Economist: New Chechen Prez a Symbol of What’s to Come

This week’s Economist is running a story arguing that Vladimir Putin’s appointment of former warlord Ramzan Kadyrov as president of Chechnya is representative of the coming political zachistka (purge) which shall characterize the upcoming elections. They write, “Under Mr Kadyrov in Chechnya, as under Mr Putin in all Russia, economic improvements have come at a cost of corruption, opacity and lawlessness.” Excerpts:

Chechnya’s fate and Mr Putin’s have long been intertwined. He rose to power on the back of the Chechen war launched in 1999. Mr Kadyrov’s elevation (to be rubber-stamped by the Chechen parliament) is designed to ensure Chechnya’s stability in the nervous run-up to Mr Putin’s putative departure from office in 2008. It formalises the de facto power that, with his feared militia, Mr Kadyrov has long wielded anyway. But it also reflects, as Chechnya tends to, the wider political situation in Russia. It is part of what Vladimir Ryzhkov, an independent member of the lower house of parliament, the Duma, describes as a political zachistka (purge): a word mainly used to describe bloody Russian raids on Chechen villages. The raids on Russia’s constitution are incremental but no less insidious. The 5% threshold to win seats in the Duma, already set high enough to keep out all the liberal parties at the 2003 election, will be raised to 7% for the parliamentary poll later this year. Parties are barred from forming coalitions to get over it. Candidates may come only from party lists; in the previous system half were directly elected by district (that enabled Mr Ryzhkov, for example, to survive). Candidates can be debarred for “extremism”; that includes slandering a public official. Minimum turnout rules have also been scrapped, as has the option of voting “against all”. So boycotts and protest votes can no longer be used to register dissent. … There are other obstacles for the outsiders. After the example made of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon now facing fresh criminal charges from his Siberian prison, businessmen are disinclined to fund Mr Putin’s critics. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s grip on the media ensures such voices are rarely heard. … But television—from which most Russians get their news—is another story, as even Kremlin officials admit. Political news is dominated by flattering coverage of Mr Putin’s day. All the main channels are in effect controlled by the Kremlin. The general trend, says Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, is to safe, non-political subjects. … That is another way in which Chechnya reflects, in extreme form, the general situation. Under Mr Kadyrov in Chechnya, as under Mr Putin in all Russia, economic improvements have come at a cost of corruption, opacity and lawlessness. Both regimes rest on highly personalised rule that looks secure but may yet prove unstable.