Vladimir Putin has a new potential successor

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Could Ramzan Kadyrov become the president of Russia? That question is being asked with increasing frequency in the Russian media. It was first mentioned two years ago by Timir Aliyev, editor of the Chechenskoe Obshchestvo (Chechen Society) newspaper. By now, this idea no longer seems so bizarre; experts are discussing it – sometimes seriously, sometimes in a spirit of irony.

Chechenskoe Obshchestvo says: “As a rule, Kadyrov is compared to either Ivan the Terrible or Stalin – usually the latter, since there are more analogies to draw: Stalin, the classic authoritarian leader, was ethnically non-Russian.”

Timur Aliyev takes the view that public opinion is subject to unpredictable twists; Ramzan Kadyrov has plenty of time, and he already possesses the necessary qualities.

“He is a statist, to the same degree as Russia’s present leaders. He can’t be described as a liberal. He uses the same concepts as the present-day federal authorities,” says Aliyev – and qualifies this by adding that at present, Kadyrov’s ethnicity makes it impossible for him to be elected president of Russia. Besides, a presidential candidate must be at least 35 years old. But Aliyev notes that elections aren’t the only path to power in a country with unstable democratic traditions.

That point is confirmed by the very fact of Kadyrov’s appointment as president of Chechnya. Adam Sadayev, Chechnya correspondent for CaucasusTimes.com, draws attention to the following circumstance: in becoming president, Kadyrov has managed to breach the provisions of two constitutions simultaneously – the federal Constitution and the constitution of Chechnya.

Sadayev’s opinion is set out at the Radio Liberty website: “Kadyrov’s rise to power has directly violated the constitution of Chechnya. Article 65 states that the president is elected by citizens ‘on the basis of universal, equal, and direct suffrage, with a secret ballot.’ As everyone knows, Ramzan Kadyrov has been endorsed by the parliament of Chechnya after being nominated by President Vladimir Putin. Yes, that article of Chechnya’s constitution contradicts federal legislation. In my view, that contradiction should have been resolved before Kadyrov was nominated. And if we accept the principle that the federal Constitution and federal laws take precedence, then we should have waited until Ramzan Kadyrov reached the minimum age set down in the federal Constitution – the age of 35. In short, nothing fits; both constitutions have been violated here. And no matter what Ramzan Kadyrov says about needing to bring Chechnya’s constitution into compliance with the federal Constitution, it’s too late now.”

Chechenskoe Obshchestvo reports that Radio Liberty journalist Andrei Babitsky has even written a pamphlet about the possibility of Kadyrov becoming president of Russia. He depicts a hypothetical scenario in the not-too-distant future, with Sergei Ivanov as president of Russia and Ramzan Kadyrov as prime minister. There’s a war on: the Chinese Army is advancing, and its main opponents are detachments of Chechen guards. The story ends with health problems forcing Ivanov into retirement, and Kadyrov taking over as president.

Chechenskoe Obshchestvo also quotes a blog entry from Zavtra newspaper journalist Denis Tukmanov (who emphasizes that this is only speculation, not his personal opinion): “Recent appointments have drawn attention to a politician who is, in my view, the one and only candidate for a strong leader of Russia in the foreseeable future. It’s not Sergei Ivanov, or Anatoly Serdyukov, or even Sergei Naryshkin. His name is Ramzan Kadyrov. That’s the man who radiates not only the strength and will to rule Russia, but also a sense of the imperial – that is, something which comes naturally to his ethnic group: a passionary inclination to revanche, expansion, and institutionality. In effect, present-day Russia has only two imperial ethnic groups: Russians and Chechens. It is hardly a matter of chance that they ended up clashing with each other on the ruins of an erstwhile kingdom.”

Another quote from Denis Tukmanov’s blog, as published in Chechenskoe Obshchestvo: “No politician in present-day Russia is stronger or more independent than Kadyrov. There is one simple reason for that: while other politicians are entirely focused on self-promotion, ratings, silly elections, claiming state funding, and so on, Kadyrov has devoted himself to one activity alone. He’s building up a personal power base around himself. He’s doing it consistently, persistently, and – so far, at least – without making a single error. And he will build it. In short, if things go on like this, the conclusion will see another highlander in the Kremlin. Like it or not. Who can compare to Kadyrov as an effective politician – if not now, then very soon? Only Putin, and perhaps Anatoly Chubais, who has also built up a power base of his own.”

Tatiana Loshkina, director of the Demos Human Rights Center, also maintains that Kadyrov won’t stop at being “just” the president of Chechnya. In an interview with Radio Liberty, Loshkina says: “He’ll feel cramped. He’s young and ambitious. All kinds of scenarios are possible.”

In Loshkina’s view, it would be hard to make Kadyrov fit into any system. A couple of years ago, Dmitri Kozak, presidential envoy for the Southern federal district, “attempted to cultivate Kadyrov, inviting Kadyrov to visit his headquarters in Rostov-on-Don” – but “they soon fell out over something or other,” and “Kadyrov quarreled and departed.”

“He can’t fit into a formalized environment,” says Loshkina.

Nevertheless, Loshkina maintains that the idea of Kadyrov as president of Russia is relevant – in the context of the general discreditation of democratic institutions, and widespread human or civil rights violations in Russia.

