Monday, 20 July 2009

Kadyrov - the path of least resistance? Does Moscow really control Chechnya?

Sean’s Russia Blog is one of the best English language sites featuring comment on Russia. It carries a balanced assessment of the Estemirova murder and examines exactly what it tells us about Moscow’s relationship with Russia’s southern reaches, and the nature of stability in Chechnya. Sean suggests that the most significant aspect of this incident is not Kadyrov’s involvement (or lack of it), but rather the flimsy nature of law and order in the region, which the killing exposes. The long arm of the Kremlin retains only a loose grip on its troubled Caucasian republics, any perception of Chechnya and Ingushetia as predominately peaceful is largely misplaced, and Kadyrov is a symptom of the disease of lawlessness, rather than its root cause.

When Memorial chairman, Oleg Orlov, declared, “I know, I am sure of it, who is guilty for the murder of Natalia. His name is Ramzan Kadyrov”, in the aftermath of Estimrova’s death, the world’s media interpreted his statement as a direct accusation. Sean notes that the intent behind Orlov’s charge is rather more qualified. The Chechen president is responsible for rampant crime in the republic and for the arbitrary nature of law enforcement within its borders. He is accountable for the context in which the murder was possible. It would be difficult to deny, however, that Kadyrov’s opponents have a disconcerting habit of meeting premature and violent ends. Too convenient and too much of a coincidence for many commentators.

The thirty two year old has reacted to the murder by promising to hunt for the perpetrators, through an official investigation and ‘unofficially, according to Chechen traditions’. It is hardly an undertaking designed to ameliorate human rights groups like Memorial. And the President has indicated that he will pursue legal action against Orlov and his organisation for the accusation carried on its website. The style of Kadyrov’s presidency, in conjunction with continued criminal incidents on the ground, is contributing to a sense of the lawlessness of the region and the impotence of Moscow in that regard.

“Even if Kadyrov isn’t the culprit behind of all of these abductions, tortures, and killings, it doesn’t bode well for Chechnya or neighboring Dagestan and Ingushetia. Nor Russia for that matter. President Medvedev may express outrage over Estemirova’s murder and call accusations against Kadyrov “unacceptable,” but the truth of the matter is that its been only three months since he announced the end of operations in Chechnya, yet low level violence in the region continues unabated. What is clear to analysts is that Moscow’s control over the North Caucasus is at a minimum. And the more Moscow pushes, the more tense the situation becomes on the ground.”


As I intimated in the post below, whilst this murder, taken in isolation, does not put Kadyrov on a collision course with the authorities in Moscow, it is likely to contribute to the sense that the Kremlin needs to assert itself in Chechnya and Ingushetia. Which, given the turmoil which accompanied two bloody wars, is unlikely to engender enthusiasm in the rest of Russia. However the alternative is to continue to allow Kadyrov a free hand in Chechnya and let the rule of law continue to degenerate. That strategy offers least resistance for the time being, but it could ultimately prove to be an expensive one for Russia to pursue.

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