“A Showdown in Moscow’s Power Elite”
Foreign Policy, March 16, 2015
“The news that Russia’s most powerful law enforcement agencies have decided to target people linked to one of Russia’s most powerful politicians has been dominating the talk in Moscow lately. Last week officials announced that they had arrested five suspects in the killing of Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was gunned down right outside the walls of the Kremlin on Feb. 27. Among those detained is Zaur Dadayev, who served in an elite security force that answers to Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic. The others were friends or relatives of Dadayev. The arrests have prompted a flurry of speculation about a rift within Russia’s power elite. On one side is Kadyrov, a brutal autocrat who has kept tight control over his fractious republic with the blessing of President Vladimir Putin. On the other is a coterie of top-ranking Moscow security officials who, it’s said, have long resented Kadyrov’s inroads into areas they consider their own preserve. Still, until recently the police and the FSB (the Federal Security Service, the successor agency of the Soviet-era KGB) had shown a notable lack of interest in calling Kadyrov’s loyalists to order. Now, at a stroke, all that has changed. After the news of his men’s arrest broke, Kadyrov waited almost a day before issuing a reaction; it’s likely that he spent the time working the phones to all of his contacts in the Moscow power elite. He then published a post to his Instagram account in which he explicitly defended the main suspect, calling Dadayev a ‘patriot of Russia.’ … Kadyrov’s declaration of support for the lead suspect was a clear signal to his opponents: Putin’s man in Chechnya is not happy that his men have been humiliated in Moscow. … Putin’s power depends to a large extent on his good relations with the security services, since they are responsible for carrying out many of his most important policies as well as ensuring his personal security. On the other he is also dependent on the support of Kadyrov, who has kept a lid on the restive North Caucasus.”
Quickie analysis: It must be awkward when two of your main lieutenants come to blows.