Moscow's man in Chechnya

Published : Nov 07, 2003 00:00 IST

Moscow's choice Akhmad Kadyrov becomes the new President as Russian President Vladimir Putin puts into effect his plan for `managed democracy' in war-torn Chechnya.

in Moscow

THE October 5 election in Russia's war-battered state of Chechnya resulted in a predictable mandate - a complete victory for President Akhmad Kadyrov, a Kremlin-backed Muslim cleric who was a secessionist leader in the first Chechen war. The turnout was overwhelming, with over 85 per cent of the country's 561,000 voters turning up at the polling booths. Russian troops guarded the polling stations and lined the roads and armoured carriers patrolled the streets of Grozny, the capital, to ensure peaceful voting.

The Election Commission of Chechnya on October 13 declared Kadyrov the duly elected President. He won 80.84 per cent of the votes, as reported by the head of the commission, Abdul Kerim Arsakhanov. His closest rival, the former head of the Achkhoi Martan district, Shamil Burayev, secured 5.77 per cent of the votes; former Vice-Premier of Chechnya Abdulla Bugayev scored 3.95 per cent; and four others received less than 2 per cent each.

Kadyrov's victory has undoubtedly pleased Russian President Vladmir Putin, who said: "I think what is going on in Chechnya right now does not need any commentary. I'm not even mentioning the result (of the presidential election), which is certainly very pleasing. That's not even the issue. The mere fact of such a high turnout means that the people have hope - hope for a better life, hope for positive changes in the republic."

However, political analysts, particularly those from the West, alleged that the election was, to a large extent, managed by the Kremlin. Two candidates, who were expected to give Kadyrov stiff opposition `dropped out' at the campaign stage. Reports in the media indicate that they were forced out of the race. Aslanbek Aslanakhov, a deputy in the Russian Parliament, `bowed out' to take up a post offered by the Kremlin, while Malik Saidullayev, a millionaire-businessman, was disqualified by the Election Commission. Saidullayev alleged that the Kremlin cancelled his candidature after efforts to sweet-talk him into bowing out of the race did not work. The judiciary dismissed his candidature for `technical mistakes' in the nomination.

Reports in sections of the media alleged strong-arm tactics by Kadyrov's supporters. There were larger-than-life posters of Kadyrov splashed all round Grozny, whereas there was hardly anything of his opponents. Kadyrov also got a lot more time than the other candidates on the television and radio networks. Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a human rights watchdog agency, cancelled her plans of sending election monitors to Chechnya. She said in Moscow that "these elections are worse than a farce".

Most international observer and human rights groups declined to send observers, citing security concerns and the perception that the election was being managed by the Kremlin. However, observers from the member-states of the Arab League and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) monitored the polls and gave a clean chit to the process.

President Putin has not come in for any major criticism and the world at large seems to have accepted the Chechen election. Diego de Ojeda, spokesman for Chris Patten, the European Union's External Affairs Commissioner, said recently that the E.U. supported all moves to restore peace to Chechnya. "It is clear that the situation on the ground is extremely complex and difficult and it casts doubts on the possibility of conducting free and fair elections according to international standards. Nevertheless, what is most important to us is that these elections somehow gain respectability, or credibility - or legitimacy, more accurately - within the Chechen population," he said. Most Western governments have been cautious in their comments. United States President George Bush supported Putin's policy on Chechnya in statements given out at their recent meetings during Putin's visit to the U.S.

Analysts recognise the importance of the Chechen election for Putin. His tough stand on the Chechen war had propelled him into the Presidency in 2000 and the issue could prove vital once again in the run-up to the presidential election slated for 2004. On the eve of the second Chechen war Putin had promised to bring Chechnya under the rule of law and root out the rebels. The second Chechen war commenced three years after Boris Yeltsin's 1994-96 campaigns in Chechnya, which had resulted in humiliation for Russia.

The second Chechen war is so far estimated to have taken a toll of 10,000 Russian lives and an unknown number of Chechens. Russia has over 50,000 troops committed in Chechnya and counter-terrorism operations. Yet, the war looks nowhere near being over. In fact, Chechen terror has been unleashed time and again in Moscow through a string of suicide bombings and operations. These include the hostage-taking in a Moscow theatre late last year, involving some 700 people, and a subsequent suicide attack at a rock festival this year. Similar incidents are, of course, quite frequent in Chechnya.

Putin's new policy on Chechnya, which does not depend on military campaigns alone, was conceived at a crucial juncture when a stalemate dominated the operations. According to reports from Chechnya, there is increasing disenchantment and war-weariness among the populace and a desire for peace and normalcy. Putin's policy hopes to cash in on this desire for peace with a genuine alternative plan for disengagement and normalisation. A serious attempt is under way to bring about a political settlement of the Chechen problem.

The process began with the March referendum for a new Constitution, which saw a massive turnout and an overwhelming vote in its favour. Critics allege that the referendum was also `managed' by the Kremlin, but a beginning had been made to normalise the situation in Chechnya. The October 5 election of the head of state was the next step, aimed at granting legitimacy to the referendum. The entire effort is seen as a perfect example of Putin's way of implementing his concept of `managed democracy' for Chechnya, which will continue until such time as the state matures for `true democracy'. Statements given by western governments and international organisations indicate that the West is rather reluctantly accepting his theory, especially as the U.S. and the United Kingdom now have a similar one on Iraq.

Political commentators say that Putin's plan for Chechnya envisages increasing the Chechenisation of the situation. This would necessarily entail that Kadyrov would be given broad and sweeping powers to run the republic. The next step would be the election of a local legislature some time next year. This would be followed by a controlled demilitarisation of Chechnya, including a meaningful reduction in troop numbers and the handing over of pacification duties and counter-terrorism operations to the Chechen police force of 13,000 men, largely a creation of Kadyrov. The Kremlin's plan is simple: it will be Chechens against Chechens instead of Russians vs Chechens. Galvanising the Chechen police force and phasing out the Russian Army are the key elements of Putin's new policy. However, analysts point out that this policy could result in a civil war in Chechnya; disgruntled Chechen clans and militants are likely to go after Kadyrov and his men, especially after his victory in a `managed' election.

Post-election scenarios, both positive and negative, abound, but the fact remains that restoring peace to Chechnya is a monumental task and any political settlement would have to be supported by serious, positive political will and well-thought-out moves to accomplish the task. For Putin's plan to work, counter-terrorism operations would have to be combined with serious reconstruction work and rebuilding of the ruined infrastructure. Side by side, a phased withdrawal of the Russian Army will have to become a reality, as also its replacement by an efficient, disciplined Chechen police force that does not resort to terror tactics. For this to happen, Akhmad Kadyrov would have to become a real leader, and an egalitarian one at that, who does justice to Putin's vision and also keeps clear of the different warring factions that have been trying to control Chechnya. The bottom line is that despite a `managed' election there is, at the very least, some hope for the war-torn Chechen republic.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment