|How the sausage is made|
“”…an old story, repeated many times in our history: the Kremlin fosters a baby dragon, which it then has to keep feeding to stop him from setting everything on fire.
|—Anna Politkovskaya, murdered investigative journalist|
Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov (1976–) is the current Head of Chechnya, a semi-independent republic within the Russian Federation. He is a full-time autocrat with the rank of lieutenant general and a part-time social media celebrity. Kadyrov stands accused of doing a number of illegal and unethical things, including violations of human rights. This doesn't really bother him all that much, though, since he has a private army and the personal backing of Vladimir Putin. Similar to Putin he cultivates a fearsome reputation by projecting his supposedly immense strength, yet physically he is a hilariously unintimidating twerp.
One might think that giving a man state honours, legal protection and almost 60 billion rubles (approx. 800 million US dollars) a year would guarantee his loyalty and subservience - and certainly, Kadyrov tries hard to come across as Putin's biggest fan. The truth, however, is that Ramzan can do pretty much whatever he wants within Chechnya with no interference from Moscow because he has crushed all his rivals, silenced his critics and appointed his family members to all the top administrative positions in Chechnya. He is literally the only game left in town.
At any point, for any reason, Kadyrov can start the Third Chechen War whenever he feels like it — so pissing him off is not what the Kremlin wants regardless of how much they personally dislike him.
Ramzan's many accomplishments
Ramzan's main qualification to be the leader of Chechnya is being his father's son. He spent the First Chechen War fighting for his country's independence and killing Russians under the leadership of his father, Akhmad.[note 1] A few years later, during the Second Chechen War, Akhmad and his men decided that fighting for independence wasn't for them anymore and switched to fighting with the Russians, turning on their former allies. Putin rewarded this behavior by putting him in charge of the region.[note 2] Ramzan's father was in charge until 2004 when he was assassinated by Chechens who were annoyed with him for the whole switching sides thing. Putin, being a big advocate of democracy, immediately brought Ramzan to the Kremlin, whereupon he was anointed as his father's successor. He had few alternatives; in Chechnya, family and clan ties are of the utmost importance, meaning that Ramzan received the loyalty of his father's troops and allies the moment Akhmad died.
The law, however, required him to be 30-years old before he could assume the office of President, so he spent the next few years biding his time in a lesser office intimidating all his opponents and pretending he wasn't actually in charge before he officially got the top job in 2007. Since then he has ruled over Chechnya like a king, with no one daring to stand up to him. His power is absolute. Although the Chechen and Russian constitutions set out the basis of the legal framework in which he is supposed to operate, Ramzan does what he wants because there is nobody to tell him he can't. He has established a cult of personality, which he uses to keep his genuine admirers in awe and his detractors in perpetual fear. If his aura of power doesn't get the job done, his soldiers will.
Putin is content with this arrangement because Ramzan keeps the people of Chechnya obedient. The region went from being filled with violent separatists to a constituency where everyone is a Putin fan. Chechnya's voting turnout in elections is around 99%. A staggering 99% of the people vote for Putin's United Russia Party. Seeing as how this is the party of the man who bombed the crap out of Grozny just a few years ago one can probably guess they aren't voting for him because they suddenly really like him.
Oppressing women's rights and freedom of religion
In theory, Chechnya is subject to Russia's federal laws and should be a secular state. Under Kadyrov's rule, however, sharia law and Adat[note 3] are just as important as Russian law, and the way in which the country functions is ad hoc and inconsistent.
The promotion of traditional misogynistic values is effectively state policy. Polygamy is encouraged, honour killings are considered normal as are bride kidnappings.[note 4] While publicly denounced by Kadyrov, these activities are still being carried out (sometimes by the members of his inner circle or his security forces). Forced marriages are also not unheard of. Divorces for women are tricky to get — and even if they do get them, there is a likelihood that lawyers and Muslim clerics employed by the government will start pestering them into remarrying their ex-husbands.
