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Published: Sunday, 5/16/2004

Kremlin stands firm, awaits next Chechen violence

Russians were celebrating the anniversary of their victory over Nazi Germany last week.

But this celebration was marred for the third year in a row by a terrorist act blamed on Chechen separatists, which this time killed seven people including Chechnya's pro-Kremlin President Akhmad Kadyrov. An explosive device blew up at a stadium where he had just delivered a speech.

This abominable terrorist act will only escalate violence. Reprehensible though it is, it undermines the Kremlin's failing effort to make the ongoing war between separatist clans and Russian troops backed by the late president's militia look like peace assailed by international terrorists.

The latter, Chechnya's former top Islamic cleric and warlord, was installed by the Kremlin during a rigged election in the warring province last year.

Moreover, the Kremlin gave him a free hand to rule the war-devastated breakaway province in exchange for his loyalty. He had since been using his multi-thousand militia to fight off the separatists and terrorize the civilians who loathed him for wanton kidnappings and murders attributed to him.

Many are now wondering if the assassination will soften the Kremlin and make it more inclined to negotiate peace with Gen. Aslan Maskhadov. He is the commander in chief of Chechen armed forces who negotiated peace with Russia after winning the first Chechen war of 1994-1996 and was elected Chechen president. After Russian troops took control over much of the province in 2000, they launched an intensive manhunt for the general, blaming him for terrorist attacks that killed hundreds of civilians and for Chechen raids of adjacent Russian territories in 1999.

But the Kremlin does not recognize Gen. Maskhadov's authority and traditionally refuses to negotiate with him, claiming he supports terrorism and does not control the bulk of the separatists anyway.

As soon as the news about Kadyrov's assassination was released, his son, Ramzan Kadyrov, who was in charge of Kadyrov's militia, was made vice premier to Sergei Abramov, the head of Chechnya government now serving as acting president.

The Kremlin would be happy to have Mr. Abramov installed as president, but the problem is that he is an ethnic Russian and thus has no chance of passing as a legitimately elected president there.

The "next best thing" in the mind of the Kremlin would be to have Ramzan Kadyrov as his father's successor. But there is another problem - Kadyrov junior is 27 years old and won't qualify for the position until he is 30, according to the Chechen constitution.

The constitution can be changed, of course. Just how far the Kremlin can go in falsifying a democratic process in Chechnya (which it's been trying to colonize for 200 years) is everyone's guess. Too far, if you ask me.

The only certainty is that the assassination will unleash another spiral of violence.

The Kremlin has pledged retribution. The younger Kadyrov and his militia are also certain to retaliate, in the tradition of blood feud. The terrorists will inevitably strike again to head off retaliation.

Unfortunately, the Kremlin is not going to cut and run from Chechnya, not after President Vladimir Putin promised the Russians a successful war and then declared "mission accomplished" as he handed the separatist province over to his puppet.

The tragedy is that thousands of Chechen and Russian civilians are sure to be caught in the crossfire and pay with their lives for the tough-guy attitude of their leaders.

Contact Mike Sigov at:

sigov@theblade.com

or (419) 724-6050.



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