International and Security Affairs Uwe Halbach

SWP Research Paper
Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik
German Institute for
International and Security Affairs
Uwe Halbach
Chechnya’s Status within the
Russian Federation
Ramzan Kadyrov’s Private State and Vladimir Putin’s
Federal “Power Vertical”
SWP Research Paper 2
May 2018
In the run-up to the Russian presidential elections on 18 March 2018, the
Kremlin further tightened the federal “vertical of power” that Vladimir Putin
has developed since 2000. In the North Caucasus, this above all concerns the
republic of Dagestan. Moscow intervened with a powerful purge, replacing
the entire political leadership. The situation in Chechnya, which has been
ruled by Ramzan Kadyrov since 2007, is conspicuously different. From the
early 2000s onwards, President Putin conducted a policy of “Chechenisation”
there, delegating the fight against the armed revolt to local security forces.
Under Putin’s protection, the republic gained a leadership which is now
publicly referred to by Russians as the “Chechen Khanate”, among other
similar expressions. Kadyrov’s breadth of power encompasses an independent foreign policy, which is primarily orientated towards the Middle East.
Kadyrov emphatically professes that his republic is part of Russia and
presents himself as “Putin’s foot soldier”. Yet he has also transformed the
federal subject of Chechnya into a private state. The ambiguous relationship
between this republic and the central power fundamentally rests on the
loyalty pact between Putin and Kadyrov. However, criticism of this arrangement can now occasionally be heard even in the Russian president’s inner
circles. With regard to Putin’s fourth term, the question arises just how long
the pact will last. The price that Moscow was willing to accept for Chechnya’s “pacification” by Kadyrov and his supporters include serious humanrights violations. Since 2017 these have increasingly moved back into the
focus of international politics and reporting.
SWP Research Paper
Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik
German Institute for
International and Security Affairs
Uwe Halbach
Chechnya’s Status within the
Russian Federation
Ramzan Kadyrov’s Private State and Vladimir Putin’s Federal “Power Vertical”
SWP Research Paper 2
May 2018
All rights reserved.
© Stiftung Wissenschaft
und Politik, 2018
SWP Research Papers are
peer reviewed by senior
researchers and the executive board of the Institute.
They reflect the views of
the author(s).
Stiftung Wissenschaft und
German Institute
for International
and Security Affairs
Ludwigkirchplatz 3–4
10719 Berlin
Phone +49 30 880 07-0
Fax +49 30 880 07-200
[email protected]
ISSN 1863-1053
Translation by Tom Genrich
(English version of
SWP-Studie 1/2018)
Table of Contents
5 Issues and Conclusions
7 The Development of the “Vertical of Power”
13 “Pax Ramzana”: The “Pacification” of Chechnya in
Kadyrov’s Private State
16 Kadyrov’s Cultural Policy:
Back to Chechen Tradition?
19 Conflicts between Kadyrov and the
Russian Security Services
21 Human-Rights Violations
24 Reconstruction and Economic Boom,
or Façade of Stability?
26 Chechnya as a Cross-Border Actor
30 Prospects and Conclusion
32 Abbreviations
Dr Uwe Halbach is a Senior Associate in the Eastern Europe
and Eurasia Division
SWP Berlin
Chechnya’s Status within the Russian Federation
May 2018
Issues and Conclusions
Chechnya’s Status within the
Russian Federation.
Ramzan Kadyrov’s Private State and
Vladimir Putin’s Federal “Power Vertical”
The current head of the Chechen republic, Ramzan
Kadyrov, has ruled for over a decade, during which
period Chechnya’s relationship with the Russian
Federation has become ambiguous. Kadyrov makes
strenuous efforts to proclaim that the republic is part
of Russia, to link Chechen nationalism with Russian
patriotism, to portray Russia’s president in the
Chechen capital Grozny as a state icon, and to present
himself as “Putin’s foot soldier”. Yet he has turned
the federal subject of Chechnya into a private state to
such an extent that the Russian President’s entourage
is asking itself to what degree the federal “vertical
of power” developed by Vladimir Putin extends to
Chechnya. Among Russians, expressions such as the
“Chechen Khanate” or “Kadyrov’s caliphate” have
gained currency. From a historical perspective, Chechnya’s position within the Russian Federation has been
compared to the Central-Asian Emirate of Bukhara,
which enjoyed a maximum of autonomy within the
power structure of the Tsarist Empire in the late 19th
and early 20th century.
Kadyrov’s self-arrogated powers also encompass
a foreign policy that is primarily orientated towards
the Middle East and the Islamic world as a whole. No
other regional leader has claimed a comparable role
for himself, extending beyond his own administrative
area and beyond Russia’s borders. Here too the abovementioned ambiguity is in evidence. On the one
hand, the Kremlin welcomes the division of diplomatic labour vis-à-vis the Islamic world between Moscow and Grozny. On the other hand, this situation
creates contradictions, as was shown for instance
in Moscow’s and Grozny’s divergent statements
regarding the persecution of the Rohingya ethnic
group in Myanmar.
In the 1990s, Chechnya became the epitome of
separatism in post-Soviet Russia. Within the renegade
republic, a national movement invoked a historical
continuity of anti-colonial resistance to Russian dominion. In 1991 Dzhokhar Dudayev, the then-leader
of the Chechen secessionist movement, demanded
a peace treaty to put an end to “the 300-year war
Issues and Conclusions
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May 2018
between the Russian Empire and the Chechen people”.
Moscow’s response to these efforts consisted of
massive military operations. According to the official
interpretation, in the first war (1994–1996) Russian
forces in Chechnya combated ethno-territorial separatism; in the second war, which began in 1999 and
officially ended in 2009, they fought international
Islamist terrorism. The two wars are the most violent
events in the post-Soviet space. In terms of casualties
and the extent of town and settlement destruction,
their consequences easily eclipse the secession wars
in the Southern Caucasus (1991–1994), the civil
war in Central-Asian Tajikistan (1992–1997) and
the battles in East Ukraine from 2014 onwards. Nowadays, the Kadyrov republic portrays itself as an advocate for Russian multiethnic unity, but in fact it
has long been Russia’s “internal abroad”. The clearest
expression of this development is its particular legal
situation, which combines Islamic and traditional
common-law rules with the whims of the head of the
republic, and contradicts Russian legislation.
By delegating the fight against the insurrection to
Chechen security forces as of 2002, President Putin
attempted to end the period of large-scale acts of war
in the Caucasian republic. Critics of this “Chechenisation” claim that Akhmat Kadyrov and his son Ramzan
were using it to bring about de facto secession, all
the while proclaiming untiringly that Chechnya was
a constituent of the Russian Federation. In so doing,
critics say, the Kadyrovs were more successful than
the armed separatist resistance to which they had
both previously belonged. The Chechnya policy
during Putin’s first term in office is the more remarkable because it was contemporaneous with his development of the so-called federal power vertical: events
in and around Chechnya caused the Kremlin to recentralise political structures within the Russian
Federation. Even some Russian experts now critically
refer to this as “hyper-centralisation”. President Putin
derived legitimacy for the recentralisation from the
conflict with the Caucasian republic of Chechnya.
A major step in this direction was the (temporary)
abolition of regional gubernatorial elections following the hostage crisis in the North-Caucasian town
of Beslan in September 2004. More than 300 people
were killed when Russian security forces stormed a
school occupied by terrorists.
Scholarly literature is divided on the merits of
the “Chechenisation” policy. Some observers point
to the transition from the period of large-scale armed
violence to a more selective, more targeted and ultimately more successful fight against the armed underground by local security forces. For them, this transition succeeded in removing Chechnya from the
top position in the North-Caucasus violence statistics.
Others consider that the local political price of this
security-policy victory was too high. The “stabilisation
costs” that President Putin was willing to accept in
this context include widespread human-rights violations in the Kadyrov republic, which Russian authorities have done nothing to check. The persecution
and murder of homosexuals in Chechnya in 2017
and the arrest of the national representative of the
human-rights organisation Memorial in early 2018
have brought these violations to the forefront of
international politics and reporting as rarely before.
The loyalty relationship between Kadyrov and his
“feudal lord” Putin plays a decisive role in Chechnya’s
position within the Russian Federation vis-à-vis the
central-government level, which has been strengthened
since the early 2000s. With regard to Putin’s fourth
term in office, the question arises whether the PutinKadyrov pact will continue to hold.
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On 31 March 1992, after the dissolution of the Soviet
Union, a federation treaty set out the division of power
in post-Soviet Russia between the centre and the regions or federal subjects. During his visit to the Tatar
capital Kazan in the summer of 1990, Boris Yeltsin,
the president of the then-Soviet Russian Federation
(Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, RSFSR),
had proclaimed: “Take as much sovereignty as you
can digest.” In the period that followed, republics
that had been Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics
(ASSR) declared themselves sovereign political entities. They demanded autonomy and resolute federalisation. The 1992 federation treaty sealed this
process. A year later, Russia’s post-Soviet constitution
was adopted; even then, it contained no explicit
mention of the treaty. Moreover, two autonomous
republics, Chechnya and Tatarstan, had not signed
the treaty. Hardly anyone in Russia remembers that
document today.
At the dawn of the post-Soviet era, the Russian
Federation consisted of 89 regional entities. In the
years that followed, mergers of several regions
reduced that number to 83. Today, the multinational
federal state consists of 85 federal subjects (including
the Crimea, annexed in 2014 in violation of international law, and the city of Sevastopol). They are
represented at the central government level by delegates on the federal council. The regions, including
the autonomous republics, differ widely in socioeconomic development, size of economy and population, ethnic composition, financial dependence on
the federal budget, and other criteria.2 The majority
1 Vadim Shtepa, The Devolution of Russian Federalism
(Washington, D.C.: Jamestown Foundation, 4 April 2017),
2 Alexander Libman, Russische Regionen. Sichere Basis oder
Quelle der Instabilität für den Kreml?, SWP-Studie 19/2016
(Berlin: Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, November 2016);
Andreas Heinemann-Grüder, Regionale Diskrepanzen in Russof regions is currently reliant on annual financial
support. Only 14 regions count as net contributors.
Among the net beneficiary regions (dotacionnye
regiony), the largest autonomous republic in the North
Caucasus, Dagestan, is first and Chechnya fifth.3
Among the federal subjects, 22 republics have
non-Russian titular nationalities. In some cases, these
populations are smaller in number than the ethnicRussian populations. However, hardly any Russians
still live in Chechnya or Dagestan. The areas of the
Russian Federation that have attracted the attention
of Russia specialists in the West are the North Caucasus with its seven autonomous republics, from Adygea near the Black Sea to Dagestan on the Caspian
Sea; the Volga region including the autonomous
republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan; and the
Far East.
President Vladimir Putin has initiated a process
of recentralisation and expanded a “power vertical”
limiting the federal subjects’ leeway for independent
policy-making. An example of this interlocking with
the central government is the dominant position of
the governing party United Russia (Yedinaya Rossiya)
in the regional parliaments. Putin’s power vertical
contrasts with his predecessor’s time in office. The
early Yeltsin years in particular were characterised by
a sometimes chaotic process of decentralisation and a
“sovereignty parade” of autonomous republics and
autonomous regional entities.
