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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Election Is Kadyrov's Show

APSaudi Crown Prince Abdullah speaking with Akhmad Kadyrov ahead of his talks with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on Wednesday.
With the Chechen presidential race about to officially begin, it is becoming more and more apparent that the way is being cleared to make it easier for Akhmad Kadyrov to win on Oct. 5.

Kadyrov, who has run the Kremlin-backed Chechen administration for three years, faces some serious contenders among his nine remaining challengers, specifically State Duma Deputy Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who is respected throughout Chechnya, and Malik Saidullayev, a wealthy Moscow-based businessman whose charity work in Chechnya has made him a household name.

But two other leading candidates have backed out. One of them -- Khusein Dzhabrailov, first deputy director of the Rossiya hotel and a member of a prominent Chechen family -- unexpectedly announced his decision to withdraw Tuesday after meeting with members of the presidential administration.

A potential favorite, Ruslan Khasbulatov, a Moscow-based economics professor and former speaker of the Russian parliament, decided earlier not to run.

Aslakhanov and Saidullayev said they also will pull out if it becomes clear that the vote will be rigged.

"I would withdraw for three reasons," Aslakhanov said Wednesday at a news conference. "First, because of a bullet, which I am promised all the time. Second, if they throw me out of the race. Third, if in Chechnya no conditions are set for democratic elections.

"I am not going to participate in a farce," he said.

Kadyrov's challengers accuse him of controlling the electoral system, and his administration took action Wednesday to take control of Chechen media.

Bislan Gantamirov, the popular Chechen press minister, who oversaw state television in the republic and promised to support Dzhabrailov in the campaign, was dismissed and his ministry disbanded.

His duties were given to Taus Dzhabrailov, who is running Kadyrov's campaign. Taus Dzhabrailov -- no relation to candidate Khusein Dzhabrailov -- was Chechnya's nationalities minister and will now head a united press and nationalities ministry.

"What is going on is very sad," Khamzat Bogatyryov, one of Gantamirov's deputies, said by telephone from Grozny. "I don't even have to explain it. Every single sane person understands what will happen next."

Since he was appointed by President Vladimir Putin in June 2000, Kadyrov has filled his administration with people whose jobs depend on their loyalty to him. He has little public support and exercises control through his son, Ramzan Kadyrov, who heads a brutal security force that inspires widespread fear.

Until recently, Kadyrov, 52, had Putin's public support. He appeared to be a part of the Kremlin's plan to install an elected government in Chechnya with the aim of restoring some sort of order to the republic. But since Kadyrov announced his plans to run earlier this summer, the Kremlin has distanced itself from his candidacy. Putin has said he will support whomever is elected by the Chechen people and has demanded that the elections be free and fair.

Dzhabrailov, 43, whose brother Umar ran for president of Russia in 2000, was vague about his decision to withdraw. In a statement carried by Interfax, he said his decision was "dictated by my confidence that in the current circumstances I can be of more use to our society if I direct my efforts and public and economic resources toward improving dialogue among Chechens and the formation of civil society in the Chechen republic and the North Caucasus."

A source close to Dzhabrailov said he withdrew after meeting late Monday and into early Tuesday with Alexander Voloshin, the Kremlin chief of staff, and his deputy Vladislav Surkov. Surprisingly, the source, who was not at the meeting, said Voloshin and Surkov expressed a desire for Aslakhanov to win.

"We are all puzzled. No one knows exactly what is up. He [Dzhabrailov] has all his phones off and does not talk to us," the source said Wednesday.

However, a second source, someone close to one of the other candidates, had a different report from the meeting. This source said that Kadyrov had the Kremlin's support.

Timur Muzayev, Dzhabrailov's spokesman, said "Dzhabrailov didn't discuss the issue of the withdrawal of his candidacy with anyone from the Kremlin administration." Asked what they discussed, Muzayev said, "We aren't commenting on it."

Khasbulatov also weighed in. "He [Dzhabrailov] was subject to very serious pressure, I know it very well," Khasbulatov said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "He was pressured by the presidential administration to withdraw.

Khasbulatov said he believes that Kadyrov is the Kremlin's candidate.

"Of course it is Kadyrov, it is clear. No, it can't be Aslakhanov. I can't understand why they decided in favor of a person who does not have even 1 percent of the population's support. Perhaps because they decided to completely ignore the population."

He had some harsh words for the Chechen leader and his backers.

"He covers up the [federal troops'] crimes, allows the embezzlement of oil treasures," Khasbulatov said. "He is a very convenient slave who fulfills all the orders of his master because he is himself involved in these crimes.

