An interview with Ramzan Kadyrov, prime minister of Chechnya

Ramzan Kadyrov, newly-appointed prime minister of Chechnya and son of the late Akhmad Kadyrov, discusses the situation in Chechnya and his plans for the future. “I want to kill Shamil Basayev. My father’s blood is on his hands. Besides, he has discredited our faith.”

Question: So aren’t there any bandits left in Chechnya – or have you made a mutual non-aggression pact with them?

Ramzan Kadyrov: People say that because we have indeed negotiated, and are still negotiating, with some who were or still are in the forests. This is useful and very effective, because it’s better to persuade them to return to civilian life rather than fight them – especially since many of them still cling to the world-view of the mid-1990s. So we explain to them that the situation is quite different now. We guarantee them their lives and amnesty from prosecution, as long as they haven’t committed major crimes.

But if they don’t understand this, then we fight them – and that’s lawful, according to our customs. This is war, and they’re the enemy – devils, as I call them – and we don’t talk to people like that.

Question: Is it true that Akhmed Avdorkhanov, Aslan Maskhadov’s former chief bodyguard, has been killed? There were rumors that you had reached agreement with him after all, and then released reports of his death, while actually letting him go abroad. So he wouldn’t break his vow to Maskhadov, but neither would he keep fighting you in Chechnya.

Ramzan Kadyrov: No, Avdorkhanov is dead, that’s certain. He was poisoned. But he could have joined us – like Shaa Turlayev has done, for example. Turlayev is well-known and respected in Chechnya. He fought the Wahhabis alongside us in Gudermes in 1996-97, but later on he took part in the second campaign. So we ended up on opposite sides of the barricades. When he was wounded in the arm 18 months ago, he didn’t want to surrender. Then, when our radio intercepts reported that his old leg wound had turned septic and he was dying, I offered him medical treatment with no obligations. I guaranteed that he’d be able to walk out of the hospital and go wherever he liked. He agreed, and that wasn’t counted against him, since he’d been prepared to die in the forest like a warrior rather than surrender. But later on he made his own choice. Now he and his brother are on our side, living a life of peace, like all Chechens.

Question: Has the bandit underground been broken?

Ramzan Kadyrov: The bandits have been trapped in their dens, so to speak. Some large-scale search operations currently under way in Chechnya’s highlands are producing good results. But don’t confuse that with sweep operations, which have long since ended in Chechnya. And you can see for yourself that the military presence on Chechnya’s roads is greatly reduced, making it much easier for citizens to travel.

Question: Some say there’s no longer any need for checkpoints on the roads – because the guerrillas have legalized their status and are now carrying accreditation and weapons. In the Shatoi district – home territory of Doku Umarov, one of the most notorious terrorist chiefs – there hasn’t been a single sweep operation in three years, even though Shamil Basayev might be hiding there, and Maskhadov used to winter there.

Ramzan Kadyrov: That’s not true. They’re not hiding out in the forest. That’s impossible. I remember my own experiences in the first campaign – you can last a few days in the forest, but after that you just have to get to a village in order to wash, replenish supplies, get warm, get medical treatment. So the place to look for the bandits is in people’s homes, and that requires help from the public. In the past, ordinary citizens were afraid or reluctant to cooperate with the law enforcement agencies, but now our fighters are receiving current information more and more often, as soon as guerrillas are seen in somebody’s home.

Question: In order to fight the guerrillas successfully, Chechnya’s law enforcement agencies need to cooperate closely with the federal military and special services. But that’s a question of trust – and as far as I know, there were problems with that in the past.

Ramzan Kadyrov: Things have changed now. We cooperate fully with the Regional Operation Headquarters (ROSh) and the Federal Security Service (FSB). Recent cases confirm that our new way of operating is effective. Look at the latest incident in Avtury: as soon as three guerrillas entered a village, we knew about it – and surrounded them immediately. Dzhabrail, alias Scar, was killed recently in Urus-Martan – he was involved in killing several dozen people, including a three-month-old baby. The moment there’s any movement these days, or any strangers entering a village, we find out about it.