Recentralisation began in 2000, when the government created seven federal districts, which were
land: Politisch verursacht (Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische
Bildung, 14 April 2014),
3 “Dagestan i Chechnja popali v pjaterku vysokodotacionnych regionov” [Dagestan and Chechnya came in the top five
of the highly subsidised regions], Kavkazkii Uzel, 12 October
The Development of the
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8 Map: Northern Caucasus
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compared to the General Governorates of the Tsarist
Empire. Two others have now joined: in January 2010
the Northern Caucasus, which previously belonged to
the larger Southern Federal District, was promoted to
its own federal district; in 2014 annexed Crimea was
also added to this category. The federal districts are
run by special representatives of the Russian president. Their main tasks include ensuring the concordance of federal and regional legislation and controlling the federal authorities that are active regionally,
such as tax authorities, the police or the domestic
secret service, the FSB.4 The fact that Chechnya largely
eludes such control makes it a true exception.
Nineteen governors were forced to
resign in 2017, in the largest wave of
dismissals of the past five years.
After the Beslan hostage crisis of 2004, direct
elections of governors and heads of republic were
abolished. Since then, they have been appointed by
the Russian president. After mass protests against
alleged fraud during the December 2011 elections to
the Duma, the principle of direct regional elections
was reintroduced, albeit with serious restrictions.
Becoming a candidate for gubernatorial elections is
now complicated by a “municipal filter”: prospective
candidates first have to submit a set number of
signatures of delegates from local and district councils and mayors in their favour. Moreover, the elected
governor or head of republic can still be deposed by
the Kremlin. Before regional elections in 2017, there
were demands that the municipal filter – which had
ensured the dominance of the governing party at the
regional level – be made more democratic. Nevertheless, in September 2017 the filter once again served as
an administrative tool to prevent independents from
registering as candidates for gubernatorial elections
in 16 regions.
4 Martin Russell, Russia’s Constitutional Structure. Federal in
Form, Unitary in Function, (Strasbourg and Brussels: European
Parliamentary Research Service [EPRS], Members’ Service
Research, October 2015), 4.
5 “In 8 out of 16 regions, non-systemic candidates failed
to overcome the ‘municipal filter’ because of obstruction by
local and regional authorities.” European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE), Analytical Report on the Administrative
Control over the Procedure of Collecting Signatures of Deputies and
Heads of Municipal Entities in Support of Candidates (“Municipal
Filter”), Newsletter (Berlin, 10 August 2017), 1, http://
Within several months to go before the presidential elections in March 2018, Moscow further tightened
its grip on governors and regional finances as part
of a staff policy focusing on a generational change
among the regional elites by replacing older “territorial princes” with younger, easier-to-control technocrats from central institutions. Moscow has also
tied the loans that it grants to the many indebted
regions to conditions that restrict the latter’s leeway
to decide their own financial policy.6 Nineteen governors were forced to resign in 2017, in the largest
wave of dismissals of the past five years.7 Simultaneously, Moscow has increasingly recruited non-local
cadres to lead regions and republics. A striking
example was in Chechnya’s neighbouring republic
Dagestan. In October 2017, Ramazan Abdulatipov,
the 71-year-old head of the republic, who had been in
office since 2013, was replaced by Vladimir Vasilyev,
a former high-ranking police officer from Moscow
and deputy speaker in the Duma. For the first time
since 1948, this placed a non-native at the helm of the
largest republic in the North Caucasus.8 This move was
rationalised not least by arguing that the new head
of republic had no obligations to any one ethnic
group or clan in Dagestan and would therefore be
better able to lead the fight against corruption and
clanish nepotism, which are particularly present
there. However, some commentators see in this cadre
policy the idea favoured by Russia’s patriotic circles
of returning to the Tsarist practice of appointing governors.9
6 Fabian Burkhardt and Janis Kluge, Dress Rehearsal for
Russia’s Presidential Election. Mosow Tightens Grip on Regional
Governors and Budgets, SWP Comment 37/2017, (Berlin:
Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, October 2017), https://
7 Maria Domańska, The Kremlin’s Regional Policy – a Year
of Dismissing Governors, OSW Warsaw Commentary no. 257
(Warsaw: Centre for Eastern Studies [Ośrodek Studiów
Wschodnich, OSW], 15 December 2017).
8 Denis Sokolov, “Pervyj prokurator Dagestana” [Dagestan’s
first procurator], Vedomosti, 4 October 2017, http://www.
9 “Russian Pundit Puts New Dagestan Appointment in Context”, BBC Monitoring Global Newsline – Former Soviet Union Political File, 11 October 2017.
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The Kremlin has declared the defence against separatism one of the greatest challenges for its national
security policy. It is risky in today’s Russia to advocate
real federalism and the right to regional self-determination: the authorities could interpret it as an
appeal for separatism. In 2014 a law entered into force
that encouraged this equation by prohibiting “calls
to harm the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. It has already led to criminal proceedings.10
During the Second Chechen War, the fight against
terrorism and Islamist extremism served to justify
a renewed, large-scale military operation. At the
regional level, the threat of ethno-nationalistic separatism had declined by then. Sibirian regionalism,
Finno-Ugric national movements in Karelia, and demands for autonomy in Tatarstan never turned into
serious secession movements. The Russia expert
Marlène Laruelle doubts that the nationalisms of nonRussian ethnic groups are still a “force for change” in
today’s Russia, for the following reasons: in the North
Caucasus, the region with the highest initial potential
for secession, ethno-territorial separatism was overtaken by Islamist dynamics within the armed underground. In her assessment, the “sovereignty parade”,
which had emerged at the dawn of the post-Soviet era
through various national movements and popular
fronts, is now largely a part of Russia’s past; today’s
regional faultlines tend to be characterised by socioeconomic rather than ethnic differences.11
At the military level, the National Guard (Rossgvardiya) created by President Putin in 2016 is seen as
the most recent and striking institution of the power
vertical. It reports directly to the president and groups
existing structures of the security agencies, including
the troops of the interior ministry and special units
such as OMON and others. This kind of Pretorian
guard had already been considered in the Yeltsin era,
but was not established until recently.12 It now has
a staff of about 400,000 men under the command of
Putin’s close confidante, Viktor Zolotov, who was also
appointed head of counterterrorism for the North
10 “Putin Signs a Law Criminalizing Calls to Separatism”,
The Moscow News, 30 December 2013.
11 Marlene Laruelle, “Is Nationalism a Force for Change
in Russia?”, Daedalus 146, no. 2 (2017): 89–100 (90).
12 Margarete Klein, “Russlands neue Nationalgarde. Stärkung der Machtvertikale des Putin-Regimes”, Osteuropa 66,
no. 5 (2016): 19–32; Pavel Luzin, “The Ominous Rise of
Russian National Guard”, Intersection (Security), 21 July 2017,
Caucasus in August 2017. In this context, there has
been some discussion over whether the National
Guard with its posts in Chechnya limits the (conspicuous) independence of the Chechen security bodies –
and if so, to what extent.13 Some observers have interpreted this measure as a move against Kadyrov’s inclination to act on his own authority. Others see no
limitations on his power since Chechen soldiers
serving in the National Guard continue to be loyal
to their territorial sovereign and are not deployed
without his approval. They are led by Sharip Delimkhanov, a younger brother of Adam Delimkhanov,
who is considered Kadyrov’s right-hand man in the
federal Duma in Moscow. The Delimkhanovs are
Ramzan Kadyrov’s cousins.
In 2017 the question of whether federalism can develop in Russia, and to
what extent, gained in importance in
domestic political discourse.
In 2017 the question of whether federalism can
develop in Russia, and to what extent, once more
gained in importance in domestic political discourse.
One trigger was the confrontation over extending the
accord that gave the autonomous republic of Tatarstan a special relationship with the central government. In the early 1990s, the Russian leadership had
been challenged not only by the Chechen independence movement pushing for separation from Russia.
Moscow was also confronted with emphatic demands
for autonomy from the Tatar nationalist movement
in the Volga region. The Tatars are the largest nonRussian ethnic group in the Russian Federation. Like
Chechnya, Tatarstan had not signed the 1992 federation treaty. However, unlike Chechnya, the autonomous republic – located not on the periphery but
in the centre of Russia – focused on separate powersharing negotiations with the central government,
rather than on secession. In 1994 an accord was
signed to that end. It was extended for ten years in
2007 and expired in July 2017. This special accord
guaranteed Tatarstan a certain measure of political
and economic autonomy, which has since been restricted by Putin’s power vertical, but not eliminated
13 Dmitry Shlapentokh, “The Kremlin’s Last Resort:
Kadyrovtsi in Russia’s National Guard”, Central AsiaCaucasus Analyst, 3 March 2017,
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completely. Tatarstan has remained the only federal
subject to have a president; all other autonomous
republics have had that title replaced by the designation “head of republic”. Ironically, it was the autocratic head of the Chechen republic, Kadyrov, who
inspired this terminological change in 2010 by pointing out that there could only be one president in
Russia, namely Vladimir Putin.14 Like Chechnya (but
unlike other regions), Tatarstan also demanded the
right to have its own foreign policy and foreign economic relations. In the dispute between Russia and
Turkey (2015-16), it was thus able to take a stance
against the economic sanctions that Moscow had
imposed on Ankara and insist on having its own
relationship with Turkey.
Before the power-sharing agreement expired in
July 2017, demands were made for a renewed extension and a strengthening of federalism. There was
talk of a new form of power-sharing and a “budgetary
federalism” that would allow Tatarstan, which is economically powerful compared to the North Caucasus,
to keep the majority of its revenues. Against this
background, there were also calls for compulsory
teaching of the Tatar language at schools in Tatarstan
and a Tatar-language TV channel to be broadcast
nationwide since many Tatars live in other parts of
Russia. These language-policy demands resonated to
some extent with non-Russian titular nationalities in
other regions.
15 At the Tatar World Congress in early
August 2017, which was attended by a thousand delegates from 40 countries, the first elected President
of Tatarstan (1991–2010), Mintimer Shaimiev, gave
a speech. He reminded his audience of the powersharing agreement, which he believed influenced
14 “Chef ohne Präsidententitel: Kadyrov legt Treuebekenntnis zu Moskau ab – ‘Iswestija’”, Sputnik Deutschland,
13 August 2010,
15 Paul Goble, “Tatarstan’s Pursuit of Power-Sharing
Accord with Moscow Energizes National Movements across
Russia”, Jamestown Foundation Eurasia Daily Monitor, 13 April
2017; Ramazan Alpaut, “Stanet li tatarskij vtorym gosudarstvennym jazykom Rossii?” [Will Tatar become Russia’s
second official language?], Kavkaz.Realii, 8 April 2017,
&mc_eid=9eaa49374d; Ruslan Gorevoj, “Iskushenie separatizmom” [Temptation through separatism], Versiya,
12 February 2017,
“the entire fate of Russia” and of Russian federalism.
Its extension was a “historical necessity”; the parties
needed to sit at the negotiating table to resolve legal
issues and harmonise the regional and federal constitutions.
