Akhmad Kadyrov

Russian-backed President of Chechnya

Akhmad Kadyrov, politician and cleric: born Karaganda, Kazakhstan 23 August 1951; President of Chechnya 2003-04; married (two sons); died Grozny, Chechnya 9 May 2004.

Having survived several assassination attempts in recent years, Akhmad Kadyrov, Chechnya's Moscow-backed head of state, was killed on Sunday in a bomb blast in the central stadium of Grozny, the Chechen capital, while attending a Victory Day concert to mark the anniversary of the Red Army's defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

Kadyrov was elected President of Chechnya last October, although the legitimacy of the ballot was widely challenged by independent monitors. Over the previous 10 years he had became one of the central protagonists in the complex and often Machiavellian Chechen-Russian politics.

Infamously, in 1996, he called for Chechens to commence a holy war against Russia, but four years later underwent a complete volte-face, realigning his support with Moscow. The Kremlin claimed he was the only man who could secure stability within Chechnya. But many Chechens came to despise him, viewing him simply as a Putin stooge.

A cleric by vocation, Kadyrov rose up through the ranks of the religious hierarchy in Chechnya under the patronage of General Dzhokhar Dudayev, the military leader who spearheaded the resistance against Moscow in the first Chechen war of 1994-96.

Kadyrov's upbringing was shaped by hardship. As a result of Stalin's mass deportation of the Chechens from the North Caucasus in 1944, Kadyrov was born into exile in Central Asia, in the Kazakh city of Karaganda.

As a young man he studied agriculture and engineering. But as the reforming spirit of glasnost and perestroika swept the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev, Kadyrov was able to pursue his interest in religion, studying first in the madressas, or religious schools, of Uzbekistan and later in the Middle East. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, he returned to live in Chechnya, where he helped to establish an institute for Islamic instruction.

In 1995, Dudayev appointed Kadyrov Chechnya's supreme mufti, the republic's most important Muslim religious leader. A year later he issued his call for jihad and even played an active part in the hostilities, leading a division of separatist militia against Russian forces.

Kadyrov's U-turn coincided broadly with the election of Vladimir Putin as Russian president in 1999. When Putin renewed military activities in Chechnya later that year, he actively courted the cleric, viewing him as a potential ally within who could help to destabilise the Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov. Maskhadov had been elected two years earlier and had maintained a popular base of support.

As the rift between fundamentalists and more moderate Muslims widened, and the influence of belligerent clan warlords increased, Kadyrov shifted his support to Moscow and was instantly removed from his position as supreme mufti. Putin was further aided by a festering personal enmity between Kadyrov and Maskhadov, born in part out of their diverging political positions and partly out of clan-based rivalries.

In 2000, Moscow helped Kadyrov to establish an "interim administration" in the Russian-secured city of Gudermes, which became the rival capital to the Maskhadov stronghold of Grozny. Over the next three years he built up a well-armed militia and a strong power base in opposition to Maskhadov, and while he spoke out occasionally against the excesses and human-rights abuses perpetrated by the Russian military, many Chechens increasingly regarded him as nothing more than a Russian puppet.

In October 2003, Kadyrov received a reported 82 per cent of the vote in the Chechen presidential elections. Putin held up the ballot as a sign that democracy had prevailed in Chechnya, but independent observers suggested it was rigged. Putin nevertheless claimed the result as proof of triumph over Maskhadov.

No sooner had he been elected than Kadyrov began to put the squeeze on Maskhadov and his other political opponents. He was assisted by his son Ramzan, who was placed in charge of his personal security force. More unpopular than his father, Ramzan came to be associated with corruption and brutality.

Some reports in Moscow suggested that Kadyrov had instructed Ramzan's security forces to step up attempts to capture Maskhadov before President Putin's inauguration for a second term, which took place two days before the assassination. However, Ramzan has claimed, on the contrary, that shortly before his death, his father had sought a truce with his rival, but that this had been deliberately undermined by the Russians.

Dan Brennan

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