Staunton, March 11 — Ramzan Kadyrov has said he is prepared to give his life for Vladimir Putin, but the larger and more immediate question now, Oleg Kashin argues, is ‘where is the guarantee that Kadyrov’s men will not kill” the Russian president or others in his entourage so that the ambitious Chechen leader can rise further?
Indeed, the Moscow blogger suggests, Kadyrov is now like Lavrenty Beria, Stalin’s murderous secret police chief. “While he headed the NKVD, everyone [in the Soviet leadership] had to put up with him, but as soon as Beria tried to become something more [after the death of Stalin], the most ardent enemies united and destroyed” him.
And a similar kind of power struggle has come into public view in the wake of the murder of Boris Nemtsov between Kadyrov and the heads of the siloviki [law-enforcement] and security agencies, a struggle which puts Putin himself in a difficult position of having to make a choice between them even though at least so far he has the last word, Kashin says.
This has become clear as a result of some in Moscow to place all the blame for Nemtsov’s murder on the Chechens, an action that led Kadyrov to come out in their defense and that led Putin to defend Kadyrov by decorating him and to criticize his own law enforcement bodies for allowing the murder to happen, calling it “a shame” on them.
It is noteworthy, Kashin points out, that the report of the detention of the Chechens was made not by the head of the Investigative Committee but by Aleksandr Bortnikov, the director of the FSB. “Bortnikov says: ‘[Zaur] Dadayev is a murderer,’” and “Kadyrov replies, ‘Dadayev is a real patriot and a brave fighter.”
Such public disagreement among senior Russian officials is “not very common” and is certainly not something that Putin wants to see, especially since, as Kashin points out, “from the point of view of apparat logic, the only person who can” make a judgment between them is the Kremlin leader himself.
Putin may have hoped to defuse the situation by allowing the arrests to stand but honoring Kadryov, Kashin continues, but even if this is a correct reading of what has happened, it is impossible to consider that this dispute is really over or that the threat to Kadyrov from Moscow has passed.
On the one hand, Putin “cannot fail to reflect that if the Kadyrov en killed Nemtsov,” there is “no guarantee” that the next time they will not “kill someone else or even Putin himself.” And on the other, the Russian security services which have long had no love for Kadyrov’s independent-mindedness may have the same fears and feel the need to take action.
And they may have an additional reason for doing so: Putin’s honoring of Kadyrov in these circumstances suggests that the Chechen leader “is already stronger than the Kremlin and its special services.” That could push Putin into their camp because he is not willing to acknowledge this, given that he sees himself as “a great historical figure.”
Although Putin is still very much in office, all of this creates a situation that recalls that of the period just before and just after the death of Stalin, a time when the various forces in the Soviet leadership came together to get rid of and ultimately kill Beria lest he take power and kill them.
Given Putin’s personal style, this fight may continue for some time, but now it is out in the open, and that by its very nature changes the nature of the game, making it more fateful for Russia and perhaps more fatal for some of the participants in it.