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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pro-Moscow Chechens Oppose Kadyrov

A week after he was appointed by the Kremlin to head Chechnya's administration, Mufti Akhmed Kadyrov was facing a revolt by Chechnya's local leaders Monday and still had not assumed his post.

Kadyrov, who is Chechnya's spiritual leader, was to have been inaugurated in Gudermes on Friday, but he decided to postpone the ceremony until Monday.

The mufti, however, remained in his home village of Tsentoroi. He was waiting for President Vladimir Putin's envoy to the greater North Caucasus region, Viktor Kazantsev, to come to Chechnya and present him as the new head of the republic's administration.

The local leaders of 12 of Chechnya's 18 districts joined forces Monday to ask Putin to remove Kadyrov "in the name of peace and accord" as well as to "avoid new bloodshed" in Chechnya. In their letter to the president, reported by Interfax, they argued that Kadyrov cannot run the Kremlin-installed administration because he sided with Chechen separatists during the previous military campaign in 1994-96. They did not specify who they wanted to run the republic instead.

The opposition to Kadyrov showed the lack of accord among pro-Moscow Chechen leaders and the difficulty Kadyrov will have consolidating even those parts of the Chechen population that either support Kremlin rule or are neutral.

Kadyrov was quick to dismiss the appeal as an act of sabotage engineered by his predecessor, Nikolai Koshman. Putin appointed Koshman, a former general, to run the republic last year, but sacked him earlier this month to install Kadyrov. The district heads were Koshman's subordinates.

In a statement released Monday, Kadyrov said Koshman was trying to sabotage his appointment because he wanted to install an administration as corrupt as the pro-Moscow administration that ran parts of Chechnya in 1996.

"Only the devil knows" what that administration did with billions of rubles in federal subsidies back then, the mufti said in his statement.

Kadyrov urged members of Koshman's administration "to remain calm and continue their work."

Kremlin officials showed no sign that they will pay any heed to the appeal to dismiss Kadyrov.

The Kremlin's Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said in televised remarks Monday evening that it is not surprising some representatives of the former administration hope to see Koshman reinstalled. The Chechen bureaucrats who oppose Kadyrov's appointment should resign, he said.

The head of the Naursky district administration in Chechnya, Sergei Ponomarenko, who signed Monday's appeal, said the majority of Chechens would not object to having a Russian appointed as interim governor instead of Kadyrov. He stopped short of saying he would want to see Koshman reinstalled as the head of Chechnya's administration.

Koshman handpicked most of the senior officials in his administration, and thus it should come as no surprise they oppose the installment of Kadyrov, according to Alexander Iskandryan, head of the Center for Caucasian Studies.

Despite having been sacked, Koshman met with the heads of the Chechen district administration behind closed doors Saturday.

No details of the meeting have been released, but it is possible that Koshman asked them to appeal to the Kremlin to remove his successor, Iskandryan said.

Koshman cannot become a long-term governor of Chechnya because he is Russian. It would be impossible for the Kremlin to promote a non-Chechen as the legitimate head of the republic if elections ever take place.

Yet, he wants to have Kadyrov removed because the mufti remains relatively independent from the Kremlin, Iskandryan said in a telephone interview Monday.

In addition to having served as Chechnya's spiritual leader since 1995, Kadyrov enjoys the support of Chechens who oppose the Islamic radicalism of some of Chechnya's separatist leaders.

This support would give Koshman his own power base and enable him to ignore Koshman and his loyalists when deciding how to spend the more than 1 billion rubles (more than $350 million) that the government has promised to allocate for Chechnya's restoration. Therefore, Koshman is trying to have someone more dependent on him and his allies installed to head the republic so he can "pull the strings" to control disbursement of federal subsidies, Iskandryan said.

He said this figurehead role could be played by the head of Chechnya's Moscow-based State Council and the owner of Russia's largest lottery, Malik Saidullayev. The council was formed by the Kremlin last year but has had no say in governing Chechnya.

Saidullayev has won the support of the influential Yamadayev brothers, who have many supporters in Gudermes and who, like Koshman, would like to have their own man in charge of the republic, Iskandryan said. So far, however, the Yamadayevs, who once supported Kadyrov, have failed in their attempts to expand their influence.

Two of the brothers were arrested Wednesday and kept behind bars for two days, in what Saidullayev said he believes to have been an attempt by Kadyrov to remove his rivals.

Kadyrov is a more popular and influential figure in Chechnya than Saidullayev, whose influence doesn't stretch far beyond his home village of Alkhan-Yurt, Iskandryan said.

However, neither Kadyrov nor any other pro-Moscow Chechen politician would be able to have his rule enforced throughout the republic, Iskandryan said. The past decade has seen the Chechen nation divide into rival groups that neither independence-minded warlords nor pro-Moscow politicians can consolidate, he said.

"The society has been atomized into small groups with differences running deep between those who support traditional Islam and those who preach modernist [radical] Islam, those who live in the mountains and those who live on the flatlands, among those who belong to different clans, etc.," he said.

Chechnya's elected president, Aslan Maskhadov, has rejected Kadyrov's calls for talks, Interfax said. "Kadyrov does not have any real powers and has no right to decide on questions of war and peace between Russia and Chechnya," Maskhadov wrote in a statement cited by Interfax.

Kadyrov said he would be willing to hold talks with Maskhadov.