President Akhmad Kadyrov was a Chechen with whom the people associate Moscow's biggest political achievements in the settlement of the more than ten years of fighting in Chechnya. How will his death affect the political settlement in this North Caucasus republic (southern Russia), where armed separatists joined forces with international terrorists to challenge Moscow?
Kadyrov's legacy is considerable. It was thanks to his personal involvement and the prestige he enjoyed with Chechens that the overwhelming majority of Chechens approved the new Chechen Constitution, where Chechnya is proclaimed to be part of the Russian Federation, at the March 2003 referendum.
It was Kadyrov who convinced the Kremlin to amnesty fighters who surrendered to the federal authorities.
It was he who persuaded several hundred fighters to use the amnesty in order to return to peaceful life and thus prevented another outbreak of senseless fighting in the spring of 2003.
It was Kadyrov who rallied Chechen society that had split into clans and embroiled in internecine fighting.
As a result, he was elected president of Chechnya in October 2003, winning more than 80% of the vote. These are only the main achievements of Kadyrov, which Moscow could rightly consider its victory as well. But he also helped hundreds of thousands of Chechen refugees return home and rebuilt schools and hospitals.
The opponents and outright enemies of Kadyrov frequently explain his achievements by his cunning, though sometimes he resorted to brute force, blackmailing Chechens with Russian bayonets and simultaneously intimidating the Kremlin with new destabilisation if it denied him support.
All this is no longer important. Kadyrov is no more; with his departure, the political structure that rested on him and created at least a semblance of relative calm in the republic will be put to the test. However, it is important that the structure exists.
Kadyrov's next political decision - if he had lived - would have been the signing of a treaty on the delineation of powers with Moscow. That document, about which Chechens dreamed for many long years, was drafted within several months and was to be signed after Vladimir Putin's inauguration. The draft stipulated considerable financial and economic independence for Chechnya, control of the use of local mineral resources, and a measure of freedom that no other republic within the Federation enjoys. In point of fact, the draft promised Chechnya nearly complete economic sovereignty without political independence - a compromise formula that suited clear heads in Moscow and Grozny.
Kadyrov was working for that goal when he, then a field commander, left the separatist camp and took the side of the federal centre. He certainly thought about this goal when he called on the Chechens to vote for the pro-Russian constitution and when he ran for the presidency.
But now Chechens will have to put these plans aside. To continue political dialogue with Moscow, they will have to resume the political settlement, which may take time.
There are more than enough candidates for Kadyrov's chair. One of the key aspirants is Kadyrov's younger son Ramzan, who has been appointed first vice-premier of the Chechen government. He also supervised his father's security department and was his closest ally. Immediately after his father was killed, Ramzan met President Vladimir Putin, which some observers interpreted as a possibility of succession.
However, Ramzan is not yet 30 and the Chechen Constitution does not allow such young people to run for the presidency. So, what can be done in this situation? Amend the constitution in view of the dramatic situation? Or, if the Chechens deem it impossible, remember that there are also other candidates apart from Ramzan Kadyrov?
But the political quarters in Moscow are also considering other options. Maybe the presidential elections should be postponed? Nearly all the presidents of Chechnya, legitimate and otherwise, have died. Chechnya's first president, Dzhokhar Dudayev, was killed by a Russian missile during the first Chechen campaign. Vice-President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who took over from Dudayev and became the main financier of terrorism, was blown up in Qatar. And one more president, Aslan Maskhadov, and his few supporters are hiding from the Russian spetsnaz in the Chechen mountains. Hatred, assassination attempts and other forms of violence hang over the past, present and future Chechen presidents irrespective of whose side they take in the never-ending conflict.
Nobody can guarantee that Chechnya's next president, if he is elected soon, will not die, just like the majority of his predecessors did. And if he is not as highly respected as Akhmad Kadyrov was, he will most probably meet that fate.
This instability will hardly help the political settlement in Chechnya and hence both Chechens and Moscow should try to avoid holding the presidential elections too soon. After Kadyrov, representative mechanisms - such as the State Council where all settlements of Chechnya would be represented - can be applied to provide civilian management of the republic.
Kadyrov's legacy will be also put to the test in one more way. It does not matter if his son will "inherit" the post or it will it be taken by a man from some other Chechen clan. What matters is the continuing Kadyrov's policy of creating a free Chechen state within the Russian Federation without fighting Moscow. Will his successor do it? This is a question that worries Moscow most today.
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