In addition to maintaining order and stability in Chechnya, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov may be asked to play a more active foreign policy role by the Kremlin.
Chechnya's regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov, center, and other Chechen top commanders inspect Chechen special forces during a a rally at the Dinamo stadium in Chechen capital Grozny, Russia. Photo: AP
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is certainly Russia’s most unpredictable regional leader with name recognition on a national level. With a success story as a crisis manager and as the embodiment of practically all claims Russian critics have toward the North Caucasus, Kadyrov is a figure of genuine admiration by some and loathing by others.
In trying to understand Kadyrov, some have looked to Iran for inspiration. Describing Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, political analyst Karim Sadjadpour once mentioned that “there is probably no leader in the world more important to current world affairs but less known and understood” than the Supreme Leader of Iran. This statement in many ways can apply to Kadyrov when talking about his own role in the Kremlin policy in the North Caucasus.
Recently, there has scarcely been a lack of analysis on the Chechen leader, especially in recent weeks after his public spat with federal law enforcement officials. Some saw a continuation of the Kremlin policy in reshuffling powers of the local elites across the region.
Against this background, the response of the federal leadership – whoever was calling shots there – was meant to demonstrate to Kadyrov that, despite all his achievements, he was no longer a “sacred cow.” The message, according to this narrative, was loud and clear: the exclusiveness of the Kremlin relationship that he has long enjoyed was over – with all potential consequences to follow.
Others insisted that Kadyrov received a warning signal – if not a serious rebuke – from the “siloviki,” the powerful group of security ministers who have a long history of bearing grudges against the Chechen leader. In this regard, Kadyrov’s chief patron - President Vladimir Putin himself - was under pressure from this faction and was forced to find a compromise. Thus the high-level response to Kadyrov’s “stern warning to potential intruders to his territory” was a landmark in the Putin-Kadyrov relationship.
Journalist Vadim Dubnov eloquently described this turn of events as a “prolongation of a contract on new conditions.” Since Kadyrov frequently refers to himself as a “foot soldier of Putin” his new status in military terms can be metaphorically considered a “re-enlistment.”
In other words, he may still enjoy privileged status but from now on it has to be grounded on more than just with a simple appeal to his “special relations” with Putin. Court maneuvers, however, have always been a dark matter and since the Kremlin wall is too tall to peep over, this theory, convincing as it sounds, can only be checked over time.
Kadyrov knows his political value and understands his importance in countering terrorist threats in the region. In this respect, criticism of his repressive governing tactics and the amount of resources consumed by Chechnya to him are no more than side effects of a more grandiose plan.
Moreover, his revival of national pride and attempts to regulate life through religion – steps that are often criticized as a breach of Russian laws and a long-term challenge to the country’s security - are presented by Grozny as the tools necessary to preserve peace and stability in Chechnya.
Besides, the unique amount of trust that Putin has placed in Kadyrov is still an important handle that the Chechen leader will most likely continue to grasp when needed. Over the years he has proven to be a trouble-shooter the Kremlin needed in the republic.
For these services, he demanded high-status projects characteristic of those who want to leave after them some visible legacy – from the biggest mosque in Europe to flamboyant football performances featuring Team Brazil.
No matter what long-standing implications his public spat may mean for his further status and power, right now he has at least two options to play. In fact, he has already tried both.
First, his allusion to the fact that he may leave office, if asked to, was a challenge for the Kremlin, which doesn’t look prepared to trade him in for someone else. That, of course, doesn’t mean there’s no one to replace Kadyrov, but the power structure in Chechnya is very much oriented towards this one man – for better or worse.
Should Kadyrov leave, the situation is fraught with severe uncertainty. This is definitely not a good option for the Russian authorities now that Russia is coming through rough times and is looking for national unity in the face of its confrontation with the West.
But in this very confrontation, Kadyrov may be considered a great resource to exploit. His continuous dashing of Western values, lately presented at a million-person rally to criticize the journalists of Charlie Hebdo, resonate with Moscow’s overall denial of the Western “ideological agenda.”
Therefore, in weighing these two options, Kadyrov may end up lowering his public rhetoric on power-related issues but increase his public profile when talking about international politics and “Russia’s enemies” abroad. If this is where he directs his authority, it may, ironically, raise his significance for the Kremlin as a chief messenger for the parts of the world disgruntled with Western policies.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.