Is Kadyrov still being controlled, or is Kadyrov now in control?

In response to a Danish newspaper’s cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, Ramzan Kadyrov, senior deputy prime minister of Chechnya, has announced that everything Danish will be banned from Chechnya – including the Danish Refugee Council, which has been working in the North Caucasus since 1997.

Rumors that Ramzan Kadyrov will become president of Chechnya, and his appointment as head of the United Russia party’s Chechnya branch, have boosted his self-confidence: Kadyrov has moved into the front ranks of the battle against Danish cartoonists. At a press conference on February 6, he said: “The Danish organizations that are present here won’t be permitted to stay any longer. We’re going to ban everything that comes from Denmark, and they will have to leave Chechnya.” On February 7, while Duma members were calling on Kadyrov to reconsider, the government of Chechnya expressed support for him. The results are predictable: residents of Chechnya will lose access to Danish humanitarian aid, and there will be an argument between the Chechen and federal authorities.

The Duma was surprised by Kadyrov’s statement, to put it mildly. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov pointed out that Kadyrov’s words “don’t amount to a government decision.” Pavel Krasheninnikov, chairman of the Duma legislation committee, was indignant: “In my view, this is a purely emotional statement, not consistent in any way with federal law. Only a court can decide who shall be denied entry to Russian territory.”

Meanwhile, the Chechen authorities have no intention of backing down and blaming all this on “emotions.” Khalid Vaikhanov, deputy prime minister of Chechnya, said: “The decision to stop the Danish Refugee Council’s operations in Chechnya is final and not subject to revision.” Vaikhanov has even written to the UNHCR about this. Then again, he also qualified his statement by claiming that the Danes are being expelled “with the aim of guaranteeing their safety.”

At the Committee for Forced Resettlers’ Affairs in Grozny, staff told us: “Only one Danish humanitarian organization is operating in Grozny at present: the Danish Refugee Council. It’s based in the city of Nazran, Ingushetia, 60 kilometers from the capital of Chechnya. They also have a subsidiary called Vesta. All the employees of those organizations are Chechens, and the main office is in Moscow. The organization is mostly involved in providing food aid to residents of Chechnya; it is also working on a construction campaign and economic rehabilitation in Grozny. This is a substantial source of help for us, since unemployment in Chechnya is at 85% and for many people the assistance of this Danish organization is their sole source of income. Despite all this, however, we’ll drive them out if they don’t apologize!”

We contacted Arne Vaagen, head of the International Department of the Danish Refugee Council, in Copenhagen.

Arne Vaagen: “We have nothing to do with what is said in the newspapers. It’s very important for us to point that out. We distance ourselves from any statements that may cause pain to other people. Even more important is the reason why we are working in the North Caucasus. Our main task is to help people. As for Kadyrov’s statements, our government is seeking dialogue with the Russian side in order to resolve this situation. We haven’t received any threats against our personnel in the North Caucasus, so this is probably more about politics than safety. As yet, we don’t intend to evacuate our staff from the North Caucasus: our personnel are working as they did before. In recent years we have reduced the scope of our activities, but we won’t leave that area unless our government instructs us to do so.”

It would have been interesting to hear what the Kremlin was saying to Kadyrov on February 7. Earlier, it had managed to pour cold water on his proposal to rename the city of Grozny “Akhmad-kala.” This time, however, Kadyrov made a statement that was sure to cause conflict with the federal authorities – as casually as he wears his tracksuit in Moscow clubs. The outcome of this scandal will be a kind of indicator, offering an answer to the question of whether Kadyrov is still being controlled, or is now in control.

From our files:

The Danish Refugee Council has been operating in the North Caucasus since 1997. It has six foreign personnel and 400 local staff. It provides humanitarian aid to 250,000 people.