Russia: A Chechen Assassination

7 MINS READSep 25, 2008 | 19:49 GMT
Ruslan Yamadayev, one of the heads of Chechnya's powerful Yamadayev clan, was shot dead in central Moscow late Sept. 24 on his way to a meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. Yamadayev's clan is the only remaining group in Chechnya that stands opposed to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. His death could spark another clan war in the restive southern Russian republic.
One of the heads of the powerful Chechen Yamadayev clan, Ruslan Yamadayev, was gunned down in central Moscow late Sept. 24. His death diminishes the only opposition group left standing against Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. Sources told STRATFOR that Yamadayev was on his way to meet with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev — to speak yet again about the dangers of Kadyrov ruling Chechnya — when he was gunned down (almost certainly on Kadyrov's orders). The Russian Prosecutor General's office and Interior Ministry said an unidentified attacker walked up to Yamadayev's Mercedes S500 as it was stopped at a red light near Russia's White House in Moscow and shot into the car 10 times. His passenger, former Chechen military commander Sergei Kizyun, was critically injured. The car in which Yamadayev was shot actually belonged to his brother, Sulim, who is leading the charge back in Chechnya against the republic's president — though whether Sulim or Rulan was actually the target, it most likely made little difference to the attacker. Another Yamadayev brother, Isa, has already publicly stated that his family had known of a plot by Kadyrov to have either Sulim or Ruslan — or both — assassinated soon.

The Chechen Clans

The Yamadayev clan was made up of five brothers — Ruslan, Sulim, Isa, Dzhabrail and Badrudi — who supported Chechnya's independence from Russia in the 1990s, leading groups of ruthless guerilla fighters against equally ruthless Russian troops. Unlike the Chechen leaders like Shamil Basayev, who had a more Islamist ideology, the Yamadayev clan fought more for Chechen nationalism. The Yamadayev brothers also were one of two clans (the other being Kadyrov's) that did not employ terrorist tactics inside Russia, like the Beslan hostage crisis, as part of their war. This is not to say the Yamadayevs and Kadyrovs did not fight fiercely during the war, but they fought for a different cause. They wanted an independent, non-Islamist Chechnya, while Basayev sought to establish a regional "Islamic" state including Dagestan, Ingushetia and others. The Kremlin took advantage of the large difference between the pro-nationalist clans, such as the Kadyrovs and Yamadayevs, and those fighting under an Islamist banner. Such a plan was masterminded by then Russian President Vladimir Putin's right hand man, Vladislav Surkov — who is half Chechen. Under the plan, the Russians flipped the Yamadayev and Kadyrov clans starting in 1999 during the outbreak of the Second Chechen War and pitted them against the Islamists — such as Basayev and others, including Aslan Maskhadov, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev and Dzhokhar Dudayev — using Chechen guerilla warfare against themselves, instead of continuing to use Russian soldiers against such an entrenched resistance. Following the conclusion of the Second Chechen War, the Yamadayev brothers were awarded the Hero of Russia titles, while the Kadyrovs were given the republic's leadership. The Yamadayev brothers were placed in strategic roles in order to counterbalance the Kadyrovs' power and allow Moscow to manipulate the situation in Chechnya very easily. Kadyrov's father, Akhmed, became Chechen president in 2003 but was assassinated in 2004, leaving Kadyrov to take the role. As for the Yamadayevs, Dzhabrail and Sulim were put in charge of the elite special forces (the Vostok and Zapad batallions) in the republic made up of Russian and Chechen soldiers — though Dzhabrail was assassinated in 2003. Ruslan became part of the Russian Duma, actively lobbying against what he called Kadyrov's totalitarian power in Chechnya. To put things mildly, the two different pro-Kremlin factions became more than bitter rivals over the past few years, and have systematically eliminated each other's leaders and members, many times in very public shows.

Recent Events

Though Kadyrov has the upper hand in ruling Chechnya, the Yamadayevs have remained the only opposition group that could challenge his control. Ruslan even moved the Chechen resistance from Grozny to Moscow, lobbying the Duma and specific government officials to see how dangerous it is to have just one person in charge of the volatile Chechnya. In the past year, though, Kadyrov has been methodically whittling away at the Yamadayev brothers' forces inside Chechnya, consolidating nearly all the security, military and special forces under his control. The only forces not under the president's were the Vostok and Zapad battalions, amounting to approximately 4,000 troops, under the Yamadayevs; Kadyrov's forces are thought to range closer to 30,000-40,000. In late June, the president had Sulim's batallions officially disbanded, calling for those troops to fall under his newly organized security forces. Furthermore, when the Russian-Georgian war broke out, the president assumed it was his time to shine and offered his forces to fight in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia. However, Putin thought that formally deploying the Chechens could have a negative (in Russia's eyes) connotation since these Chechen forces have a reputation for brutality. Instead, Putin had Sulim informally deploy his "disbanded" battalions to the conflict to give the Kremlin plausible deniability regarding Chechens fighting in Georgia. The Yamadayev clan was praised back in Chechnya for its "bravery" during the war — a personal sting for Kadyrov.

The Fallout

The Kremlin's preferential treatment of the Yamadayevs, added to questions about Kadyrov's leadership back in Chechnya, has led to the death of yet another clan member. In the short term, it is assured that Sulim will lash out against Kadyrov and his forces back in Chechnya. Though Sulim does not have his own forces formally, the former battalions are still loyal to the Yamadayevs and have proven over the past two decades to be highly resourceful and resilient. Of course, Kadryov has the upper hand in this matter by sheer number of forces under him. He could clamp down on Sulim and the battalions — though it would be a messy affair either way. But the effects this assassination will have back in Moscow are of greater concern. Ruslan was on his way to meet with Medvedev for a reason, and the president is part of that faction in the capital that is concerned about having one man as the sole power in Chechnya. On the other hand, Surkov and Putin feel confident that they have control over Kadryov and see this assassination as just the typical outflow from anything having to do with Chechnya — especially a clan war from the explosive republic. In Surkov and Putin's view, the important thing in the short term is to have Chechnya stable and prevent another situation like the wars from breaking out — especially after the Georgian war and a recent increase in tensions in other Caucasus regions, such as Ingushetia. Both understand that Kadyrov could pose a problem in the future with such a large and powerful set of forces under him; furthermore, the last leader who single-handedly ruled Chechnya was Dudayev, whose reign was one of the reasons for the First Chechen War. So while Medvedev will push for an immediate reaction to the assassination and Kadyrov's autocratic rule, this is a battle that Putin will want to try to contain within the republic for as long as possible, knowing a battle is on its way but wanting to put that off for another day.

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