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Gref Says Chechnya Will Be Easy to Fix

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref acknowledged that Moscow has turned a blind eye to the desperate need to rebuild Chechnya and said that the situation there could be easily fixed.

Echoing President Vladimir Putin, who secretly flew to Grozny for a whirlwind visit Tuesday, Gref expressed shock upon seeing the state of destruction in the Chechen capital during a visit Saturday.

He said the number of projects funded by Moscow must be cut in favor of key infrastructure projects -- which would help attract outside investment and allow small businesses to open and farms to prosper.

Although Moscow has poured more than $1 billion into Chechnya since the end of the first war in 1996, ongoing military operations coupled with widespread regional corruption have brought little change to Chechnya and its capital, which has been a frequent target for federal artillery fire and carpet-bombing raids. Gref, however, seemed unabashed. "This is a very interesting task and one that can be solved easily," he said.

The visits by Gref and Putin came after the Kremlin-backed Chechen president, Akhmad Kadyrov, was killed May 9 in a bomb blast in Grozny.

Kadyrov, a former rebel who embraced Moscow after the start of the second military campaign, in 1999, was the man who the Kremlin hoped would make the Chechnya problem go away, analysts say.

His assassination has created a power vacuum that promises to be hard for the Kremlin to fill, given that he had sidelined all of his potential rivals while manning his retinue on the basis of loyalty rather than professional qualities and political experience.

During his nearly four years in power, Kadyrov muscled out rather than engage all of the seasoned administrators who had the potential to emerge as future rivals, appointing officials for their loyalty rather than their professional and political experience.

Of his loyalists, his younger son and former security chief Ramzan Kadyrov initially emerged as a leading presidential candidate. But despite signs of Kremlin support, such as a personal meeting with Putin and a promotion to the post of first deputy Chechen prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov has so far rejected the possibility that he may run.

The Chechen constitution sets the minimum age for president at 30, while Kadyrov is 27. An early election has been called for Sept. 5. Some senior Chechen officials have suggested amending or overriding the constitution to accommodate the younger Kadyrov.

Central Elections Commission chief Alexander Veshnyakov sharply criticized such talk over the weekend, saying there is no legal way to alter the Chechen constitution in the current situation.

With Ramzan Kadyrov apparently off the list, the Kremlin will have to cast around for another candidate. Among the names being floated as possible contenders are Putin adviser and career police officer Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Moscow-based businessmen Malik Saidullayev and Khusein Dzhabrailov, and former Russian parliament Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov.

The Kremlin may take a close look at Said Peshkhoyev, a deputy presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, Kommersant reported last week. Peshkhoyev, a career Federal Security Service officer who headed the Chechen police in 2001 and 2002, would probably have little difficulty working with the law enforcement agencies in Chechnya, Kommersant said.

Career jumps from deputy presidential envoy are not unheard of, especially in the Southern Federal District. Murad Zyazikov, another FSB officer, went from being deputy presidential envoy to the president of Ingushetia in April 2002.

(The Moscow Times 17.v.04)

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