Ramzan Kadyrov, Russia's most controversial and outspoken politician, could no longer be quiet. In a series of statements just days into the New Year, Kadyrov and members of his inner circle viciously denounced members of Russia’s pro-Western opposition. In language reminiscent of the Stalin era—they called their adversaries “lackeys,” “traitors,” and “enemies of the people”—they said things that even Russian President Vladimir Putin has been reluctant to mention out loud. For doing so, Kadyrov won applause around the country.
Kadyrov is an outsized personality and has courted controversy since he became leader of Russia’s Chechen Republic in 2007 at the age of 30, succeeding his assassinated father. He is famous for his lavish lifestyle, his menagerie of tigers and ostriches, and his boastful and violent threats against his enemies, who range from human rights activists to Islamist rebels to the editors of Charlie Hebdo magazine.
Kadyrov’s years of running Chechnya as a personal fiefdom have depended on his close relationship with Putin. As long as Kadyrov was the main guarantor of peace in Chechnya, Putin would let him be. But the balance in the relationship between Moscow and Grozny, the capital city in which Kadyrov is ensconced, has changed. Busy tightening their control over every aspect of Russian life, Moscow’s elite have been increasingly looking to subordinate Chechnya to Putin and, especially, to Russia’s bureaucratic and administrative apparatus. For too long, the argument goes, Kadyrov has been allowed to run things his own way. Their desire to rein him in reached new heights last year, after Kadyrov and the people around him were blamed for the murder of Boris Nemtsov, the liberal grandee. As the gory details were released, Moscow worried that the Chechen leader was out of control.
A decade or so ago, the goal of making Chechnya a region like all others in Russia would have seemed insane. Routine administration was simply impossible in a region devastated by two wars and a prolonged period join the jihadists of the radical Islamist Caucasus Emirate, or its new rival in the region, the Islamic State (ISIS). In short, a decade of peace has reduced Kadyrov's status at home and reduced him to the level of the heads of Russia’s other regions.
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