December 21, 2009 / 5:30 PM / 10 years ago

West using rebels to destroy Russia: Chechen chief

GUDERMES, Russia (Reuters) - Russia needs a military strategy to resist the United States and other Western powers which are stoking disorder in the North Caucasus to destroy Russia, the president of Chechnya told Reuters in an interview.

Ramzan Kadyrov, a 33-year-old former rebel turned Kremlin loyalist, said last year’s attack by U.S. ally Georgia on the pro-Russian rebel region of South Ossetia was part of a Western plot to seize the whole Caucasus region.

“If they get control of the Caucasus, you could say they’ll get control of virtually all of Russia, because the Caucasus is our backbone,” Kadyrov said.

The conversation was conducted at his exotic private offices near the town of Gudermes outside the Chechen capital, Grozny. The complex features a zoo, a racecourse for his horses, two large golden lions guarding the entrance and an artificial mountain lit up in different colors at night.

“The Russian government needs to work out a strategy, it needs to attack,” the Chechen president said.

“...Georgia, South Ossetia, Ukraine, all this will go on and on. It’s Russia’s private affliction. Why should we always suffer if we can eradicate this for good? We are a great power, we have everything — an army, technology. We need to attack.”

Kadyrov’s father Ahmad was a rebel mufti who switched sides in 1999 with his son at the outbreak of Moscow’s second war in Chechnya. Ahmad became president in 2003 but was killed in a bomb attack the following year.

Ramzan succeeded him in 2007, crushing a rebel insurgency, rebuilding the shattered republic and imposing Islamic rule.

Kadyrov took pains in the interview to counter accusations by human rights groups that he had been involved in the murders of activists, journalists and opponents in Russia and overseas.

Dressed in a dark blue Ralph Lauren velvet-finish shirt, his hair and beard carefully groomed, Kadyrov smiled frequently but became animated when asked why many of his opponents at home and abroad had met violent deaths.

Human rights groups have linked him to the murders of campaigning journalist Anna Politkovskaya, activist Natalya Estemirova, opposition Chechen exiles in Austria and Turkey and rival Chechen clan chiefs shot dead in Moscow and Dubai.

Kadyrov, who was guarded by armed, black-clad militiamen wearing balaclavas embossed with his initials, said he had personally helped many of the murder victims and their families and was not their enemy.

“I don’t want to kill,” he said. “Who did I fight? I fought terrorists. Who did I protect? I protected the whole of Russia so that people in Moscow or St Petersburg ... could live in peace. ... They accuse me of killing women and children. It’s not true.”

Kadyrov dismissed a claim on an Islamist website that fugitive Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov was behind a bomb attack on November 27 which derailed a Moscow-St Petersburg train, killing 26 people. Umarov, he said, lived in a cave in the mountains and had no idea what was going on.

“Today there are very few (rebels) left,” he said. “This year we destroyed a great many terrorists in (the neighboring Russian republics of) Ingushetia, Dagestan and Chechnya.”

Asked how many remained, Kadyrov replied: “If I knew how many and where, I would have destroyed them a long time ago.”

Kadyrov said the remaining rebels were kept going by Western money and guns.

“The West is financing them,” he said. “I officially declare this: those who destroyed the Soviet Union, those who want to destroy the Russian Federation, they stand behind them.”

U.S. President Barack Obama has offered to “reset” relations with Russia after a tense period during the presidency of George W. Bush, and Kadyrov said it would be good for Washington if the United States followed more friendly policies toward Russia.

“And if not,” he added, “we have a very strong politician of global stature, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. There is no one like him on the world stage.”

Kadyrov made several references to Putin, Russia’s prime minister and its most powerful politician, during the one-hour interview conducted last week but did not mention Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

At pains to appear modest and show his loyalty to the Kremlin, Kadyrov shrugged off suggestions he might extend his responsibilities to cover the entire North Caucasus, as some Russian media reports have suggested, or run for a second term in Chechnya when his presidency ends in 2011.

Kadyrov said being president was a difficult job and he would prefer to dedicate more time to his seven children and the study of Islam. His official residence features a huge private mosque visible from the marble staircase of the main building.

“To get to heaven, you have to work very hard,” he said. “I want to go to heaven so I will try to pray more.”

Additional reporting by Olga Petrova, editing by Andrew Dobbie

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