September 29, 2008

RUSSIA: Kadyrov's last rival dead

29 Sep 2008

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov
The murder of Ruslan Yamadaev, former Duma deputy and Chechen clan leader, removes the last obstacle to consolidation of power in the hands of Ramzan Kadyrov, Simon Saradzhyan writes for ISN Security Watch.

By Simon Saradzhyan in Moscow for ISN Security Watch

Ruslan Yamadaev was waiting for a green light in his armored Mercedes on a busy downtown Moscow street on Wednesday with a retired senior army commander in the passenger's seat when a masked man touting a Kedr submachine gun fired at his car. The salvo killed the 47-year-old former legislator and seriously wounded his companion.

The gunman had caught up with Yamadaev's car when it stopped at a red light in what indicates the hit had been well organized and involved surveillance.

Ruslan was the eldest of the four Yamadaev brothers and was commonly referred to as the brain trust of their clan – a clan that until recently has been a potent force in the violent world of Chechen politics and remains at odds with Chechnya's increasingly powerful president, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Kadyrov, for his part, was quick to express his shock at the daylight murder of his rival. The Chechen president is "surprised and upset," according to his press secretary Lyoma Gudaev. Gudaev told ITAR-TASS on Thursday that "Kadyrov never expected such a development."

Thorn in Kadyrov's side

The Yamadaevs had been a thorn in Kadyrov's side, refusing to yield to his drive to assume full control over all the clans in Chechnya. Their animosity had been brewing since Kadyrov assumed the presidency in 2007 and had spilled out into the public domain in a violent stand-off between their supporters in Chechnya in April.

Of course, none of this escaped the attention of the Russian media, with headlines in the Thursday issues of national newspapers proclaiming: "President Kadyrov Lost his Best Enemy" and "Kadyrov's Enemy Killed."

One of the Yamadaevs' brothers - Isa - told journalists on Wednesday that he believed Kadyrov might have been behind the murder. "The family had information that he had been planning reprisal," Kommersant quoted Isa Yamadaev as saying on Thursday. Another of the brothers - Sulim - bluntly accused Kadyrov of ordering the hit and vowed to avenge for the murder of Ruslan, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Like Kadyrov Sr, Ruslan Yamadaev and his brothers Sulim, Badrudi and Isa initially supported Chechnya's independence from Russia. They fought against federal troops during the first Chechen war and Ruslan Yamadaev was awarded the separatists' "Hero of Ichkeria."

After this, however, the brothers and Kadyrov Sr fell out with Chechnya's strongest warlord and notorious terrorist, Shamil Basayev, in the late 1990s. They switched sides during the second military campaign against the Kremlin's efforts to end Chechnya's de facto independence.

Together with Ramzan Kadyrov's father, Akhmad Kadyrov, the Yamadaevs arranged for their stronghold - Gudermes - to be taken over by federal troops without a fight. In return, a grateful Kremlin allowed the Yamadaevs to form a special commando battalion (Vostok) out of their fighters under the auspices of the Defense Ministry.

Ruslan's brother Sulim was made the commander of this battalion, while Ruslan himself was elected to the State Duma (Russia's lower house of parliament) on a pro-Kremlin United Russia ticket in 2003. He served as a legislator for four years. Both Ruslan and Sulim as well as their brother Dzhebrail - who died in a blast apparently organized by rebels in Chechnya in 2003 - were decorated with the country's highest award - "Hero of Russia."

However, Kadyrov Sr was killed in 2004 and his son Ramzan turned out to be far less inclined to accommodate the Yamadaevs' political and business ambitions. Kadyrov Jr became president of Chechnya in the spring of 2007 and soon after Ruslan Yamadaev lost his seat on the Chechen part of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party list for the elections to the lower chamber of the federal parliament that year. This was a clear sign that Kadyrov no longer wanted Ruslan Yamadaev to occupy this high-profile post.

The standoff between Kadyrov Jr and the Yamadaevs culminated in April when a convoy of Vostok cars failed to yield way to the Chechen president's motorcade. A furious Kadyrov ordered a crackdown on the Yamadaev clan and several Vostok soldiers were killed in the ensuing violence.

Sulim Yamadaev was subsequently suspended from serving as the Vostok commander and even placed on a wanted list by Chechen law-enforcers on charges of having been involved in the murder of a Chechen businessman.

Kadyrov's press service distributed a flurry of press releases in which the Yamadaev brothers were accused of having organized extrajudicial killings, torture, extortions and kidnappings. Among other the allegations included the raid of a St Petersburg company owned by a Chechen businessman and the kidnapping of his relatives and mopping up of a Chechen village populated by Dagestanis.

However, none of this succeeded in stopping Sulim Yamadaev from commanding the Vostok battalion during the Russian armed forces' operation to push Georgian troops out of South Ossetia in early August. Nor did it stop him from granting interviews to Russian reporters while with his soldiers in the separatist province of Georgia.

Shortly after the South Ossetian conflict, Sulim Yamadaev was taken off the wanted list in a clear sign of the Russian authorities' gratitude for his fighters' efficient conduct in the military operations. However, he was fired from his post as commander of the Vostok battalion.

Apart from units of the 58th army, the Vostok battalion - stationed in the Yamadaevs' stronghold of Gudermes, Chechnya's second largest city, was one of the few Chechnya-based military and police units whose commander had not been replaced by a Kadyrov Jr loyalist.

Kadyrov's men, most of whom are former rebels, already call the shots in such units, in the Interior Troops' Yug and Vostok battallions as well as in the Zapad battalion, which reports to the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff as does the Vostok battalion.

After a protracted battle, Kadyrov has also managed to oust even the head of the special 2nd Operational and Search Bureau, which answers directly to the Interior Ministry's central staff. He also managed to arrange the disbanding of the Gorets special unit, which has answered to the Federal Security Service (FSB), while its commander Movladi Baisarov was charged with kidnapping and murder. Baisarov was subsequently shot and killed by Chechen police officers in downtown Moscow in what law-enforcers said was the result of him resisting arrest.

Enemies all around

The firing of Sulim from Vostok weakened the clan's ability to project force inside Chechnya.

As such, since Kadyrov had already sidelined the Yamadaev clan politically and militarily, he was less inclined to physically eliminate either of the brothers, a police source investigating the murder told Kommersant.

Instead, investigators are focusing on the possibility that another mortal enemy in their violent clan rivalry could have ordered the hit, the source said.

The Yamadaevs "had a lot of enemies," one of Kadyrov's assistants told The Moscow Times on Wednesday.

Kadyrov on Thursday publicly floated a blood vendetta as the reason behind Ruslan Yamadaev's murder.

But while an investigation is yet to be determine (if ever) whether Yamadaev's murder was the result of a blood vendetta or political rivalry, the most significant outcome of his departure is already clear: There is no longer any serious force left in the republic capable of challenging Kadyrov in his drive for consolidating absolute authority.

Simon Saradzhyan is a security and foreign policy analyst based in Moscow. He works as a consultant for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University. Saradzhyan is the author of several papers on terrorism and security, including most recently "Russia: Grasping Reality of Nuclear Terror," published in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science in September 2006.

International Relations and Security Network (ISN)

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