Women are urged to follow Islamic dress codes, and those who refuse are subjected to harassment, verbal abuse, and intimidation (and paintball guns). Sale of alcohol is restricted, as is the sale of food during Ramadan. Islamic history is a compulsory subject in schools and Muslim scholars are specifically brought in to preach to young children about morality and acceptable social behavior.
Torturing and falsely imprisoning his citizens
Torture as a tool of persuasion is widely used by Kadyrov's forces — whether to punish and turn rebel fighters, intimidate people who hold opposing views or just to let the locals know who is in charge. People are arrested without any due process and taken to secret prisons, where a number of techniques[note 5] are used to make prisoners confess to all sorts of crimes (real or imagined — doesn't matter). Upon release from detention, nobody speaks about the things they suffered; those who do are arrested again and tortured twice as hard or are made to vanish off the face of the earth.
For Kadyrov, all dissent is unacceptable regardless of who criticises him. One can be a random teen posting their thoughts of him on social media or his former government colleague. Speaking out is met with retribution not just to the critic but to their friends and family as well. This has garnered Kadyrov and his crew a fearsome reputation, to the point where critics all the way over in Siberia can be made to issue groveling public apologies after a few phone calls and some choice threats.
“”The electric shocks and the bad beatings were only on the first day. During the rest of my time there, it was mainly random kicks and punches and being hit with a plastic hose. But the humiliation was the worst part of it. They called me a ‘woman,’ a ‘fag,’ an ‘ass-bugger’… the most offensive things one can call a man. They mocked me, taunted me. I could not stand it. I wished they just killed me.
Being a vocal critic or political opponent of Ramzan is not the only thing that can land one in trouble in Chechnya. Being a suspected homosexual can also be grounds for punishment. The country is deeply homophobic but not in a run-of-the-mill, "people get verbally abused a lot" sort of way. In Chechnya, gay men are actively persecuted by the state, arrested, transported to unofficial detention facilities, and tortured. Occasionally the people die in captivity, but the authorities don't actively try to execute them. They prefer to bring the captured men to their families and force them to out themselves in public. In most cases, this results in an honour killing, because the families would rather kill their gay relatives than living with the disgrace that such relatives are seen to bring to them. Why would the police do what the "good" citizens voluntarily do themselves? This behaviour of killing your relatives is actively encouraged by the state.
When questioned about gay concentration camps, Ramzan's responses tend to be a wild mixture of:
- Claiming that it's all a lie and that human rights groups smear him to get funding.
- Saying that it would be impossible for him to persecute these people, because there are NO gay people in Chechnya.
- If Chechen families found out they had gay relatives, they would do their duty by executing them! No need for the government to do anything.
- And, in pure hypothetical speculation, if these non-existent, immoral gay people who have been executed by their clan are still around in Chechnya, they should get the hell out of it and move to Canada, or something.
In the spring of 2017, as these events were coming to the attention of the wider world, a number of international parties have called on Putin to step in and do something. Predictably, strongly-worded letters from the United Nations and finger wagging from foreign politicians didn't really impress the Russian Prime Minister (who isn't exactly a bastion of LGBT rights either). The official Russian investigations achieved absolutely nothing and gay men are still being persecuted by the police and at risk of being killed by their families. The reporter who broke the story about the purges has been violently assaulted by a Chechen mob and the frequent threats to her personal safety have forced her to hide in another country for a while. Some of the more fortunate victims have been able to flee the region and have been granted asylum in other countries.
Oppressing free speech
Reporters Without Borders calls Kadyrov a "Predator of Press Freedom", an exclusive classification they reserve only for the most oppressive of rulers. He has pretty much succeeded in eradicating independent media within his little kingdom. No news outlet in Chechnya would dare to go against him, seeing as how he pays their bills. Everyone who sings his praises and platforms his agenda gets rewarded; everyone who does the opposite gets branded as a traitor.
