The leader of a pro-Kremlin militia accused of major human rights violations was confirmed Saturday as the new prime minister of Chechnya, the strife-torn southern Russian republic that has been the scene of two brutal wars in the past 11 years.
Ramzan Kadyrov, 29, the son of an assassinated Chechen president, was unanimously approved by the republic's People's Assembly to replace Sergei Abramov, who was injured in a car accident in Moscow in November and resigned this week. The Chechen president, Alu Alkhanov, immediately signed a decree ratifying the appointment.
As first deputy prime minister, Kadyrov was regarded as the real power in Chechnya. He controlled local security services, disbursement of federal funds that support the republic, and its political institutions, including the newly elected parliament. He is expected to ascend to Chechnya's presidency shortly after he turns 30, the minimum age for the office, in October.
"I am officially warning you that my requirements will be tough," said Kadyrov, speaking to legislators after his appointment. "We fought together against illegal armed groups. Most of you took part in this fight. You have proven that you are courageous men. You need to be as courageous and self-sacrificing when working in high positions in the government."
Policy of Chechenization
Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, who awarded Kadyrov the Hero of Russia medal in 2004, has been pursuing a policy of Chechenization in the republic, turning over political power and responsibility for security to loyal Chechens willing to fight separatists.
"For the first time in the history of the Chechen republic, all of its highest-ranking officials are residents of Chechnya," Alkhanov said. "The president and the federal center have entrusted us with the task of finding solutions to the most complex problems."
Others view the Kremlin's strategy more coldly. "The whole point of it came down to one idea: Let 'them' fight each other so that fewer of 'our' soldiers will die," a Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, wrote last year. "In short, the Kremlin decided to replace one type of civil war (federal troops versus a broad strata of Chechen society) with another type (Chechens fighting Chechens for power in Chechnya and federal funding from Moscow)."
The younger Kadyrov emerged as the power in Chechnya after his father was assassinated in a bombing in Grozny, the Chechen capital, in May 2004. Both father and son are former rebels who switched their loyalties to Moscow. Ginger-haired, bearded and stocky, the younger Kadyrov boasts a pet lion and tiger and lives behind a phalanx of black-clad security men. His portrait has become ubiquitous in the capital.
Human rights groups balk
Kadyrov commands an 8,000-member paramilitary force that has "gradually replaced federal troops as the main perpetrators of disappearances" in the republic, according to Human Rights Watch.
"They run their own prisons -- entirely outside any official penitentiary structure -- where they detain, and often ill-treat, hundreds of people," the human rights group said. "These troops are also responsible for the reprehensible practice of taking hostages among relatives of rebel leaders as a way of forcing the latter to surrender."
Kadyrov's defenders say he has pushed the republic's separatists back into mountain redoubts and begun to create conditions for the normalization of Chechen life. Armed clashes, however, continue on an almost daily basis. Three Russian Interior Ministry troops were killed Friday in a shootout with as many as 20 militants, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.
The Kremlin's hope, according to analysts here, is that Kadyrov, like his father, will prove himself an effective administrator. But to do that, the analysts said, Kadyrov will have to overcome his authoritarian instincts and share power with other Chechen clans who are envious and distrustful of his authority.
"Human rights and democracy don't exist for Kadyrov," said Sergei Markedonov, an expert on the Caucasus at the Institute for Political and Military Analysis in Moscow. "I call him a system separatist who wants to concentrate all power in his own hands while maintaining formal loyalty to Moscow. The danger is that Russian national power will be completely absent in Chechnya."
Despite Russia's constitutional secularism, Kadyrov has been burnishing his Islamic credentials in Chechnya, which is predominantly Muslim. He has advocated the introduction of some aspects of sharia , or Islamic law, including polygamy and bans on alcohol and gambling.