THE STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF ALU ALKHANOV, CHECHNYA'S NEW PRESIDENT

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MOSCOW, October 5. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Romanov)

Today, Alu Alkhanov will be officially inaugurated as president of Chechnya. The elections to this post were held early, following the May 9 assassination of his predecessor, Akhmad Kadyrov. Every important facility in Grozny is currently under tight security and the location of the ceremony is a closely guarded secret. These circumstances illustrate that the situation in the republic remains complicated, while Mr Alkhanov's convincing election victory with 73.68% of the votes does not guarantee him success. This is a case when the man in power cannot be envied, as the new president will have to walk a minefield both literally and figuratively. The former Chechen interior minister is well aware of this, but is nevertheless ready to get down to work.

Mr Alkhanov has little in common with his predecessor, who had a controversial reputation as an influential tribal leader, who during the first Chechen campaign opposed the federal centre, but then clearly took Moscow's side. For many Chechens, Kadyrov was a religious authority and took a tough line to prevent the emergence of wahhabism in the republic. The Kremlin bet on him and was largely correct to do so. Under Kadyrov, many Chechens who, like their president, had once fought federal troops voluntarily assumed much of the burden in fighting the separatists.

The Kremlin supported Kadyrov, but he was not popular either among Russians, many Chechens or in the West. This can easily be explained. The Kremlin's attitude was pragmatic: Kadyrov was of great use at a certain stage of the Chechen conflict resolution, while emotions clouded the judgement of many other people. They could not forget that he had previously fought on the other side, while some Chechens who did not belong to Kadyrov's clan jealously watched his people take the official posts in the republic. The West was irritated by this extremely tough, far from democratic,home-grown politician.

The new president is different. He has other weaknesses and potentially quite different strengths. First of all, he does not have Kadyrov's authority, which in Chechnya is a weakness. Kadyrov's word carried weight in Chechnya. Mr Alkhanov's word does not mean much so far. This is probably why he, along with other more prominent Russian statesmen, preferred not to appear on the political stage during the tragic developments in Beslan. His political experience is limited to his term as a competent interior minister in the republic. However, authority can be earned and much depends on Mr Alkhanov himself.

Indeed, he can do much more than Kadyrov. Even during the election campaign, Mr Alkhanov dared to set himself a task discreetly avoided by all the other candidates: to unite Chechnya, which has been torn apart by tribal and clan disagreements. He was the first to talk not only about current needs, such as fighting crime and restoring the economy, but about fundamental changes to traditions dating back centuries, which are the main problem holding back Chechnya's development. Mr Akhanov, provided he has enough strength, acumen and luck, could become the first leader of Chechnya in its entirety, rather than just a clan, able to take at least the first step to free Chechnya from the grip of the past. If he does that, all the other problems will be solved in time.

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