It’s been many weeks since Ramzan Kadyrov, acting president of the Chechen Republic, has been in the news. In March, President Vladimir Putin received him at the Kremlin but ordered him to obey Russian laws after scandals involving his threats to attack police from neighboring republics in hot pursuit of terrorists and his orders to torch the homes of the relatives of terrorists.
Kadyrov didn’t reform, but he became more subdued and pursued a quiet strategy both to bolster his position at home and gain the support of Moscow and regional officials.
Now late tonight after months of quietly rallying his own troops and cultivating regional and lower-level Kremlin officials, he has obtained an audience with President Vladimir Putin himself, which by his account has gone positively. There is every expectation that he will be “elected” once again as leader of Chechnya in the September 18 elections.
Months and months of scandals have revolved around Kadyrov, mainly related to his constant verbal attacks on liberal Russian opposition and journalists, his veiled threats of harm, and suspicions that he is also behind physical attacks on Russian and foreign journalists not to mention the disappearances, arrests and torture that still continue in Chechnya.
Opposition activist Ilya Yashin compiled a report of all the allegations of corruption and human rights violations related to Kadyrov and the alarming growth of his armed forces, technically under federal control.
With less than a month remaining until the September elections, when regional governors will also be elected, Kadyrov does not appear to be campaigning.
When President Vladimir Putin reappointed Kadyrov to acting leader of Chechnya until the elections, most of the drama was over:
For months, Kadyrov has been quiet across the board — perhaps too quiet.
Usually he denounces the latest terrorist attacks in Russia and condemns the perpetrators as a disgrace to Islam if they are Muslim. But despite two terrorist attacks in Moscow and St. Petersburg, recently, Kadyrov hasn’t made any comment. Perhaps he only wishes to/has been told to only comment on attacks related to his own republic?
When it came to a Russian-language video released by ISIS on August 1, Kadyrov was utterly dismissive:
We have destroyed in Chechnya the highly-trained bandits armed to the teeth from 51 countries. Officers of the best intelligence services of the world have died without glory. The rest ran away, flashing their heels! There is every basis for surmising that the ‘statement’ prepared in the offices of the Western intelligence services is in fact a part of the information and ideologial war which is brazenly being waged against Russia No one will come to Russia! The threats, no matter who is behind them, are nothing other than empty babbling. The Russian Armed Forces have forced the terrorists to put their tails between their legs in Syria. Their days are numbered!
We are totally capable of destroying the Ibliss State [ISIS] in their own lair. Detachments of voilunteers even on their own may give them the right to choose: lay down their arms or be among those buried in Syrian soil! If someone takes it into their head to move toward Russia, we will disrupt his path at the very remote approaches to our country! And once again I say, we will come to those who even in their dreams have gotten the idea to express a threat against the leadership and people of Russia!
In the summer months, people in Russia take long vacations of a month or more as Europeans do, so that might account for Kadyrov’s invisibility lately in the Moscow news.
But in fact Ramzan has been busy at home, inspecting his troops while wearing camouflage, celebrating the birthdays of his DEAR BROTHERS — he usually refers to them in all caps — who sometimes are actual relatives in his extended family, sometimes not, spending time with his own children and organizing a midnight visit to his mother on the occasion of her birthday.
Disturbingly, nearly all the children Kadyrov shows on Instagram are wearing military camouflage, too, and even early elementary school children are put through army exercises.
Even during an evening dinner to break the Ramadan fast, the children are shown in camouflage.
When his family visited his mother at midnight on the occasion of her birthday, the boys were dressed in camouflage.
In a picture where he poses with his whole family, his sons are again in camouflage.
As for the girls, Kadyrov notes that upon reaching the age of 12, his daughter “made the decision” to wear the hijab “supported by” her mother Medni and elder sisters.
Kadyrov’s message is clear for those at home and in Moscow: the next generation of Chechen men will be as militant as past generations, and women will be as subdued.
The Chechen strongman could easily turn out a million Chechens in Grozny to root for him in the elections.
But he hasn’t done that — yet — and right now he’s doing what’s arguably more important than public displays of the people’s loyalty: praising all his Moscow connections, starting with Putin and Sergei Shoigu, minister of defense, receiving visits from high Kremlin officials — and today after months of preparation, getting the prize of time with Putin himself.
Sergei Ivanov, the former head of the presidential administration who was removed by President Vladimir Putin from office earlier this month, is someone Kadyrov often features as their relationship goes back some years — but more because of his influential position, not because they are close.
