Russian dissident Ilya Yashin presented a report to the Atlantic Council in the United States about Chechen firebrand Ramzan Kadyrov on March 24.
“People are afraid to talk about Kadyrov”, he said in his opening remarks. “Chechnya under Kadyrov is becoming a quasi-independent, quasi-Islamic state growing away from Russia.”
The tiny region in the Caucasus has come a long way since the two wars in the 1990s turned Groznyy into a living hell twice over. The city now glitters like Las Vegas, but behind the new buildings life is still difficult. Kadyrov is awash in wealth and Chechnya is constricted by rampant corruption, most obviously manifested in the Akhmat Kadyrov Foundation, which is a public fund that Chechens are required to pay into as a legalized system of tribute to Kadyrov. The Chechen firebrand is famous for his huge wealth, which he does not hesitate to flaunt with expensive cars and watches and even paying out sums of money to boxing legend Mike Tyson and soccer legend Maradona for appearances with him
Kadyrov rules Chechnya with an iron fist and frequently threatens members of the Russian opposition with assassination, and he is widely believed to be behind the assassination of Boris Nemtsov.
Kadyrov is also a thorn in the Kremlin’s side despite Putin’s relationship with him. Nobody seems to know what will happen going forward, but prospects are bleak. Kadyrov is a dictator, but if he was to be ousted suddenly, enormous risk could turn into violence and even war. President Putin has at times tried to keep a tighter leash on Kadyrov’s outspokenness, but Yashin summed up the rut frankly “Unless Russian society speaks up, I don’t think Kadyrov leaves.”
Some claim Kadyrov’s loyalists assassinated Boris Nemtsov on his orders in order to appease President Putin. The Kremlin claims that that is erroneous because “Putin was the last person interested in Nemtsov”. Indeed, Nemtsov’s time in the spotlight had dimmed considerably leading up to his assassination, but he was a major catalyst and the “backbone” of the opposition, Yashin described. And while Putin’s direct involvement in the assassination is disputed even among the opposition, the Kremlin deserves to be given some indirect responsibility because they let Kadyrov become who he is today.
The Caucasus is a powder keg, Yashin explained, and if Putin removed Kadyrov from power, “it would explode”. “Putin feeds the monster rather than fighting it, but sooner or later the monster could get out of his cage.” A third Chechen way is unlikely since “very few Chechens want to fight Russia again”.
Kadyrov is active in intimidation of the Russian opposition outside Chechnya as well. Journalists, human rights activists, and NGOs are frequently targeted by Kadyrov’s goons and Kadyrov himself frequently posts open threats on social media with opposition figures’ heads in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle scope. Yashin himself was asked to cease using facebook by the Kadyrovtsi.
Regardless of the hardship, Yashin vowed to continue his fight. “This is our duty regardless of danger. If we want to transform this country, we need to hit the weakest link in the chain, and that is Kadyrov.”
Kadyrov is an ambitious man and notoriously distrustful of western values, and he uses the Chechen diaspora to his advantage, and he presents a grim challenge to Russian national security as well as international security.
When asked about Kadyrov’s inclusion into the Magnitsky Act, Yashin claimed it was less important because he’s on multiple sanctions lists already. Instead Yashin called for an international investigation into Nemtsov’s murder, and he did not spare cold words for the Chechen leader himself. “Even if the opposition elects a president, I don’t believe in negotiation with Kadyrov. He is a murderer.”
Kadyrov is a liability for Putin as well as for Russia. Yashin claims that “Kadyrov shows that Putin the Emperor has no clothes”. Indeed, Kadyrov has been compared to an extreme version of Putin, without the covertness of repression and international image.
If an international investigation into the murder of Boris Nemtsov does conclude that Kadyrov had a hand, he could be a subject of discontent, but it’s going to take serious change for things to turn against him. He is not an adequate leader for Chechnya and if Russia is to improve its domestic security, there needs to be a change in the Kremlin’s attitude towards him.