A PROFILE OF CHECHEN STRONGMAN ADAM DELIMKHANOV
At half-time during a recent Russian Football Premier League tie between Terek Grozny and CSKA Moscow, the game’s referee was confronted by an especially zealous Terek fan who upbraided the official on the calibre of his first half performance, allegedly threatening him with unspecified repercussions unless his second half performance proved more agreeable. According to Novaya Gazeta, the “fan” in question was none other than Adam Delimkhanov, Chechnya’s representative to the Russian State Duma and a close associate of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow President, Ramzan Kadyrov. This unseemly confrontation in the bowels of Grozny’s main sports stadium belies, or perhaps explains, the undoubted influence Delimkhanov exercises within Chechnya’s pro-Moscow political theatre.
BACKGROUND: Adam Delimkhanov was born in 1969 in the settlement of Benoi in Chechnya’s Nozhai-Yurtsky district. Little is known of Delimkhanov’s formative experiences but his official website states that, like the majority of his male contemporaries, he served a tour of duty in the Red army while in his early twenties. Although he left the army in 1989, quite how Delimkhanov occupied himself until March 1990, when he briefly gained employment as a metal worker in Argun, is unknown and is one of many curiosities arsing from his rather incomplete, official curriculum vitae. His next job was as an employee of a supply company also in Argun. Delimkhanov left this job sometime in 1991 and probably entered university soon thereafter. Certainly, his official biography, which claims he graduated from Chechen State University in 1994, would seem to corroborate this reported transition from paid employment to studentship. However, so suspect are the academic credentials claimed by many in Chechnya’s current pro-Moscow leadership that we cannot be absolutely certain if Delimkhanov actually attended this university.
Incidentally, Delimkhanov also claims to be a graduate of the Makhachkala Institute of Finance and Law in Dagestan. Another biographical curiosity emerges with respect to Delimkhanov’s activity, or possibly lack thereof, during the first Russo-Chechen war. His official biography makes no reference to how he occupied himself during this period; but reliable information identifying him as a driver of the eccentric rebel field commander Salman Raduyev, during the inter-war period of the late 1990s, suggests that during the first war, politically speaking, he was one of three things: an active rebel, a rebel sympathiser or on the fence.
Regardless, when the Russians reinvaded in 1999 Delimkhanov pledged himself to Akhmad-Hajji Kadyrov, and by extension, to the Kremlin. In 2000 he began working in the newly established Interior Ministry (MVD) where he would eventually become director of the Department for Analysis and Planning, a body responsible for ensuring the security of government facilities. In September 2003 Delimkhanov was appointed head of another MVD sub-group, the so-called “oil” regiment, responsible for protecting the republic’s oil and gas infrastructure from sabotage. In July 2006, Delimkhanov was appointed as a deputy prime minister in Chechnya’s pro-Moscow government with responsibility for overseeing the security ministries. The following April, shortly after his cousin and political ally, Ramzan Kadyrov, was elevated to the Chechen presidency, Delimkhanov was named first deputy prime minister in a government reshuffle. Delimkhanov has since spearheaded a number of Kadyrov’s pet political projects; the popular campaign to allow Chechen convicts to serve their sentences in their native republic, for example. In December 2007 Delimkhanov, a member of the leading United Russia party, became a deputy in Russia’s State Duma.
IMPLICATIONS: The above information suggests Delimkhanov as a skilled apparatchik who has carved out a comfortable niche for himself in Chechnya’s pro-Moscow regime. Indeed this is so, but Delimkhanov is no mere bureaucrat. It might be suggested that he, and the structures he commands, represent the sword and shield of the Kadyrov regime. Delimkhanov has been entrusted with orchestrating a number of counter-insurgency operations deemed crucial by the pro-Moscow authorities. For example, in 2005 members of the oil regiment, then commanded by Delimkhanov, abducted several members of rebel leader Doku Umarov’s immediate family, evidently in an attempt to put extreme psychological pressure on him to surrender.
Umarov’s relatives are not the only people to have suffered at the hands of this regiment. In a 2006 human rights report the oil regiment was specifically cited as a formation responsible for the abduction of civilians, with one of its detention facilities reported to be located opposite Delimkhanov’s personal residence in the village of Dzhalka, close to Gudermes. Delimkhanov has also been tasked with silencing certain of Kadyrov’s rivals in Chechnya’s pro-Moscow camp. In November 2006, with the confrontation between Kadyrov and Chechnya’s then-president, Alu Alkhanov, at fever pitch, Delimkhanov led a group of policemen to Moscow in order to apprehend Movladi Baisarov, a vocal critic of Kadyrov. In the event, Baisarov was shot “while resisting arrest”. According to numerous reports, Delimkhanov himself personally dispatched Baisarov.
This incident was evidently designed to demonstrate, in a most brutal fashion, the potential consequences of opposing Kadyrov. But the abduction of innocent Chechens and the tawdry elimination of a relatively trivial anti-Kadyrov malcontent do not adequately reflect the extent of Delimkhanov’s current political influence. He may no longer officially command the oil regiment and its estimated 2,000 souls, but he is on intimate terms with his replacement—his brother, Sharip. Another brother, Alimbek, commands the 700-strong “Sever” battalion, also under the MVD umbrella, while a third brother, Sulkho, has previously been touted as a possible replacement for one of Delimkhanov’s rivals, Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov. When analysts discuss potential challengers to Kadyrov’s rule from within Chechnya’s loyalist ranks, attention usually focuses on either Said-Magomed Kakiev, commander of the GRU-affiliated “Zapad” battalion, or on the influential Yamadayev family which only last month experienced a serious falling out with the Chechen leader. It is, of course, proper to identify these elements as Kadyrov’s rivals—both are known to hold their president in contempt and have considerable military resources at their disposal. It should be noted, however, that even were Kakiev and the Yamadayevs to pool their resources they still would not be able to field as many men under arms as Delimkhanov could as leader—albeit ex officio—of the oil regiment and the Sever battalion. With these resources at his disposal, some might find it curious that Delimkhanov himself is never mentioned as a potential threat to Kadyrov’s leadership.
CONCLUSIONS: To this point, however, Delimkhanov has demonstrated himself to be unerringly loyal to Kadyrov. He has already proven himself willing to do Kadyrov’s bidding; be it eliminating one of the president’s rivals on a busy Moscow thoroughfare or hectoring an unsuspecting soccer referee, no task is too daunting, or too menial, for Delimkhanov. According to some reports, Kadyrov has designated Delimkhanov as his chosen successor in the event of his death. To all appearances, Ramzan is not suffering from the sort of existential angst that might occasion such a gesture of fatalistic magnanimity, but he obviously does hold Delimkhanov in high esteem. Should the time come to replace Kadyrov, however, this benediction might actually militate against Delimkhanov’s candidacy. Kadyrov’s truculence has annoyed many in Moscow, and certain decision-makers, in a hypothetical, post-Kadyrov scenario, might shy away from choosing Delimkhanov, perhaps apprehensive lest he turn out to be as wilful as his notoriously impertinent benefactor. All speculation aside, in the present moment, Delimkhanov is certainly a figure of considerable import in Chechnya’s political scene.
AUTHOR’S BIO: Kevin Daniel Leahy holds a postgraduate degree in international relations from Ireland's University College Cork.