Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has become one of Russia’s most quoted persons for the second time since last December. After the incursion into Grozny by a small group of militants on December 4, 2014, Kadyrov ordered the burning down of the militants’ houses and the expulsion of relatives of the militants from their villages (Refugee.ru, December 15, 2014). In April, Ramzan Kadyrov clashed with the Russian Ministry of Interior and the Investigative Committee over the killing of a Chechen named Jambulat Dadaev, in Grozny, on April 19. Dadaev shared the same surname as Zaur Dadaev who is suspected of killing Boris Nemtsov, but is apparently not related to him. The Stavropol police went after Jambulat Dadaev, who was on the federal wanted list, in the Chechen capital, but did not notify the Chechen authorities about the special operation. Dadaev was wounded in the operation and subsequently died (TASS, April 20).
At first glance, it looked like nothing more than a regular police special operation, but Kadyrov was quite unsettled by it. After the operation, he held a government meeting and authorized the Chechen police to shoot to kill anyone who carried out special operations in the republic without the knowledge and cooperation of the Chechen authorities (Meduza.io, April 24). Chechen representatives in the Russian State Duma and Federation Council (lower and upper chambers of parliament, respectively) also came to help their boss, accusing the federal Ministry of Interior of a provocation designed to destabilize the situation in the North Caucasus. The Chechen members of the Russian parliament thereby expressed their unity with Ramzan Kadyrov (Echo.msk.ru, April 24). Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman—whom Chechens have long called the personal ombudsman of Ramzan Kadyrov rather than of the republic’s residents—also came out in support of the Chechen ruler.
The Russian interior ministry reacted first, saying that such statements were impermissible. The ministry expressed full support for the Stavropol police unit (Regnum, April 23). This prompted Kadyrov to adjust his position. He denied there was a conflict, asserting: “I am the Kremlin’s man. I am [Vladimir] Putin’s man. I am the people’s servant. I am God’s servant, I am Putin’s infantryman” (Newsru.com, April 25). Moreover, to deescalate the situation, he even stated that he was prepared to resign.
The interior ministries of Russia’s republics and other regions are not under control of the regional leaders but are strictly under federal command, and the head of a region cannot give orders to its interior ministry, or appoint or replace ministry officials. This is how the system is supposed to work in theory, but in reality Chechnya has had a quite different setup. Chechnya’s interior ministry, forgetting that it is subordinated to the federal Ministry of Interior, hurried to open a criminal investigation against the Stavropol police involved in the April 19 special operation targeting Jambulat Dadaev for abusing power. In so doing, the Chechen officials violated article 286 of the Russian Criminal Code, which covers exceeding official powers (RIA Novosti, April 21). The Russian Investigative Committee, headed by Alexander Bastrykin, immediately called off the Chechen investigation and launched a review of the Chechen investigators themselves (Forbes.ru, April 24). Kadyrov demanded that Bastrykin explain on what grounds he dropped the charges against the Stavropol police (Vedomosti.ru, April 25).
It took the Kremlin nearly five days to react to Kadyrov’s order to shoot police from other regions who come to Chechnya without his permission. “The Internal Affairs agency is naturally subordinated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation,” Russian presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov told journalists. “So, there is nothing to comment on in this case” (RIA Novosti, April 24). Thus, for the first time since 2006, Putin’s spokesman did not side with Ramzan Kadyrov.
The slain Jambulat Dadaev was not apparently tied to Kadyrov’s inner circle. However, the killing of Dadaev in Grozny, along with earlier arrests by the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Chechen suspects in Boris Nemtsov’s murder, created a new reality in Chechnya. Kadyrov became so consumed with his views that he did not notice that, in conducting the operation in Grozny in which Dadaev was killed, the Stavropol police had worked alongside the Interim Joint Group of police forces based in Khankala near the Chechen capital. Operations at such a high level are normally conducted in Russia only when the federal authorities do not trust local authorities and want to avoid leaks. No exceptions are made for any territory of Russia. The Russian constitution does not make exceptions for Chechnya; therefore, such operations will continue to be conducted there without asking permission from Kadyrov.
The question is why the Stavropol police took the risk to carry out this special operation. From the legal point of view, the answer is that Jambulat Dadaev shot dead a local businessman in Stavropol city on September 12, 2014. According to the interior ministry, Dadaev shot the victim three times (Ren.tv, April 25). The slain man turned out to be Magomed Tazirov, a close relative of Said Amirov, the former mayor of Makhachkala, Dagestan, and one of the most powerful heads of the ethnic Dargin criminal groups. It appears, therefore, that a criminal order was carried out by the Stavropol police, and this was at the core of Ramzan Kadyrov’s ire.
The latest conflict is tied to the investigation of Nemtsov’s murder and Kadyrov’s alleged involvement in it. Russian media have reported that the FSB has openly challenged Kadyrov (Svoboda.org, March 10), who has been forced to justify himself and prove that he does not have issues with the FSB (Lifenews.ru, April 23). Kadyrov apparently is in conflict with two federal agencies at the same time, the FSB and the interior ministry.
For the first time, the Kremlin, the Investigative Committee, the Ministry of Interior and possibly the FSB have collectively challenged Ramzan Kadyrov. This move signifies the start of the new policy by Moscow to bring Chechnya back into the legal space of the Russian Federation (Novayagazeta.ru, April 25). The scandal is not over yet and will certainly continue. It is already clear that the Kremlin is becoming tired of Kadyrov’s actions and policies. Whatever the case, the scandal is not likely going to end in Grozny’s favor.