-War Chechnya?




The Kremlin has made it clear that it will not transfer full control of Chechnya to local leaders any time soon, but this has not quelled the ambitions of various Chechen figures vying to become Moscow's choice for the republic's civil ruler.


Both the military and the Kremlin seem to agree that a single leader must take charge of Chechnya, but the form of rule to be introduced remains far from clear.


The Kremlin's highest-placed administrative official for Chechnya, presidential representative and Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Koshman, announced earlier this month that no presidential elections will be held in the war-torn republic in the next two years.


Koshman also said last month that Russian generals will continue effectively ruling Chechnya as long as they remain in control of all vital supplies to the republic.


Despite recent speculation that the Kremlin may be considering negotiations with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, both Koshman and the newly appointed chief of the North Caucasus Military District, Colonel General Gennady Troshev, have repeatedly ruled out peace talks with any of the Chechen warlords - including Maskhadov - unless they and their men surrender and release all hostages and prisoners of war.


Neither do they seem especially keen to share their powers with Chechen leaders who have proved their loyalty to the Kremlin or at least claim it exists, said Alexander Iskandryan, head of the Center for Caucasian Studies.


Even the local administrators installed by Koshman in certain districts have no resources to challenge the rule of the generals, much less to hope for Chechnya's ruling post, said Alexei Malashenko, a Caucasus expert with the Moscow Carnegie Center.


Yet several prominent Chechens continue to race for a place under the Kremlin sun just in case Moscow decides to give the reins over to a local.


"They have to remain in the spotlight somehow, otherwise someone else will move in and steal their thunder by the time elections are held," explained Malashenko.


Thus far, Chechen Mufti Khozh-Akhmed Kadyrov has led the race, according to both Malashenko and Iskandryan.


Kadyrov, who supported Maskhadov during the first Chechen war, distanced himself from the Chechen president when Russian troops entered Chechnya last year.


Kadyrov has attacked Maskhadov for failing to stem the spread of Islamic extremism and helped to engineer the bloodless conquest of Chechnya's second largest city - Gudermes - by federal troops.


His words and actions alike have won approval from the Kremlin, and Kadyrov has met with President-elect Vladimir Putin twice to discuss ways of restoring peace in Chechnya.


Kadyrov is respected by Chechens who oppose Islamic fundamentalism, but his real power base is the Yamadayev brothers, said Iskandryan.


These two warlords and hundreds of their armed supporters have controlled most of Gudermes for the past several years and are widely believed to fund Kadyrov's political ambitions.


Kadyrov also enjoys the support of Russian commanders. Troshev told the Itogi television program Sunday that he believes Kadyrov is capable of enforcing law and order in the republic.


In the race for power, Kadyrov is closely followed by Koshman's deputy and former mayor of Grozny, Bislan Gantamirov, said Iskandryan.


Last fall, Gantamirov was pardoned by then-President Boris Yeltsin and released from a Russian prison where he was serving time for embezzlement.


Upon his release, Gantamirov formed a pro-Moscow Chechen militia that helped Russian soldiers conquer Grozny and is now regularly used to guard convoys of federal troops.


Earlier this year, Gantamirov had up to 1,000 men under his command, but the militia's manpower has dwindled over wage arrears and lack of full-fledged official status.


Unhappy about these injustices, Gantamirov threatened to resign his post earlier this month, but this weekend his ambitions gained new momentum when Chief of the General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin personally promoted Gantamirov to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was also sent a watch as a gift from President-elect Vladimir Putin, the Segodnya newspaper reported on Monday.


Gantamirov has good relations with both Troshev and Kvashnin, exercises some influence over the town of Urus Martan and has enough armed supporters to try to sideline Kadyrov as the Kremlin's top choice for Chechnya's ruler, said Iskandryan.


Several other contenders, including former Speaker of the Russian parliament Ruslan Khasbulatov, self-proclaimed spiritual leader of Chechnya Adam Deiniyev, prominent businessman Malik Saidullayev and Akmed Zavgayev, the brother of Chechnya's Soviet-era Governor Doku Zavgayev, have either explicitly or indirectly expressed their political ambitions.


None of them, however, enjoy any formidable support beyond their home villages, except for Khasbulatov, according to Malashenko.


"Khasbulatov's image in Chechnya can be potentially boosted because he is one of the few Chechen politicians who has not been involved in these two wars on either side," Malashenko said.


But all these bids by pro-Moscow and neutral presidential hopefuls could be derailed should the Kremlin opt for a rapprochement with Maskhadov, said Iskandryan and Malashenko.


Moscow has repeatedly condemned Maskhadov as a criminal and has opened a case against him for organizing an armed mutiny.


But while Putin has described Maskhadov as "politically impotent," he admitted that the two exchanged peace plans last month.


Moreover, Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky hinted recently that Moscow may start talks with Maskhadov, confirming that the governors of at least two North Caucasian provinces regularly hold telephone consultations with the Chechen president.


In response, Maskhadov has publicly condemned the more radical Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, blaming him for inciting the second war by his August raid on neighboring Dagestan.


Maskhadov has fewer armed supporters than Basayev and has little control over Basayev or his ally Khattab, as well as over other Chechen field commanders such as Ruslan Gelayev and Akhmed Zakayev.


However, he does enjoy more respect throughout Chechnya because he won the presidential elections in 1996, noted Iskandryan.


Also, Maskhadov is the only one of Russia's Chechen foes with whom the Kremlin can potentially negotiate because he has not been involved in any incursions or terrorism, Iskandryan said.


It remains unclear whether the Kremlin's hints of negotiations with Maskhadov will bear fruit.


"The Kremlin realizes that armed force alone cannot solve the problems, but they just don't know what and how to negotiate," Iskandryan said.


He was echoed by Malashenko.


"They lack a strategy in dealing with Chechnya and are not sure what they will do next," he said.


"I wouldn't be surprised if Maskhadov either flies to Moscow to meet with Putin as the head of one of Russia's republics or if he is shipped to Moscow in chains."