Independent journalists and activists in the region who are brave enough to criticise him are intimidated, have their offices raided by masked men or are thrown into prison on false charges. "Not praising Ramzan" isn't a crime for which one can be convicted for (yet), so putting weed in people's backpacks and torturing them until they confess to be drug smugglers seems to be the preferred method of getting things done. Even if one manages to steer clear of the official authorities, the environment of hatred and distrust Kadyrov has fostered ensures that local mobs take matters into their own hands and violently confront journalists or activists, whom they view as enemies seeking to destabilize their country. Must be nice having law abiding citizens doing the work that usually falls to the police.
Magically making his critics die
It is striking how people who criticise him or his BFF Putin have a nasty habit of getting killed, although Kadyrov himself pleads ignorance of these murders, which just so happen to be carried out by men who have some sort of a connection to him. He has never been arrested, tried, or convicted of any wrongdoing. All these incidents, he claims, are a big smear campaign on his good name.
To name every person he is suspected of having ordered a hit on would be a Herculean task, so here's a selection of the more prominent ones:
- Anna Politkovskaya: An investigative reporter and a certified badass, Politkovskaya was murdered in her Moscow apartment in October 2006. She visited Chechnya a number of times, writing articles about the human rights abuses that went on there, as well as criticising the regime that carried them out. Five Chechens were sentenced for her murder and the case was officially closed, but a number of observers have pointed out that the investigation stank to high hell and the person who hired the hitmen was never identified.
- Umar Israilov: Israilov was killed in January 2009, gunned down in the streets of Vienna in broad daylight. He fought against Russian and Kremlin-backed Chechen soldiers during the Second Chechen War before being kidnapped by Kadyrov. He claimed Kadyrov personally tortured him and threatened the lives of his relatives, forcing him to become one of his bodyguards. Israilov later fled Chechnya for Europe, where he was granted asylum. His father, who remained in Chechnya, was kidnapped and tortured by Kadyrov's men who wanted to know about his son's whereabouts. The elder Israilov was thrown in prison for ten months and, upon release, he left Chechnya for Norway. In the safety of Europe, both Umar and his father brought their cases to the European Court of Human Rights and gave interviews to news outlets detailing the war crimes carried out by Kadyrov and his soldiers. The authorities publicly stated that the Chechen men who were convicted of his murder had a connection to Kadyrov and that they suspected him of ordering the attack.
- Natalia Estemirova: Abducted and killed in July 2009 in Chechnya, Estemirova was an award-winning human rights activist who has documented the cases of torture, kidnapping, and unlawful killing carried out in the region for about a decade. She was quite prominent amongst her colleagues, having worked with a number of non-governmental organisations and journalists (including another lady on this list, Anna Politkovskaya). It is widely believed her work in exposing the crimes of Chechen authorities is what prompted her murder. A number of her colleagues were deeply dissatisfied with the way the investigation into her death was carried out - over ten years later still no one has been tried or convicted for her murder.
- Boris Nemtsov: One of the most prominent opposition politicians in Russia and a fearless critic of the Putin administration, Nemtsov was killed in February 2015. He was shot in the back a few times within spitting distance of the Kremlin while walking home with his girlfriend. The five men charged with his murder were all Chechens and the suspected gunman, Zaur Dadayev, was an officer in Kadyrov's security forces. The man who supposedly hired them, Ruslan Mukhudinov, was also associated with the Chechen military. The mysteries of what his motive was or where he got 250,000 dollars from to hire assassins have led people to suspect that he was merely the middleman for the real mastermind of the murder.
- Imran Aliev: Aliev was a Chechen blogger who was an outspoken critic of both Putin and Kadyrov. Aliev is notable and makes this list because he wasn't notable. The man appears to have been a literal nobody, an average person with no political clout, who occasionally took too many painkillers and then went on long tirades about the things that go on in the Caucasus. He was killed in January 2020, found dead in a hotel room in Lille, France with multiple stab wounds in his neck. The main suspect in the case is believed to have fled to Russia and is suspected to have a connection to Kadyrov.
Oh come on, it can't all be bad... right?
Why does Putin keep a man like this in power? What possible benefit can be reaped by having a homophobic, sadistic, and ruthless Muslim dictator control a section of one's country? The reason, one might think, is that he does some useful things and that these useful things outweigh all the bad stuff he gets up to. Putin turns a blind eye to the excesses of his friend for two main reasons.
