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World View: Putin’s Disappearance May be Part of a Major Moscow Political Crisis


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  • Putin’s disappearance may be part of a major Moscow political crisis
  • Fears grow of violence between Kadyrov’s security forces and Putin’s FSB

Putin’s disappearance may be part of a major Moscow political crisis

Public shrine to Boris Nemtsov in Moscow (Moscow Times)
Public shrine to Boris Nemtsov in Moscow (Moscow Times)

As we briefly reported yesterday, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin on Thursday canceled a long-scheduled ceremony to sign a treaty annexing South Ossetia into Russia, amid rumors that he was seriously ill. Putin’s health is apparently OK (though questions remain), but the fact still remains that Putin has not been seen in public for several days, with no satisfactory explanation.

Putin’s next scheduled public appearance is on Monday, when he is scheduled to meet with the president of Kyrgyzstan in St. Petersburg. Perhaps we will get some answers then.

It is increasingly believed that his disappearance is related to a growing political crisis in Moscow following the February 27 assassination of Putin’s political opponent, a liberal, Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov was out on a stroll with his girlfriend in a very high security area almost on the doorstep of the Kremlin in Moscow. Nemtsov was killed by gunmen who meticulously planned every detail. They knew where he would be, they knew how to evade security forces reaching him, and they knew exactly how to escape after the assassination.

There are two important facts related to Nemtsov’s killing. First, it was not random. It was perpetrated by people who must have had a great deal of inside information about people and security around the Kremlin. And second, this is the highest profile assassination in Moscow in decades. It is fairly common for the Kremlin to order the assassination of unfriendly reporters or the massacre of any number of anti-government protesters, including women and children, but Nemtsov was very high profile. He was at one time the putative successor of Boris Yeltsin to be President. Nemtsov’s high profile means that killing him does not benefit Putin, because Putin is immediately suspected of ordering the killing. In fact, many in Putin’s opposition have been accusing Putin of exactly that.

Putin condemned the killing, and immediately took “personal control” of the investigation, insinuating that Americans or “foreign agents” had perpetrated the killing to make him look bad. The FSB, the successor to the old Soviet KGB, took charge of the investigation, and soon identified the culprits as five Chechens, led by Zaur Dadayev. Dadayev is a close associate of Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin’s hand-picked governor of Chechnya, suggesting that Kadyrov himself had ordered the assassination in order to embarrass Putin and the Kremlin.

Chechnya is, of course, a major Muslim republic in Russia’s North Caucasus. In the 1990s, Kadyrov was a separatist rebel fighting against the Kremlin, but who later switched sides and pledged loyalty to Putin. Today, Kadyrov has his own army, known as the Kadyrovtsy, and last year he was filmed giving a long speech to thousands of armed Chechen police and special forces saying his men had pledged loyalty to Russia, and to Putin personally, and ended by shouting: “Long live our great motherland Russia! Long live our national leader Vladimir Putin! Allahu Akbar!”

Moscow Times and Guardian (London) and Telegraph (London)

Fears grow of violence between Kadyrov’s security forces and Putin’s FSB

So what does all this have to do with the disappearance of Putin? According to an analyst Friday on the BBC world service, Putin has retreated because he has to find a way to deal with a potential conflict between two armies: the FSB, which is personally loyal to Russia, versus the Kadyrovtsy, Kadyrov’s army of police and security forces, which is personally loyal to him. The word “personally” in each case is significant, because neither of these armies is loyal to Russia.

Zaur Dadayev and his four alleged Chechen accomplices were brought into court last Sunday (7-Mar), and there have been some political theatrics since then. Dadayev confessed to the assassination, and blamed it on Nemtsov’s criticism of the terrorists who attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, saying that he (Dadayev) was personally very offended by the Mohammed cartoons that had been published.

Kadyrov confirmed Dadayev’s claims by saying:

Anyone who knows Zaur can confirm that he is a deep believer, and that he — like all Muslims — was shocked by the activities of Charlie Hebdo [newspaper] and by comments made in support of reprinting the cartoons. I knew Zaur as a true Russian patriot.

The political theatrics continued on Monday, when a Kremlin statement announced that Kadyrov had been awarded the Order of Honor for his “professional accomplishments, social activities and many years of diligent work.”

The great fear is that Kadyrov is only paying lip service pledging loyalty to Putin, and that he is building up his Kadyrovtsy army in preparation for a new separatist battle with Moscow. Chechnya was ill-prepared for the Chechen wars of the 1990s, and Russian forces put them down rather easily. Kadyrov is going to be much better prepared this time.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, a major war between Chechnya and Russia is coming with certainty. Chechnya’s last crisis war was World War II, climaxing with the wholesale deportation of the Chechen people by Russian army forces in 1944. It was not until 1957 when Nikita Khrushchev permitted the Chechens to return to their homeland, but this act was considered to be a Russian genocide of the Chechen people, and young Chechens today, many of whom are in Kadyrov’s Kadyrovtsy army, are looking forward to the day when they get revenge, and Nemtsov’s murder might have been the first step in getting revenge. Moscow Times and RFE/RL(19-Jan) and BBC Podcast (MP3)

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Boris Nemtsov, Chechnya, Ramzan Kaadyrov, Kadyrovtsy, Zaur Dadayev, Charlie Hebdo, Paris
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