As long as Putin sits on his gilded throne in Moscow, Ramzan Kadyrov will stay as close to him as humanly possible, Aleksandar Đokić writes.
On Sunday morning, a unit of Ramzan Kadyrov’s men in full military gear posed on a bridge near the town of Kolomna, about 110 kilometres from Moscow, staring intently into the distance and aiming their heavy weapons down the road.
The purpose of the video was to demonstrate that the Kadyrovites — their fighting formation is officially called “Akhmat” after Kadyrov’s assassinated father — are ready to lay down their lives in defence of Vladimir Putin and his political structure.
There is a slight problem with this narrative: Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny officially ended (for now at least) on Saturday evening, 24 June.
When the Kadyrovites filmed their little show the following day, there was no longer any immediate danger of Prigozhin and his Wagnerite legions entering Moscow.
Flightradar24 data shows that both government planes routinely used by Putin appeared over the region of Tver at 1 am and 3 am local time on Sunday, respectively, indicating that the Russian president was out of any direct danger at that time.
The planes had already left Moscow the day before and turned off their transponders by 2 pm on Saturday.
In other words, the Kadyrovites turned up at the party after it had already been finished — a now-standard practice earning them the label "Tiktok brigades".
Kadyrov's loyalty has its limits, but are we there yet?
Putin compared Prigozhin’s mutiny with the events of 1917, when two revolutions first shook and then wholly dissolved the political system of the Russian Empire.
This historical analogy has other, unintentional merit in the context of Kadyrov himself.
Nikolay Ivanov was an old Russian general held in high regard by the Romanovs for his courtly manners and 19th-century looks (he sported a long beard and instilled confidence as a loyalist).
Tsar Nicholas II personally chose him to crush the St Petersburg riots, a violent outpouring of workers' dissatisfaction with the monarchy, which later led to the February Revolution.
Upon receiving the tsar’s order but not wanting to pick the wrong side in the boiling political conflict, General Ivanov accepted to do Nicholas II's bidding but then intentionally sabotaged it, ultimately arriving after the February Revolution had already taken place.
In many ways, the historical tale might indicate the limits to the loyalty Kadyrov has for Putin.
Yet, that doesn't mean he's ready to jump ship any time soon.
Why ruin a good thing?
In his statements, Kadyrov is one of Putin’s most ardent supporters, matched only by Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin.
Yet, the reality is more nuanced than what Kadyrov intentionally demonstrates to the public.
The recently self-inaugurated “Father of the Chechen Nation” is one of the rare regional leaders in Russia who cannot be supplanted by any political force in the Kremlin.
This gives Kadyrov much more space to manoeuvre than a regular regional head in Russia would have. And as long as Moscow’s central political authority is stable, Kadyrov has no reason to challenge it.
He receives an abundance of funds from the federal budget (while his region remains one of the least developed in Russia), he wields a private, extremely loyal army, and he has the authority to persecute the Chechen opposition to his rule as he sees fit.
In an unprecedented lease on extrajudicial authority, Kadyrov’s agents can abduct both high and low-profile Chechen dissidents from other regions of Russia.
Endless power, inherited
The January 2022 abduction of the mother of three outspoken activists who dared to stand up against Kadyrov, Zarema Musayeva, has been well-documented. Her husband, Saydi Yangulbayev, also happens to be a federal judge.
This event, where seven Chechen law enforcement officers broke into, assaulted and forcibly took Musayeva out of her Nizhny Novgorod apartment, occurred in a region far away from Chechnya and without the involvement of federal authorities.
And all this comes from the fact that, at this time, Moscow cannot afford to be in conflict with Kadyrov in any way.
He is untouchable from without. The threat against Kadyrov’s ruthless rule may only come from within.
Ramzan Kadyrov has built his power upon his father’s legacy. Akhmad Kadyrov was a prominent fighter in the First Chechen War, a fervent independentist, and an influential Islamic cleric who first grew in stature as a close ally and supporter of the Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev.
Then, amidst the Second Chechen War, Akhmad — who at the time served as Chechnya's Grand Mufti — switched sides and decided to support Putin.
After Putin’s troops managed to control the de facto state of then-Ichkeria through violence and bloodshed, he was given dominion over a new Chechnya, one subordinated to Moscow’s federal authority.
Following Akhmad's assassination in a bombing attack in the capital Grozny in May 2004, Ramzan — his father's driver, bodyguard and the leader of his militia — asserted himself as the only viable heir the very next day.
Potential for civil war, again
Under the two Kadyrovs, Chechnya remained, in many ways, a very traditional society organised around what can be boiled down to clans due to its bloody history.
Meanwhile, the Kadyrov family has made many enemies inside the Chechen societal structure by using harsh methods of repression against any opposition.
Thus, Kadyrov finds himself a part of a constant — albeit at this juncture latent — series of feuds, which have a hidden potential to escalate into a bloody civil war among the Chechens once more.
That’s where Kadyrov’s loyalty to Putin comes from. He feels safer under the protection of the Kremlin, while he can demand more or less anything he wants from Moscow, as long as it's within Chechnya.
Kadyrov would move away from Putin's tailcoats only if Russia's centre of power became too weak and disorganised to offer him protection against those parts of the Chechen society who want him not only removed from power but dead and gone for good.
A history of violence, fear, and loathing
The Kremlin’s propaganda about Chechnya and Chechens being forever pacified is fiction.
Beneath the façade of loyalty lies distrust and disdain towards Moscow, which not even Kadyrov’s own people are immune to.
The Chechen nation has suffered greatly under every iteration of the Russian Empire. The tzars massacred them and settled Cossacks on their lands to keep them in check.
Stalin physically removed ethnic Chechens from Chechnya, forcibly resettling them in the desolate steps of Central Asia.
Chechens only managed to return to their homeland in the late 1980s, as faultlines in Moscow and then-Soviet Union were already slowly showing before fracturing most of the country into a number of independent republics — which also led to their uprising.
Then, to fuel his own rise to power, Putin decimated Chechnya's towns and villages, enslaving the Chechen people once more.
In the end, Kadyrov is safer hiding behind Putin
It is obvious to any researcher of the region that the Chechen fighting spirit cannot be broken. What we are witnessing is a mere pause in their struggle for freedom from Russian imperialism.
The long-awaited moment to rise up again may soon come. And when this happens, Kadyrov's legions will have to face not the imaginary enemy on TikTok but actual Chechen liberators.
This is why no mutiny — no matter how fast its organisers might be moving in on Moscow — is worth it to the Chechen leader.
As long as Putin sits on his gilded throne at the top, Kadyrov will stay as close to him as humanly possible.
Aleksandar Đokić is a Serbian political scientist and analyst with bylines in Novaya Gazeta. He was formerly a lecturer at RUDN University in Moscow.
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