The Russian opposition promised to deliver a groundbreaking report on Chechnya by Ilya Yashin, the deputy chairman of the Svoboda-Parnas party, long before February 23. On February 7, Yashin surprised the Chechen authorities after he asserted that he had visited the republic’s capital and published photographs of Grozny on social media, as proof of his visit (Mk.ru, February 8). The Chechen authorities were outraged by Yashin’s trip and tried to show that it was nothing more than a Russian opposition PR campaign prior to his presentation of the report on Chechnya in Moscow (Vz.ru, February 23).
The day before the report’s presentation, unidentified individuals warned that bombs had been placed in the Parnas party’s headquarters in Moscow. The day of the presentation, police evacuated the Parnas headquarters (Svoboda.org, February 23) after an anonymous caller phoned in another bomb threat. During the presentation, despite security checks at the entrance, some people managed to sneak in to protest against Yashin’s report (RIA Novosti, February 23). Many observers believed that Kadyrov’s supporters would try to prevent the report from being presented in Moscow. On the morning of February 23, several hours before the presentation, Kadyrov, in a surprise move, published the report on all his social media accounts. He was able to do so because the website of the Open Russia foundation had prematurely published Yashin’s report by accident: the foundation planned to post only one of its chapters, but accidentally released the whole thing. The entire report was available on the Open Russia site for only five minutes, but it was enough for Kadyrov to download it and then post it on his social media sites (Ya-kadyrov.livejournal.com, February 23).
Many foreign media outlets accredited in Russia were interested in the report because they expected to learn something new about the murder of Boris Nemtsov and his killers’ ties to the Chechen authorities. Instead, Yashin presented a colorful report with numerous photos from the Internet, where almost all his material came from, but it contained nothing new.
The report, titled “Threat to National Security,” consists of nine chapters and 30 sections (Putin-itogi.ru, Fenruary 23). It starts with the so-called ethnic cleansing of Russians in Chechnya at the beginning of the 1990s, which already casts doubt on how balanced the report is. No Russian human rights organization has ever referred to the migration processes in Chechnya at that time as the “ethnic cleansing of Russians,” because the number of Chechens leaving the republic during those years was actually higher than members of other ethnic groups. It appears that Yashin, in his report, was paying tribute to Russian nationalists like Aleksei Navalny, the opposition leader who fights corruption while, at the same time, makes no secret of his anti-Caucasian sentiments. Further, the author asserts that Ramzan Kadyrov fought the Russian army during the first Russian-Chechen war in 1994–1996, which is also a dubious assertion. The report details how Kadyrov’s rule was built, describes the charitable funds providing financial support that are associated with criminals, and lists his private military formations (which are officially listed as units of the federal forces). The report asserts that Kadyrov used violence and committed atrocities against his political adversaries (which investigations conducted by federal structures have not confirmed). It also says that Kadyrov created a personality cult and Islamized the republic, as Sharia is put above Russian laws. However, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has found no evidence of this, either. Yashin also writes about the involvement of people from Kadyrov’s inner circle in Boris Nemtsov’s murder.
Nevertheless, the report does not contain a single new fact or new explanation that would provide insight into Ramzan Kadyrov and his role in Russian politics. A good lawyer could potentially refute Ilya Yashin’s claims and force him to apologize to Kadyrov. The only merit of Yashin’s report, which other experts also noted, is that he managed to put together an entire collection of facts about Kadyrov and show that his rule is not an accident, but a system of authority that Moscow created jointly with the Chechen side.
Yashin unveiled his report on one of the most tragic dates for the Chechens—February 23, the anniversary of the mass deportation by Stalin in 1944. In Yashin’s opinion, this showed his solidarity with the Chechen people (Kavkazsky Uzel, February 23)—i.e., that he is not against Chechens, but simply against the system built by Kadyrov. Yashin also demanded Kadyrov’s resignation (Echo.msk.ru, February 23). It is unlikely that the Kremlin is interested in Yashin’s opinion, but the Russian authorities may use his report as a pretext for showing Russian society’s discontent with the situation in Chechnya.
Continuing pressure on the Kremlin regarding Kadyrov’s activities will sooner or later force President Vladimir Putin to react to it. Sensing that, Kadyrov made a surprise statement in an interview with the Russian News Service radio (Russkaya Sluzhba Novostei), saying he was tired and wanted to step down since he had accomplished his mission fully. Kadyrov said he was prepared to stay on if the Kremlin asked him to, but that there were people in Chechnya who could replace him, because he created a working system of governance (Rosbalt.ru, February 23). Thus, Kadyrov indicated that he was not holding on to power and was prepared to serve the Russian Federation in any capacity.
Only two weeks remain until the end of Kadyrov’s term as governor, which ends on March 5. According to the rules of the political system that the Kremlin created, Kadyrov should have known about his political prospects several months ago. Apparently, Chechnya’s governor is uncertain about his future. Politicians and experts, however, are quite certain that, at this stage, Ramzan Kadyrov is an irreplaceable figure in Chechnya for the Kremlin. In any case, the Kremlin will have to signal its intentions regarding the governor of Chechnya in the next few days.