February 12, 2003
By Yulia Latynina
Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, has appointed Anatoly Popov as the region's new prime minister. His predecessor, Mikhail Babich, was forced from his post after losing a struggle with Kadyrov for the right to name Chechnya's finance minister. In other words, to decide who holds the purse strings.
Unlike Babich, who had previously served as a deputy governor of the Moscow and Ivanovo regions, Popov knows his way around Chechnya. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov tapped Popov to oversee restoration of Chechnya in September 2001. His current appointment means that despite the Kremlin's desire to divide and rule in Chechnya, power in the region is now concentrated entirely in the hands of Kadyrov, the former mufti of Chechnya who once declared jihad against Russia and has never retracted his words.
It's worth noting that no crumbling empire with barbarians on its borders has ever managed to stave off the threat by buying off the barbarian leaders. Not Byzantium, not China. After years of courting the Bulgars, the Byzantines found King Simeon I and his army outside the walls of Constantinople in 913, armed to the teeth by Byzantine money. Every Byzantium has its "Nord-Ost" crisis.
The crumbling Russian empire is now trying to buy off its third Chechen leader in just over a decade. The first was rebel President Dzhokhar Dudayev, formerly a general with the Soviet air force in Estonia. The thought was that Dudayev would control Chechnya for the Kremlin in exchange for money and arms, which were duly provided. The second was the "moderate" Aslan Maskhadov.
In round three, Moscow is hastily preparing to conduct a referendum in Chechnya, rousing the ire of Europe, in order to get the "peaceful" Kadyrov elected president as soon as possible. There's no other choice. If he doesn't become president, Kadyrov is likely to make for the hills with a couple thousand fighters armed on federal government money.
The Babich appointment resulted from a pressing need. The word is that under the current administration, two-thirds of which is made up of Dudayev-era officials, money allocated for Chechnya too often finds its way into the mountains. The main vehicles for embezzlement are construction companies protected by various groups both inside and outside the Chechen government.
The point is not, God forbid, that Chechnya's ministers actively support the fighters. That's just how things work in a clan-based economy with three sources of revenue: ransom collected for kidnap victims, subsidies from abroad and the federal budget. As Tacitus said of the Germanic tribes, they consider it a source of shame to work for something they can just as well steal. First suicide bombers blrnment headquarters in Grozny, now the administration is going to rebuild it. It's not exactly clear why this should have been viewed as a terrorist act. It could just as well be viewed as an example of mutually beneficial cooperation between the fighters and the construction companies.
Everyone's still arguing over whether or not Maskhadov knew about the hostage-taking at the Dubrovka theater. We should be asking a less pleasant question: Was the Dubrovka siege funded from the federal budget? I mean indirectly, of course.
Babich came to the post with a reputation as a hard-nosed businessman and deputy governor who knew how to play hardball. He was dispatched to sort out the construction business in Chechnya. But finances work a little differently in Chechnya than they do at Guta-Bank, with which Babich clashed, as deputy governor of the Moscow region, over reversing a usurious loan agreement.
Chechnya proved too much for Babich to handle. Here's hoping that the new envoy from Moscow will learn from his predecessor's mistakes. Especially since he's no newcomer to the Chechen construction business.
Yulia Latynina is author and host of "Yest Mneniye" on TVS.