In an interview to Radio Liberty the head of the “Government of Ichkeria in exile” Ahmed Zakayev, who lives in exile in London, examines the recent actions and statements of Ramzan Kadyrov and evaluates the role of Chechnya in the strategy of the Russian authorities.
There is a continuing public debate in Russia about the role of the head of Chechnya in Kremlin’s politics. Direct Ramzan Kadyrov threats are addressed against opposition liberal activists, “Chechen trace” in the investigation of Boris Nemtsov murder, the end of Kadyrov authority’s approaching deadline (which he appears to have “forgotten’’ about himself), the involvement of the armed Kadyrov soldiers in the wars in the East Ukraine and Syria – all of the above brought back the relevance of questions about what kind of place is given to the “faithful Putin’s footslogger” in the system of Russian Government and future relations between Russia and Grozny.
The only thing that connects Russia and Chechnya today is Putin’s commitment to the “academician” Kadyrov, and of course the money directed to him as a payment for personal devotion to Putin, for willingness to fulfil any order
– Why, actually, Kadyrov followed Putin? As at first both he and his father had associated themselves with Ichkeria.
– To be precise, Kadyrov senior was associated with the KGB, as the years pass, I am absolutely convinced of this. He largely contributed to the first military campaign in Chechnya. The beginning of the first campaign was solely orchestrated by the FSB (Federal Security Service of Russia (ФСБ)– edit.), headed by Sergey Stepashin at the time. It is Kadyrov senior who declared Jihad on Russia, he threw a cry about the fact that every Chechen should kill 150 Russians, and this supposedly would end the war.
When the second military campaign in Chechnya begun, Kadyrov senior claimed the role of Kremlin main puppet in Chechnya, Beslan Gantamìrov was his main competitor. In one of the television broadcasts in Moscow, Beslan asked Kadyrov senior with irony and sarcasm about what he did during the first military campaign. He answered: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin knows very well what I was engaged with during the first campaign and in between both military campaigns. Therefore, it is clear – Putin appointed (Ahmad) Kadyrov as a main puppet of the occupation regime.
Everything happening in the future with young Kadyrov – is entirely Putin’s project. Security forces were against Ramzan from the very beginning, but Putin convinced them: this is a temporary project, during the transition of Chechen fighters’ opposition to the federal side. It has been agreed at the time, especially as the head of the Republic was the power structures appointed man, Al Alhanov. They thought he would play the first fiddle in this case. However, the fighters who shifted on to the feds side, were given security guarantee exclusively by Kadyrov. These people became exceptionally loyal solely to Kadyrov as Putin was backing him.
- What do you think about so called ‘’antikadyrov front’’ in Russian political establishment, about strong rejection of this particular Putin’s project, that might exist amongst the power structures and some Kremlin politicians? About people who are thought to be trying to discredit Kadyrov and even might try to oppose Putin if he refused to “dispose’’ of Kadyrov.
- In 2006 I had a visit from Kirsan Iljumzhinov. He was acting on behalf of Putin, asking me to return to Russia. At the same time, I was contacted by Ruslan Atlangeriev, who didn’t try to hide his connections to the vice director of the Russian Federal Security Service Alexander Bortnikov. I learnt from him, FSB are looking to substitute Kadyrov, and they would be happy to get rid of him, but cannot find a suitable candidate. I know for sure, from that time FSB has the strongest confrontation with Kadyrov. Kadyrov went ahead of the game at that time and removed all candidates – I mean Movlade Baisarov, Yamadaevich brothers, and later – Ruslan Atlangeriev.
If Kadyrov is demoted today with the president’s decree and another head of the republic is appointed, this would immediately cause the commotion amongst his supporters. It is clear, Kadyrov will not resign – he has nowhere to go. If three-five months ago he had some opportunities, some addresses where he could move to (Turkey, Sunnis states, Saudi Arabia or Emirates), the opportunity is not there as he supported Putin Syrian conflict, siding with Shiites and Bashar Assad. In such a move, Kadyrov blocked his escape routes, he has been preparing for a few previous years. This has been done purely on Putin’s demand. In order to demote Kadyrov, the power structures have to conduct certain operational measures in his closest circle, otherwise that will create a completely negative reaction in Grozny, and Putin will not be able to resign his placeman with a mere decree or a quirk. I do not think Putin will have the courage to try it.
