As the dust settles, and the initial shock of Akhmad Kadyrov’s assassination seems to be wearing off, thoughts in the Kremlin are turning to who should replace him as President. According to Interfax, an election is likely to be held sometime between August 15th and September 5th.
The first thing to consider when thinking about potential candidates for the vacancy is this: the rewards that will come with success are high, but so are the risks. Not many Chechen Presidents live to draw their pensions. In my own humble opinion, whoever takes the job has to be a grade-A nutter. But, there seem to be plenty of those in the world, so on with the speculation.
One of the prime candidates for the post — or at least, the name on everyone’s lips right now — is Ramzan Kadyrov, the late President’s son. He has gained a reputation for brutality and is clearly not widely liked, but he does command a militia of several thousand men, and a militia of that size comes with built in respect — of a kind. He was appointed First Deputy Prime Minister in the immediate aftermath of the assassination and, despite the great speculation that he might run for President, there is also the chance that he may be content to rule from behind the scenes. (As I noted yesterday, at 27, he is too young to run unless the Chechen Constitution is altered).
Other explanations, however, have also been put forward as to why Ramzan Kadyrov’s name is featuring so prominently. Radio Free Europe speculates that perhaps Putin was playing for time when he appeared to endorse Ramzan (he met with him in Moscow only hours after the assassination). I think there is a lot in this. In a situation as volatile as the one in Chechnya, who better to put in place as a caretaker than a powerful man like Ramzan. He’ll keep the country in line (violently and brutally, no doubt, but certainly effectively) until a candidate with real credentials can be found? The danger for Putin is that Ramzan may make his position so strong over the next few months that Putin finds it impossible to dislodge him.
A second idea, which appealed to me in a macabre kind of way, is that Ramzan is being promoted as a candidate by other prominent leaders precisely because the job is so dangerous. Make him a highly visible candidate, they figure, and it won’t be long before he departs this world, thus leaving the way clear for them to make their own moves. Kavkazcenter.com has this blunt assessment of his prospects…
You don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict the fate of Ramzan Kadyrov (Kadyrov, Jr.). If he survives until the elections, it will be a great success for Moscow. However he should hardly hope for a full ‘presidential term’.
So, if not Ramzan Kadyrov, then who? Well, this is where the waters get a little muddier. To be brutally honest, there is no other candidate that jumps out. Anyone who does get the job is likely to be a compromise candidate, without widespread support.
From the articles I’ve read that list the serious prospects (most of the information below comes from these RFERL and Mosnews articles) three names stand out…
Aslambek Aslakhanov – he was set to run for President against Kadyrov senior before being persuaded to stand down. Mosnews (based on polls) argue that he has reasonably widespread popular support, although it remains to see how the clan elites throughout Chechnya will take to him. He is currently an advisor to President Putin, so clearly has good links with the Kremlin, but he has clearly endorsed Ramzan Kadyrov, so that may count against him.
I don’t know too much about Bislan Gantamirov, other than he was fired recently after his bodyguards were implicated in the murder of a Chechen family. Can’t really see that working in his favour but — this is Chechyna. Stranger things have happened.
Finally, Taus Dzhabrailov. He’s the Chairman of the Chechen State Council. He probably has a lot of enemies too, but I would imagine he has to have some kind of broad based support to have gotten a position like that. RFERL, though, reckons that he’d just be a stooge for Kadyrov if he did get the job.
So whos going to be top dog come September? Frankly, I still have no idea. Kadyrov and Aslakhanov seem to be the most likely candidates so far, but I still like my suggestion that Putin and Maskhadov might find this an opportune moment to reconcile their differences. However, on the off-chance that they don’t listen to me, I’ll leave the final word to the optimists over at Christian Science Monitor.
Putin got part of Chechenization right – that rule has to come from the province itself. But he would do well to recognize the grave mistake of having depended on a single, Kremlin-backed strongman brought to power through a fraudulent election.
The next logical step would be a truly representative government. Putin has his opportunity in the next election of a new Chechen leader, which must occur by Sept. 5. This time, the election must be fair, the net of candidates cast wide.