To date, the Kremlin has only granted one of these
demands. It has allowed Rustam Minnikhanov, the
head of the republic since 2010, to use the title of
President until 2020, but rejected any extension to
the special agreement with Tatarstan. Even the
Tatar government only accepted some of the abovementioned concerns, and that cautiously. Russian
organisations in the autonomous republic, 40 percent
of whose population of 3.8 million (according to the
2010 census) are ethnic Russians, indignantly rejected
the cultural and linguistic demands.
16 These demands
certainly contradict the strengthening of the Russian
language that President Putin has called for at all
levels of the Federation.
17 In late November 2017,
Tatarstan ceded to Moscow’s pressure: being taught
the Tatar language at school was not made compulsory.18
The wave of resignations and new
appointments of governors moved
regional affairs into the spotlight.
There were also disturbances below the nationalterritorial level with its autonomous republics. The
wave of resignations and new appointments of governors moved regional affairs into the spotlight.19
16 A Society for Russian Culture in Tatarstan complained
to the minister of education and science in Moscow about
the call for compulsory lessons in the Tatar language for
all of the republic’s inhabitants. At least 50 percent of the
region’s children, it said, would have to suffer through a
useless subject – the Tatar language – at the expense of
the Russian language and culture. “Russia: Tatarstan Media
Highlights 28 August–3 September 2017”, BBC Monitoring
Global Newsline – Former Soviet Union Political File, 10 September
17 “He has encouraged both ethnic Russians and Russianspeaking members of other nations to come out in open opposition to non-Russian republican policies of language” Paul
Goble, “Language Fight in Tatarstan Set to Ignite Political Explosion Across Russia”, Jamestown Foundation Eurasia Daily
Monitor, 19 September 2017.
18 “Squeeze on Tatarstan Underlines Putin’s Bid to Centralise Control of Republics”, Financial Times, 26 January 2018.
19 Andrey Pertsev, Russia’s New Old Wave of Technocratic
Governors (Moscow: Carnegie Moscow Center, 3 March 2017),
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Regional elites, for example, complained about
their loss of influence and decision-making powers.
According to a study by the Centre for Applied Strategic Research, whose director is the former Russian
finance minister Alexei Kudrin, these are exclusively
administrative elites behind the “political elites” able
to influence political decisions and the “veto elites”
able to correct such decisions. The importance of regional economic elites has also decreased.
20 Following
the latest regional and gubernatorial elections in
autumn 2017, Russian historians, economists and
political scientists warned against “hyper-centralisation”, a division of Russia into “Moscow and Not-Moscow” carried out in the name of safeguarding territorial integrity.
There was resistance to the draft bill “On the
State’s National Policy”, initiated by President Putin
in 2016, and the binding definition of the “Russian
nation” (rossiyskaya naciya). A definition had been
needed since the start of Russia’s post-Soviet history.
Policy had oscillated between three interpretations
of national statehood: civic nationalism; ethnonationalism (here referring to Russianness); and neoimperialism.22 While Moscow pays lip service to civic
nationalism, it has been more attached to the third
variant during the Putin years. The definition was
therefore supposed to be settled by legislation. Despite President Putin’s support and encouragement,
however, the draft bill was shelved until further
notice after five months of discussions. Its (provisional) failure was due to the resistance of Russian
nationalists, who wanted the law to set out the
dominant status of ethnic Russians, and of non-Russian elites, who sensed an attempt to rob them of
their privileges.
Ideological and cultural tensions
between the centre and the regions
also exist concerning the
representation of history.
Ideological and cultural tensions between the
centre and the regions also exist concerning the
20 “Regional’nye elity priznali svoju otstranennost’ ot
politiki” [Regional elites have noticed their alienation from
politics], Vedomosti, 16 March 2017.
21 Cf. Paul Goble, “Hyper-Centralization of Russia Threatens Its Development and Survival”, Jamestown Foundation
Eurasia Daily Monitor, 19 October 2017.
22 Igor Torbakov, “What Is To Be Done about the ‘Russian
Question’?”, EurasiaNet, 27 October 2017.
representation of history. In a return to the past, that
representation is increasingly steered by state authorities, who are directing it towards a unitary narrative
that exalts Russia as a great power. At a meeting in
March 2015 with regional North Caucasus politicians,
Moscow’s special envoy for the federal district accused
local universities of falsifying history and questioned
historical terms such as “anti-colonial resistance”. He
also disapproved of exhibits in local museums dedicated to native life before the region became part of
Russia, supposedly glorifying that period.23 In recent
years, there have been “monument conflicts” between
the centre and periphery, in which ethnic Russians
pay homage to Tsarist generals such as Aleksey Yermolov while North Caucasians commemorate their
resistance fighters, including Imam Shamil.24 During
Putin’s mandate, the policy on history has tended to
challenge the notion of Russian colonialism, effectively saying: We were never a colonial power like the
Western powers, which attacked overseas territories
and exploited them. In Ocober 2016, Russia’s security
council called for a Centre to be established to protect
against falsifications of Russian history, which it
claimed were circulating in the West and former
Soviet republics, for example “speculations on the
colonial issue”.25
Chechnya, which only two decades ago forged its
place in the anti-colonial resistance to Russian dominion, now corroborates the historical narrative supported by the Kremlin. Since 2011, for example, the
Kadyrov regime no longer supports the commemoration of the deportation of entire ethnic groups from
the North Caucasus ordered by Stalin in 1943–1944,
such as the Chechens and Ingush.
23 Valery Dzutsati, “History Widens the Divide between
the North Caucasus and the Rest of Russia”, Jamestown
Foundation Eurasia Daily Monitor, 30 March 2015.
24 Paul Goble, “Russian Regions Erecting Statues to Those
Who Resisted Muscovite Expansion”, Jamestown Foundation
Eurasia Daily Monitor, 14 March 2017.
25 Cf. Alexander Morrison, “Russia’s Colonial Allergy”,
EurasiaNet, 19 December 2016.
26 Cf. this study’s chapter “Kadyrov’s Cultural Policy:
Back to Chechen Tradition?”, below, p. 16.
“Pax Ramzana”: The “Pacification” of Chechnya in Kadyrov’s Private State
SWP Berlin
Chechnya’s Status within the Russian Federation
May 2018
At the regional level, another power vertical was
developed in Chechnya by the Kadyrov dynasty,
particularly Ramzan Kadyrov. It seems limitless and
is thus an exception within Russia. The mayor of the
republic’s capital Grozny, Muslim Khachiyev, has
said: “Everything of any real significance that happens [in Chechnya] happens on Kadyrov’s watch. He
is accountable for everything to the people, to God,
and to the president [of Russia]”.27
The head of the Chechen republic has repeatedly
pointed out that except for President Putin nothing
and no-one could limit or control his authority –
neither parliament nor the media nor judicial mechanisms, let alone the opposition. “We have no opposition. That’s a system to undermine state sovereignty
[vlast]. I don’t allow anyone to play games with the
people.”28 No political parties exist in Chechnya other
than the governing party, United Russia. Consequently,
as the governing party’s candidate in regional elections, Kadyrov receives almost 100 percent of the
vote. The same is true of his feudal lord Putin. Chechnya occupies first place among the so-called electoral
sultanates, i.e. about 15 regions in which the results
obtained by Putin and the governing party in presidential and parliamentary elections are far above the
national average.
As a reward for his loyalty to Putin, vassal Kadyrov
gets to treat Chechnya as his personal fiefdom. He
has threatened to open fire on police units from other
parts of Russia if they operate in Chechnya without
27 Quoted in “Chechen Strongman Builds Cult of Personality
through Sport”, Financial Times, 4 August.
28 Quoted in Il’ja Jashin, Ugroza nacional’noj bezopasnosti.
Nezavisimij expertnyj doklad [Threat to national security.
Lecture by an independent expert] (Moscow: Open Russia,
February 2016), 12,
his authorisation. He uses collective punishment
against his adversaries and persecutes them even outside of Chechnya. He also pursues a cultural and
religious policy that, according to his critics, amounts
to transforming the republic into an Islamic state.29
Born in 1976, Ramzan Kadyrov fought on the side
of the separatists against Russian troops in the first
Chechen War (1994–1996). Thereafter, he served as
body guard to his father Akhmat, who was the acting
mufti of the de-facto independent republic. At the
start of the second war in autumn 1999, both father
and son defected to the side of the Russian security
forces. During the chaotic phase from 1996 to 1999, it
had become clear to the Kadyrovs that Chechnya was
highly unlikely to win a renewed war against Russia.
Once Russian troops had regained control over the
renegade autonomous republic, President Putin promoted Akhmat Kadyrov to be its ruler. The young
Ramzan headed his father’s security apparatus, which
became known as “Kadyrovtsy” and now numbers
over 30,000 men. In March 2003 a new Chechen constitution was passed by referendum, and entered into
force a month later. It guarantees a measure of
autonomy for the republic, but subordinates it to the
Russian Federation and central government. During
the questionable presidential election in the republic
in October 2003, Moscow’s candidate Akhmat Kadyrov
was elected with 80 percent of the votes cast. On 9
May 2004 he was assassinated. His successor was interior minister Alu Alkhanov, since Kadyrov’s son was
still too young for the presidency. However, as Putin’s
protégé, Ramzan climbed rapidly to become the de
facto ruler. In March 2006 he was made prime minister and proceeded to fill most government and ad29 Georgy Bovt, “Will Moscow Allow Polygamy in Chechnya?”, The Moscow Times, 13 May 2015.
“Pax Ramzana”:
The “Pacification” of Chechnya
in Kadyrov’s Private State
“Pax Ramzana”: The “Pacification” of Chechnya in Kadyrov’s Private State
SWP Berlin
Chechnya’s Status within the Russian Federation
May 2018
ministrative positions with his acolytes. In 2007
Alkhanov resigned as president, and the office was
assumed by Ramzan Kadyrov.
A fundamental reason for the special status of
the republic’s ruler is that the Kadyrovs, on Putin’s
orders, helped to transform the phase of full-scale war
violence in Chechnya into a more selective and more
targeted fight against the adversary. The Second Chechen War was, like the First, characterised by devastating violence. After Russian troops took Grozny
in March 2000, the armed resistance withdrew to inaccessible mountain regions and launched a partisan
war against Russian forces. The Russian troops in turn
proceeded with disproportionate force against entire
cities and settlement areas, bombarding them with
artillery, bombing them from the air, and carrying
out massive punitive operations.30 However, their
methods were ultimately unsuccessful. A Russian
general reported from the battlefield in Chechnya
as late as 2004 that the Russian army was primarily
occupied with keeping its own troops safe and was
unable to counter the guerrillas effectively.31
Since 2002 the Kremlin has increasingly relied on pro-Russian local
paramilitary units under the ultimate
command of the Kadyrovs
Since 2002 the Kremlin has increasingly relied on
pro-Russian local paramilitary units under the ultimate command of the Kadyrovs, who have had firsthand experience of guerrilla warfare as former
resistance fighters against Russia. These local units,
which integrated growing numbers of defectors from
the insurgency,32 had more detailed knowledge than
the Russian troops of the sociocultural terrain and
of their adversaries’ modus operandi. Gradually, the
Second Chechen War turned into a local civil war.