Question: What about Basayev? It would be hard to miss him, even if he was encountered accidentally. So is he in the highlands, or is someone helping him?

Ramzan Kadyrov: But what makes you so sure that he’s in Chechnya at all? I told you that the law enforcement agencies, special services, and the military are monitoring Chechnya much more closely than before. Guerrillas can’t feel safe anywhere on the territory of Chechnya.

Question: So why doesn’t Basayev come out of the forest?

Ramzan Kadyrov: Because he’s got so much innocent blood on his hands that even if the federal authorities pardoned him, hypothetically, he wouldn’t stay alive for long. So many people are looking for him that there’s no way back for him.

Question: To my knowledge, you’ve also said that you want to capture him.

Ramzan Kadyrov: I want to kill him. My father’s blood is on his hands. Besides, he has discredited our faith. How could he send his people into a school on September 1 and take children hostage? Freedom and independence cannot be won by such methods. Because of people like Maskhadov and Basayev, everyone gets the impression that Islam is a bloodthirsty religion. In reality, Islam and the Shariah are the most beautiful and purest form of religion. True, they’re not the only ones who distort the Prophet’s words and the fundamentals of Islam; there are plenty of other devils around. Look, the media started reporting that I’ve ordered all women to wear headscarves. I didn’t. All I said was that a woman looks more modest in a headscarf. Russian Orthodoxy, for example, forbids women to enter a church with their heads uncovered. So why is this seen as normal for Orthodox believers, but not for Muslims? Why does everyone accept Orthodox priests wearing long beards, but regard any bearded Chechen as a Wahhabi fundamentalist? But we’re getting off the point.

Question: Has it been established for certain that Basayev was behind the May 9, 2004 bombing that killed your father, Akhmad Kadyrov? There were rumors that only the special services were involved and capable of committing such a daring crime.

Ramzan Kadyrov: At first, some were very persistent in trying to direct us along that path. But we established that the bombing was ordered by Maskhadov and Basayev. The direct perpetrator is already dead; law enforcement agencies tracked him down and destroyed him in Grozny last year. The person who organized the bombing, Khairulla, is still alive – but not for long, I hope.

Question: So who killed your father, and how?

Ramzan Kadyrov: The direct perpetrator was Yunadi Turchayev, who headed a gang in Grozny. Guerrillas themselves have testified that while the stadium was being repaired, Turchayev managed to get some builders to plant an explosive device under the seats in a certain place. He knew that my father would sit there at some point. Such an opportunity presented itself on May 9. But in any case, I think there was also some betrayal involved on our side.

Question: Let’s get back to more pleasant topics. The city of Grozny is looking much more lively these days. The impression is that someone’s given Chechnya a good kick in the rear: public servants are busy, builders and cleaners are working hard, damaged buildings are being repaired, everything’s more lively. And all this has happened overnight – straight after you were appointed prime minister. Why?

Ramzan Kadyrov: I wouldn’t take the credit for that. I’ve just allowed public servants to work and make decisions independently, which never used to happen.

Question: Maybe they’re just afraid of losing their jobs, because you’ve cracked down on them too hard?

Ramzan Kadyrov: No, no – I have fired a few officials, but only because some proved entirely incapable of working or making any decisions at all, even when given the opportunity to do so. In the past, they all used lack of freedom as an excuse, but now the incompetents are plain to see. But I’m satisfied with the government’s performance, in general, and don’t intend to replace any ministers. I know I’ve got a good team, and I’m sure it won’t let me down.

Question: You’ve given yourself three months to produce some visible changes in Grozny. If that fails to happen, you’ve promised to resign. But who will judge the results of your work?

