A major topic of Russian social media in recent days has been the high-profile attack by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on the liberal opposition of Russia; a denunciation of Kadyrov by a politician in Krasnoyarsk Territory; and then his very public apology and Kadyrov’s gloating over it.
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A major topic of Russian social media in recent days has been the high-profile attack by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on the liberal opposition of Russia; a denunciation of Kadyrov by Konstantin Senchenko, a politician in Krasnoyarsk; and then his very public apology and Kadyrov’s gloating over it.
On January 12, a statement from Kadyrov appeared on the Chechen government portal widely perceived as a major threat against liberal critics of President Vladimir Putin and his entourage.
Kadyrov usually makes his pronouncements informally on Instagram but this one appeared to have more weight as it was placed on the government site and then picked up by Interfax and other federal media (translation by The Interpreter):
“People about whom no one has ever anything bend over backwards to obtain glory for opposing themselves to the President of Russia Vladimir Putin. The representatives of the so-called non-system opposition try to make a profit on the difficult economic situation. Such people should be treated both as enemies of the people as well as traitors. Nothing is sacred for them.”
This says that these people are not concerned about the fate of Russia and the Russian people. They are playing a game conceived by Western intelligence services, dancing to their tune and unconscionably trying to pass themselves off as people concerned for the future of our country.
Although it it obvious they are absolutely
uninterested in the flourishing and strong Russia. I believe these people should be tried with all severity for their seditious activity.”
Asked why Chechnya has drawn so much attention from the liberal media, Kadyrov responded:
“Today our successes, the development of our region, the prosperity of the population doesn’t suit them. I have often spoken that entire institutions all over the world were activated to break up Russia through the Chechen Republic. It is to the great merit of our people that we proved to them that they can’t do anything. It’s hard for them to reconcile to this, recognize it and accept their defeat.”
Nemtsov’s family and friends repeatedly asked that Kadyrov and his top aides be interrogated in the case, as Adam Delimkhanov and Suleiman Geremeyev, two powerful Chechen senators related to him and the suspects were said to be the masterminds.
The opposition has repeatedly speculated that in a purported war by the central Moscow Federal Security Service (FSB) and Kadyrov and his army, the FSB was losing. Liberals had overwhelmingly chosen the FSB in an infamous poll published by blogger Oleg Kashin asking who they would prefer, the FSB or Kadyrov — if they had to chose.
Translation: What I wrote about already: all through 2015, there was bargaining between Kadyrov and the FSB, Kadyrov prevailed and defended Geremeyev, who is now in the gravy.
Ilya Yashin of the Parnas party, Nemtsov’s close associate responded, Gazeta.ru reported.
“Each statement by Kadyrov related to the commentary of domestic politics in Russia is raising the stakes and is a radicalization of the political discussion inside the country.”
He said Kadyrov was likely to resort to such rhetoric as the 2016 parliamentary elections grew closer.
Translation: Here the more we humiliate ourselves and are cowardly, the more brazen Kadyrov becomes.
As indignation about Kadyrov’s characterization of the opposition grew, a hashtag campaign appeared on Twitter which translated from Russian into English as #KadyrovShameofRussia which by today had became a trending topic on Moscow’s Twitter.
Others added also #PutinShameofRussia and used a meme showing Putin’s silhouette inside Kadyrov’s superimposed over an image of the Kremlin towers.
Translation: The flashmob “Kadyrov is the shame of Russia” has begun on social networks.
The hashtag seems to have got its start from the statement by a Krasnoyarsk politician that Kadyrov was “the shame of Russia.”
Konstantin Senchenko, deputy of the Krasnoyarsk City Council often critical of the local government on environmental issues, said he had taken Kadyrov’s words personally since he was involved in politics yet “was not a member of any system party.”
By “system,” Russians means parties that have legal status and whose candidates have crossed the 5% threshold to become members of parliament from their party lists, as distinct from single-mandate regions.
Senchenko fastened on an aspect of the Kadyrov circus that particularly galls intellectuals in Russia — his title “academician” which was somehow granted to him by the Chechen branch of the Academy of Sciences although he had no academic works or even a college degree.
