Friday, December 5, 2014

What the fallout of the recent combats in Grozny says about relationship between Putin and Kadyrov

The Russian media has provided more details about what exactly happened in Grozny.  The picture did not fundamentally change, but there are a few interesting details.  It turns out that the group of Wahabis were ethnic Chechens, at least for 4 out of 9, and that they managed to enter Grozny in several cars.  This is not much of a feat, since the checkpoints at the entry of the city have been removed for a long time already.  The terrorists then proceeded to drive downtown and around 2AM they stopped in the middle of the road, which was empty as it was night.  Some neighbors spotted them and used their cellphones to film them walking around their cars.  Then either they got stopped by a police patrol or they attacked it (I heard both versions).  They then fled to an empty building taking up to 20 IED with them.

They did not make any particular demands but one of them managed to upload a video into the social media saying that 1500 combatants had entered the city.  The seemed to have freaked out the local authorities enough to launch a city-wide anti-terrorist plan but since no further insurgents were found, it was soon canceled.  The building (a printing house, which was empty at night) was surrounded and a firefight ensued at which point the security forces opened up with machine, grenades and anti-tank weapons which set fire to the building but also damaged the nearby market which burned down.  The insurgents began taking casualties so they ran to a nearby school but they were intercepted and shot.

All in all, it appears to me that these insurgents acted with a fantastic lack of tactical skills which is very uncharacteristic of Chechen fighters who (whatever side they are on) are usually formidable combatants.  The guys who got shot appeared to have been very dangerous but clowns nonetheless, not sophisticated operators.  This is definitely good news.

Interestingly, Ramzan Kadyrov publicly apologized to Putin for these events on the day of his address to the Federal Assembly and promised that a special investigation force (composed of 50 detectives) will investigate and report on what happened.  He added that he did not want the Chechen authorities to be "red faced" before the Chechen and Russian people.  To which Putin replied that Kadyrov and his subordinates had nothing to be ashamed of and that they had handled the situation very professionally.

This is yet anther sign of the rebirth of an ancient tradition from the times of Imperial Russia: some groups (Chechens, Cossaks, etc.) are given special freedoms and a quasi-total liberty in how they arrange their daily lives with no intervention from the Center in exchange for a simple thing: they are personally responsible for the security of the Russian border and the clam and safety of the area they control.  Kadyrov message to Putin was simple: "sorry, we were responsible for the peace and security in Chechnia and we let that happen".  Putin's reply was "you did nothing wrong and you have my fullest political support".

This kind of relations are very hard to understand for westerners, but they are very typical and traditional in the mind and ethos of Russians and the peoples of the Caucasus.  For Kadyrov to be trusted with full liberty to administer Chechnia in any way he sees fit (and with full Russian economic and political support) is a great source of personal pride and as soon as he felt that anybody might question his performance he personally took responsibility and directly faced his commander who, upon seeing his personal courage and honor, praised him and publicly assured him of his full support and trust.

The key measure here is this: the Chechens handled the crisis on their own.  The (numerous) Russian forces in the area were never called to intervene.  If the Russians had been forced to send in their special forces to deal with this attack it would have been a major loss of face for not only Kadyrov, but all the Chechen people who pride themselves on their capability to deal with any threat by themselves.  That did not happen and even if the Chechens did suffer the loss of 10 of their officers, these men died in defense of not only their people's lives, but also their pride.  In the Caucasus, this matters *a lot* and they will be buried as heroes.

I suppose that for the "progressive" EUpeans this will smack of medieval-style clientelism.  Whatever.  This is how Russians and Chechens think and this is how they want to live.  I would not advise anybody to try to interfere.

The Saker