Defeating the extremists (sorta, kinda, not really)
Kadyrov keeps the other extremists in check. Ever since he and his father defected to the Russian side during the Second Chechen War, Putin has relied on his local allies to keep the populace under control. The region is a breeding ground for anti-Russian, Islamist extremists,[note 6] who are a threat to Russian national security (and Ramzan would know exactly how dangerous jihadists are, because he used to be one!) By having an all-powerful local ruler knock heads together Putin can sleep soundly at night, knowing that the strings are being pulled by a man who is loyal to him. Ramzan is certainly evil, but he is the lesser of two evils. If he were to disappear tomorrow Chechnya would rip itself apart.
Kadyrov is quick to point out that thanks to his severe methods all strains of violent Islam have been purged from Chechnya and that the Islamic State have been eradicated there. His claims of having single-handedly bullied the region into peace don't really stand up to scrutiny, however; terrorist attacks still frequently happen on his doorstep and hundreds of young Chechens are driven to radical Islam by the societal factors that Ramzan has directly created.
Still, it's undeniable that he has been mostly successful in pacifying Chechnya. Putin's worst nightmare was the country leaving Russia and becoming an independent, Islamic state, filled with armed men who do horrible things to Russians in the name of religion. This did not come to pass. Instead, it's a semi-Islamic state within Russia, filled with armed men who do horrible things to Chechens in the name of religion. Quite the improvement.
For the average Chechen citizen who has lived through the horrific suffering inflicted by the two Chechen wars, the current status quo is a definite improvement. Although Ramzan harps on about the greatness of Putin and Russia whenever he can, he has functionally created an independent Chechen state, something that years of war couldn't accomplish. It is widely known by the locals that Moscow doesn't pull the strings in their country. Chechnya has its own President, its own constitution, its own soldiers to protect its interests. Putin has even handed control of the state's oil reserves back to Kadyrov. The city of Grozny, reduced to piles of concrete during the wars, is completely unrecognizable from what it was like just a few years ago, boasting modern amenities and high quality infrastructure - all of it paid for by the Russians who had razed her to the ground.
There is a genuine sense of progress on the streets — but beneath the façade of skyscrapers and epic sports stadia, there is also a sense of fear and intimidation. A lot of the aforementioned amenities serve the purpose of furthering Ramzan's cult of personality: stadia, mosques, streets and the local sports teams are often named after him, his father, or his patron Putin. One can barely go down to the local shop without being greeted by massive Orwellian posters of Ramzan's smiling face, or even worse, one of his armed lackeys. The country might be back on it's feet, but every revamped square meter of it is another chance for the regime to remind the people who is in charge and every armed patrol a reminder of what happens to those who don't conform.
"Ramzan is the best" TowersGrozny-City Towers. Not too bad for a place the UN once called " the most destroyed city on earth."
The Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque (paid for by the Russian taxpayer) is capable of accommodating thousands of worshipers and sits on a 14 acre site — making it almost as big as the ego of the person who commissioned it.
- His father Akhmad Kadyrov was, alongside being a militia leader, a respected Muslim mufti. He urged "jihad" against Russia and told his men to kill as many Russians as possible.
- The whole "jihad" thing was swiftly forgotten by both parties. Pragmatic or what?
- Adat is the collection of traditional laws and ancient customs used by the people of Chechnya to resolve conflicts and define the norms of social interaction.
- In Chechnya, if a man manages to force an unmarried woman into his car and hold her prisoner in his house for a night, she must marry him. (No, this is not RatWiki snark, unfortunately.)
- Such as beatings, suffocation, burning of the skin with hot metal pieces, electrocutions, and psychological pressure (usually threats of rape, execution or the harming of the tortured's family).
- Apparently if you spend a century and a half treating an entire nation of people as if they were dogs, they end up not liking you very much. They might even arm themselves, and push back every once in a while. Shocking!
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