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Grozny's Maverick Mayor Resigns


Gantamirov's rivals heave a collective sigh of relief as the Chechen leader abandons his Grozny stronghold

By Erik Batuev in Moscow (CRS No. 83, 21-May-01)

Grozny mayor Bislan Gantamirov has announced his resignation, just days after local civilian leaders unanimously condemned his hardline policies in the Chechen capital.

The Kremlin-appointed mayor refused to give a reason for his decision during an interview on Chechen TV last Thursday.

However, the move will no doubt be welcomed by Akhmad Kadyrov's civilian government which has been in constant conflict with Gantamirov since it was established last summer.

Bislan Gantamirov was serving a five-year prison sentence for embezzling government funds when the second Chechen war broke out in September 1999.

He was promptly pardoned by President Boris Yeltsin and given command of the pro-Russian Chechen militia - a force of around 2,500 men.

Gantamirov soon locked horns with the then interior minister, Vladimir Rushailo, who refused to supply Chechen troops with APCs, mortars or sniper's rifles, limiting their combat arsenal to "obsolete AK-47s which jammed after a few shots".

However, the Chechen militia went on to play a pivotal role in the siege of Grozny, suffering more than 700 casualties during the fighting.

Several militiamen were put forward for Hero of Russia medals, but none of the citations were confirmed by the Russian high command.

In the wake of the Grozny siege, Rushailo publicly accused Gantamirov of accepting "any volunteers into the ranks of the Chechen militia including rebel fighters". He then dismissed dozens of Gantamirov supporters from the unit, claiming their attitude was "irresponsible and unprofessional".

In recent months, Major-General Sergei Arenin, head of the interior ministry forces in Chechnya, has continued to sideline the Chechen militiamen, ignoring their requests for communications equipment and uniforms.

Last summer, Gantamirov was named deputy head of the pro-Russian civilian administration in Chechnya, under Akhmad Kadyrov, the former Chechen mufti.

Just days after his appointment, he entered into bitter conflict with Kadyrov, and, on one occasion, threatened an armed uprising against the administration's Gudermes headquarters.

Since being elected mayor of Grozny - a position he held before the war -- Gantamirov has been unequivocal in his criticism of the Russian interior ministry

Earlier this year, he blew the whistle on government directives aimed at "reducing the risk of terrorist activities on Russian territory".

According to Gantamirov, the interior ministry had been given carte blanche to "make life difficult for Chechens living in Russia" by implementing a range of tough new measures. These included refusing to register ethnic Chechens in Russian cities, refusing to grant them foreign passports and freezing the accounts of companies with Chechen partners.

In particular, he said, police officers were encouraged to "detain anyone of Chechen nationality, take them to the nearest police station and hold them there until they have explained their business".

Last month, the Grozny mayor accused federal troops stationed in Khanty-Mantaisk of torturing and murdering dozens of local civilians, before concealing their bodies in a mass grave. Then, on May 1, he told NTV reporters that a division of interior ministry troops had gone on the rampage in Grozny market, killing three people and arresting 34.

Days later, the maverick mayor announced on Ekho Moskvy radio station that he had ordered his troops to shoot on sight any suspected rebels found in the Chechen capital.

This, apparently, was the final straw. Gantamirov was summoned to Kadyrov's headquarters where he was threatened with dismissal. Meanwhile, Vladimir Kalamanov, the Presidential Commissioner on Human Rights, announced that he would be launching a criminal investigation into Gantamirov's activities.

It was after this confrontation that the Chechen leader announced his resignation, appealing to Grozny residents not to stage any protest rallies on his behalf and to accept the rulings of the civilian administration.

Erik Batuev is an expert on post-Soviet conflicts

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