Not long before Ivanov was dismissed, Kadyrov ran a photo of Ivanov, when he was Russia’s defense minister, and himself. He thought up a reason to congratulate him, although it was somewhat obscure and ambiguous — it was the 25th anniversary of the formation of the presidential administration, originated by Boris Yeltsin.
But if Ivanov is gone from the Kremlin pantheon, he’s gone, and Kadyrov will have to make do with others.
Today, August 25, Kadyrov traveled to Moscow to meet with arguably his most important and accessible DEAR BROTHER now that Ivanov is gone and the Kremlin’s “grey cardinal” Vyacheslav Surkov seems to have been assigned to Ukraine, Vyacheslav Volodin, first deputy head of the presidential administration.
“He devoted serious attention to our issues. As always, I received wise counsel on the tasks I had made known. I am very grateful to Vycheslav Viktorovich for the fact that he loves specificity, grasps the depth of a problem and finds the true paths and methods of resolving them. Vyacheslav Viktorovich knows the political, economic and social processes in Chechnya and is happy with them.”
Volodin doesn’t look very happy in the picture, but then it didn’t matter, because Kadyrov had the most important meeting of his summer: President Vladimir Putin himself received him in his office late this evening.
“He was interested in the socio-economic situation in Chechnya, the development of sports, the kick-boxing tournament that passed. I reported that we had good tempos in the economy. Industrial production rose 11.6% in the first half of this year. Agricultural growth was 7.4%.”
Kadyrov went on to give other statistics difficult to check and said he had created 5,000 new jobs and fulfilled Putin’s May 2012 decrees. He said he had various requests to the president which he didn’t publicize, but likely they are related to some of his long-time dreams like expansion of the airport in Grozny.
As RBC reported, at least one issue he raised was revealed by the Kremlin itself, although Kadyrov himself didn’t mention it on his Instagram page: getting people moved out of emergency housing into stable homes.
Kadyrov said Putin also asked him how judo was developing in Chechnya, and he was able to report that the Chechen team won some medals. A form of judo called sambo has been dear to Putin’s heart since his youth.
Kadyrov asked Putin to come to Chechnya to see the sports programs first hand.
“The president of the Russian Federation said he would be glad to come!” said Kadyrov with surprise.
And indeed it would be surprising if the head of the Russian state visited this still-dangerous republic, subdued at great cost by the Russian army; Putin has not visited since 2009.
Kadyrov thanked Putin for his “constant attention to the republic and help and support in resolving the most difficult, severe and relevant issues” and said he was also grateful “for his constant attention to the problems of Islam in the country and the world”.
Prior to his meetings with Volodin and Putin, earlier this week Kadyrov had a visit in Grozny generally not covered in the Russian press from Vice Premier Igor Shuvalov.
Shuvalov is usually in the news for allegations of corruption against him from opposition leader Alexey Navalny, most notably for his expensive private airplane and the use of this airplane to ferry around his corgis.
Shuvalov is responsible for economic affairs; Chechnya receives the ruble equivalent of at least $370 million in direct subsidies from the federal center, more than occupied Crimea.
The vice premier was in Grozny to chair a meeting of federal and regional officials to discuss housing loans and subsidized construction of apartment high-rises in the Chechen Republic.
Kadyrov greeted Shuvalov on the tarmac and took great delight in showing him around a newly-built mosque and other attractions in the capital; Shuvalov’s famous corgis were nowhere in sight, perhaps out of respect for the Muslim dislike of dogs.
But while Shuvalov’s visit got top billing, Kadyrov’s Instagram feed shows he doesn’t just curry favor with Moscow leaders, he makes sure to cultivate all the regional officials installed to keep an eye on him and his volatile republic as well as the leaders of neighboring republics with whom he is at times at odds.
Last week he turned out Oleg Belaventsev, presidential representative to the North Caucasus Federal District and Lev Kuznetsov, Russian Minister for North Caucasus Affairs, to a celebration of what would have been the 65th birthday of Akhmat-Hadji Kadyrov, his father, assassinated in May 2004. Kadyrov also organized a World Islamic Conference for the occasion and met with a delegation of Egyptian clergy headed by the Grand Mufti of Egypt Dr. Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam.
He met with Yury Kokov, head of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic who has dear BROTHER status and Ramazan Abdulatipov, head of Dagestan, who is also a dear BROTHER and whom he calls a “Patriarch of Politics” and who was a friend of Kadyrov’s father.
In case there was any fear that Kadyrov’s chief lieutenants were rebelling or falling into disfavor, a number of photos in recent weeks showing Kadyrov in selfies with his former chief of staff Magomed Daudov, now speaker of the Chechen parliament usually identified by his nom de guerre “Lord.”
