The Power Vertical, by RFE/RL’s Brian Whitmore, is syndicated with permission by The Interpreter.
Ramzan Kadyrov hasn’t gone rogue. Ramzan Kadyrov isn’t off message. Ramzan Kadyrov hasn’t jumped the shark.
No, the mercurial Chechen leader is playing his role to a tee.
After calling Vladimir Putin’s foes “enemies of the people,” and after the speaker of his rubber-stamp legislature called liberal media outlets like Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd TV “traitors” and a “fifth column,” Kadyrov upped the ante with an article in the pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia calling Russia’s opposition “jackals” and suggesting they be placed in a psychiatric hospital in Chechnya.
“I promise not to skimp on the injections,” Kadyrov wrote. “In cases where one injection is prescribed, we will double the dosage.”
Articles like this don’t appear in Izvestia by accident.
In many ways, Kadyrov is the Putin regime’s collective id. He manifests its basic instinct. Its intrinsic aggression. Its deepest, darkest desires.
And Kadyrov is often a harbinger.
And, if anybody doubts that, they should recall the massive rally Kadyrov held with 20,000 armed and uniformed volunteers in a football stadium in Grozny on December 28, 2014.
At that rally, Kadyrov pledged to defend Putin against all his opponents foreign and domestic.
In a chillingly prescient post on Facebook, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov speculated about what it might mean.
“I can’t understand what Putin is expecting when 20,000 of Kadyrov’s fighters gather in a stadium in Grozny. Kadyrov said his fighters are ready to defend the regime and execute any order from the Kremlin. I believe this,” Nemtsov wrote.
“So where will Kadyrov’s 20,000 fighters go? What will be required of them? How should we behave? When will they arrive in Moscow?”
And two months later, on February 27, 2015, we all know what happened: Nemtsov was gunned down in Moscow, just blocks from the Kremlin.
The key suspects, of course, were members of the Sever Battalion, a security force Kadyrov controls.
The fact that Kadyrov’s latest antics came with the one-year anniversary of Nemtsov’s assassination approaching, has been lost on nobody.
And to make things even creepier, some of the language Kadyrov used at the December 2014 rally and this week’s Izvestia article is disturbingly similar.
“And we say to the entire world that we are Vladimir Putin’s combat infantry.If we receive an order, we will actually prove that this is so,” Kadyrov said in Grozny then.
And in Izvestia this week, he wrote the following: “As a patriot, as Vladimir Putin’s foot soldier, I will never play around with murderers and traitors to my country.”
Kadyrov didn’t name names. But his ally, Chechen parliament speaker Magomed Daudov, did in a post on Instagram that appeared shortly before Kadyrov’s Izvestia article.
Daudov singled out Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee to Prevent Torture; Aleksei Veneditkov, editor-in-chief of the Ekho Moskvy radio station; human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov; and opposition activist Ilya Yashin.
And to drive his point home, Daudov posted a photo of a menacing dog straining against a leash.
“Who writes these posts? Why are they written? Is it the initiative of the Chechen leadership or an order from Moscow? What will happen next? Will anyone get killed?” opposition journalist Oleg Kashin — himself the victim of a violent attack in November 2010 — wrote in a recent column in Slon.
With oil prices tanking with no end in sight, the ruble approaching historic lows, and Russia’s recession deepening, the regime is clearly worried about civic unrest and threats to their rule.
And in an effort to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition, it appears they’ve unchained their id.
Kadyrov is determined to prove that he is the leader of Putin’s “Praetorian Guard or the Oprichnina, who will find and catch every enemy,” former television anchor Nikolai Svanidze, a member of the Kremlin’s Human Rights Council, told RBK.
And, for his part, Putin is pleased that Kadyrov intimidates the opposition and has “neither the desire nor the opportunity” to rein him in.
The only question now is: How far will Kadyrov go?