Ramzan Kadyrov’s unchecked power in the Caucasus

Ramzan Kadyrov’s unchecked power in the Caucasus

Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Chechen Republic, has recently sparked controversy with his acts of aggression in the neighboring Republic of Ingushetia. For years, Kadyrov has fostered a cult of personality, solidifying his status as a key player in the cultural and political life of the Caucasus. Kadyrov’s regime has also drawn global scrutiny for its human rights abuses and persecution of the LGBTQ community. Throughout it all, Putin has remained virtually silent, effectively condoning these actions.

The cult of Kadyrov

On February 15th 2007, Ramzan Kadyrov was elected as the President of the Chechen Republic. Since his arrival, Kadyrov has ferociously clamped down on terrorism in Chechnya and strengthened his clout across the Caucasus. However, international civil society has vehemently criticized his rule. Kadyrov has become a controversial figure for his actions in the region and beyond, including his violent persecution of the LGBTQ community in Chechnya. His extensive human rights abuses in Chechnya have been documented by Human Rights Watch, and instilled fear amongst many in the North Caucasus. He has stated his approval of honor killings, and started televised shaming on live Chechen TV for his critics. Indeed, Kadyrov’s consolidation of power in the last decade has been marked by a steady march of abuses.

Kadyrov’s most recent act of aggression was his orchestration of a land-grab from the the Republic of Ingushetia. Despite his inflammatory actions, Kadyrov’s influence and the loyalty of his supporters continues to grow stronger – a trend that is only bolstered by Putin’s tacit approval. The relationship reveals Putin’s disregard for human rights abuses, so long as there is a maintenance of order in the Caucasus. However, Kadyrov’s continued aggression may ultimately rupture this fragile order.

Putin and the Russian response

Despite his abuses, Kadyrov has acted with effective impunity, going so far as to attempt to “purge” the LGBTQ community from Chechnya.  Human rights groups hoped that Putin would intervene, but these calls went unheeded. Likewise, in 2015, when it was reported that an underage bride was forced to marry to marry a police officer, the Kremlin stayed silent. Kadyrov attended the wedding himself. Subsequently, following the assassination of Boris Nemtsov in 2015, it was believed that the suspects had direct links with Kadyrov . Yet again, there was no condemnation from Putin.

Russia’s response, or lack thereof, to Kadyrov’s oppressive reign, is underpinned by several political considerations. Kadyrov serves a number of important roles, including as a guarantor of political stability in Chechnya. Presenting himself as an envoy to the Muslim community, and a sports enthusiast constantly surrounded by celebrities, Kadyrov has developed a cult of personality. As a result, the Kremlin fears that attempting to replace Kadyrov would generate animosity in the region, and possibly spark another separatist war. Moreover, Kadyrov has repeatedly declared his devout support for Putin, and has shown an ability and willingness to conduct Putin’s dirty work. This is a particularly important consideration in Russian military strategy, as demonstrated by the Chechen involvement in the armed conflict in the Ukraine in 2015.

A tenuous dynamic

It stands to reason that Ramzan Kadyrov is an important figure for Putin. Moscow is unlikely to condemn his actions – especially his persecution of the LGBTQ community, as defending gay rights is far from a Kremlin priority. Furthermore, their regimes are symbiotic. Putin is the guardian of Kadyrov’s power, and Kadyrov has frequently demonstrated his subservience to Putin, whom he relies on for substantial subsidies.  Last year the Chechen leader claimed, “he was ready to die for Vladimir Putin.” In return, Kadyrov will remain untouched so long as he continues to pledge loyalty to Putin. However, it is critical to note that Kadyrov’s autonomy is a necessary condition for the relationship. If Putin were to be stricter on Kadyrov, he would diminish his stature and weaken Kadyrov’s ability to quash separatism in the region.

“I am ready to die for him, to fulfill any order.”

Ramzan Kadyrov, on Vladimir Putin, in a November 2017 interview

Nonetheless, Kadyrov’s recent expropriation of land from Ingushetia with the Russian Constitutional Court’s approval sets an important precedent. This has huge implications for stability in the Caucasus, which has long been plagued by interethnic conflict. Kadyrov now has his sights set on Dagestan, where a significant minority of Chechens live. With Putin remaining silent on Ingushetia, Kadyrov is all the more likely to intervene. This renders the future of the North Caucasus precarious, and at a real risk of a consolidation of power under Kadyrov. Any sort of further expansion will generate fear, and potentially resistance, in the neighboring republics. Those who oppose Kadyrov within Chechnya and the region more broadly are increasingly vulnerable to unchecked persecution. Furthermore, there is a moderate risk of violence breaking out from Kadyrov’s expansionism. This could lead to a broader conflict, and ultimately damage oil and gas routes from the Caspian Sea. Ultimately, barring a seismic shift in the dynamic, the Kremlin is unlikely to stand in his way.

Categories: Security

About Author

Kavar Kurda

Kavar Kurda is a graduate of University College London, obtaining his BA in Politics, Sociology and East European Studies. He is currently studying his MSc at London School of Economics and Political Science in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation. He has previously worked in Parliament, the Kurdistan Regional Government Office and London-based think-tank, Institute of Ideas. He speaks English, Kurdish, Russian and Arabic and has a deep interest in Caucasian and Middle Eastern affairs.