Over the last couple of weeks Ramzan Kadyrov’s presence in Russia’s media space became overwhelming, even despite the fact that since the end of 2014 it has been steadily on the rise. Events seemed to reach their peak last week when opposition politician Ilya Yashin (protégé of the late Boris Nemtsov) released a damning report on Kadyrov’s regime in Chechnya, which accuses Kadyrov of, among other things, being connected to numerous political assassinations including that of Boris Nemtsov. Before and after the report was published, Kadyrov made several statements calling Russia’s liberal opposition “traitors” and “enemies of the people”. When, last weekend, mass rallies took place in Moscow on the one year anniversary of Nemtsov’s shooting, Kadyrov came out with the statement that he has fulfilled his tasks in Chechnya and is ready to resign, willing to serve Putin, the “commander-in-chief”, as an ordinary foot-soldier.
Kadyrov, who practically inherited his position from his father, Akhmad, became the official head of Chechnya in 2007. His second term in office expires on 5 April and according to Russian legislation he should be reappointed (or in theory somebody else should) by President Putin to rule between the expiration of the term and the elections on 18 September, which are totally controlled by Kadyrov.
How should Kadyrov’s statement on “resignation” be understood? First, there is nothing unique about it. Many regional leaders say similar things when coming to the end of their current term in office. However, such proclamations also bear echoes of earlier when regional strongmen used to make similar declarations in order to inspire mass pleas to the “father of nation” not to leave. This is a firmly entrenched pattern for authoritarian leaders, including in Russia, where the cases of Ivan the Terrible and Josef Stalin inevitably come to mind.
One should add that there are two regimes in Russia that are based on a “cult of personality”: Putin’s and Kadyrov’s, with the latter connected to the former through the unique personal alliance as well as by $1.5-2 billion of “contribution” as some experts call it - federal money transferred to Chechnya annually. There is no way Putin can replace Kadyrov, even if he wanted to, because, unlike any other regional leader in the country, Kadyrov has his own legitimacy which is independent from Putin. Not to speak of the fact that the Kremlin has become hostage to the Kadyrov regime, because it stands to lose much more should he leave. The Kremlin has a vested interest in keeping Kadryov sated and maintaining his rule in order to keep the peace in Chechnya and the North Caucasus. The Kadyrov’s, both Ramzan and his father Akhmad have been instrumental in maintaining a relatively peaceful status quo in Chechnya, even under authoritarian rule. Russia first engaged Kadyrov senior, one of the Chechen warlords, in the 1990s, offering Russian support in the region in exchange for loyalty to Putin. Later, in 2000, when Kadyrov junior took on the mantle of his father, he successfully overcame all federal attempts to counterbalance him.
Russia’s transition to a more military interventionist form of politics since 2014, with Putin assuming the role of military chieftain, favours Kadyrov, who according to a recent poll is respected by 30 percent of Russians, sympathised with by 16 percent and trusted by 15 percent. Kadyrov’s active positioning of himself as a federal or even international leader, rather than just a regional one, reflects his ambitions to play greater role in the future of Russia as a whole, ambitions which unfortunately, may have some potential for fulfilment.