- Andriy Piontkovsky is writing about Kadyrov role in Boris Nemtsov’s murder, however without any evidence. Does such evidence exist?
- I am of the opinion, that the decision to neutralise Boris Nemtsov, Garry Kasparov, Sergei Udaltsov, Oleksiy Navalny was agreed upon back in 2011, during the mass opposition protests. After feeling real danger, Putin left for Chechnya and spent two days with Kadyrov there.
It was then, I believe they agreed to get Kadyrov gangsters trained in Chechnya across to Moscow, and use them for managing the possible uprising. This information became available to us as we have our own agent sources. I warned Boris Nemtsov and Garry Kasparov as we met in one of the European capitals. To begin with they didn’t take my information seriously, but literally on the second day after our meeting, Putin declared: that it looks like the West is heard to be looking for a victim in order to accuse Kremlin in a murder.
At that time, they understood there is a real danger. Garry Kasparov has never returned to Russia since, when Andriy Piontkovsky and Boris Nemtsov did go back. Boris had decided that the best safety guarantee would be secured with going into the politics (he was elected as MP in the Yaroslavl regional Duma). Both Udaltsov and Navalny were jailed.
Why there was a delay with Nemtsov? Putin attempted to secure the support from the West; at the same time flirting with the West, attempting to become a part of the elite international club, where he would not be accepted after all. A postponement was no longer required.
After the Crimea annexing, after the military action in the East Ukraine, after the harsh sanctions from the West, Putin did not have to look back all the time.
He was sure, the Russian special forces were in control of the situation, and knew that there was an assassination in the making, knew who was in charge and who would carry it out. They let the murder happen as it had double benefit: termination of hated Boris Nemtsov who was giving away clear pointing coordination on the people – main sanction targets, removal an oppositional politician with the help of Kadyrov representatives gave the chance to the security forces to get rid of the head of Chechnya as well. That is why they let the murder happen, they detained the killers who gave leads to the closest entourage of Kadyrov – Delimhanov and Geremeev. But Putin stood up for them.
It is Kadyrov himself who provokes the situation in the North Caucasus, especially in Ingushetia and Dagestan.
He tries to destabilise the situation, in order to highlight his importance as a Russian Gendarme in Caucasus
- Is it true that Putin’s “Project Kadyrov” is in a way of the great Caucasus War, as suggested by Andriy Piontkovsky?
I think that Piontkovsky is partially mistaken. In my opinion, it is Kadyrov himself who provokes the situation in the North Caucasus, especially in Ingushetia and Dagestan. He tries to destabilise the situation, in order to highlight his importance as a Russian Gendarme in Caucasus. Chechnya is peaceful at the moment, there are hardly any opposition in Chechnya now, there is a very little need in Kadyrov as a republic tamer is decreasing. Kadyrov knows full well: security forces are waiting for their time to overthrow him from the throne. That is why he needs to demonstrate to Putin: I can be useful in other troubled regions – Ingushetia and Dagestan.
Moscow depends upon the situation in Chechnya.
Putin cannot make multiple steps without prior consultation with Kadyrov
Putin cannot make multiple steps without prior consultation with Kadyrov and I am not being ironic. In very deed, everything to do with the North Caucuses, Putin agrees with Kadyrov and ensures his support. Kadyrov is the horror story not only for the Russian liberals but also for some countries in the post USSR territory.
However, If Chechnya separated from Russia, Kadyrov would straight away loose the power in Chechnya. The whole support for him in Chechnya exists due to Putin’s support today, therefore Russian state with all its resources. If this support did not exist, Kadyrov would lose the power over Chechen immediately, who would take him down and would be brought to justice for all the committed crimes. Naturally, it is not a joke for him.
- Chechnya is receiving the scat, in Pantionskiy opinion. What is it for – the humbleness?
- No, I think it isn’t paid for the humbleness, but for the visible and publicly emphasised by Kadyrov personal loyalty to Putin. On the subject of taming Chechnya, I can say the following: Chechnya is awaiting its time. I can assure you, Chechnya is not broken. Chechnya has never been as military strong as at the moment. The smallest political wobble in Russia will resound in Chechnya.
- What do you think about the social base of Kadyrov support?