Sergei Markedonov, department head at the Military and Political Analysis Institute, analyzes Ramzan Kadyrov’s political resources in an interview with the Regnum news agency: “His first resource comes from the Kremlin. Although Chechnya has long since moved out of the newspaper headlines, Vladimir Putin’s image is still dependent on it. Chechnya is a kind of public relations trophy for the Kremlin. Kadyrov plays an important role in that, since the Russian government is able to say: we wanted to appoint him, and we did so. But this can also turn into a weakness for the Kremlin – a fear of taking any action that disrupts the current state of affairs.”

According to Markedonov, Kadyrov’s second resource is his ideology: “It’s a mistake to assume that Ramzan Kadyrov is just an uneducated guy who doesn’t understand what ideology means. Actually, he does have an ideology. It’s based on national revival. Reviving the economy, reviving Chechen ethnic culture. Kadyrov talks of this in all his speeches. Another important aspect of his ideology is national unity. He’s calling on all Chechens to return to Chechnya – even Akhmed Zakayev. He also talks of arranging things so that Chechen youths conscripted into the Russian Armed Forces will serve in Chechnya only, and Chechen criminals will serve their sentences in the jails of Chechnya. Without calling for Chechnya to secede from Russia, Kadyrov is a proponent of ‘separatism within the system’ – that is, maximal independence for Chechnya within its current status as a region of Russia.”

National unity is a relevant issue throughout Russia these days – not only in Chechnya. But even the mildest of the methods Kadyrov uses to implement his policies seem repellent anywhere outside Chechnya. Kommersant-Vlast magazine tells the story of how television broadcasting in Chechnya has changed since 1991. “For some time, the Chechen State Television and Radio Company has been screening a program called Special Report, which consists of very detailed coverage of Kadyrov’s activities. This program has no fixed length – it would simply be unthinkable to cut off Ramzan Kadyrov halfway through a sentence,” says Kommersant-Vlast.

An excerpt from Special Report, as described in Kommersant-Vlast: “Here’s Ramzan Kadyrov, when he was prime minister, talking about the measure he’s taking against law-breaking on the roads. He gets behind the wheel of a car and drives through the city, watching to see who is breaking traffic rules. On a city street, a foreign-made car driven by some police officer tries to cut in front of Kadyrov’s Zhiguli car. Kadyrov doesn’t allow him to pass. Then the driver blocks the road, stops the car, grabs his hand-gun, and starts swearing at the Zhiguli – due to the tinted windows, he can’t see who’s behind the wheel. Then Kadyrov winds down a window and the policeman gets a clear look at the person he’s been abusing. A moment ago, he was making threats – but now he starts whining: ‘Ramzan, I didn’t recognize you, I’m sorry!’ Ramzan takes the trembling policeman’s ID papers and points at the Zhiguli’s trunk: ‘Get in there.’ The policeman obediently climbs into the trunk. Rumor has it that he was subsequently fired and punished with community service.”

And here’s Ramzan Kadyrov on live television, reprimanding inefficient farm managers: “Don’t give me that nonsense about the harvest being bad because the sun is too hot or the rain is too wet! I’ll hold you responsible – if you don’t produce a good harvest, your heads will roll. If you can’t handle it, I’ll soon find replacements for you. There are plenty of people who want your jobs – I get crowds of applicants, offering ten, twenty, or thirty thousand dollars for a farm manager’s job!”

Despite (or perhaps because of) these methods, Kadyrov is establishing an image in Chechnya as a national leader and a fighter for Chechnya’s prosperity.

Andrei Babitsky from Radio Liberty says: “Even quite intelligent people who reject any forms of violence – people who never used to accept Kadyrov – are now impressed by his activity levels and the fact that he gets results. His choice of methods is of secondary importance, in their view. Naturally, for people living in a dictatorship the only way to survive is by loving and fearing the dictator.”

Outside Chechnya, the idea that Ramzan Kadyrov might become president of Russia some day is still treated as a joke. As Chechenskoe Obshchestvo notes, many people “aren’t averse to speculating about it, but they don’t believe it can be taken seriously.”

Chechenskoe Obshchestvo quotes Andrei Saveliev, a Duma member from the Motherland (Rodina) bloc: “I’d like to congratulate President Putin on choosing a successor, at long last. No one other than Ramzan Kadyrov is ready to become president of Russia. He’s the leader not only of Chechnya, but of the whole nation as well. And Chechnya leads the nation in the economy and in politics – all other regions are supposed to accept Chechnya as the standard to emulate, and all of us should look to Ramzan Kadyrov as an exemplary model of civic behavior in all fields of activity. Kadyrov’s very identity makes him vastly influential. Judge for yourself: he’s been through a war, he fought against the federal troops, and defeated the federal troops! He’s won a complete victory over crime in Chechnya! These days, no crime is committed without his knowledge: every criminal comes to Kadyrov and asks permission. He’d make a marvelous president for Russia. He would monitor all criminal organizations – each and every criminal would be kept under surveillance. We would know exactly how many crimes are committed this year, and how many will be committed next year, and we’d have quarterly target figures for the drug trade. We should welcome Vladimir Putin’s choice of such an outstanding individual!

Chechenskoe Obshchestvo notes: “Despite the obvious exaggerations in Saveliev’s words, and even the insults aimed at the president of Chechnya and all Chechens, the interesting fact is that such a discussion is taking place at all.”

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