Staunton, VA, October 4, 2016 – The report by Novaya gazeta that Ramzan Kadyrov barely escaped an assassination attempt some months ago is attracting a great deal of attention, but the paper’s argument as to why it has concluded after a length study that the Chechen leader’s time in office has “really passed” is far more important.
In a 6,000-word article, Elena Milashina argues that “Kadyrov is constrained in ways no other Russian politician is. No one else faces such challenges or has such enemies.” As a result, “his time has really passed” with Moscow now recognizing that “there must be a new contract” between the center and Grozny to “keep Chechnya in Russia’s legal space.”
That contract, which involved Kadyrov’s complete loyalty to Putin in exchange for Putin agreeing to delegate to him extraordinary authority so that the Chechen leader, working with Moscow, would carry out two first-order tasks: combatting the Chechen underround and restoring the republic from the ravages of war.
But given the decline in the amount of violence in the North Caucasus, Kadyrov’s approach, which largely has ignored Moscow’s call for reintegrating those who were opposed to the restoration of Russian rule there, is increasingly unacceptable, not only because it keeps the pot boiling in Chechnya but risks reigniting violence elsewhere.
Moreover, Moscow faces a situation in which Kadyrov may entail more costs than benefits, draining enormous amounts of money from the Russian treasury at least nominally to rebuild Chechnya but acting with such independence and untouchability that he has offended many of the most powerful institutions in the Russian capital.
According to Milashina, “the necessity of revising the old contract which has exhausted itself given that the terrorist underground is practically destroyed and the cities and villages of Chechnya at least partially rebuilt has begun to be recognized in Moscow. That was clearly shown when Kadyrov got in trouble with the Kremlin after the Nemtsov murder.
Not only did Putin make the point that Kadyrov and any Chechen leader had to ensure that all Russian laws were enforced everywhere in that republic, something Kadyrov had failed to do, but the Chechen head himself even said in public that it appeared to him that his time “had passed.”
“The legal immunity which the center ten years ago gave to its Chechen vassal has turned out to be a delayed-action bomb because from legal immunity to sovereignty is a single step. And we observe all signs that this step has already been made,” Milashina continues.
Indeed, she says, there is now an anecdote that suggests that “under the pretext of the struggle with separatism in Chechnya has been established an absolutist regime pretending to both civil and religious (spiritual) power,” a development completely at odds with what Putin has tried to do elsewhere.
In this situation, Milashina observes, “for Kadyrov, critics of his regime have become more dangerous than terrorists because unlike terrorists, they appeal to the Constitution of the Russian Federation,” and because that is so, he continues to repress society even though most of the underground has been defeated.
In recent times, Kadyrov has taken the interests of Moscow into consideration only “as long as they correspond with his own.” And that is creating a situation in which Chechens, “nominally citizens of Russia have no defense.” Not surprisingly, many of them fear and also hate Kadyrov and some clearly blame Moscow for allowing this situation to develop.
Some of them are going abroad, others are going into the underground, and still others are trying to navigate their way through the minefield Kadyrov has created. But what is striking, Milashina says, is that “for the first time in all this decade, [Chechens] have begun to complain not only in instagrms of officials but also to the courts,” which increasingly side with them.
Perhaps the most important part of Milashina’s article is not her reportage on a recent attempt on Kadyrov’s life – the issues involved are too murky and the number of people, including Kadryrov himself, with reasons for organizing such an attack is large – but rather her discussion of how Kadyrov rose to power and why his path is so infuriating to many Chechens.
“Historically,” she notes, there was never one-man rule in Chechnya.” Instead, public life was organized by a consensus among the major taips. But Kadyrov has ignored that, elevated his taip over all others and himself over that taip. Not surprisingly in Chechen society, he has many opponents and even enemies.
Kadyrov’s rise, which was facilitated by Moscow, sprung from the conflict that had split Chechen society since the end of Soviet times. That conflict pitted the field commanders, known collectively as the Jamaat, who supported the Islamization and Arabization of Chechnya and saw Moscow rather than other Chechens as the enemy, against “the tariqat,” the followers of Sufi Islam, traditional in Chechnya, and who viewed Chechens as including enemies as well.
Kadyrov’s father, Akhmat Kadyrov, was “the spiritual leader of the Tariqatists,” Milashina says. He “sanctioned the murder of Jamaat figures who were taken prisoner and first proclaimed the principle of collective responsibility on the part of their relatives.” And he was prepared to use violence to defend traditional Chechen values against foreign ones.
Because he felt that way, Akhmat Kadyrov found in Moscow a natural ally given that officials in the Russian capital also believed that the only hope for peace in the North Caucasus was to rely on traditional Islam and to oppose all efforts by Muslim missionaries from the Middle East to import any other kind.
“But at the same time,” the Novaya gazeta journalist observes, the traditional fundamentalism of Kadyrov senior served as insurance against the establishment of one-man rule in Chechnya. Such a power arrangement for him and for all Chechen politicians of his generation was hardly traditional.”
Moscow did not turn to Ramzan Kadyrov immediately after Akhmat was killed in 2004, but eventually it felt it had no other choice given that Kadyrov had few relatives and his closest allies were people that the Russian security services viewed as bandits with whom they could not make common cause.
When Kadyrov junior was chosen, he immediately promoted “a cult of personality” about his father in order to lay the groundwork for “a cult of personality” around himself. Indeed, Milashina says, “one can compare the posthumous fate of Akhmat Kadyrov with the role of the dead Lenin in the establishment of Stalin’s cult of personality.”
And like Stalin, Ramzan established “a new public order” in Chechnya “which his father would hardly have been likely to approve.” And the last two years, Milashina concludes, Kadyrov junior has only made things worse by getting rid of his old allies and appointing family members alone to key jobs.
“Chechens have never recognized a dictatorial style of rule,” the journalist says, but that is exactly what Kadyrov junion has put in place. “How long this will last is not something Kadyrov will decide. But it will be precisely he who will pay a high price” for what he has done. And Milashina clearly believes he will pay that price soon.