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#12 - JRL 7269
Novaya Gazeta
No 54, July, 2003
... as an element of Putin's campaign

Author: Orkhan Jemal
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]


As the international practice goes, election of the permanent legitimate power structures mean an end to the war and emphasize the arrangement of forces dependant on the outcome of the conflict. Saying that the war in Chechnya is over will be a lie, saying that the federal forces are close to triumph in the war is impossible. Neither it is possible to say, however, that the Kremlin has lost the war like it did in 1996.

Vladimir Putin promised a fast victory three years ago. He needs the election to demonstrate now that the war is really over.

The Kremlin has only one way of demonstrating its success in the war. The matter boils down to installing its own man as the president of the rebel republic.

Only Akhmad Kadyrov may be the Kremlin's president. He is the only man whose loyalty is unquestionable because there is nobody and nothing he can rely on apart from the Kremlin. As far as Chechnya is concerned, Kadyrov will always remain for it the worst field commander whose hands and those of his subordinates are smeared with the blood of thousands.

There is, however, a catch, at least as far as the Kremlin is concerned. It needs Kadyrov elected by Chechens themselves. These are the rules of the game. Well, democracy has its own inconveniences.

Kadyrov is not the only man ready to accept responsibility for Chechnya. The list also includes Duma Deputy Aslambek Aslakhanov (a former general of the Interior Ministry), Moscow businessman Malik Saidullayev, Alkhat Khanchukayev of the Chechen University, banker Abubakar Arsamakov, and businessman Hussein Jabrailov. Sociologists of the Public Opinion Foundation claim that the chances of the first two are twice Kadyrov's.

Kadyrov will have local election commissions and the proverbial administrative resource on his side. He is permitted to compile the lists of gunmen to be amnestied and distribute federal budget funds as a recompense for the lost households. Society's support and a more or less decent image are the only factors he lacks.

As far as the Kremlin is concerned, none of that is important. Two political parties called Kadyrov their candidate for president last week.

United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov made the statement on behalf of his party. It means Putin's public and all but official blessing to Kadyrov. It is common knowledge after all that the president never makes statements like that, leaving it to his closest associates.

The second such statement was made by the Chechen organization of the Union of Right Forces. The party of right liberals also decided that Kadyrov was its candidate. Boris Nemtsov has always successfully persuaded his electorate until now that all rumors to the effect that his party plays on the side of the government are but innuendo. Even this time he announced that the Chechen organization of the party was on its own, that it had never put the initiative through the formal channels, and that Kadyrov would never have the federal political council's support.

As a matter of fact, both parties' support of Kadyrov is a cunning political technology. When the republican election commission calls Kadyrov the winner in the very first round, Alexander Veshnyakov of the Central Election Commission will be able to fend off all accusations by saying that he cannot really do anything since the Chechens like Kadyrov so much that they even disagree with their party functionaries.

The problem with Kadyrov's image is being solved too. Owner of private jails whose bodyguards abducted men in Ingushetia and the mufti who once declared a jihad on Russia will become a diplomat. Putin told Kadyrov that he, Kadyrov, would represent Russia in the United Nations. Subconsciously, almost every Russian is convinced that a diplomat is a symbol of respectability. In other words, this particular move is virtually impeccable. Chechens will not swallow it, but the rest of the country will be impressed.

For the Chechens as such, Kadyrov's image was corrected by different means. Colonel Budanov was sentenced to ten years imprisonment last week. It does not matter whether the sentence is mild or stiff. What matters is that there are persistent rumors in Chechnya now that it is Kadyrov who arranged the conviction, that it was Kadyrov who persuaded Putin to disregard the opinion of the army and have Budanov convicted.

The Kremlin is doing everything to have its chosen elected. It cannot afford Kadyrov's loss in the election. Kadyrov's failure to come in first in the presidential race will mean Russia's defeat in the second Chechen war, Kadyrov's success will mean triumph. But even with Kadyrov elected the president, Russia will not have:

- disarmament of gunmen;

- an end to terrorism; or

- Chechnya as a normal and standard Russian region.

Nothing, in other words, the war has been fought for in the first place. But Putin will be able to look his voters in the eyes and say, "I promised you a victory in the war. Here it is."

Putin's own election is coming up. The time has come for him to report how old promises were kept and offer new ones.

(Translated by A. Ignatkin)

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