30 Emil Aslan Souleimanov and Huseyn Aliyev, How Sociocultural Codes Shaped Violent Mobilization and Pro-insurgent Support in the Chechen Wars (Cham: Springer/Palgrave Macmillan,
2017), 38. On Russian warfare, cf. Mark Galeotti, Russia’s
Wars in Chechnya 1994–2009 (Oxford, 2014).
31 Emil Aslan Souleimanov, The North Caucasus Insurgency:
Dead or Alive? (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The United States Army
War College, Strategic Studies Institute, February 2017), 35.
32 According to the then-ruler of the republic, Alu Alkhanov, in October 2005 half the local security forces already
consisted of (about 7,000) former insurgents, who had defected. John Russell, Chechnya – Russia’s War on Terror (London
and New York: Routledge, 2007), 88.
The Kadyrovtsy largely replaced the Russian troops
as the leading force in fighting terrorists. Their main
tool was collective punishment, which was not limited to close relatives of the remaining insurgents and
terror suspects. The most common practice was to
burn down houses. Ramzan Kadyrov’s punitive and
deterrent measures also targeted the Chechen diaspora in Europe.
According to a study from 2010, the targeted
counter-insurgency practised by local security forces
resulted in a 40 percent decrease in violent activities
by the armed guerrillas compared to the Russian
army’s methods.33 In 2009 Moscow officially lifted
Chechnya’s special status as a counter-terrorism location. In February 2010 a British delegation visited the
Caucasian republic. It was led by Frank Judd, former
rapporteur for the Council of Europe on the humanrights situation in Chechnya. The delegation reported
that people living in Chechnya were noticeably safer
than during the war, but that the human-rights
situation continued to be precarious.34
Once the fiercest phase of military confrontation
had come to an end, violence levels in Chechnya
did decline. However, simultaneously the Islamist
revolutionary movement spread to other parts of
the North Caucasus. In 2007 the last Chechen underground president, Doku Umarov, proclaimed the socalled Caucasus Emirate. While it never ruled over a
compact territory, it did make efforts to coordinate
local underground cells (jama’at) in various parts of
the North Caucasus and motivate them ideologically.
Fighting throughout the entire region has only declined since about 2013, with markedly fewer casualties. This was primarily due to many jihadi fighters
moving from the Caucasus and other parts of Russia
to combat zones in Syria and Iraq.35
Field studies have raised doubts about the loyalty
of the Chechen people to the head of their republic –
and even of some Kadyrovtsy to their commander.
Jean-François Ratelle and Emil Aslan Souleimanov
33 Jean-François Ratelle and Emil Aslan Souleimanov,
“A Perfect Counterinsurgency? Making Sense of Moscow’s
Policy of Chechenisation”, Europe-Asia Studies 68, no. 8 (2016):
1287–1341 (1289); Jason Lyall, “Are Coethnics More Effective Counterinsurgents? Evidence from the Second Chechen
War”, American Political Science Review 104, no. 1 (2010): 1–20.
34 Quoted in “British MPs ‘Disturbed’ by Chechnya Visit”,
The Moscow News, 25 February 2010.
35 Uwe Halbach, Russland und der Nordkaukasus im Umfeld
des globalen Jihadismus, SWP-Aktuell 23/2017 (Berlin: Stiftung
Wissenschaft und Politik, April 2017).
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May 2018
conducted interviews from 2008 to 2013 in which
some interlocutors complained, for example, that
only towns and localities linked to the Kadyrov clan
had profited from the reconstruction programmes
in Chechnya.36 At the same time, the two researchers
concede that Putin’s Chechenisation policy and his
alliance with the Kadyrov family have been remarkably successful. For them, the Russian president has
attained three fundamental objectives: first, war
casualties among the population declined. Second,
transferring the counter-insurgency fight to the Kadyrovtsy helped Moscow to distance itself from the
battlefield of Chechnya and the violence committed
against local civilians, and thus to avoid accusations
of human-rights violations. Third, Kadyrov actually
managed to drive back the insurgency – unlike, for
example, the leader of the neighbouring republic
of Dagestan. Moreover, they believe that Kadyrov,
despite taking the law entirely in his own hands in
Chechnya, has remained loyal to the Russian president.37
Whether it is possible to thereby derive lasting
stability is questionable. Two instruments used by the
Kadyrovs in fighting the insurgency make this particularly doubtful, namely collective punishment and
vendetta, which have historically played a role in tribal Chechen society.38
Chechen society is still traumatised
by the two wars; there were casualties
in almost every family.
Russian human-rights activists and regional experts, such as Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya, Svetlana Gannushkina and Aleksei Malashenko, believe that elements of Chechen youth are receptive to Islamic State
(IS) propaganda because Chechnya is not at all lastingly
36 “Moscow has managed to maintain control over the
Chechen state in general and Chechen elites in particular.
[…] Unlike in Afghanistan and Iraq, where sectarian division
and the empowerment of local ethnic allies have delivered
mixed results for the US Army, Chechenisation represents a
model where Moscow has been able to find the right balance
between autonomy and control.” Ratelle and Souleimanov,
“A Perfect Counterinsurgency?” (see note 33), 1310.
37 Ibid.
38 “Krovnaja mest’ – kak teper’ ubivajut na Kavkaze”
[Vendetta: How murders are carried out in the Caucasus
today], Kavkazkii Uzel, 26 December 2017,
pacified, as the official interpretation suggests.39
Chechen society is still traumatised by the two wars;
there were casualties in almost every family. Even
though today’s minors did not experience the wars
themselves, the trauma is being passed down to them
by their parents’ generation. The shiny new facades
in the capital Grozny cannot belie the fact that a large
part of the population lives at or below the poverty
threshold. Kadyrov’s acolytes, on the other hand, can
display their wealth and luxury unhindered. “There
are those for whom everything is allowed. And there’s
the mass of the people who have no rights at all, […]
who have to gather in public to support the government, who have to follow their religion in the way
prescribed by the regime.”40 The experts emphasise,
however, that even under these circumstances there
is no large-scale support for IS. They stress that the
limited potential followers are recruited not only
from underprivileged social strata, and instead have a
more complex social and educational profile. According to statements by the Chechen interior minister,
in 2017 there were eight IS “sleeper cells” discovered
and 18 underground fighters killed.41
39 “Eksperty nazvali prichiny interesa chechenskoj molodezhi k ideologii IG” [Experts give the reasons for Chechen
youths’ interests in IS ideology], Kavkazkii Uzel, 15 March
40 Quotation by Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya, ibid.
41 “Russia: Chechnya Media Highlights 15–28 January
2018”, BBC Monitoring Global Newsline – Former Soviet Union
Political File, 1 February 2018.
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May 2018
Ramzan Kadyrov insists that Chechnya is part and
parcel of the Russian Federation and, more than any
other regional leader, promotes a cult of President
Putin, whom he has asked to remain in power for life.
In Grozny, Putin’s birthday is celebrated by a mass
parade. Ramzan Kadyrov has promoted the Russian
President (alongside his father Akhmat and himself)
to a state icon. In Chechen society, this tripartite
iconology is satirically known as “Father, Son and the
Holy Spirit”. The father, Akhmat Kadyrov, is at the
pinnacle of this personality cult – comparable to
Heydar Aliyev in Azerbaijan, the father of the current
president Ilham Aliyev. Azerbaijan and Chechnya are
the two political entities in the post-Soviet area in
which authoritarian ruling families have established
themselves as dynasties. The largest mosque in the
whole North Caucasus stands in the Chechen capital
Grozny. Not only the mosque has been named after
the former mufti and head of the republic, Akhmat
Kadyrov, but so have streets and buildings in Grozny
and other localities in the republic. In 2017 the
father-figure cult was further bolstered: the Chechen
football club RFK Terek Grozny, which plays in the
top Russian league, was renamed FK Akhmat Grozny.
The 66th birthday of its namesake was celebrated in
the capital on 22 August 2017 – with the participation of former colleagues and representatives from
parliament, public organisations and the muftiate
clergy. The guest of honour from Moscow was the
Minister for North Caucasus Affairs, Lev Kuznetsov.42
During the celebrations, Ramzan Kadyrov addressed
the Islamic world: prominent Islam scholars from
dozens of countries had acknowledged that his father
had sacrificed his life for God and the salvation of
the Chechen people. However, international terrorists
were preparing to sacrifice the Chechen people to
42 A ministry specifically dedicated to North Caucasus
affairs (Minkavkaz) was established in Moscow in March
bring about the breakup of Russia.43 In the past few
years, Kadyrov has repeatedly claimed that Western
actors are undermining his republic’s stability and
Russia’s territorial integrity.
Ramzan Kadyrov organises his own personality cult
through manliness rituals, martial-arts performances
in which his sons occasionally participate, and other
bizarre means. In February 2013 he set up his own
Instagram page, on which he posted comments on
Chechnya, Russia and the rest of the world. His online audience grew to over 4 million visitors. However, as of 23 December 2017, access to Kadyrov’s
Instagram and Facebook pages was no longer possible. They were blocked three days after the US government had put Kadyrov on its sanctions list under
the Magnitsky Act for human-rights abuses.44 The
measure triggered indignant reactions not only in
Chechnya, but all over Russia.45
Kadyrov cultivates the image of a helper to those
in need not only in his own territory but all across
Russia. He has boasted of helping free Russian journalists held in Ukraine, and members of the Russian
marine imprisoned in Libya. In 2017 he became involved in the repatriation of Russian women and
children stranded in IS territories conquered by Iraqi
and Syrian troops. From August to October 2017 alone,
Kadyrov’s special envoy to the Middle East and North
Africa, Ziyad Sabsazi, brought back about 50 of them
43 “Russia: Chechnya Media Highlights 21–27 August
2017”, BBC Monitoring Global Newsline – Former Soviet Union
Political File, 3 September 2017.
44 The “Magnitsky Act” was passed by the US Congress
in 2012 and signed by President Obama. It placed Russian
officials on a sanctions list whom it held responsible for the
death of the tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky, who had been
arrested in 2009 and died in prison.
45 “Chechen Leader’s Social Media Ban Causes Outrage
in Russia”, BBC Monitoring Global Newsline – Former Soviet Union
Political File, 25 December 2017.
Kadyrov’s Cultural Policy:
Back to Chechen Tradition?
Kadyrov’s Cultural Policy: Back to Chechen Tradition?
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Chechnya’s Status within the Russian Federation
May 2018
from the war zones.46 Kadyrov’s carefully cultivated
image is popular in Russia’s interior, even though
its inhabitants have reservations about Chechens and
other North Caucasians. In an opinion poll carried
out by the WZIOM Institute among 1,800 citizens
of Russia in April 2017, 55 percent of those polled
believed that Kadyrov’s activities benefited the entire
country. The institute’s director, Valeri Fedorov, summarised the poll results as follows: “The head of the
Chechen republic is viewed by the majority of Russian citizens as a successful and patriotic leader who
guarantees the security and development of his republic within the Russian population. Critical objections to Ramzan Kadyrov barely resonate in the mass
Within his sphere of control, Kadyrov rigidly steers
his course in religious and cultural policy under the
motto “Back to Chechen tradition”. This “Kadyrovism”
builds bridges between different groups, including
some that were previously hostile to each other, with
different interpretations of “Chechen identity”: traditionalists who want to revive the norms of the common law (adat) that has been valid for centuries within a tribal society; Islamic purists who only recognise
sharia as a legal system; nationalists who insist on
Chechnya’s sovereignty, basing themselves on the
tradition of anti-colonial resistance; and autonomists
who prefer a self-determined Chechnya within greatpower Russia.48 In this context, Ramzan Kadyrov
presents himself as the national and religious leader;
as the intermediary between Russia and the external
Islamic world; as the symbol of Chechen self-determination and simultaneously as the guarantor of the
republic’s affiliation with Russia; as an active fighter
against terrorism and religious extremism who nevertheless employs violent methods himself and dictates
strict religious prescriptions to his own society.
