Putin listens to Chechen regional President Ramzan Kadyrov in Grozny, Chechnya, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008. (Image: AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky)
Both Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov have a deep interest in avoiding a complete break, the former because a new Chechen war would be “a moral catastrophe” that would undermine his myth of and the latter because he would not survive without the enormous sums of money Moscow currently sends him, Leonid Radzikhovsky says.
And as a consequence of these inter-related interests, the Russian commentator says, “there will not be a sharp conflict between Chechnya and the Russian leadership in the near future” even if both sides try to position themselves as the victors in the current round of tensions between them.
But there are at least two reasons why they may not be able to avoid a break that would ultimately threaten both. On the one hand, an important part of Putin’s constituency in Moscow consists of siloviki who are furious at Kadyrov and want revenge. And on the other, and perhaps even more significantly, Moscow is running out of money to fund Kadyrov as it has up to now.
As Olga Solovyeva points out in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Russia’s regions are at the edge of “financial instability” and are being forced to cut staff and programs to try to make ends meet. If Putin continues to fund Chechnya while cutting support to the others, he will be creating an even larger problem.
The arguments of both Radzikhovsky and Solovyeva are thus worth close attention.
According to Radzikhovsky, “if Ramzan Kadyrov begins to seriously get involved in a conflict with Moscow, this would mean the end of Putin and the collapse of the Putin myth” that the Kremlin leader pacified the North Caucasus. In the case of a new Chechen war, Russians would rally around him, “but all the same this would be a catastrophe” Putin wants to avoid.
But Kadyrov has equally compelling reasons to want to avoid this: He will hold out in Chechnya just as long as the money comes from Moscow. “If this conveyer stops, Chechnya will explode and Kadyrov will simply be killed, for in this region there are enough militants who hate Kadyrov.”
Radzikhovsky argues that “there cannot be any unity of Chechnya against Moscow.” What is on view now is “the unity of Chechnya purchased by Russian money. But the unity of Chechnya against the Russian Federation is unreal.” And the same thing is true of Daghestan which would disintegrate if Makhachkala tried to fight the center.
Obviously after the dust up over the Boris Nemtsov murder, Kadyrov “will try to show to the maximum his independence and irreplaceability.” But there are real limits, and both he and Putin know what they are, and as a result, Putin will try to keep the money flowing to Kadyrov in order to save himself.
But as Solovyeva points out, Russia’s economic situation is likely to make assistance from Moscow to all regions, not just Chechnya, ever more difficult. Many are at the edge of default even though Moscow is taking money from the reserve fund to try to prop them up. They are going into debt to pay their bills, and debt service is eating up their budgets.
She cites the conclusion of Igor Nikolayev, the director of the FBK Institute for Strategic Analysis, that next year, Moscow may not be able to pay out to the regions the sums it has this year from the reserve fund because that fund will be depleted. Consequently, he says, “the main risks for the regions are after 2016.”