Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov may not be a risk to world peace – but he is waging a war on his own people

The latest evidence of Mr Kadyrov’s unhinged ways is his prosecution of what we in the West mildly call ‘the war on drugs’

Tuesday 16 January 2018 18:56
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Ramzan Kadyrov (left) also unleashed a campaign of persecution against gay people last year
Ramzan Kadyrov (left) also unleashed a campaign of persecution against gay people last year

If there is one man in the Russian Federation willing and able to plausibly out-Putin Vladimir Putin as an authoritarian, reactionary and violent menace to his own people, then he may be found in the Presidential Palace of the autonomous republic of Chechnya.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader, has for some years styled himself only as the “Head” of the Chechen republic, rather than “President”, because in his slavish devotion to Mr Putin he believes that there should only be one president on Russian territory. Putin may not have spawned this particular monster, but he has certainly inspired and sponsored him as a useful minion.

The latest evidence of Mr Kadyrov’s unhinged ways is his prosecution of what we in the West mildly call “the war on drugs”. In Chechnya, the war is being waged with a savagery that is difficult to believe. Trivial offences of possession are reported to be met with sadistic torture, beatings and disappearances. Mr Kadyrov is quoted as saying of drug abusers: “Shoot them, to hell with them. Nothing matters – the law, no law. Shoot them, do you understand?” He makes President Duterte of the Philippines seem like a bit of a softy.

Many of those supposedly guilty of drug-related crimes are, it is alleged, nothing more than critics of the Kadyrov regime in Chechnya, as absolutist as anything the Soviets or the Tsars before them imposed on a subject people, but with the added element of shameless candour about the use of violence and a more open contempt for the rule of law and human rights. The sanctions imposed by the US and EU seem only to confirm Mr Kadyrov in his beliefs.

It should come as no surprise. Last year Mr Kadyrov unleashed a campaign of persecution against gay people that had medieval overtones. Dozens of young men are still missing, and there is the suspicion that some have been the victims of murder by members of their own families – so-called honour killings which Mr Kadyrov openly approves of, presumably because it saves his own thugs the bother.

And yet Mr Kadyrov is a strange sort of ultra-Putinist. He fought on the other side – that is against Russian forces – during the merciless First Chechen War, changing allegiance along with his father, who was assassinated, for the ultimately successful campaign by the Russians against Chechen separatists. Mr Kadyrov is an enthusiastic Muslim and builder of mosques, and is effusive about Saudi Arabia’s royal family and the investments they are said to intend to make in his country, now recovering from a decade of civil war that virtually razed cities to the ground.

When he is not clowning round on his own reality TV show or on Instagram (once appealing for help with a lost cat), he is veering from one version of a personality cult to another, a chaotic caricature mix of the worst of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

Yet, like Russia, and the USSR and Russian Empire before it, such oppressive techniques merely disguise the discontent with an appalling government, rather than building a genuinely peaceful, cohesive society. Chechnya has suffered grievously over recent decades, and remains one of the poorest and most fractured societies in the region. Islamist extremism, so far from being eradicated by Mr Kadyrov, may be being incubated by his methods, notwithstanding his incongruous theological leanings, and possibly fatally so through the agency of Saudi Arabia, known for planting the seed of intolerant Wahhabism wherever it is allowed to.

Mr Kadyrov may not be the most famous tyrant in the world, and he poses no threat to world peace in the way that, say, Kim Jong-un does, but few can rival him for waging a vicious, unending war on his own people.

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