46 “Russia: Chechnya Media Highlights 31 July–6 August
2017”, BBC Monitoring Global Newsline – Former Soviet Union
Political File, 7 August 2017; Grozny-Inform, 21 October 2017.
On Kadyrov’s activities abroad and his special envoy Sabsazi,
cf. this study’s chapter on “Chechnya as a Cross-Border
Actor”, p. 26.
47 “Ramzan Kadyrov: Portret Politika”, press release
no. 3372, VCIOM, 12 May 2017,
48 Cf. in particular Marlène Laruelle, Kadyrovism: Hardline
Islam as a Tool of the Kremlin?, Russie.Nei.Visions no. 99 (Paris
and Brussels: Institut français des relations internationales
[Ifri], March 2017), 9.
Kadyrov emphasises the proximity
of Islamic morals and tradition to
Russia’s Christian-Orthodox
These contradictions are particularly visible in his
religious policy. On the one hand, Kadyrov emphasises
the proximity of Islamic morals and tradition to Russia’s Christian-Orthodox traditionalism and vehemently demarcates this link from “Western decadence, ungodliness, and hostility to tradition and the family”.
Here he resembles his patron Putin, who since 2012
(during his third term as president) has increasingly
underpinned Russian patriotism with references to
traditional values, and stressed their importance for
Russia’s security and stability.49 Kadyrov supports the
concept of “spiritual security”, which has been integrated into Russia’s national security doctrine, elevating a specific “Russian civilisation” into an object to
be defended against external interference.50 He maintains contacts with Patriarch Kirill and has opened
new Russian-Orthodox churches in Chechnya despite
the fact that the ethnic Russian section of its population has shrunk to a tiny minority. Simultaneously
Kadyrov supports ultraconservative forces in Moscow,
such as the deputy Natalia Poklonskaya and orthodox
hardliners that even the Patriarch considers suspect.
They include groups that campaigned against the film
Matilda in 2017, whose theme is the love affair between Tsar Nicolas II and a ballet dancer, for allegedly
violating the religious sentiments of “real Russians”.
Chechnya’s policy towards non-traditional faith
communities is just as repressive as Moscow’s. Russia
passed a law in July 2016 that places the missionary
activities of non-Orthodox, non-traditional denominations under suspicion of terrorism. In 2017 Jehovah’s
Witnesses in particular were criminalised as “religious extremists”. In Chechnya, the attribute “nontraditional” is likewise used to demonise undesired
religious activities. Ramzan Kadyrov calls for “traditional Islam” in line with his father Akhmat’s beliefs,
invoking in Marlène Laruelle’s words “an often gro49 Cf. Irina du Quenoy, “Russia: The Stability Implications
of State Policies Toward Religion and the Russian Orthodox
Church”, in Religion, Conflict, and Stability in the Former Soviet
Union, ed. Katya Migacheva and Bryan Frederick (Santa
Monica: Rand Corporation, 2018), 159–80 (171–75).
50 Cf. Veera Laine and Iiris Saarelainen, Spirituality as a
Political Instrument. The Church, the Kremlin, and the Creation of
the “Russian World”, Working Paper (Helsinki: Finnish Institute of International Affairs [FIIA], September 2017).
Kadyrov’s Cultural Policy: Back to Chechen Tradition?
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Chechnya’s Status within the Russian Federation
May 2018
tesque reinterpretation of Sufi tradition”.51 While
pilgrimages to the tombs of local saints and Sufi
leaders were tolerated in Soviet times as an expression of national-religious folklore, they are now
deliberately being revived. At the centre of these
efforts is the tomb of Kunta-Haji Kishiev who has
been elevated to the shining light of Chechnya’s
religious history. This 19th-century leader of the
Qadiriyya order had opposed Imam Shamil’s call to
fight the Russian army “to the last man”, advocating
a return to religious contemplation instead.
Kadyrov has decreed rigid norms of
behaviour that could be borrowed
straight from the cultural repertoire
of his adversaries in the IslamistSalafist underground.
On the other hand, Kadyrov has decreed rigid norms
of behaviour that could be borrowed straight from
the cultural repertoire of his adversaries in the Islamist-Salafist underground. At the centre of this policy
are prescriptions – for instance regarding dress
codes – that especially restrict the personal rights
of women. As early as 2006, when he was still prime
minister, he launched a morality campaign that
contained the obligation to wear a headscarf as well
as general dress rules for women, approved Islamic
polygamy and justified “honour killings”. The consumption of alcohol is strictly controlled; Western
music has been banned from local TV channels since
2008; and a liberal approach to sexual minorities
(Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, LGBT), whose
existence in Chechnya is simply denied, is seen as
an expression of “Western decadence”.52
Ilya Yashin, an ally of the murdered oppposition
politician Boris Nemtsov made an exaggerated criticism of this “Islamisation from above” within Chechnya in a lecture in February 2016: “Few people have
noticed that in the past few years we have had our
own local Islamic State take shape on Russian territory. A ‘Chechen caliphate’ operates according to its
own traditions and laws, all the while receiving billions in subsidies out of the federal budget. Chechnya’s ruler, Ramzan Kadyrov, indulges in a luxurious
lifestyle and steers a policy in which a few sharia
51 Laruelle, Kadyrovism (see note 48), 20.
52 Cf. this study’s chapter on “Human-Rights Violations”,
p. 21.
norms have gained the upper hand over Russia’s
laws, and he is expanding his military might.”53
However, a few of Kadyrov’s cultural and historical
measures intended to embed Chechen nationalism
in Russian patriotism have irritated Chechens. In
2011 in accordance with the Kremlin’s history policy,
he declared 23 February a national holiday. In Russia,
this is the Day of the Defender of the Fatherland, when
the armed forces are celebrated. However, Chechens
link it to a different event. During Stalin’s Reign of
Terror, 23 February 1944 saw the start of the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Chechens and
Ingush to Kazakhstan. Many deportees died on the
way. Kadyrov moved the memorial service dedicated
to this historical trauma to 10 May, the anniversary
of his father Akhmat’s death. Moreover, he questioned the significance of commemorating the deportation by making confusing remarks, including the
claim that the deportees were in part to blame for
their fate.54
53 Il’ja Jashin, Ugroza nacional’noj bezopasnosti. Nezavisimij
expertnyj doklad [Threat to national security. Lecture by an
independent expert] (Moscow: Open Russia, February 2016),
54 “Zhiteli Chechni ne soglasny vosprinimat’ 23 Fevralja
kak prazdnik” [The inhabitants of Chechnya do not agree
with 23 February as a national holiday], Kavkazkii Uzel, 23
February 2017,
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During the past few years, some security personnel
(siloviki) within Putin’s entourage, and especially within the domestic secret service FSB, have criticised
Chechnya for its lawlessness and for thwarting investigations by federal authorities.55 In 2013 several FSB
officers went on hunger strike in protest against the
release of three Chechen policemen accused of kidnapping and torturing a man living in Moscow.56 In
April 2015 the Stavropol police pursued a Chechen
national in Grozny whose name was on its wanted
list, but did not inform the Chechen authorities
of their operation. In response, Kadyrov authorised
his security apparatus to shoot anyone who was
operating on the republic’s territory without prior
permission from the local authorities. Chechen
representatives in the State Duma and the Federal
Council in Moscow supported their republic’s leader
and accused the Russian interior ministry of provocation. However, the ministry justified deploying the
Stavropol police, leaving Kadyrov to backtrack and
signal that there was no conflict. “I am a Kremlin
man, I am Putin’s man, I am a servant of the people.”57
Commentators who are sceptical about the personal loyalty pact between President Putin and his “foot
soldier” in Chechnya have pointed to a series of murders of Kadyrov’s critics and opponents that have
never been solved by Russian law-enforcement agen55 One of the best-known Russian experts on the Caucasus,
Alexei Malaschenko from the Carnegie Moscow Center, comments: “From what I can see, there has always been friction
between Kadyrov and the federal forces, because Kadyrov
only answers to Putin. This has irked people, especially since
Putin awarded him the Order of Honor.” Quoted in Ivan
Nechepurenko, “Nemtsov Probe Exposes Widening Rift
between Kadyrov, FSB”, The Moscow Times, 11 March 2015.
56 Ibid.
57 Mairbek Vatchagaev, “Why Kadyrov Has Fought
with Bastrykin”, North Caucasus Weekly, 30 April 2015, https://
cies. These include the assassination of the journalist
Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, human-rights activist
Natalya Estemirova in 2009, and Ruslan Yamadayev,
shot dead in his car in central Moscow, in 2008. There
have also been assassinations abroad, for example
Sulim Yamadayev, who was killed in Dubai in 2009.
The Yamadayev brothers were some of Kadyrov’s
fiercest rivals. One of Kadyrov’s former body guards,
Umar Israilov, who had reported human-rights violations, was killed in Vienna in 2009 after fleeing there
with his family. “The FSB hate Ramzan because they
are unable to control him”, said Aleksei Malashenko
from the Carnegie Moscow Center. “He does whatever
he wants, including in Moscow. Nobody can arrest
members of his team if there is no agreement with
Putin.” The prominent Russian opposition politician
Boris Nemtsov joined this criticism.
The most spectacular episode is the events surrounding the murder of Nemtsov, who was shot on
27 February 2015 near the Kremlin in Moscow. There
was evidence pointing to Chechnya. Shortly after
the assassination, five Chechens were arrested and
a sixth, who resisted arrest, was shot dead. Kadyrov
defended the suspects on Instagram and blamed
“enemies of Russia” for masterminding the murder.
On his website, he described one of the main suspects
as a “true patriot”. Ruslan Geremeyev, suspected by
Moscow of being involved in the attack, was kept
away from investigators in Chechnya. He is allegedly
close to Kadyrov’s most important ally and relative
in Moscow, the Duma deputy Adam Delimkhanov.
Given these events, it is interesting that only a few
days after the assassination of Nemtsov, Kadyrov was
awarded two medals. On 9 March Putin bestowed on
him the Order of Honor, Russia’s highest state decoration; and on 16 March he received the Medal for
Loyalty and Performance of One’s Duties from the
authorities in Crimea (which had been annexed by
Russia the previous year).
