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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kadyrov Now Set To Make His Mark

Akhmad Kadyrov's election as president of Chechnya was declared official Monday, leaving only the question of what this means for the future of the republic that he has administered for the Kremlin for the past three years.

Kadyrov is likely to consolidate his power by purging the Chechen government and rewarding his loyalists with political posts, some observers said. He also is likely to use the economic spoils to firm up his base, they said; thus with property issues still unresolved in Chechnya, it would not be surprising to see land and enterprises ending up in the hands of Kadyrov's closest allies.

But Kadyrov is likely to have little success in uniting the republic or stopping the war, the independent observers said. He had little popular support before his election, and the manipulation of the vote to ensure his election may only have made his position worse.

All potential strong challengers to Kadyrov were either disqualified from the race on technical grounds or persuaded by the Kremlin not to run.

As a result, Kadyrov won an overwhelming victory. With more than 77 percent of the votes counted, Kadyrov had 81 percent, regional election commission chairman Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov told reporters in Grozny, The Associated Press reported. He said 85 percent of Chechnya's 561,000 eligible voters cast ballots.

Some Chechens who voted in Sunday's election, however, said they feared repercussions if they did not show up.

President Vladimir Putin praised the election. "The very fact of such a high turnout shows that people have hope -- hope for a better life, for positive changes in the life of the republic," he said at a Cabinet meeting.

His opinion was not shared by experts on the region.

Emil Pain, general director of the Moscow-based Center for Ethnic and Political Research, said the way the election was handled has denied Kadyrov the authority to reconcile a republic effectively engaged in a civil war.

"These elections are not going to give him any added legitimacy, because legitimacy is rightfulness in the eyes of the people," Pain said. "He will get more authority to deal with the Kremlin, but does it matter? Even now his official status is quite high, at least judging by how often he visits the president. No other regional leader can boast such frequent visits to the Kremlin."

Alexander Iskandaryan, deputy director of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Media Institute, agreed. "His authority as the nationally elected president is false. He will not be supported by the people, because in reality, he is not a president elected by his nation," he said by telephone from Yerevan.

Timur Muzayev of the Democracy and Social Progress Support Foundation said the Kremlin missed its chance to win over the Chechen people.

"In the spring [after the referendum on the Chechen constitution], many people really believed that their nightmare-like life would be over, especially after Putin made them such promises in a television speech. Then, a real political process could have started, even without the rebels, and it could have been approved by the people," Muzayev said. "But it never did. And elections like the current ones have killed off the last hopes. The number of people who are frustrated and see no way out will grow."

What little hope remained that Moscow wanted to put an end to the war will now vanish, he said.

Pain said he believes that Moscow needs Kadyrov in Grozny because it has no strategy regarding Chechnya.

"They only have very ordinary bureaucratic logic: This man is known, and the mechanisms to manipulate him are clear. He is convenient and predictable. And the others are pies in the sky."

Kadyrov is incapable of ending the war, he said. "I can't say how long it will last. Clearly nothing is going to change until Russia's presidential election [in March]. Then, everything will depend on Putin's position, on how much he wants to stop it," Pain said. " The war could be stopped by the Kremlin, but I can't see how. So far, we don't have any examples in the world of positive outcomes of such sorts of conflicts."

Ivan Safranchuk, director of the Moscow office of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, also predicted that the war in Chechnya will continue to simmer.

But Kommersant-Vlast magazine, in an unsigned article published Sept. 29, questioned the general thinking that the level of unrest is unlikely to change.

The article predicted that Kadyrov will dismiss administration officials who are not completely loyal to him and try to take full power in the republic.

Imran Ezheyev of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, based in Nizhny Novgorod, said before Sunday's election that this process was already under way. "He is already sacking disloyal people. And those close to him are getting all the economic advantages. Land is already being sold in large allotments to his allies, and enterprises, too. Very soon Chechnya will physically belong to him and his men."

Kommersant-Vlast predicted that as Kadyrov's power grows, relations between his administration and the federal armed forces will deteriorate.

"It should not be forgotten that the so-called Kadyrov guard consists of several thousand well-armed former rebels who, at Kadyrov's call, sort of put their arms down, but in reality just moved under his umbrella. These people will not hesitate, at the order of a Chechen president, to take up arms against the federal authorities," the article said.

The Moscow Helsinki Group, a union of human rights associations, estimates that the security force headed by Kadyrov's son Ramzan is able to deploy about 3,000 men, many of whom are amnestied rebels.

But most doubt that Kadyrov would challenge Moscow and become a second Dzhokhar Dudayev, the separatist leader whose independence drive led to the first Chechen war in 1994, or Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected president of a de facto independent Chechnya in 1997. "He is not an idiot," Safranchuk said. "He knows perfectly well the fate of both Dudayev and Maskhadov. Dudayev is dead and Maskhadov is still dashing around somewhere in the mountains. It is hard to say their lives were a success."

However, he said Kadyrov changing sides could not completely be ruled out, since he has done so before. Kadyrov, a former imam, declared a jihad against the Russians in the 1994-96 war.

Safranchuk said much depends on the federal center. Kadyrov, he said, is siding with Moscow because it is stronger at the moment. "This is part of the Chechen mentality -- they respect strength," he said. "I am sure that a problem may develop only if Moscow shows weakness, say, loses control over the cash flow to Chechnya. Moscow must exercise its power over him nonstop, including summoning him there whenever he is needed and he must turn up immediately."