A recent report from the liberal opposition released on the anniversary of the murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov raises some serious questions about the political influence and future intentions of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
Opposition politician Ilya Yashin presents the report "A Threat to National Security" on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and the current situation in the republic. Photo: Sputnik
A year after the murder of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, a man suspected of somehow organizing that murder — Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov — is swiftly turning into one of the key political figures of contemporary Russia. Kadyrov’s opponents, mostly members of the liberal opposition, are trying to prevent it by any means possible, but it seems that increasing criticism toward Kadyrov are only strengthening his position.
A report about the head of the Chechen republic published last week by Nemtsov’s ally Ilya Yashin contains very controversial (but not proven) accusations that, in any Western country, would be enough not only to immediately dismiss Kadyrov, but also to start a criminal investigation with the most serious consequences. However, in the Russian reality, nothing of the kind is to be expected.
In his report, Yashin claims that his goal was to “open the eyes of Russian society to the fact that Ramzan Kadyrov, with the government’s and the special services’ allowance became a figure that presents a threat to Russia’s national security.”
In confirmation of these claims, Yashin details the probable involvement of the Chechen leader in organizing a series of political murders and establishing a regime of personal power in a subordinate republic. He also touches on the so-called Islamization of Chechnya, which, аccording to him, is happening despite the Russian constitution and is leading to the emergence of an analogue of the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) on Russian territory.
Yashin also writes about Kadyrov’s private army that comprises about 30,000 members. He also mentions the constant presence of the Chechen military units in Moscow, which, according to him, are out of control of the federal center. Most importantly, Yashin is very explicit about the full impunity of Kadyrov himself in face of the heavy charges pressed against him.
Indeed, Kadyrov’s confidence in his own impunity seems, at first glance, surprising. The head of Chechnya managed to get the text of the report about himself before it was officially published and posted the link to Instagram, followed by a derogatory comment that, “What’s written here contains nothing but blabber.”
In recent months, Kadyrov has constantly been in the media spotlight thanks to a series of demonstrative accusations and threats towards the liberal opposition. The culmination of all this was posting a picture of opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov in a sniper scope, with a mysterious and sinister signature — “Who doesn’t get it will get it”— in social networks.
In that context, Yashin’s report became something like a formal response to Kadyrov for his “trolling” of the liberals. However, the true meaning of that media confrontation among the political opponents is much deeper than a simple finger-pointing and labeling.
The sheer fact that in modern Russia a man with such baggage of accumulated compromising accusations as Kadyrov is not losing but rather growing his political heft says a lot about the state of Russian society and Russian politics.
It’s obvious that the main resource that lets Kadyrov feel confident in face of the most serious accusations is his absolute loyalty to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kadyrov calls himself “Putin’s foot soldier” ready to act on any order, any assignment of the president.
As Kadyrov's tenure is coming to an end on April 5, he shows his absolute and obssessive loyalty to Putin. Despite the fact that it’s pretty difficult to surprise someone with a demonstration of loyalty to the Russian president, and the entire political elite of the country is busy doing it 24/7, the Kadyrov case has a special value for Putin.
Unlike the man-made “protective” units created by the Kremlin’s political technologists, like the Anti-Maidan public movement, which is ready to defend the regime in case of a “color revolution,” Kadyrov and his fighters have a real power. And that power can be used both for threatening the liberals and for solving other problems, which require a skill and a will to shoot and kill. And the number of such tasks, especially in Russian foreign policy, has been growing like a snowball in recent years.
For example, Chechen fighters took part in the war in the Eastern Ukraine on the side of the separatists, and, according to Kadyrov’s recent confession, are involved in the Russian operation in Syria. At the same time they, unlike many kinds of Russian nationalists whom the Kremlin tries to bring together under its banners, do not express any doubts about Putin's foreign and domestic policy.
They don’t accuse the Russian president for being indecisive in Ukraine. They don't insist on the Kremlin sending tanks to Kiev. They don't question Russia's decision to sign the Syria ceasefire deal with the U.S. The soldiers of Kadyrov just follow orders as robots of war and, most importantly, don’t ask any inconvienient questions.
As for the buzz about the Chechens getting out of control of the federal center, about the murders of journalists or Nemtsov affecting the Kremlin's image, all this is nothing but layman's talks. After all, Putin hasn’t never expressed his dissatisfaction with Kadyrov, he hasn’t complained publicly on his excessive political enthusiasm.
In the times of the upcoming parliamentary elections, amidst the economic crisis and an unpredictable situation in foreign policy, Kadyrov is becoming a real magic wand for the Kremlin. The most effective way to discredit the liberal opposition in the eyes of the electorate is to show its leaders as weaklings and cowards who run and hide at the sheer sight of Putin’s foot soldier Kadyrov. Not a single pro-Kremlin power is suitable for that task better than Kadyrov’s troops.
But, as in many other cases, the key weakness of the new Kremlin strategy may be the wrong assessment of the balance of powers. This evaluation is based not on facts, but on myths created by Putin's own propaganda.
In foreign policy, the Kremlin directs all information resources to fight against the allegedly almighty and insidious U.S. In domestic policy, the authorities try to withstand the so-called liberal “fifth column,” which is seen by some officials as anti-Russian and “ruled from the West.”
The use of Kadyrov as head of a sort of “presidential guard” can surely bring about fears among the liberals. At the same time, it may give him the leverage of political influence that in the future might be used not against the liberals, but against the Kremlin itself and Putin.
And one shouldn’t rely on the “Islamophobia” and “Caucasusphobia” of the Russian population, that they would serve as safety against Kadyrov’s excessive empowerment and his getting out of control. As soon as the Russian elites feel that the center of power is shifting, they would swear loyalty to the new leader, and the propaganda machine would provide the necessary information cover for that process.
The Kremlin doesn't seem to take such a prospect very seriously. And yet the authorities would better to take into account Yashin’s report. It could be a warning sign that the political ascent of the Chechen leader might be a possible threat for Putin himself.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.