Conflicts between Kadyrov and
the Russian Security Services
Conflicts between Kadyrov and the Russian Security Services
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May 2018
On 14 July 2017 the Moscow Military District Court
delivered its verdict in the Nemtsov case. It sentenced
the five Chechens to long terms in prison and categorised the attack as a contract killing. However, it
shone no light on the motive or on who might have
backed or ordered the killing. According to an explanation popular in Chechnya, the man who allegedly
fired the fatal shot, Zaur Dadaev, was deeply religious
and very upset by the caricatures of the Prophet published in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo
and by those defending freedom of opinion after
the terror attack on the magazine’s editorial office
in January 2015. However, it remains unclear which
statements by Nemtsov are supposed to have provided
the motive for the killing. His fellow activist Ilya
Yashin has clarified that Nemtsov “never said a bad
word about Islam” and only criticised terrorists.58
Furthermore, a number of human-rights activists
doubted that the evidence was sufficient to convict
the five accused, who were reportedly mistreated
in detention and later withdrew their confessions.
58 Friedrich Schmidt, “Ein passendes Geständnis”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 10 March 2015, 5.
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European institutions and international human-rights
organisations view the situation of civil and human
rights in Russia as problematic overall. This is true,
for instance, of the European Union’s annual report
“Human Rights and Democracy 2016” published in
October 2017, which Russia’s foreign ministry typically rejected as “not objective” and “Russophobic”.59
Reports by international organisations on the humanrights situation in the Russian Federation and specifically in the North Caucasus highlight Chechnya
in particular.60 Since it has been ruled by Ramzan
Kadyrov, the systematic documentation of humanrights violations has been prevented there. Two
prominent human-rights activists were murdered in
Chechnya in 2009: the internationally known Natalya
Estemirova, who worked for the non-governmental
organisation Memorial, and Sarema Sadulaeva from
the humanitarian organisation Save the Next Generation. Any available information on human-rights
abuses and violations committed by the state is consequently unclear. What sparse information there is
comes from those affected, who have contacted the
Internet portal Kavkazkii Uzel (Caucasian Knot) or
organisations such as Memorial.61
The most common human-rights violations include
the “disappearing” of alleged members of the armed
underground and their relatives, torture in prisons
and secret locations, arbitrary violence against Kadyrov’s adversaries and their persecution abroad, as well
as large-scale infringements of women’s rights. From
1999 to 2017 approximately 3,000 people disappeared
without trace in Chechnya. Between January and
October 2017, there were 43 cases of family members
59 “Moscow Condemns ‘Russophobic’ EU Rights Report”,
BBC Monitoring Global Newsline – Former Soviet Union Political File,
27 October 2017.
60 See, e.g., Manarsha Isaeva, Sergej Prokopkin and Sarah
Reinke, Die Menschenrechtslage in den nordkaukasischen Republiken
Dagestan, Tschetschenien und Inguschetien, Menschenrechtsreport
no. 68 (Göttingen: Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker, November 2012).
61 Ibid., 21.
reporting the kidnapping of relatives to the police.62
In Dagestan and Ingushetia, there are active humanrights organisations, and the families of kidnap
victims go to local law-enforcement agencies for help.
In Chechnya, by contrast, people only rarely dare to
report the disappearance of relatives to the police.
The Russian Federation’s Commissioner for Human
Rights, Tatyana Moskalkova, travelled to Chechnya
in 2017, but was unable to obtain much reliable
information on kidnapping cases.
In March 2017 there were reports of a wave of
persecutions against homosexuals in the Kadyrov
republic. Hundreds of people were arrested, some
murdered. Not one of those arrested had publicly
come out as homosexual. Yet in a society that has
close family ties within village and clan communities,
it is almost impossible for an individual to conceal
that his or her sexual orientation diverges from traditional norms. According to the Russian newspaper
Novaya Gazeta, this was a “prophylactic cleansing”
following a request by representatives of the Russian
LGBT community for authorisation to hold demonstrations for the rights of sexual minorities in four
locations in the North Caucasus. A Kadyrov spokesman denied the reports, saying it was impossible to
arrest people that did not exist in the republic. If such
people existed in Chechnya, he continued, their own
relatives would send them to places from which they
could never return.63 Kadyrov reacted similarly to the
case of the Chechen singer Zelimkhan Bakaev, who
disappeared without a trace in 2017, for which some
sources blame state agencies. At a meeting with local
officials in January 2018, Kadyrov said Bakaev was
62 “Pochishcheniya ljudej v Chechne prinjali sistemnyj
charakter” [The kidnapping of people in Chechnya has
become systemic], Kavkazkii Uzel, 27 October 2017, http://
63 Andrew E. Kramer, “Gay Men in Chechnya Are Killed,
Paper Says”, The New York Times, 2 April 2017; “‘Hundreds’
Detained for Homosexuality in Chechnya”, BBC Monitoring
Global Newsline – Former Soviet Union Political File, 1 April 2017.
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probably homosexual and therefore killed by his
relatives or men from his village.
Chechen security agencies have reportedly established secret prisons in at least two locations for
“people of non-traditional sexual orientation”. Russian journalists have filed critical reports about
human-rights violations against homosexuals in
Chechnya, resulting in threats from those in power
there. The republic’s mufti, Salah Meshiev, and a
member of the Chechen parliament demanded that
the journalists be held to account. The Minister for
Nationalities Policy, External Relations, Press and
Information, Dshambulat Umarov, described the
reporting as an “insult to the Chechen people” and
called on the journalists to apologise in writing. As a
result, more than 60 writers from Russia – including
such world-renowned authors as Lyudmila Ulitskaya
and Vladimir Voinovich – sided with the journalists
and appealed to the country’s law-enforcement agencies to react to the threats from Chechnya.65 Of all
the serious human-right violations committed under
Kadyrov’s reign of violence, this event created the
most waves on the international stage. The foreign
ministers of five countries expressed their concerns
in a letter to their Russian colleague Sergey Lavrov.
The President of the European Parliament, Antonio
Tajani, and the OSCE also criticised the human-rights
violations against sexual minorities in Russia and particularly in Chechnya.
66 German Chancellor Angela
Merkel addressed the abuses during her meeting with
President Putin in early May 2017.67 In response to
the protests, Moscow for the first time examined the
accusations against Chechen security forces. However,
an investigative committee responsible for the North
64 “Chechen Leader Defends Detention of Rights Activist”,
BBC Monitoring Global Newsline – Former Soviet Union Political File,
18 January 2018.
65 “Pisateli prizvali k rassledovaniju ozvuchennych v
Chechne ugroz zhurnalistam” [Writers call for investigation
of the threat against journalists coming from Chechnya],
Kavkazkii Uzel, 17 April 2017,
66 “Glava Evroparlamenta prizval vlasti Chechni projasnit’
situaciju s gejami” [The President of the European Parliament calls on Chechnya’s authorities to take a stance on
the situation of homosexuals], Kavkazkii Uzel, 6 April 2017,
67 “Merkel’ poprosila Putina zashchitit’ prava men’shinstv”
[Merkel asked Putin to protect the rights of minorities], Kavkazkii Uzel, 2 May 2017,
Caucasus encountered resistance from the Chechen
68 Chechnya’s human-rights ombudsman
insisted in his in remarks from 23 May 2017 that
homosexuality did not exist in the republic. He
claimed that the whole dispute over the alleged persecution of homosexuals was the result of a conspiracy
by foreign powers intending to undermine Chechen
69 His counterpart in Moscow, Tatyana Moskalkova, pointed out that she had not yet received any
requests for help from the victims and made clear
that the victims’ families would need to be guaranteed maximum protection. This was the precondition,
she said, for any serious investigations to be carried
out in Chechnya at all.70
In early 2018 the precarious humanrights situation in Chechnya once
again made the headlines in
international politics.
In early 2018 the precarious human-rights situation in Chechnya once again made the headlines in
international politics. In January the human-rights
activist Oyub Titiev, who had been running the Grozny office of the organisation Memorial since Natalya
Estemirova’s murder, was arrested for alleged possession of drugs. This is a favourite regime pretext for
silencing its critics. In 2014 a court sentenced the
activist Ruslan Kutaev to four years in prison for
alleged possession of heroin. He had organised a conference for the 70th anniversary of the deportation
of Chechens and Ingush against Kadyrov’s wishes. In
2016 a journalist from the Internet portal Kavkazkii
Uzel (Caucasian Knot), who had posted reports criticising the Kadyrov regime, was sentenced to three
years’ imprisonment for alleged possession of marijuana.
The German government, Council of Europe and
EU expressed their concern about this renewed state
interference in the reporting on human rights in
Chechnya. The State Department in Washington described Titiev’s arrest as “the latest in a string of
reports of alarming recent human rights violations
68 Ann-Dorit Boy, “Tschetscheniens Polizei sabotiert Untersuchung”, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 26 May 2017.
69 “Chechen Ombudsman Rejects Gay Abuse Allegations”,
BBC Monitoring Global Newsline – Former Soviet Union Political File,
23 May 2017.
70 Boy, “Tschetscheniens Polizei sabotiert Untersuchung”
(see note 68).
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in Chechnya”.71 Prior to that, in December 2017, the
US government had added Kadyrov to the sanctions
list under the Magnitsky Act, citing various humanrights violations in his territory. Kadyrov responded
to the criticism by vilifying Memorial employees as
agitators steered by the US and defaming humanrights activists in general as persons “without family,
nation or religion” and as “enemies of the people”.
Concerns grew over the human-rights situation in
Chechnya and the North Caucasus more generally
when, shortly after Kadyrov’s response, an arson
attack was carried out on the Memorial office in
Nazran in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia.
Human-rights activists in Ingushetia had previously
not had the same problems with the authorities as
in Chechnya. The Dagestani capital Makhachkala also
saw attacks on Memorial. This fed speculation as to
whether the Kadyrovtsy’s repression reached beyond
the borders of Chechnya.
73 Human-rights organisations such as Memorial are currently under increasing
pressure in Russia in general.
71 Quoted in Sophia Kishkovsky, “Chechen Arrest Reflects
Crackdown, Activists Say”, The New York Times, 11 January
72 Quoted in Benjamin Triebe, “Offensive gegen Bürgerrechtler in Tschetschenien”, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 22 January
2018; “Evrosojuz osudil presledovanie PC ‘Memorial’ na
Severnom Kavkaze” [The European Union condemned the
persecution of the human-rights centre Memorial in the
North Caucasus], Kavkazkii Uzel, 19 January 2018, http://
73 Cf. this study’s chapter on “Chechnya as a Cross-Border
Actor”, p. 26.
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The most visible sign of the changes that Chechnya
has undergone in the past decade is the appearance
ofthe capital Grozny. Its magnificent avenues, such as
Putin Boulevard, and islands of modernisations, such
as Grozny City with its luxury hotels and boutiques,
are in sharp contrast to the town reduced to rubble at
the end of the intense fighting. However, as in a few
other Caucasian metropolises, this boom façade conceals the socioeconomic realities in each country or
area. In the case of Chechnya, this also masks the fact
that the revival on display here was funded less by
its own economic power than by subsidies from the
federal budget.
