Due to the current structure of Chechen politics and the Kremlin’s unwillingness to get involved, Ramzan Kadyrov is still the only viable candidate to run Chechnya. But that could change.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov at the celebration of the Republic's Constitution Day in Grozny. Photo: RIA Novosti

The head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, will keep his post until at least September of this year after being reappointed by President Vladimir Putin on Mar. 25. At what point, though, will the Kremlin decide to look for a replacement?

As soon as the Kremlin decides it wants to interfere in the political processes of the Caucasus, a replacement for Kadyrov will be possible to find. That, despite the current belief by many experts that Kadyrov might stay in his post for at least the next five years due to the lack of a real alternative.

Kadyrov as a symbol of Russian policy in the Caucasus

For now, Kadyrov does not have to look for a new job. On Mar. 25, Putin appointed him as the acting head of the Chechen Republic.

Konstantin Kazenin, senior researcher at the Presidential Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), believes that at this stage of the game, there is simply no alternative candidate in the political field.

“The particular situation in Chechnya today is that the layer of regional elite was created from scratch by Kadyrov himself after the Second Chechen War. This layer includes all those who have at least some experience in practical governance and management,” explains Kazenin.“The main quality which is required of the members of this narrow circle of elites is personal loyalty to the leader of the region. It is this uniqueness that creates risks when it comes to thinking about replacing Kadyrov.”

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The political analyst says that this is the main reason that he has not been replaced this time around.

Mikhail Vinogradov, political analyst at the Petersburg Politics Foundation, agrees. He stresses that for the federal government it is very important to show that the Second Chechen War was a success. “And Kadyrov is perceived as the main reason for this success,” he argues.

Kadyrov and the clans of Chechnya

Chechnya, just like all the other republics of the North Caucasus, requires a special type of governance. The fact is that, historically, clans always exercised power in the region. After the Russian Empire annexed the territory in the 19th century, attempts were made to destroy this system. This was followed by Soviet methods of management, which in the period of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s reign included repressions and forced resettlements.

However, all of this did not change the mentality of the people. Here, just like in the old days, decisions are still made by clan elders, and blood feuds still happen, even though these are now treated as criminal offenses. And the Kremlin, apparently, has no desire to try and sort out all these non-transparent relations and clan feuds.

“The federal center is not ready to dive into the administration of processes that are today occurring in Chechnya. Moreover, they are often difficult to comprehend, and far removed from the federal government and foreign policy,” said Vinogradov.

Kadyrov has another important quality that is valued by the higher officials. He works well in his role as the politician of the movement to keep Russia’s opposition in check.

Statements in the spirit of “members of the non-systemic opposition are the enemies of the people” make people recall Stalin’s repressions, when the so-called “enemies of the people” were dealt with by means of executions.

“The figure of Kadyrov is intended to symbolize a radical direction in the federal agenda, which is designed to cause anxiety and fear among the critics of the government,” says Vinogradov. “His persona can be used to intimidate the opposition and show their weaknesses.”

Is there a need for change?

Despite the outward image of unquestionable loyalty to Kadyrov, people are nevertheless upset with the rules of life in their republic. Businessmen talk about the difficulties when it comes to doing business in the region, and residents sometimes talk about corruption.

“The way that Chechnya is ruled today is causing serious discontent in a part of the population,” Kazenin explains. “If the internal life of the republic continues as it is now, things there will get increasingly more difficult.”

For example, Kadyrov can personally chastise ordinary people, who are not his subordinates, but who have criticized him or, from his point of view, have done something wrong, says the political analyst.

“This kind of behavior in unlikely to be tolerated forever,” he concludes.

It should be noted that by nature, the natives of the Caucasus are extremely proud and sensitive, and any public reprimand is perceived as a personal insult and forgetting such an insult is not considered acceptable. According to the observations of experts, there exists a demand for a change in how social relations are being managed. This is true not only for Chechnya.

“This demand for change is present in the whole Caucasus region. In the end, social forces will arise, which will offer some alternatives and a more modernized management model,” says Kazenin.

Illustration of this fact can be seen in the recent changes in the top leadership of other republics in the North Caucasus.

“Just because no one is showing discontent openly, this does not mean that it does not exist. There will certainly be found someone with an alternative vision of the political process,” says Vinogradov.

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For example, a similar situation existed in Ingushetia, and they found a replacement in Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who now heads this republic.

“Despite the lack of transparency in the republics of the North Caucasus, not so long ago, even the heads of Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria were replaced – and these changes did not cause any serious turbulence,” said Vinogradov.

An alternative can always be found, but for now Moscow does not want to interfere, says the expert. He feels confident that a new leader for the Chechen Republic can be found – given the desire and political will on the part of the Kremlin.

“In fact, several possible scenarios exist. Kadyrov is the leader of only one clan, but even within that clan, internal strife can exist, and a new leader may appear,” he explains. “However, this can also happen when the federal authorities want to become more involved in the administration of the processes taking place in the republic.”