Staunton, March 29 – The FSB continues to disseminate its version of the murder of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, one that links it to Ramzan Kadyrov, not out of any concern for getting at the truth but rather because of growing anger at the Chechen leader and the backing he continues to receive from Vladimir Putin, according to Andrey Piontkovsky.
The Russian force structures, he writes, “have never had any good feelings for Ramzan Akhmatovich and are extremely skeptical about the Putin ‘Kadyrov’ project which deprived them as they understand it of their ‘victory’ in the Caucasus” by allowing him an autonomy they would never have permitted.
In addition, Piontkovsky says, the siloviki [law-enforcers and intelligence] are anything but happy about the way in which Kadyrov militants are now getting involved in fights for control of economic and even political assets “far beyond the borders of the Chechen Republic,” something no other regional leader has been permitted to do.
But “the last drop apparently because the provincial version of ‘Triumph of the Will’ at the Grozny stadium,” an action that seemed to presage a situation in which it would not be Chechnya within Russia but “’Russian within Chechnya,’” something anathema not only to the siloviki but to ordinary Russians as well.
All this anger poses problems for Putin, Piontkovsky says, but what Kadyrov is doing is posing an even larger one for the Kremlin leader because what the Chechen head has been doing constitutes a direct attack on “the central nucleus of Putin’s mythology,” the notion that Putin is legitimate because he restored order by means of the second Chechen war.
But at the same time, Putin can’t “close down the ‘Kadyrov’ project” because to do so “would be official recognition of Russia’s defeat in [that] war and at the same time a declaration of a third” Chechen war.” That in turn would represent “a return to 1999” but one in which Moscow’s “starting position” would be “much worse.”
Caught between the need for the superficial stability in the North Caucasus that Kadyrov provides in exchange for massive infusions of cash and the right to act on his own as he sees fit and an equal need to maintain his own legitimating myth, Piontkovsky says, the Kremlin leader has not yet come down hard against either Kadyrov or his siloviki opponents.
That “testifies to the weakening of [Putin’s] regime of personal power,” the Russian analyst says, public opinion surveys to the contrary. Everyone must remember, he suggests, that “the power of a dictator never rests on polls. On the contrary, polls rest on the power” of those who have it.
“Had a sociological survey existed in the USSR at the end of February 1953, it would have found that 99.999 percent” of the population approved of Stalin. “But several days later,” after the latter died, that all changed not only in the population but within the elite itself, Piontkovsky points out.
That is something Putin has to be concerned about because “the power of a dictator rests on the qualified subordination to him of several dozen [senior] people.” They will support him until they don’t, until a critical mass of these critical people decide they would be better off without him.
By raising questions about the mythology he has used to legitimate his rule, Putin has brought that day closer, leading more people within the elite to question where he is going and more people in the Russian population to wonder how anyone can square the idea of “a Russian world” with one in which “Russia is inside Chechnya.”