In May 2004 President Putin visited Grozny to
attend the funeral of the murdered head of the republic, Akhmat Kadyrov. At the time, he voiced his horror
at the devastation in the city. About 154,000 houses
and apartments in Chechnya had been wholly or
mostly destroyed. In Grozny that comprised 70 percent of all apartments and houses.74 A year earlier
the United Nations had described Grozny as the most
destroyed city in the world. At that time, Chechnya
was the weakest economic region in the entire Russian Federation. Fourteen years later, in October 2017,
Ramzan Kadyrov gushingly praised the reconstruction
during a ceremony for “Grozny Day”. Grozny, he
claimed, was a glorious example for the whole North
Caucasus, whose beauty was lauded the world over;
multitudes of tourists visited it. Chechnya’s secondbiggest town, Gudermes, has also witnessed a remarkable reconstruction. There are now plans to demonstrate, through elaborate tourism projects, just how
acute the contrast is to the previously war-devastated
Chechnya. For example, in one of the mountain
regions that saw the heaviest fighting 15 years ago,
74 Musa Basnukaev, “Reconstruction in Chechnya: At the
Intersection between Politics and the Economy”, in Chechnya
at War and Beyond, ed. Anne le Huérou et al. (New York:
Routledge, 2014), 76.
the Veduchi ski resort is being built at a cost of potentially up to 500 million US dollars.75
When Ramzan Kadyrov came to power, unemployment in Chechnya stood at over 70 percent. By late
2014, this had allegedly been reduced to 21.5 percent,
although statistical data from Chechnya are extremely questionable.76 In principle, this is true of all socioeconomic data from the North Caucasus, as was most
recently emphasised in October 2017 by Natalya
Zubarevich, an expert on economic development in
Russia’s regions. Her assessment was made when
great numbers of governors and representatives of the
regional power elites in this part of Russia were dismissed due to their weak economic performance.
Such data are unreliable, Zubarevich points out, if
only because of the sprawling underground economy.
On 19 April 2017, President Putin received Kadyrov
in the Kremlin and emphasised a series of socioeconomic successes. He stated that decrees passed by
him (Putin) in May 2012 for development in Chechnya had been implemented; unemployment had
already sunk to 9.2 percent; wages were being paid
regularly; and pre-school education was now available for 100 percent of children.78
Despite the Kadyrov regime’s insistence on independence, Chechnya’s economy is largely dependent
75 Andrew E. Kramer, “Where Islamists Reigned, a Ski
Resort Rises”, The New York Times, 1 February 2018.
76 Hannah Salyers Kibler, Ramzan Kadyrov: Russia’s Vanguard
of Security or Long-Term Liability? (Tallahassee: Florida State
University, College of Social Sciences and Public Policy,
2016), 52.
77 “Zubarevich: dlja serii otstavok na Severnom Kavkaze
net ekonomicheskich osnovanij” [Subaryevitch: There are
no economic reasons for the wave of dismissals in the North
Caucasus], Kavkazkii Uzel, 6 October 2017,
78 “Russia: Chechnya Media Highlights 17–23 April 2017”,
BBC Monitoring Global Newsline – Former Soviet Union Political File,
27 April 2017.
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on both Russia and the local power elite and local
state bodies. The private or market-based sector is
largely underdeveloped.79 The minister for the economy in Grozny objects that Chechnya has created a
favourable climate for investment and that in 2014
private investments totalled 79 percent of all investment in the republic. Independent observers, however, including economists at Chechnya’s State University, are sceptical. They point out that there are
hardly any jobs in the private sector, but almost
exclusively in the state apparatus and administration.
And salaries are exceedingly low, except in the higher
ranks of the security agencies. One of the few exceptions is the Rodina Complex, in which the Chechen
oligarch Abubakar Arsamakov has invested. The complex encompasses large farms and garden centres,
for which fallow land in part contaminated by mines
was made arable.80 The foreign investment which was
used to nurse Grozny back to health and give it its
magnificent façades partly came from the United Arab
Emirates, with which the regime maintains good relations. Additional resources came from a fund created
by Ramzan Kadyrov, bearing his father’s name, and
administered by his mother. The Akhmat Kadyrov
Fund is stocked using compulsory levies that are deducted from state employees’ pay in a “parallel tax
Moscow made it clear that Chechnya
would increasingly have to grow its
economy on its own strength.
In Soviet times, the budget of the autonomous
republic (which at the time consisted of both Chechnya and Ingushetia) was already more than 50 percent dependent on subsidies from Moscow. In the
post-Soviet era, that share has risen to more than 80
percent. Such high levels of dependence are characteristic for many other federal subjects, not just in the
North Caucasus but in other areas as well. Under the
79 Kathrin Hille, “Chechnya’s Economic Recovery Tested by
Slowdown”, Financial Times, 28 April 2015,
80 Hannah Salyers Kibler, Ramzan Kadyrov: Russia’s Vanguard
of Security or Long-Term Liability? (Tallahassee: Florida State
University, College of Social Sciences and Public Policy,
2016), 64.
81 Cf. the detailed treatment in “Fond Kadyrova: kak tratjat
‘dengi ot Allacha’” [The Kadyrov Fund: How to spend ‘Allah’s
money’], Kavkazkii Uzel, 6 October 2017,
umbrella of a federal programme started in 2002,
Moscow took care of the reconstruction of houses,
schools, hospitals and roads in the war-ravaged Chechnya with lavish payments. Even after the programme
ended in 2012, Moscow continued to grant ample
subsidies, but made it clear that Chechnya would
increasingly have to grow its economy on its own
strength. At the time, it was not yet apparent that
Russia would slide into an economic crisis driven
by sinking oil prices, sanctions and other factors.82
82 “Against a troubled economic backdrop, the federal
authorities are less and less apt to give in to Grozny’s extravagant financial demands. The republic’s restoration
programme drew to a close in 2012, for instance, whereas
Kadyrov hoped that it would continue until 2017: instead of
$3 billion, Chechnya has had to make do with $350 million.”
Laruelle, Kadyrovism (see note 48), 8.
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Kadyrov’s policies do not stop at his republic’s borders. They extend primarily to his immediate neighbourhood in the Russian Federation, in the form of
border disputes with Dagestan and Ingushetia. He has
laid claim to areas in neighbouring regions that were
part of Chechnya before the 1944 deportation. A clash
between Chechen and Ingush authorities occurred
in 2012 when Chechen security forces carried out a
special operation in the Ingush village of Galashki.
In August 2012 Kadyrov criticised his counterpart in
Ingushetia, Yunus Bek Yevkurov, for not combating
terrorism in his territory robustly enough: “If Yevkurov can’t take care of things, we’ll have to do it. He
doesn’t seem interested at all. Or what else can he
mean when he says that he doesn’t want to describe
terrorists as bandits? As if they’re young people who
have lost their way. For us, they’re bandits, terrorists,
satans, enemies of the Chechen and Ingush people,
enemies of Russia.”83 This criticism referred to Yevkurov’s attempt to include Islamist groups in his republic in a dialogue with the official clergy and government officials. Even though these events occurred
some time ago, the problem of cross-border discord
has not been resolved. In July 2017, for example,
there were confrontations in Leninaul district at the
border with Dagestan between Chechens and members of other ethnic groups.84
When fighting his opponents, Kadyrov reaches far
beyond Chechnya. As mentioned above, some of his
adversaries and rivals were murdered in exile – both
in Russia and abroad – and their relatives in Chechnya threatened with collective punishment. This led
83 Quoted in “Kadyrov Ramzan Akhmatovich”, Kavkazkii
Uzel, 22 December 2017,
84 “Zhiteli Leninaula rasskazali o strel’be na granice Dagestana i Chexhni” [Inhabitants of Leninaul report on shootout
at the border between Dagestan and Chechnya], Kavkazkii
Uzel, 8 July 2017,
to protests outside of Russia as well, for example
in the Chechen diaspora in Vienna, Stockholm and
Berlin. In response, Kadyrov threatened activists in
Europe that any of their relatives still in Chechnya
would be held responsible.85
As Putin’s “foot soldier”, the head of the Chechen
republic supplies Moscow with elite fighters for deployment to Syria and Ukraine. However, Chechens
can at times fight on both sides of the respective front.
In East Ukraine, for example, a few hundred Chechens
sided with Ukrainian combatants against pro-Russian
separatists. They had been recruited from anti-Russian exile groups hostile to Kadyrov and are organised
into two brigades. One is named after Dzhokhar
Dudayev, the leader of the Chechen secession movement in the 1990s; the other after Sheikh Mansur, the
first leader of the Chechen resistance against Russian
invasions into the North Caucasus in the late 18th century. On the opposite side, about 300 Chechens loyal
to Kadyrov fought for the separatists in Donbass supported by Moscow.86 Russia’s incursions into Ukraine
are explicitly supported by Grozny. For the third
anniversary of the referendum on the annexation of
Crimea by Russia, Kadyrov organised a sports festival
in March 2017 under the title “Crimea and Russia –
We belong together”.87 Shortly before, on 23 January
2017, Kadyrov had finally admitted that Chechen
troops were stationed in Syria. The above-mentioned
Adam Delimkhanov was entrusted with forming the
Chechen units to be sent to Syria. Inter alia they
served for some time with the Russian military police
near Aleppo. After a deployment to Syria lasting
85 Emil Souleimanov, “Kadyrov Represses Dissent among
European Chechens”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 9 March
86 Laruelle, Kadyrovism (see note 48), 17.
87 “Russia: Chechnya Media Highlights 13–19 March
2017“, BBC Monitoring Global Newsline – Former Soviet Union
Political File, 25 March 2017.
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several months, the Chechen military-police troops
returned home in February 2018.
Nevertheless Kadyrov presents himself as a leader
of Muslims in Russia and internationally in such a
way that it challenges Moscow in both its domestic
and foreign policy. This became evident in 2017
in connection with the state violence against the
Rohingya Muslim ethnic group in Myanmar, a violence with genocidal characteristics. Kadyrov portrayed himself once again as an important voice in
the Islamic world. On 4 September 2017 he organised
a mass demonstration with an alleged one million
participants – according to the Russian newspaper
Novaya Gazeta there were only about 100,000 – who
were supposed to express their solidarity with their
persecuted Islamic brothers and sisters in Southeast
Asia. Members of the Muslim Spiritual Administrations (muftiates) of other North Caucasian autonomous republics also took part in the demonstration.
President Putin and the Russian government were
urged to take a decisive stance in this foreign affair.
Before the demonstration, in a Youtube video, Kadyrov criticised comments by Moscow for suggesting
that both the Russian and Chinese leaderships supported the authorities in Myanmar, pointing to the
existence of rebel groups among the Rohingya.88 It is
unlikely that the Kadyrov factor carries much weight
in the Sino-Russian relationship.89 Nevertheless,
because there were also demonstrations in other Muslim regions of the Federation against the persecution
of the Rohingya, including in Moscow in front of the
Embassy of Myanmar, Kadyrov did cause the Kremlin
some difficulties with his statement. Russian political
experts such as Fedor Lukyanov see this as the first
serious foreign-policy disagreement between Moscow
and Grozny.90 However, in 2012 Kadyrov had already
88 “Chechnya Holds Massive Rally in Support of Myanmar’s Rohingya”, BBC Monitoring Global Newsline – Former Soviet
Union Political File, 4 September 2017.