Kadyrov and Lord met with Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, head of neighboring Ingushetia to wish “our brother” a happy birthday. This particular “brother” only got small caps and no “dear,” for some reason — likely lingering bad blood over the 2006 police clash and long-standing border disputes.
In this picture above, Kadyrov isn’t in camouflage as he often is, but he is wearing a stylized Chechen shirt that recalls the historic Caucasian jacket known as the chokha with the bullet-holders sewn in the front. Kadyrov wears different versions of this style.
He also met with Senator Suleiman Geremeyev, a close associate and cousin of another close associate, Adam Delikhanov, who is a member of the State Duma and is shown here with Kadyrov and “Lord”.
Two weeks ago, Kadyrov met with another dear BROTHER, Alibek Delimkhanov, a relative of Adam Delimkhanov, who has now completed courses at the General Staff Academy. Delimkhanov was the commander of the Sever Battalion, and his subordinate, Zaur Dadayev is now on trial for the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
It is Geremeyev’s nephew, Ruslan Geremeyev, who is believed to have organized the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in February 2015, although he fled Russia and escaped arrest, then returned and was ignored by police. Meanwhile Geremeyev’s subordinates in the Sever Battalion of the Chechen Internal Troops, which he formerly commanded, will stand trial for the murder. The trial opened July 25, but on August 24, a jury was still not selected and it has been postponed until September.
Kadyrov frequently appears in camouflage whether the occasion is related to the military or not, but many of his staged events are related to the armed forces. This week, he gave medals to the mothers of policemen killed in battles with terrorists.
Here he is at the Bena Festival of various competitions such as obstacle-jumping and rock-climbing which commemorates the role of the town of Bena (Benoy), from which his ancestors came, which is also the name of the largest teip or clan in Chechnya.
But it’s not clear if in fact what’s happening instead is that Kadyrov’s “little friend,” as Zolotov has been called, has merely extended the Kadyrov phenomenon to a national level instead of subduing Kadyrov. Pictures of Zolotov pop up frequently in Kadyrov’s feed and he last visited Grozny a year ago.
This past week, Kadyrov showed off his trio of heroes — Vladimir Putin, Viktor Zolotov, and Sergei Shoigu — and published a sentimental poem about heroes.
Clues to why Kadyrov’s “personal army” will be hard to break up can be seen in his photo feed. Kadyrov knows the birthday, wife and children’s names and biographies of every police chief or Internal Troops commander and frequently visits them and ensures they have everything they need.
A week ago, Kadyrov conveyed a conference with the leadership of the Chechen Interior Ministry, district police precincts and commanders of special forces for “practical courses”. It was a clear statement that these troops answer to him, not Moscow brass who were not present.
Says Kadyrov of these recruits:
“Not all of them will become police officers, of course, but the knowledge obtained in the camp will help them feel confident, make rapid and correct decisions in difficult life situations and the most important thing, defend our Motherland!”
Kadyrov has paid special attention to the Akhmat-Hadji Kadyrov Hero of Russia Regiment of the Chechen Internal Troops named for Ramzan’s father. He often features this regiment where some of his own relatives serve. Perhaps it’s a back-up for his own safety.
Last week, Kadyrov posed with Aslan Iraskhanov, commander of the regiment.
Kadyrov also met with Iskhak Chalayev (left), head of the Nozhay-Yurt Department of the Interior Ministry or police, who has “great merits for his active participation in special operations against terrorists.” He wished him a happy birthday and pointed out that he had “radically changed” the situation in the police since his appointment last year. The other bearded man in the picture isn’t identified but could be one of his brothers.
Iskhak’s four brothers also became policeman, and one of them, Takhir, died in battle with militants.
This is the kind of story Ramzan tells to let us know that he has deep loyalties within the Chechen armed forces whatever reorganizations Moscow makes.
Earlier this week he posed with Zamid Chalayev, Iskhak’s brother, also a police chief who was wounded three times in battle with terrorists, on one occasion severely. Murad Chalayev, their other brother, is in Iskhak’s police department and Bekkhan Chalayev, yet another brother is in the rapid-reaction forces of the Chechen Interior Ministry.
In one clip loaded to Instagram, majestic Chechen mountains appear, and a rousing chorus from Sharpudin Ismailov’s 2015 MTV Caucasus hit, “Male Friendship is Like a Rock” is played. The camera zooms in on two tiny figures climbing a steep hill — they are Kadyrov and Denis Martyonov, the former Alfa spetsnaz who still has the title ” “aide to the head of the Chechen Republic for the forces bloc” and leads the training of Kadyrov’s forces in Chechnya.