- Yes, such support indeed has a place. Majority of the population supports Kadyrov due to the fact that his name is related to the end of political clean ups, mass killings, missing cases executed by the Russian structures. Kadyrov retains the exclusive right to pardon, execute, hang, fusillade
Majority of the population supports Kadyrov due to the fact that his name is associated with the end of political clean ups, mass killings, missing cases, executed by the Russian power structures. Kadyrov retains the exclusive right to pardon, execute, hang, fusillade. Russian security forces and Kadyrov are both equally competing for this right. But Kadyrov does not let special forces do it, and they believe: he snatched the victory from under their noses.
- What do you feel about Piontkovsky quote, about “Russia is a part of Chechnya”? What is that: paradox, metaphor or a true fact?
- Paradoxically, it is a true fact.
- Is there any organised opposition to Kadyrov in Chechnya, to your mind?
- I am guessing, there is some organisation under a total protection of the Federal Security System of Russia, in case anything changes they would act from inside. I assume there are some forces controlled by FSB Russia, however they are highly conspiratorial, because Kadyrov is haunting any person, physically terminating those who is connected to the Russian special forces in any way. It is extremely important for him that everything to do with Chechnya is connected to himself alone. Due to this he is conducting a harsh standoff with the agency present in Chechnya from GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate (ГРУ) – edit.) or FSB.
Kadyrov had to change his image a bit. He lacks my acknowledgement of his legitimacy
- Recently Kadyrov visited your relatives residing in Chechnya and ensured them they will not be subjected to any repressions. What did he really want to demonstrate with that visit
- Recently, I made an announcement about Kadyrov actions against the fighter movement and their relatives, accusing him of war with traditional moral values of Chechens, aiming to destroy them turning them into slaves, something that has never had a place in our history. My relatives in Chechnya were actively disturbed due to my announcement. I do not have any contact with family for a very long time, as it is widely known that Kadyrov eliminates relatives of his opponents. The fact he visited them because he had to change his image a bit.
He lacks my acknowledgement of his legitimacy, he is trying with the cue then with the stick to get my support in this very matter. Why I am so ungrateful and not returning and singing praises to the person who left alone my relatives for the past 16 years? The fact they are innocent and didn’t commit any crimes is not mentioned in any way.
Kadyrov wants to become a national hero, wants to leave his trace in the history. But he knows he is a traitor. And until there is Zakayev, who is holding Chechen flag and reminds everyone that the history will remember Kadyrov as a national traitor, he will not rest in peace
- This is not the first Kadyrov’s attempt to invite you to return. Why does he need you?
- His ambitions, his vanity. Kadyrov wants to become a national hero, wants to leave his trace in the history. But he knows he is a traitor. And until there is Zakayev, who is holding Chechen flag and reminds everyone that the history will remember Kadyrov as a national traitor, he will not rest in peace – this is a main reason why Kadyrov wants either to politically neutralise me or destroy physically. But I am only one of many who have the idea Kadyrov and his father betrayed. Even if I am no more, the idea of Chechen independence will live until it does not come true. It exists thorough centuries.
Today Kadyrov represents Putin in Chechnya, Putin is power, money and weapon. The welfare of Chechnya is not associated with Kadyrov, but through Kadyrov with Putin
- It is surprising, Chechen who were strongly opposed to Russia during past two wars, agreed to be under Kadyrov. How do you explain this?
- Today Kadyrov represents Putin in Chechnya, Putin is power, money and weapon. The welfare of Chechnya is not associated with Kadyrov, but through Kadyrov with Putin. Putin bet on Kadyrov, by personifying Russian and Chechen relationship.
See also: Grozny under attack in December 2014
- Do Chechen perceive Russia as pure evil, is there anything positive between long term coexistence of Russians and Chechen?
- As a rule, it is widely believed in Russia that we hate Russians, but it is not true. The proof to this can be found in an event unlike anything else in the world: Russian – Chechen war – the only war were mothers of Russian soldiers came to visit those their sons were fighting against, stayed in their houses and were looking for their own children. It is clear, we had bloody past, but it also gives us a chance to say we have a future together. This joint future has to come with the equal rights.
What about the culture… Well look: the metropolis has been changing Chechen language grammar three time during 150 years. This has been done on purpose, in order for us not to develop as a nation, as population, in order for us not to improve our language, our written language, culture. Nevertheless, we joined the world culture and world history through the Russian language. It has a plus side; it has got the positive although at the same time I am against the positive gained with such price. We have the opportunity to put right the historical mistakes and build the future acceptable by both – Russia and Chechen people.