Ramzan Kadyrov has ruled the Russian republic of Chechnya with an iron fist for 9 years. Akshay Narayan explains why he needs to go.
Who is Ramzan Kadyrov?
Ramzan Kadyrov is to the Kremlin what enforcers are to cartels. He ensures that the word of Vladimir Putin is obeyed in the streets and villages of the Chechen Republic, and he does so in the harshest manner possible. Human rights groups, both in Russia and the West, accuse Kadyrov and his private army, the Kadyrovtsy, of extortion, abductions, torture and summary executions within Chechnya.
Kadyrov’s history is complex and unconventional for a head of a republic. In the early 1990s, as the Soviet Socialist Republics (SSRs) of the Soviet Union split, a separatist movement began in Chechnya, culminating in the First Chechen War of 1994-1996 between Chechen separatists and the Russian Federation under Boris Yeltsin. Ramzan Kadyrov and his father Akhmad Kadyrov formed the infamous Kadyrovtsy (the Kadyrovites), their clan militia, to fight against Russian forces. The first war ended in a victory for the rebels – Russian federal troops withdrew and Chechnya continued its de facto independence.
However, the Kadyrovs were not in power. Aslan Maskhadov, a senior separatist commander, was elected president. But three years later, some of his more radical field commanders formed a mujahideen group known as the Islamic International Brigade and invaded the neighbouring Republic of Dagestan. Thus began the Second Chechen War in the summer of 1999. Troops of the Russian Federation (under Vladimir Putin) re-entered Chechnya, and the Kadyrovs defected to the government side. Since then, Ramzan Kadyrov has led the Kadyrovtsy with help from the FSB, Russia’s state security service. In May 2000, Akhmad Kadyrov became the acting head of a pro-Moscow Chechen government. In 2003 he was officially elected, but was assassinated by Islamists in 2004. A few years later Ramzan rose to power and has held the reins since.
On the streets and in the villages of the republic, the Kadyrovtsy reign supreme. A German human rights group has alleged that 75 per cent of incidents of murder, torture, rape and kidnapping in Chechnya are carried out by the Kadyrovites. According to the International Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights, the Kadyrovites run multiple illegal detention centres in Chechnya. In Kadyrov’s home village of Tsentaroy, where the Kadyrovtsy HQ is, there are at least two detention centres: one made of concrete bunkers where kidnapped relatives of Chechen rebels are held, and another in the immediate vicinity of Kadyrov’s own house. Fields around the village are heavily mined and all roads have checkpoints set up on them. It is Kadyrov’s castle. Forced disappearances are rife, and the Kadyrovites act as death squads. After torturing people to death, they are given names of other innocents, who they then hunt down. They move at night, find their targets and take them to torture chambers where rapes and murders are frequent. They are the Gestapo, the KGB of the Chechen Republic.Kadyrov is a die-hard Putin loyalist, which means that he is implementing 21st century Russian repression. During the Soviet era, the Kremlin used to do its own dirty work. Moscow realises that it cannot afford to do the same now (in an attempt to preserve Russia’s reputation on the international stage), so it outsources all the violence to men like Kadyrov. After all, how else does Putin regularly win over 99 per cent of the vote in Chechnya? Vladimir Putin has made a deal with the devil. Kadyrov is free to kill, torture and kidnap as many of his own countrymen as he wants, as long as Russia does not have to face a resurgent, separatist Chechnya.
And Putin accepts it. Initially, it was about fear. Without Kadyrov, Moscow feared the current low-level insurgency would erupt again and Chechnya could return to the chaos of the late ‘90s. But now, it is about much more. Kadyrov is punching far above his weight with regards to his position. His rhetoric is vulgar, violent and vicious. On 31st January, he posted an Instagram video depicting Russian opposition politicians Mikhail Kasyanov and Vladimir Kara-Murza in a sniper’s crosshairs. He has called opponents of Putin “enemies of the people” and a “half-witted rabble,” and suggested that they should be placed in a Chechen psychiatric hospital, where he said he would double their injections.
But Kadyrov’s threats extend far beyond what he says. He has ordered the killings of numerous critics, both at home and abroad. The human rights activist Natalya Estemirova was abducted and murdered in 2009 while she was investigating human rights abuses in Chechnya. Umar Israilov, a former Kadyrov bodyguard, had detailed human rights abuses to the New York Times and was assassinated in Vienna in 2009. The journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya, who was vehemently opposed to the Chechen conflict and was critical of Putin, was shot dead in her apartment in Moscow in 2006. Some allege that Kadyrov was behind her murder. More recently, the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was shot and killed in Moscow. One of the suspects, Zaur Dadaev, was a Kadyrovite. There is no doubt whatsoever that all of these murders can be traced back to Ramzan Kadyrov.
Vladimir Putin needs to be careful. Kadyrov’s power is getting to his head. The reason he defected to the Russian side was because of the power it gave him. Now he’s hungry for more. Kadyrov poses a threat to the future stability of Russia – his growing political ambitions are not going to help the country. He will not pull Russia out of the quagmire; instead, he will push it back in. If Putin does not quickly reel in his protegé or remove him from office, the futures of both Chechnya and Russia will be grim.