Swaggering bully in a sky-blue tracksuit
Friday 17 July 2009
Ramzan Kadyrov's first response to his father's assassination in May 2004 was to travel to the Kremlin to meet Vladimir Putin. In bizarre televised images at the end of the tête-è-tête, Mr Putin offered the young, ginger-bearded Chechen – the first person ever to turn up to the Kremlin in a sky-blue tracksuit – his condolences and squeezed his hand.
Mr Kadyrov, whose vast wealth is thought to stem from huge kickbacks from oil sales, had to wait another three years to officially become Chechnya's President, but to all intents and purposes, this was his coronation. He had been given Mr Putin's personal backing, and used it to outmanoeuvre, threaten and possibly even physically eliminate his enemies, whether in Chechnya or abroad.
Natalya Estimerova was not the first of his journalistic critics to suffer. Many suspect his involvement in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, the Novaya Gazeta journalist and a close friend of Ms Estimerova, who was murdered in 2006. His response? "I don't kill women."
Such swagger is entirely in keeping with Mr Kadyrov's extraordinary presidency, which combines a cult of personality with outspoken opposition to anything that might resemble liberalisation. His face, along with that of Mr Putin, stares down at Chechens from giant billboards placed on the rebuilt and repainted streets of central Grozny. He recently opened an enormous mosque in the capital, has advocated the banning of alcohol and gambling, and said women working in government offices should wear headscarves.
But his belief in women's modesty has not always been consistent. In 2006, grainy video footage emerged of a similar looking man cavorting with two prostitutes in a sauna. He has since called for the reintroduction of polygamy.
He keeps a pet tiger at the heavily fortified compound in his home village of Tsenteroi, and has hosted Mike Tyson. In a 2005 interview with Russian GQ, he said: "I've already killed who I should have killed. And I will kill all of those standing behind them, as long as I myself am not killed or jailed. I will be killing as long as I live."
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