"I think it is the twilight of Russian democracy. And not only in Chechnya. Chechnya is a special case -- in full view of the whole world genocide is being committed there -- but it is very clear that in the rest of Russia the totalitarian state is being restored."

Khasbulatov decided earlier this summer not to run, citing concerns about possible fraud but also "armed provocations and other serious actions from the side of the rebels." But if he had run, he could have been a favorite.

In a survey conducted by the Validata polling agency for the Public Opinion Fund on June 20-25 in 75 Chechen villages and towns, Khasbulatov was picked by the most people, 25.7 percent, as their choice for president. Saidullayev came second with 23.3 percent, followed by Aslakhanov with 22.4 percent and Kadyrov with 13.1 percent. Dzhabrailov was not included in the survey.

More damning for Kadyrov was a second question that asked voters which candidates they would not support. More than 60 percent said Kadyrov. Saidullayev's "anti-rating" was 19.5 percent and Aslakhanov's 12.5 percent.

All of the leading candidates, with the exception of Kadyrov, a former imam who called for jihad against the Russians in the 1994-96 war, live outside Chechnya. Dzhabrailov moved to Moscow in 1993. Saidullayev also started his business in Moscow before the first war, in 1992. Aslakhanov, a retired Interior Ministry major general who has a Ph.D. in law, served outside Chechnya in criminal and economic police forces starting in 1967.

Among the candidates are other high-profile figures: Khusein Biybulatov, a deputy prime minister in Chechnya when the republic was de facto independent after troops pulled out in 1996, and now an adviser to the director of the Elektrogorsk research center for nuclear power plant safety, in the Moscow region; Kudis Saduyev, deputy general director of Grozneftegaz, the state oil company in Chechnya; and Said-Selim Tsuyev, deputy head of the Chechen military commandant's office.

None of the separatist leaders is running. One apparent reason is that to file their candidacy, they would have to show up at the Chechen election commission, but since all rebel leaders are wanted, they would inevitably be arrested.

None of the main candidates says he is running with the support of a political party, and none has officially published his program. The biggest issues for most candidates, though, are bringing stability to Chechnya and restoring its economy.

Kadyrov has refused to negotiate with the rebels and supports military actions aimed at crushing them.

Aslakhanov and Saidullayev, however, favor holding peace talks with the rebels, although not with those under the command of Shamil Basayev, who is considered a terrorist. They say that Chechnya should stay part of Russia, and a limited contingent of federal forces should be kept there.

Aslakhanov, who is 61, was the only candidate who agreed to go into detail about his peace plan.

"Negotiations must be conducted with the participation of the representatives of rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov who do not have their hands in blood, and the old respected people of Chechnya," he said in an interview.

"They must sit together in neutral territory until they come up with a plan suitable for all sides of the conflict. And those who chose a wolf's way of life in the Chechen mountains must be exterminated."

As for the restoration of the Chechen economy, Aslakhanov said the theft of money allocated for the restoration of Chechnya must be stopped. One of the ways he proposed doing this was to arrange for partnerships between destroyed districts in Chechnya and rich regions elsewhere in Russia, who would be relieved of some taxes they now send to federal coffers if they spent the money on restoring Chechnya.

"[Moscow Mayor] Yury Luzhkov told me that if Moscow had such a tax break, it could restore Grozny as the most beautiful city in the Caucasus in just two to three years," he said.

Aslakhanov added that restoring monstrous, outdated Soviet enterprises was a poor use of cash. Instead, smaller but modern factories should be built to produce preserves, juices, bricks, tiles and other construction materials.

Saidullayev, 39, said he will reveal his program later in September. But judging by what he has achieved in Moscow in the past decade, he has considerable financial and management resources.

His Milan concern, founded 11 years ago, includes several companies. It has run the popular lottery Russkoye Loto since 1994 and has an English-style pub called Horse and Hound on Malaya Kommunisticheskaya Ulitsa in Moscow.

According to Milan's figures, one of its companies, Goodwill, holds one-fifth of the world's production of piezoelectric quartz crystals, which are used in mobile telephones, pagers, remote controls and sensors for automobiles. It exports to Western Europe and Southeast Asia.

Saidullayev does a lot of charity work in Chechnya, and many homes there have calendars with his face on them. According to his campaign headquarters, he has provided humanitarian aid to more than 280,000 people in 149 villages and towns in Chechnya. He has helped hospitals and schools, and sponsors a Chechen karate team and the Lovzar youth dance ensemble.

The Chechen election campaign officially kicks off Friday.

Timur Aliev contributed to this report from Chechnya.