Chechen leader/warlord/manchild Ramzan Kadyrov has been in the news a lot since referring to Russian opposition figures as “enemies of the people” and making various veiled threats through his allies’ and his own very odd (and frankly embarrassing) Instagram account.
Here Meduza details how Krasnoyarsk city councilman Konstantin Senchenko was pressured into publicly apologizing for criticizing Kadyrov’s comments on Facebook. Meduza’s tweet linking to the piece said: In Russia, one does not simply criticize the dictator of Chechnya. This city councilman found out the hard way. When you read the story and see Senchenko’s grovelling apology, the word “dictator” doesn’t seem totally out of place.
Here Paul Goble (who I generally am no fan of) writes a piece titled: If Putin Sacks Kadyrov, He Could Lose the North Caucasus; If He Doesn’t, He Could Lose Russia. The second prediction there may be a bit dramatic, but the piece is worth reading. He makes some general observations about Putin and Russia that I disagree with, but lays out the Kremlin’s dilemma with Kadyrov quite well.
The Kremlin’s totally lacklustre reaction to Kadyrov’s “enemies of the people” statements was predictable. Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov defended Kadyrov by pointing out that he had been referring specifically to the “non-systemic” opposition and therefore was not directing his comments at the legitimate opposition. He refused to condone or denounce the Instagram threats. But if the Kremlin had full control, they wouldn’t have been so sheepish in their response. They could have made their own jab at the opposition while at the same time condemning Kadyrov’s comments as unacceptable and over the top — which in a country with Russia’s recent history, they are.
Kadyrov has certainly got a point about some of the “non-systemic” opposition (a topic for another day), but systemic or non-systemic, there are plenty of ways to criticize opposition figures that don’t involve posting veiled threats of violence on Instagram and suggesting that they need psychiatric treatment (a disturbing hark back to Stalinist Russia).
Human rights ombudsman Ella Pamfilova said the comments reflected badly on the country, and they do. There is no way for them to not. St. Petersburg city councilman Maxim Reznik has suggested that Kadyrov’s comments may amount to “a public call for extremist activity”.
Kadyrov thinks he’s untouchable — and Peskov’s reaction would seem to suggest he is, at least for now. He makes outlandish statements and threatens with impunity. His Instagram account is a disturbing thing to behold. By all accounts, he is at least strongly suspected of being behind the murder of Boris Nemtsov last February. If Russia security expert Mark Galleoti is to be believed, there is also likely a general consensus within the Russian security services that ‘something must be done’ about Kadyrov, and that many would like to see him booted out.
The fact that Kadyrov, who maintains an iron grip on Chechnya is both a liability and an asset to Putin doesn’t need much debate. The question for the Kremlin will be whether his assets continue to outweigh his liabilities, or the other way around.