Senchenko wrote on his Facebook page (translation by The Interpreter):
“Yesterday, the Academician, Hero of Russia, head of a Region Ramzan Kadyrov called me an “enemy of Russia” and called for turning me over to a court. He cited me exactly, since I am involved in politics but am not in a single system party. Of course I am not alone, there are many like me, but when I read the statement yesterday I immediately applied it to myself.
So I want to say to this Academician and Hero.
– Ramzan, you are the shame of Russia. You have discredited everything that is possible. You have discredited the title of Academician, since you have three grades of education, carrying a title that the greatest minds of Russia have carried. You have put yourself in the same rank as Lomonosov, Medeleyev, Landau and many other great people. I have 3 higher degrees of education, and I achieved these diplomas with great work and I am ashamed that we have such Academicians.
You have discredited the title of Hero of Russia. I remember the times when we were in Krasnoyarsk collected help for those boys who went to fight in Chechnya. You were running through the hills and killing our guys then. They are now laying in the ground and you’re a hero of Russia.
You have discredited the title of head of a region, when you began to take part of the money from budget workers and transfer this cash to a private fund. Chechnya lives 90% at the expense of subsidies from Moscow, and Moscow takes this money from us Siberians. And we don’t regret when this money goes to the salaries of teachers and doctors. But when you take this cash from budget workers and build yourself palaces, that is already beyond the border of good and evil. So get gone, academician and hero, and not interfere with normal, honest working people who are building their beloved Russia.”
Gazeta.ru ran this statement with cuts specifically regarding the “academician” issue, perhaps for reasons of space but perhaps to avoid a libel lawsuit:
“Ramzan, you are the shame of Russia. You have discredited everything that is possible. […] You have discredited the title of Hero of Russia. […] You have discredited the post of head of the region where you have begun to take part of their salaries and transfer this cash to a private fund. Chechnya lives 90% at the expense of subsidies from Moscow, and Moscow takes these funds from us, Siberians.”
What followed was an explosion of media and social media commentary, much of it supportive of Senchenko, which he reposted.
But then possibly under pressure, Senchenko made a public apology last night, Ekho Moskvy, Slon.ru and other media reported:
“I bring apologies to the head of the Chechen Republic for those offenses, for those impolite words which I said. I want to say that these words were said in a certain emotional outburst related to the fact that the national situation is very tense and complicated. And when you try to do something and hear in reply that you are some enemy, such things happen.”
Independent media and bloggers were at first skeptical that the apology had even been made, but Senchenko confirmed it himself on his Facebook. He then reposted without comment a deluge of commentary in support of him, and implying that his statement came under pressure.
Kadyrov reposted a video clip of Senchenko again making the apology, in which Senchenko said,
“Ramzan Akhmatovich, I bring my apologies, I was wrong, I beg your forgiveness. I acted in haste, in anger, and I ask for deep forgiveness.”
He said he spoke with representatives of the Chechen people and learned how much authority Kadyrov had among them.
“I accept,” Kadyrov said, adding multiple smilies.
There was widespread dismay over Senchenko’s apology and much sardonic comment about pressure put on him.
Translation: your face, after you have had a talk with “representatives of the Chechen people.”
But in an explanation later on his Facebook page, he pointed out that he had never given any interview to LifeNews — which was an important debunking of this propaganda outlet which often publishes fake news.
He said he had a conversation “with a very famous person not only in Krasnoyarsk but in Russia” whom he did not want to name but who was evidently a Chechen. He said he agreed to disagree with this figure but conceded that their discourse should be more polite and that he should apologize for insulting people’s feelings of respect for Kadyrov as they seemed sincere.
The incident is likely to have continued reverberations and serve as a touchstone in the debates around the parliamentary elections. While Kremlin officials have implied they will tolerate opposition participation in the elections, the harsh deterrence of alternative candidates in local elections last fall, heavy sentences for demonstrators and bloggers, the failure to bring to account the real masterminds of Nemtsov’s murder and now this demonstrative threat from a figure known for his violence, dissent will likely be muffled.
Memorial Human Rights Center released a report this week that arrests and disappearances within the Chechen Republic have escalated in recent months.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick