Monday, April 02, 2007

Little Saddam takes control of Chechnya

Chechnya is gearing up for the controversial inauguration of new Moscow-installed president Ramzan Kadyrov later this week. The 30 year old Kadyrov has planned an ostentatious event with a ceremony involving 1,500 guests, a French pop diva and champagne and caviar at a cost of $US 800,000. Due to fears of an assassination attempt, rehearsals for the event are being held in several locations to keep the venue secret.

Kadyrov spends most of his days in his home village of Tsentoroy because of fear of his enemies in the capital Grozny. Known as “Little Saddam” Kadyrov is a Moscow puppet, installed as president by Vladimir Putin. He was formally elected on 2 March by a vote of the Chechen parliament after the post had been vacant since the resignation of Alu Alkhanov the previous month. But behind the scenes the Kremlin was pulling the strings.

It was Putin who signed the decree removing Alkhanov from the presidency after a power struggle with Kadyrov who was the country’s prime minister. Putin has already awarded Kadyrov the Hero of Russia medal, the country’s highest accolade. Kadyrov would probably have been appointed president earlier but for an inconvenient matter of the constitution which forbade the appointment of a president under 30 years of age. Kadyrov turned 30 in October.

Kadyrov is credited with a reconstruction boom during his term as prime minister. Grozny was destroyed in years of devastating wars but is now being transformed from a mess of rubble and shattered buildings. Kadyrov has built an airport and new roads. Shops are re-appearing in the city in an attempt to seek some semblance of normality. The reconstruction program has helped Russia defeat the rebels but at a cost of entrenching Kadyrov’s sinister grip on power.

Kadyrov runs his own private army known as the Kadyrovsky. The Kadyrovsky consists of thousands of armed former rebels who are personally devoted to Kadyrov. The militia has been linked with a series of kidnappings, torture and murder and are now the most feared group in Chechnya. The American aid group Refugees International has described Chechnyan human rights abuses and war crimes not as aberrations but tactics. In essence the Kadyrovsky terrorises anyone who resists his rule.

Kadyrov is the prime suspect of the October murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Politkovskaya was a veteran reporter of Chechnyan affairs and met Kadyrov in his home village in 2004. Politkovskaya make Kadyrov look like a dangerous fool in their interview. When she asked him what kind of law he was studying in, he replied "I can't remember. Someone wrote the topic down for me on a piece of paper, but I've forgotten. There's a lot going on at the moment."

In the last interview she held before she was killed, Politkovskaya raised doubts that Kadyrov would become president. Kadyrov had turned 30 two days earlier and was now eligible for the presidency. She said construction projects were carried out under his “personal control,” and Chechnyan bureaucracy is corrupt from top to bottom. Many suspect Politkovskaya’s murder as an act of revenge by Kadyrov, “whose activities she wrote and spoke much about.”

Ramzan is the son of former Chechnyan leader Akhmad Kadyrov who was assassinated in 2004. Kadyrov the elder was Chechnya’s first pro-Russian leader appointed in 2000. He was a Mufti (religious legal expert) with a separatist past having declared jihad against Russia in 1995. But he fell out with warlord Shamil Basayev who branded him “enemy number 1”. Russia appointed him leader when it regained control at the turn of the century in the Second Chechen War. He won a dubious election in 2003 but was killed a year later a bomb attack on a stadium in Chechnya during a parade to celebrate Russia's WWII victory over Germany. Putin eulogised: "Kadyrov passed away on the day of our national holiday and he passed away undefeated."

The West has been reluctant to push Moscow and its client state in Grozny for fear of upsetting Putin and losing his support in the so-called War on Terror. The NGO Human Rights Watch criticised a White House meeting between President Bush and Russian General Vladimir Shamanov this week. HRW claims Shamanov was responsible for serious rights abuses during the Chechnyan war. A Russian Embassy spokesman refused to discuss Shamanov's record in Chechnya saying “it is a very good journalist trick if someone is doing something worthwhile and you take out - excuse me - dirty clothes."

With the appointment of Kadyrov, Moscow is conducting a celebratory washing of its dirty clothes in front of a bemused and cowed Chechnyan public.

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