In a huge blow to President Vladimir Putin's policy in Chechnya, pro-Moscow Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov was killed on May 9 in a large explosion that occurred in Grozny's Dinamo stadium during a Victory Day parade. The blast took place at around 10:35 a.m. Moscow time in an area of the stadium where Kadyrov, who had been the target of earlier assassination attempts, was sitting with other officials.
Reports on the number killed have been contradictory. Initial reports put the death toll at more than thirty, but Russian news agencies later said that only six or seven people had been killed, with more than sixty people wounded. On May 10, however, the Associated Press, citing officials at Grozny Hospital, reported that 24 people died in the blast.
Along with Kadyrov, among those killed were Khusein Isaev, chairman of Chechnya's State Council, Adlan Khasanov, a photographer and cameraman for the Reuters news agency, two of Kadyrov's bodyguards and a child (RIA Novosti, May 9). According to unconfirmed reports, Chechnya's finance minister, Eli Isaev, also died in the blast (Gazeta, May 9). Colonel General Valery Baranov, commander of the Joint Group of Forces in the North Caucasus, was seriously injured in the explosion. President Putin's envoy to the Southern Federal District, Vladimir Yakovlev, said Baranov was in "grave condition" following an operation to amputate one of his legs. Chechnya's interior minister, Alum Alkhanov, and military commandant, Grigory Fomenko, were also reportedly injured in the blast (Russian agencies, May 9).
Chechnya's chief prosecutor, Vladimir Kravchenko, said the explosion was caused by a bomb made from a 152-mm artillery shell that was placed under the stands at Dinamo stadium. The bomb was not discovered, he said, because the shell "was inside ferroconcrete structures" and thus had been missed by both metal detectors and sniffer dogs (Itar-Tass, May 9). Other Russian and Western news agencies reported that the explosive device was placed underneath the VIP podium during a three-month renovation of the stadium that was completed on May 8.
According to Kravchenko, another unexploded artillery shell was found following the blast, along with a third device, which he described as a plastic bottle with plastic explosives and a timer set to detonate a half hour after the first explosion (Itar-Tass, May 9). Rossia state television reported that security personnel had swept the stadium for bombs on the evening of May 8 and the morning of the parade. The channel, like others, broadcast footage shot at the time of the blast (Rossia, May 9).
Chechen Interior Ministry spokesman Ruslan Atsaev said that five people suspected of involvement in the blast had been detained (Interfax, May 9). No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing. The Grani.ru website, however, noted that last month, when Shamil Basaev claimed responsibility for the failed suicide car bomb attempt on the life of Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov, the rebel field commander expressed hope his forces would "throw Kadyrov's head at [rebel leader Aslan] Maskhadov's feet" this year (Grani.ru, May 9; see also KavkazCenter.com, April 12).
On May 10, the pro-rebel KavkazCenter website quoted Kadyrov as telling World War II veterans during a May 7 speech: "Maskhadov thinks that by killing me he'll complete his mission. But nothing will change. My place will be filled by someone else, but this time [someone] not of the indigenous nationality." Whatever the case, Kadyrov's assassination is ironic given that his son, Ramzan, who heads the Chechen presidential security service, had been claiming just days earlier that Maskhadov was wounded and surrounded and would soon be captured or killed (see EDM, May 4).
PUTIN EULOGIZES KADYROV AS "A REAL HEROIC MAN"
In his initial response to Akhmad Kadyrov's assassination, President Vladimir Putin told a meeting of war veterans in Moscow that "retribution" would be "inescapable" for "the terrorists" with whom "we are waging the struggle today" (RIA Novosti, May 9). Later on May 9, Putin met in the Kremlin with the slain Chechen president's son, Ramzan. With the younger Kadyrov at his side and television cameras running, Putin eulogized Akhmad Kadyrov as "a real heroic man" who, over four years, had "worthily and courageously carried out his duty to his people." Kadyrov, Putin said, had shown "that there is not and cannot be any equating of bandits and terrorists on the one hand and the whole of the people on the other," and had "shielded Chechnya and the Chechen people, and confidently led his republic to a peaceful life." Kadyrov "died on May 9, on the day of our national holiday, Victory Day, and he died undefeated," Putin concluded (Channel One, May 9).
In accordance with the republic's new constitution, Putin named Sergei Abramov, the Kremlin-appointed prime minister of Chechnya, as acting president. He will serve until new presidential elections are held sometime before September (Russian agencies, May 9).
Kadyrov's murder elicited commentary from politicians from across Russia's political spectrum. Duma Veteran's Affairs Committee Chairman Nikolai Kovalev, a former Federal Security Service director, said that given the kind of security measures that should have been taken and the fact that the bomb was located right below the podium where Kadyrov sat, there must have been "traitors" in the Chechen president's inner circle who either were negligent or aided the assassins (Ekho Moskvy, May 9). Irina Khakamada, head of the Free Russia movement, told the radio station that Kadyrov was "an illegitimate president" and that it was inevitable that giving power "to one group or one clan opposing another" would "escalate…terrorist attacks or political conflicts" (Ekho Moskvy, May 9). Another leading liberal, deputy Yabloko party chairman Sergei Mitrokhin, said that Kadyrov might have been killed by a "competing clan" rather than by followers of rebel field commander Shamil Basaev. "The terrorist attack in Grozny confirms that the situation in Chechnya is far from stable; a war of all against all continues there," Mitrokhin said (Rosbalt, May 9).
Aleksei Mitrofanov, deputy head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia's Duma faction, called for abolishing the institution of the presidency in Chechnya because it has failed to create "a balance of forces" there. But Federation Council member Ramazan Abdulatipov said Chechya's presidency should be retained, arguing that Kadyrov had begun a genuinely effective counter-terrorism campaign. Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Duma's Motherland faction, called for direct Kremlin control over Chechnya, with all of the power in republic placed in the hands of a special presidential representative (Rosbalt, May 9).