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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zhidkov Pledges to Clean Up Grozny

Former KGB officer Oleg Zhidkov took up the post of Grozny's mayor Monday, promising to rebuild the war-battered city and make it a safer place to live.

Zhidkov, 45, a native of Grozny, fills a position vacated when Mayor Bislan Gantamirov resigned in May.

"It is my city … and I see everywhere the familiar faces of the people with whom I studied, worked and lived," Zhidkov said at a news conference in Grozny, Interfax reported.

The head of the Kremlin-appointed Chechen administration, Akhmad Kadyrov, introduced Zhidkov to his Cabinet members, saying he is familiar with Chechnya's problems and speaks fluent Chechen, Interfax said.

Zhidkov told the Cabinet that even though he is an ethnic Russian, they should not consider him an outsider.

Click here to read our special report on the Conflict in Chechnya.Zhidkov, who once headed the KGB department in the then-Soviet republic of Checheno-Ingushetia, graduated with a degree in physical education from the Checheno-Ingushetia University. After passing KGB courses in Minsk in 1984, he started to work in Grozny's KGB office. In 1991, after Dzhokhar Dudayev came into power in Chechnya, Zhidkov fled Chechnya along with thousands of other ethnic Russians.

He settled in Moscow and since 1995 has been vice president of the Association of Law Enforcement Employees, which is headed by Aslanbek Aslakhanov, the State Duma deputy for Chechnya. Some press reports suggested Monday that Aslakhanov had played a key role in Zhidkov's appointment as mayor. Aslakhanov wasn't available for comment Monday.

Kadyrov said Sunday that more than 20 candidates had been considered for the post and that Zhidkov had been picked, in part, because he had kept his reputation clean. "We had to identify a person … who wouldn't be directly or indirectly associated with the circles that compromised themselves in the last decades," Kadyrov told Interfax.

Gantamirov found himself in an embezzlement scandal in 1996 when millions of dollars in federal funds meant to rebuild Grozny went missing. He was later pardoned by then-President Boris Yeltsin. Gantamirov served as Grozny mayor three times, most recently from October 2000 until his resignation in May. He quit during a feud with Kadyrov's administration and Moscow.

Kadyrov also said Sunday that he was confident the new mayor would help bring Chechen refugees back home from neighboring republics.

Zhidkov said Monday that his priorities would be to step up security in Grozny, rebuild the city and create jobs for residents.

Analysts said the decision to pick an ethnic Russian may prevent the infighting between Chechen clans that has plagued previous Grozny administrations. But they said Zhidkov would find his hands tied while the federal military campaign continues in Chechnya. "Picking an ethnic Russian for the administrative post in Chechnya is an attempt to … keep the interests of the clans outside of officialdom," said Alexander Iskandaryan, head of the Center of Caucasian Studies. "But reshuffles in Chechnya's pro-Moscow administration will do little good until the overall situation in the republic changes."