The pair exclaim over a giant white mushroom, a favorite of Russians in the summer. So Martynov, who was sent to the North Pole for awhile to plant Chechnya’s flag in the Arctic, is still in place in the Grozny pantheon.
The occasion for their manly meeting wasn’t “Special Forces Day,” which is celebrated October 24, but “Alfa Day,” the 42nd anniversary of the signing of the decree that created Alfa Spetsnaz, a more obscure holiday but one that Kadyrov is sure to remember, just as he remembered the 25th anniversary of the formation of the presidential administration.
While his posts are always in Russian on Instagram, increasingly Kadyrov has been adding clips where he speaks only in Chechen. There are many posts of him meeting with imams or attending services at mosques.
With all his constant expression of loyalty to the Kremlin and to Russia as the dominant state, Kadyrov is also careful to signal his affiliation with the long-suffering Chechen people at the hands of Russian imperialists.
In one recent post, he asked readers to name a lake in the mountains.
It turned out to be Lake Galanchozh, site of Tsar Alexander II’s expulsion of the Chechen people a thousand years ago. The group most effected by Alexander’s ethnic cleansing back then in 1860 were the Circassians, whose eradication has been declared a genocide, but this group, often protesting against the Putin regime, isn’t mentioned by Kadyrov. Kadyrov’s own home town is near this lake.
Kadyrov juggles his cultural signalling to the Chechens and other Caucasians that make up most of the population of his republic with awareness that he has a Russian audience, not only of the Russian minority who live in Chechnya but others across Russia, including his fans and foes. For them, he puts in a clip of a gorgeous Chechen mountain range with a song about mountain-climbing by the popular Russian bard Andrei Vysotsky.
And Kadyrov is also careful to cultivate pro-regime political and cultural figures, not just government officials to keep a certain mass popularity in Russia. And of course he has lavished attention on Oleg Dobrodeyev, head of All-Russian State Radio and Television, who also recently visited Grozny, given his frequent — and controversial — appearances in the media.
A week ago, Kadyrov posted a picture of his dear friend and BROTHER “Surgeon” (Aleksandr Zaldostanov), the head of the Night Wolves, President Vladimir Putin’s favorite motorcycle club. Surgeon often appears in the role of stage manager for events like the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, in which he took an active part. He has met with Kadyrov in Grozny in the past, but this was an old picture. Kadyrov was commenting on a bike show in Sevastopol organized by Zaldostanov, saying the Night Wolves, which Kadyrov called “our club” was playing an important role in educating youth.
Kadyrov is most notorious in the West for his diatribes against the liberal Russian opposition and media and rants about plots by America and Europe. Outraged at both verbal and physical attacks, Russian opposition and journalists appealed to Putin to curb his favorite regional strongman.
In recent months since his May meeting with Putin and confirmation as acting head of Chechnya until the elections, he has toned these sorts of outbursts down. But occasionally he still has a zinger, for example against the International Olympics Committee for disqualifying Russian athletes caught doping.
While in Moscow, Kadyrov met with Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee, who has been humiliated when he sent his top investigators to Chechnya to clean up police abuse and investigate human rights crimes against civilians and more recently humiliated again with the refusal of Kadyrov and his troops to permit IC investigators to question Ruslan Geremeyev and others.
But now, Bastrykin seemed to be eating out of his hand, at least to hear Kadyrov tell it on Instagram, approving a proposal said to come from Bastrykin himself to create a Cadet Corps of the Investigative Committee in Chechnya. Bastrykin praised Kadyrov for his role in educating youth, and Kadyrov said he and Bastrykin were “united in their opinion that prevention of human rights violations as great significance.”
As if this were not enough, Bastrykin also gave Kadyrov some presents: an honorary edition ofthe IC’s medal “Vigilance and Bravery” and the general’s dagger, for Kadyrov’s attention to the IC and his role in guaranteeing security in the Chechen Republic.
In sum, the message with all these military and sports entries on Instagram is this: Moscow political and military leaders cannot hope to compete with ethnic ties and a leader who remembers the birthdays of all the police chiefs he has put in power. They would have to remove not just Kadyrov, but his extended family and all of his loyal men. And he personally as well as all his lieutenants are buff and ready for combat.
Whether for these reasons or others, the Kremlin leadership and at least some siloviki are projecting approval of Kadyrov and at least tolerating him once again.
Most likely, Kadyrov will not even have to strain himself organizing big public events, and will receive 98% of the vote in Chechnya on September 18.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick