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Tensions In Chechnya Boil Over

Published: April 18, 2008 (Issue # 1366)


MOSCOW The standoff between Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and an influential Chechen clan entered its third day Wednesday as both sides traded accusations of murder and abuse of power.

There were conflicting reports regarding the number of casualties suffered by the two sides since a collision Monday near the Chechen town of Argun between Kadyrovs motorcade and vehicles transporting serviceman from the Defense Ministrys elite Vostok battalion.

Regardless of casualties, the confrontation is a clear sign of the ongoing power struggle in the often violent world of Chechen politics, which Kadyrov is trying to monopolize.

The conflict has pitted Kadyrov against brothers Sulim, Ruslan and Badruddi Yamadayev, former Chechen rebels who lead a powerful clan based in Gudermes, Chechnyas second largest city.

This standoff, and the fact that the Yamadayevs are not giving ground easily, is a signal to Kadyrov that he should not think he is the only one calling the shots in the republic, said Alexei Malashenko, senior expert on the Caucasus at the Carnegie Moscow Center. There are powerful people in [federal] power agencies that do not like the way he runs things, and they will side with the Yamadayevs.

Ousting Sulim Yamadayev from the Vostok battalion, which he commands, would allow Kadyrov to complete his consolidation of power in the republic by putting his loyalists in charge of all local police and the Defense and Interior ministries local commando units, which are manned primarily by ethnic Chechens.

Such a takeover has been resisted by top commanders in Moscow, who do not trust the former rebels that have fought alongside their troops in Chechnya, according to national media reports.

Their suspicions are shared by hard-line policymakers who fear that giving complete control of Chechnya to former rebels could allow the republic to slip out of Moscows hands should a national crisis arise.

Kadyrovs goal is to make himself irreplaceable after his chief backer, President Vladimir Putin, leaves office next month, experts said. The president has the power to hire and fire regional leaders.

The Yamadayevs clearly enjoy support of top military brass, who do not want Kadyrov to install his own people in Interior and Defense ministry units, which answer to Moscow.

With the exception of Vostok, Kadyrovs men call the shots in all of the Defense and Interior ministries local commando units, including the Yug and Sever commando battalions, which report to the Interior Ministry, and the Zapad battalion, which reports to the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff.

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