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Moscow Times
April 1, 2003
Kadyrov Won in Chechnya
By Boris Kagarlitsky

Chechnya held its referendum last week, and the Kremlin once more declared victory. According to the official government line, fighters who attack Russian forces from now on will be acting in violation of the law -- the republic's newly adopted constitution, that is -- and against the will of their own people. Following this logic, previous attacks on Russian soldiers were lawful and reflected the will of the people. Following it further, the federal government's actions in Chechnya before March 23, 2003, were entirely out of line.

Human rights watchdogs noted numerous violations over the course of the referendum. Polling stations were not where they were supposed to be. Opponents of both the referendum and the proposed constitution had no opportunity to make their views known. No one actually read the constitution itself.

Salambek Maigov, Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov's spokesman in Moscow, dismissed the referendum results as "vote-rigging in the best Soviet tradition." The results announced by the Central Election Commission did have the ring of Stalin-era reports of elections to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union: 95 percent of the electorate cast their ballots, and nearly all of them voted "Yes." Polling stations located in areas controlled by the fighters outdid themselves, delivering up to 99.5 percent of the vote in favor of the constitution. The only way to explain the official tally is to assume that the fighters, including the Arab volunteers in their ranks, answered Moscow's call and backed the government's initiative.

The liberal press warned that the referendum in Chechnya was the image of Russian elections to come. But this was not the first war-time election in Chechnya. The 2000 presidential election produced a similar landslide in favor of Vladimir Putin. And the last presidential election in Ingushetia was so plagued by violations that it made the Chechen referendum look almost respectable.

In short, the Chechen referendum surprised no one and changed nothing, but it did make one thing clear -- something even the most zealous Chechen separatist couldn't have dreamed of. The leadership in Grozny not only won independence from Russia and its laws; it also put the Kremlin in its pocket.

Did the Kremlin really need the referendum? Of course not. It won't stop the war. What it offers in the way of positive propaganda is canceled out by much more serious political costs. Justifying the farce is more complicated than doing nothing. It made the Chechens all sorts of promises fully aware that it cannot follow through on them. And after all that, the situation in Chechnya didn't change one iota.

The "head of the republic," Akhmad Kadyrov, on the other hand, desperately needed the referendum. His authority has now acquired a semblance of legitimacy. The next step is to hold a presidential election in the republic, barring all serious claimants to Kadyrov's throne from running. Within the next few months, he will go from being the head of the temporary administration in Grozny to the democratically elected leader of Chechnya, whom the Kremlin can no longer get rid of.

The Kadyrov clan runs Chechnya like a feudal fief. Chechen sources say that no less than 90 percent of funds from the federal budget earmarked for Chechnya are stolen, making Moscow's embezzlers look like angels. The government's program for rebuilding the war-ravaged republic has already yielded concrete results: the construction of luxurious mansions and the purchase of expensive apartments in Moscow and other favored spots far from the front. Rather than going to rebuild Chechen villages, federal funds are being invested in real estate elsewhere. The Prosecutor's Office, oversight agencies and even the Russian military have no sway over Kadyrov and his cohorts because of their direct access to the Kremlin.

In the first Chechen war, Kadyrov fought for independence; in the second war he achieved it -- as he understands independence, that is. Russia is watching the rise of yet another dictator, just like those in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. He controls less territory, but he can do what no one else, even the Turkmenbashi, can: Impose his will on the Kremlin, knowing that Putin will obediently follow orders. Eighty thousand Russian soldiers risk their lives every day in order to keep his regime in power in Grozny.

Soon the federal government will allocate around $1 billion for Chechnya. And a new stage in the Chechen reconstruction program will get underway somewhere on the French Riviera.

Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.

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