Chechen leader and former guerrilla commander Ramzan Kadyrov is a figure as flamboyant and polarizing as the man who sponsored him (Putin): fiercely loyal to Putin, Kadyrov has also proven problematic with his brutal tactics and threats to political opponents. He considers himself “Putin’s warrior”, with the mantra that he can do anything so long as he has Putin’s support. While Kadyrov’s loyalty to the Kremlin has proven useful in combating the Chechen separatist movement, it’s possible that this fiery Chechen, branding himself as Putin’s “attack dog”, might be overdoing it. His antics are coming at a time when Putin, in the aftermath of such issues as the Ukrainian crisis and the assassination of former KGB agent Andrei Litvinenko, is trying to court the favor of the international community.
For the past decade, Kadyrov has lived a life of luxury and power as part of a deal whereby Putin granted more autonomy to Chechnya in exchange for loyalty to the Russian state. Since then, Kadyrov has kept his word, allowing him to live a luxurious life with palaces, private gyms, a huge militia and no shortage of toys. For their support of Russia, the Chechnya has been showered with plenty of rubles that have helped the autonomous republic recover from over a decade of war. Yet after the murder of popular liberal politician Boris Nemtsov last year, relations between Kadyrov and Putin have deteriorated, and Kadyrov has been trying to regain the favor of the Kremlin the only way he knows how: by being a loud and outspoken supporter of Putin.
As Kadyrov started to threaten Russian public figures outside of Chechnya, it’s possible Putin has realized he’s created a monster. Last week, Chechen officials handed out the portraits of Putin and Kadyrov to hundreds of thousands of government-sponsored demonstrators that had been bused into the capital city of Grozny. The city was decorated with banners condemning various “enemies”, those Russians who have opposed Putin. In the Chechen parliament, a supporter of Kadyrov listed all the targets next to a picture of Kadyrov and a lunging attack dog, saying that its fangs were “itching”.
Much like Putin, Kadyrov has been working to shut down opposition, often through less-than-savory methods. Back in December, Chechen police detained an economics professor who published a post on social media critical of Kadyrov; his body was found on January 1st, and the official cause of death in the police paperwork said that he “fell off a cliff”. While few Russians or Chechens cared about Kadyrov’s methods in the past, the number of his opponents has been growing.
Earlier this month, Kadyrov upset people with Stalin-era language in talking about punishment of “enemies of the people”, mostly those media outlets who have criticized him and/or Putin. Although Stalin is credited with helping defeat the Nazis in World War II and saving Russia, he remains a controversial figure; millions of Russians and thousands of Chechens died during his purges, including Kadyrov’s own family. There’s been a Russian backlash against Kadyrov, and the question has arisen as to whether or not Putin will suffer as well. Polls indicate he’s been losing respect among Russians, and the media outlets Kadyrov has targeted continue to operate.
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