Ramzan Kadyrov's armed men observe the rally in his support in Chechnya's capitol Grozny. January 21, 2016 (Image: Anton Podgaiko/TASS)
Ramzan Kadyrov is widely considered “one of the rulers in the North Caucasus most loyal to Vladimir Putin,” something he will only reinforce when he is the only republic head in the Russian Federation to stage an official celebration of the Kremlin leader’s birthday five days from now.
But most ordinary Chechens view Putin and Russia very differently and far more negatively, although as a result of Kadyrov’s repressive regime, they can rarely express their views in public if they are living in Chechnya or in places where Kadyrov’s police force can reach them.
Some Chechens, however, both in the republic and beyond its borders are sometimes willing to talk to journalists, and the Paragraphs portal has performed a useful service by collecting many of their statements, identify their sources only by first names, and posting them online.
Mansur, a Grozny resident, points out that “those who go to pro-Russian meetings, actions and demonstrations are mainly workers of various government and other organizations, students and so on. They are forced to participate or risk losing their positions.” That doesn’t justify what they do but “people are weak and fear losing their jobs.”
“You will not find at these actions people who have come voluntarily,” he continues. The reason is simple:
Russia “has been destroying us for centuries: wars, deportation, more wars. And even now, [the Russians] have created in Chechnya an imitation of peace and calm but in fact they are killing and oppressing us.” Many can’t hold out and are fleeing to Europe.
According to the Paragraphs report, “the view that the Chechen land is ‘occupied’ by Russia today is shared by the overwhelming majority of the population. The occupation in their view is expressed not only in historical events but also in the current policy of Russia in Chechnya.”
Thanks to the Kremlin, there is in Chechnya “the dictatorship of Kadyrov,” people say. The laws of Russia don’t operate nor do the centuries-old customs of the Chechens. Everyone has to “live according to Kadyrov’s rules.”
Kadyrov does have supporters and there are “not a few of them.” They form the basis of his power and largely consist of his relatives and people from his native village. “Kadyrov,” people say, “wins their loyalty and devotion by allowing them to enrich themselves and enjoy unlimited power.”
Kadyrov devotes “particular attention” to the law enforcement organs because they are widely viewed as “his personal army,” the portal continues. And one way he keeps their loyalty is by promoting the idea that there are still enemies to be rooted out and thus justifying the high salaries they receive.
Despite hostility to Russia and Moscow, places that Chechens view as the equivalents of “the Russian world” Ukrainians are threatened by, most are not ill-disposed to individual Russians. There is a fair amount of inter-marriage and there are more ethnic Russians in Chechnya than many think.
One aspect of the situation that gets little attention, Paragraphs says, is that Kadyrov’s messages in Chechen are not the same as his words in Russian. In Russian, he is totally loyal to Putin and the Russian state; but when speaking in Chechen, he is often completely understanding of Chechen hostility to Moscow.
That helps to explain why there are so many Russian military units in Chechnya, units in which Chechens aren’t allowed to serve. (Moscow fears that any Chechens who did so might become spies or use the skills they acquired against the Russian Federation at some point in the future.)
But an even clearer indication of how Chechens feel about Moscow is to be found in the fact that Chechens, forced by Moscow to take part in Russia’s wars against Georgia and Ukraine “conceal” this from other Chechens because “they fear popular anger.”
“Of course,” the portal concludes, “today nothing threatens them, but the Chechen people lives with the understanding and the expectation that Chechnya will again become a sovereign state and then all the traitors will be held to account.”
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