Ramzan Kadyrov: If the people say I’ve done a poor job, I’ll resign. I don’t go back on my word. We’ll ask the people.

Question: How? In a referendum?

Ramzan Kadyrov: We’ll do opinion polls.

Question: What kind of steps are you taking to keep your promise, and is Moscow being understanding?

Ramzan Kadyrov: President Putin is helping us, and he’s fully supportive. During his recent visit to Chechnya he proved once again that he seeks peace and stability in the Caucasus.

And the people can feel that. They’ve gained a sense of confidence in what tomorrow will bring. The streets of Grozny are being swept clean, even at night, and construction work is continuing around the clock – have you ever seen that before? So the government of Chechnya isn’t having any problems at all in organizing the reconstruction of Grozny these days.

Question: Will you rebuild the Chiri-Yurtovsk cement plant, a major strategic enterprise? Our specialists have admitted that there’s a nationwide cement shortage, and Dmitri Medvedev even reported this to President Putin the other day. In the Soviet era, cement made in Chechnya used to be considered among the world’s best.

Ramzan Kadyrov: Yes, we’re rebuilding that enterprise. The builders say it can be restored by the end of the year, but I’m not sure about that, since it’s a very large plant. So I can’t make any promises about deadlines, but I assure you I’m paying close attention to this matter.

Question: The scale of reconstruction is directly dependent on funding. Are you satisfied with the situation from that standpoint?

Ramzan Kadyrov: No, of course not. We’re requesting an extra 5 billion rubles at present. If Moscow allocates 3 billion rubles, we’ll be able to pass our budget for 2006. I don’t know what the Economic Development Ministry is doing, but three of our southern highland districts – Sharoi, Shatoi, and Itum-Kali – still lack district hospitals. Until very recently, the military has been based where social infrastructure facilities used to be. That’s not right. I’m aiming to make people see that civilian authorities are really in charge, while the special services and the military focus only on their own spheres of activity.

Question: Does your government have a program for encouraging ethnic Russian refugees to return to Chechnya? After all, Chechnya always used to be multi-ethnic.

Ramzan Kadyrov: Yes, we do. And I know that ethnic Russian refugees from Chechnya are still considered Chechens in other regions. There’s a foundation in Moscow, headed by Shamsutdin Sharaliyev, and I’ve instructed them to collect data on all who wish to return. So if anyone wants to come back, all they have to do is approach the Akhmad-Hajji Kadyrov Foundation.

Question: What are your own success criteria?

Ramzan Kadyrov: Creating new jobs quickly, and managing to persuade Chechen business owners to invest in Chechnya. Convincing the federal government to allocate additional reconstruction funding, and reducing the amount of killing in Chechnya. And I’ll see it as a direct sign of success if people in the streets start smiling more.

Question: You’ve made no mention of one major crime problem in Chechnya: abductions and disapperances. If those stop, people would start smiling much more.

Ramzan Kadyrov: The disappearances and abductions situation isn’t all that clear-cut. I don’t agree that it’s a crime problem. Firstly, the number of disappearances in 2005 and the start of 2006 was much less than in previous years. Secondly, investigations often reveal that relatives report young men to the police as having disappeared in order to conceal the fact that they’ve gone into the forest to join the guerrillas, and make up stories about imaginary abductions. Chechnya’s law enforcement agencies have accumulated a great deal of evidence for cases of “abducted” individuals later being found killed in battle, with guns in their hands. And let’s not forget that some people go into hiding due to fear of blood feuds.

Question: You now have a historic opportunity – as Maskhadov once did – to make your mark in Chechnya’s history. You have all the requirements: the levers of power, Moscow’s approval, political will, and the people’s faith in a better future. But Dudayev and Maskhadov also started out in favorable circumstances – yet they failed, eventually.

Ramzan Kadyrov: I believe in God, so I don’t think that will happen to me, since I hold myself accountable to the Almighty. Besides, I know that my father is watching me from Paradise.