Today, on the anniversary of Boris Nemtsov’s murder — almost certainly at his orders or else retrospectively blessed by him — Chechen warlord-ruler Ramzan Kadyrov has said that it is time for him to go, that “my time has passed” and “The nation’s leadership needs to find another person so that my name isn’t used against my people.” Yes, it’s goodbye. Gosh. This certainly comes as a surprise, albeit an inordinately welcome one, but raises a range of questions, first and foremost quite why, and why now?
One answer may be that he was given the choice by Moscow to jump or be pushed. After all, he still had not been confirmed as interim leader for the period running up to the September elections, and if he had known for a while, this might explain why he had recently been bizarrely outspoken even by his standards (including criticising the deportation of Chechens in 1944 on the day of the Defenders of the Fatherland, which is a little like blasphemy here). Making him step down today of all days would be an exquisitely neat punishment. This is possible, but all I can say is that I hadn’t heard even a whisper of this, of Putin’s being willing to abandon his man in Chechnya. In Moscow, there was still the belief (wrong, in my opinion) that he was the only man who could keep Chechnya under control. Of course, just because most things leak these days, it doesn’t mean everything does, so this might simply have been a very well-kept secret.
If he was shown the door, though, I think it’s more likely it was not that long ago. It’s worth noting, after all, that only in the past week or so have we seen really serious articles questioning his future (such as this one from Gazeta.ru), which now look as if they were preparing the ground.
But of course maybe this is just another and ever-more-extreme gambit as he tries to force the Kremlin to ratify his continued rule and commit to continue its generous funding of Chechen
embezzlement reconstruction. In 1564, Ivan the Terrible left Moscow and abdicated, withdrawing to a state within a state, the Oprichnina, within which he continued to desport himself and oppress his enemies. The aim appears to have been to force the elites of Muscovy to beg for his return, and accept his capricious authoritarianism.
Could this be Ramzan the Terrible’s (it’s worth remembering that Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, means ‘terrible’…) own bid to force Moscow into a similar capitulation? He says that “There are lots of successors on our team. We’ve got very good specialists,” but can he really be willing to surrender power? Or is he going to be willing to be “persuaded to return” by suitably-staged expressions of Chechen public will — whose mobilisation is a particular strength of the current republican regime — or Kremlin expressions of dismay?
If it is (and I suspect not, but with Ramzan one can never know), then I can only hope the Kremlin calls his bluff. The consensus within the security apparatus and the general elite has been that Kadyrov is a dangerous liability and it has essentially been the krysha (‘roof’, protection) Putin himself provides that has kept him in place. That and the fear of disorder if Kadyrov is removed forcibly. But if he steps down, and a consensus candidate chosen to replace him, there is not necessarily any risk of unrest in Chechnya. We’ll see; I’m not quite ready to believe and drink to Kadyrov’s departure (maybe he’ll take the deputy interior minister’s job he was once offered), but I hope I’ll soon be able to lift that glass.