Kadyrov Proposes Using Chechen Forces to Suppress Dissent Across Russia

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 16 Issue: 3

Ramzan Kadyrov has warned that Chechen forces may be deployed in other regions of Russia to fight terrorism and extremism. “If there are such indications [of terrorism and extremism] in Moscow or other regions of the country, we will be at the forefront to fight them because we have the experience,” he said. “In all these years we have garnered so much experience and can fight so well that we will be in the first ranks for such a role. If Chechen terrorists can be eliminated or imprisoned, so can be a Russian or Tatar terrorist; there is no other way. We have the same attitude toward all citizens of Russia. If there are extremist indications, we will take steps, we will ask the leadership of the country to make use of Chechen law enforcement forces just as forces from other regions of Russia were used on the territory of Chechnya in the past [during the counterterrorist regime in Chechnya]” (YouTube, see 8:45 minute mark, January 22).

It is interesting that most of the Kadyrov’s recorded speech was in Chechen, but the passage above was entirely in Russian. The Chechen leader must have intended to send the message to officials in the Russian establishment who had tried to confine him within the administrative boundaries of Chechnya. Kadyrov’s statements come at a time when even the slightest opposition is severely suppressed by the Russian government, and any kind of political opposition can be deemed “extremism” under the vague Russian law on extremism. Due to the worsening economic situation in Russia, substantial public protests could soon erupt and Kadyrov’s forces will be among the most ardent supporters of Putin’s regime due to the personal alliance between the two. However, the aspirations of Chechnya’s ruler to expand his influence beyond the republic displease not only Russian liberals, but also Russian nationalists and possibly a significant part of the Russian government. Mass rallies in Chechnya, theatrical pledges of loyalty to Putin in the republic and promises to prosecute extremists across Russia (see EDM, February 5) appear to stem from Ramzan Kadyrov’s struggle with his publicly invisible nemeses in the Russian government.

Meanwhile, Kadyrov’s alliance with Putin produces hefty payoffs for the former. Chechens close to the republic’s government often evade justice easily. In the latest episode, 30 Chechen men reportedly attacked a company office in Moscow. A dozen of the attackers were arrested, but were released immediately the next day—a move that is highly unusual for Russian law enforcement agencies (Slon.ru, February 6).

However, some observers believe the Kremlin should change its way of dealing with the North Caucasus. Konstantin Kazenin, a well-known Moscow-based specialist on the North Caucasus, wrote that Moscow should stop “looking at the North Caucasus through feudal spectacles,” seeing in the region only the leaders and their subordinates, since there are many people who are dissatisfied with both the official leadership and with the armed underground movement. The expert explained popular support for Kadyrov in Chechnya by the long history of devastating wars. “This society [Chechnya] lived through war, and the fear of resuming the war provides a significant level of support for the authorities as long as those authorities guarantee that there will be no war,” Kazenin wrote. Given the special situation in Chechnya, Kazenin said, the phenomenon of Kadyrov’s popularity in the republic is limited to the republic and cannot be replicated elsewhere in the North Caucasus. Moreover, Chechnya has border issues with its neighbors on both sides, Ingushetia and Dagestan, and Kadyrov’s ability to resolve those issues is quite constrained (Forbes.ru, February 5).

Kazenin prudently avoids one of the primary questions when discussing the phenomenon of Kadyrov—what will happen if the alliance between the ruler of Chechnya and the ruler of Russia breaks down? Putin’s popularity is still soaring as the war in Ukraine rages and the rally-around-the-flag effect provides a fair cushion for him. The war, however, cannot last forever and the more aggressive Putin becomes in Ukraine, the more severe the economic sanctions imposed on the country will be. Putin’s popularity may tumble just as quickly as it rose. The well-known Ukrainian journalist Vitaly Portnikov added that “if Putin leaves, Kadyrov’s regime will either be replaced by the new Russian president or will be destroyed through a civil war in Chechnya.” Moreover, Portnikov noted that any country-wide crisis in Russia will immediately result in a full-fledged crisis in the North Caucasus, and Putin himself set up Russia for the upcoming troubles in this region (Krymr.com, February 6). Another possibility exists, of course—that Putin’s regime tumbles, leaving behind Kadyrov’s regime on its ruins.

Kadyrov’s extravagant gestures and unusual statements mean his positions is either under attack or he perceives himself as under threat. In the current political situation in Russia, Chechnya is not the first priority for President Putin, so the alliance between Kadyrov and Putin may have become less meaningful or intense. This change may have allowed people in Putin’s entourage to launch attacks on Kadyrov, or Kadyrov is simply trying to regain the same level of importance to the Russian president that he enjoyed prior to the war in Ukraine.