89 “Politologi kritichno ocenili znachimost’ ‘faktora Kadyrova’ v voprosakh otnoshenij Moskvy i Pekina” [Political scientists gauge the importance of the ‘Kadyrov Factor’ for the
relationship between Moscow and Beijing], Kavkazkii Uzel, 7
September 2017,
90 “Given the growing role and influence of the Muslim
community in Russian politics the authorities can hardly
ignore such sentiments. Especially when they are expressed
by such an influential Muslim politician as Ramzan Kadyrov
[…]. It seems the first time Kadyrov and the authorities disagree so much on an issue, which is even more important as
it puts Russia in a complicated position in its relations with
called on the Russian government to pay more
attention to the repression of the Rohingya.
Five years later, Muslims in different
parts of Russia proclaimed their
solidarity with their persecuted
fellow believers in Myanmar.
Five years later, Muslims in different parts of
Russia – Moscow, Grozny, the Dagestani capital
Makhachkala, the capital of Karachay-Cherkessia,
Cherkessk, and elsewhere – proclaimed their solidarity with their persecuted fellow believers in Myanmar. Experts believe this shows the “rise of a political
Islam in Russia” headed by Kadyrov.92 Anti-Buddhist
slogans appeared during the demonstrations and on
social networks, and even calls for Muslims to go on
jihad to Myanmar and stand by the Rohingya. The
Russian security authorities, however, abstained from
violent measures against the demonstrators.
Transposing the violence in Myanmar – deplored
by the United Nations as a brutal “ethnic cleansing”
– onto a religious level and stylising the conflict as a
faith dispute between Buddhists and Muslims would
first and foremost harm those countries in South and
Southeast Asia where the two faith communities live
as neighbours. However, the multiethnic state of Russia could also be affected, since Islam and Buddhism
along with Orthodox Christianity are officially considered its “traditional religions”. The autonomous
republic of Kalmykia has the largest Buddhist-Lamaist
ethnic group in European Russia; it is located close to
the North Caucasus, where there were the strongest
China, Myanmar’s main patron.” Fedor Lukyanow, quoted in
“Russian Press Views Chechen Leader’s Bid for New Status”,
BBC Monitoring Global Newsline – Former Soviet Union Political File,
6 September 2017.
91 On 13 August 2012 he wrote on Chechnya’s official
website: “I ask the leadership of our country and the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to use all available
diplomatic, political and economic means to end the religious-ethnic cleansing – the genocide – in Myanmar.”
Quoted in “Zajavleniya Kadyrova o M’janme priveli k zaderzhaniyam v Rossii” [Kadyrov’s declarations have led to
arrests in Russia], Kavkazkii Uzel, 11 September 2017, http://
92 Sergei Markedonov, Myanmar, Russia’s Muslims, and a New
Foreign Policy (Moscow: Carnegie Moscow Center, 12 September 2017); Ridvan Bari Urcosta, “Far Away Myanmar Triggering Rise of Political Islam in Russia”, Jamestown Foundation
Eurasia Daily Monitor, 13 September 2017.
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reactions to the persecution of the Rohingya. And
social networks calling on Muslisms to demonstrate
have already carried hate speech against Kalmyks.
However, the overall attitude of Russia’s population
towards Buddhists has not worsened, as a Levada
Centre survey on relationships with faith communities showed in December 2017.
Among the Russian general public, there emerged
a number of possible explanations for the outbursts
in parts of the Muslim community. Some employed
well-established propaganda templates and accused
the USA of being behind the wave of protests and
agitating Russia’s Muslims. Others blamed Turkey
and Saudi Arabia for spreading hysteria. Above all,
however, people pointed to the political ambitions
of the head of the Chechen republic, whom they see
as trying to cement his role as “guardian of Islam”
during the crisis. This was not necessarily viewed as
exclusively negative. With Kadyrov’s support, some
say, Russia could also foster “spiritual ties” with the
Islamic world, and capitalise in terms of both domestic and foreign policy. After all, Kadyrov professes his
affiliation not only with Islam but also with Russia
and President Putin.95
Indeed, the Chechen leadership portrays itself as
Moscow’s assistant in the latter’s Middle-East policy
– an area which, at the very least since the military
deployment in Syria, has once again played a prominent role in Russia’s foreign policy. In the person of
Ziyad Sabsazi, Chechnya has its very own ambassador
to the Midde East and North Africa. He is currently
employed particularly to repatriate nationals of
Russia and all CIS countries from the war zones in
Syria, Iraq and Libya. Kadyrov’s father Akhmat, who
began a degree in Islamic law in Jordan in 1990,
nurtured relations with statesmen in the Middle East
during his term in office as mufti and later as Chechnya’s president. Sabsazi, a Chechen born in Aleppo,
served as his consultant.96
93 Ibid., 3.
94 Otnoshenie k religiyam [Attitudes to religion] (Moscow:
Levada Centre, 23 January 2018),
95 “Groznoe preduzprezhdenie” [Warning from
Grozny],, 4 September 2017,
96 Pavel Luzin, “Ramzan Kadyrov: Russia’s Top Diplomat”,
Intersection (Security), 11 April 2017, http://intersectionproject.
Kadyrov presents Chechnya as a significant actor
in Syria due to its participation not only in Russia’s
military deployments, but also in the reconstruction
of the war-ravaged country. For example, the Akhmat
Kadyrov Foundation financially supports the restoration of Aleppo’s main mosque and further mosques
in Homs. Chechen television showed Adam Delimkhanov at Friday prayer in the courtyard of the
Umayyad Mosque of Aleppo, which was still strewn
with rubble from the many weeks of fighting in the
town. Thereafter, Delimkhanov and Chechnya’s mufti
visited a police bataillon staffed by fellow Chechens
patrolling the streets of Aleppo and Delimkhanov gave
speeches in the Chechen language.97
Kadyrov’s Middle-East Policy reaches
far beyond Syria and is mostly
orientated towards Saudi Arabia and
the Gulf States.
Admittedly, Kadyrov’s Middle-East Policy reaches
far beyond Syria and is mostly orientated towards
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, with which Chechnya also has economic relations. Kadyrov had already
had links to the Saudi Defence Minister Mohammad
bin Salman before the latter became the new Crown
Prince of Saudi Arabia. However, this cooperation
with the Wahhabite kingdom clashed with a resolution adopted by an international congress of Islamic
theologians in Grozny in 2016. The so-called Grozny
Fatwa condemns “religious extremism in all its forms”,
counting Wahhabism and Salafism as among the
“dangerous currents”. The fatwa created controversy
among Islam scholars and the official muftiate clergy
in Russia.98 In November 2016 Saudi media reported
that Kadyrov had clarified during a meeting with the
Crown Prince that the statement against Wahhabism
was a misunderstanding.
99 Relations with Riadh have
not suffered. Kadyrov emphatically categorises Saudi
Arabia as an indispensable partner in fighting international terrorism. In late May 2017, the Chechen
mufti met the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia and
Kuwait in Moscow and praised Chechnya as “a reli97 Albert Aji, “Chechnya a Major Player in Rebuilding
Syria”, The Daily Star, 19 July 2017.
98 Liz Fuller, “Grozny Fatwa on ‘True Believers’ Triggers
Major Controversy”, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Caucasus
Report), 14 September 2016,
99 “Kadyrov Ramzan Akhmatovich”, Kavkazkii Uzel, 22
December 2017,
Chechnya as a Cross-Border Actor
SWP Berlin
Chechnya’s Status within the Russian Federation
May 2018
able bridge between the Islamic world and Russia”.
In early October 2017, when the Saudi king became
the first Saudi ruler to visit Russia since the foundation of the kingdom, Russian media presented his
visit as one of the most significant foreign-policy
events in recent years. Chechnya once again boasted
about acting as a bridge between Russia and the
Islamic world.
Kadyrov reinforces this role with
fiercely anti-Western rhetoric.
Kadyrov reinforces this role with fiercely antiWestern rhetoric. He likes to issue reminders of what
was probably the biggest demonstration ever to be
held in Grozny, in connection with the international
confrontation over the Islamist terror attacks in January 2015 on the Charlie Hebdo editorial office and
others in Paris. Using the slogan, “We Are Not Charlie”, Kadyrov ordered a mass demonstration against
the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed published
in Western media and against the satirical treatment
of religion. Demonstrators differentiated themselves
from the Western response to the attacks and deplored
the violation of religious sentiments by “Western
freedom of opinion”. Kadyrov’s right-hand man as
regards anti-Western ideology is Dshambulat Umarov,
the Chechen Minister for Nationalities Policy, External Relations, the Press and Information, and
author of a book entitled The KRA Factor: Confrontation,
where KRA stands for Kadyrov, Ramzan Akhmatovich. Umarov depicts the Chechen leader as a key
figure in the fight against “Western conspiracies
against Russia” and underscores his role with religious arguments.101
During the Temple Mount conflict, which was
sparked by restrictions on access to the Al-Aqsa
Mosque in Jerusalem in 2017, Chechnya also came
into conflict with Israel. In July, the republic’s muftiate published a declaration that was understood
by the Chechen people as almost a call to jihad.102
100 “Russia: Chechnya Media Highlights, 22 May–4 June
2017”, BBC Monitoring Global Newsline – Former Soviet Union
Political File, 6 June 2017.
101 Quoted in Denis Grekov, “Kadyrov’s Myanmar Offensive and Its Consequences”, Intersection (Politics), 25 September
102 “DUM Chechni poyasnilo svoe otnoshenie k dzhichadu
protiv Izrailya” [The Spiritual Administration of Chechnya’s
Muslims has taken a stand on the jihad against Israel],
Kadyrov then proposed an agreement to guarantee
access for Muslims to their holy sites in Jerusalem and
the security of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and offered himself as “guardian of Al Aqsa”. Once the mosque was
openly accessible again, Kadyrov claimed substantial
credit for the Chechen authorities having settled the
In the same year, Grozny also offered to host international conferences on humanitarian aid. According
to the Ministry for Nationalities Policy, External Relations, the Press and Information the reasons for this
proposal were Chechnya’s authority across the East,
the cordial personal relationships Ramzan Kadyrov
maintains with many leaders of the Islamic world and
the participation of Chechen authorities in a “policy
of people’s diplomacy” and in organising humanitarian
aid abroad.103 An aid project frequently referenced is
the financial support given by the Akhmat Kadyrov
Fund to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
Kavkazkii Uzel, 24 July 2017,
103 “Gumanitarnuju pomoshch vezut v Groznyj” [Humanitarian aid is given in Grozny], Kommersant, 14 June 2017.
Prospects and Conclusion
SWP Berlin
Chechnya’s Status within the Russian Federation
May 2018
With its secession movement in the 1990s and its
confrontation with Moscow during two wars, Chechnya became the pars pro toto for the North Caucasus
in European eyes. In the years that followed, armed
Islamist underground movements also developed in
other parts of Russia’s Caucasian periphery, thus
broadening the European perspective. Since the end
of large-scale hostilities a decade ago, Chechnya has
no longer stood out as the epicentre of violence in
the region. Yet it has not been lastingly pacified. The
same is true of the North Caucasus overall. In the last
three to four years, violent incidents and the fighting
capacity of insurgents have declined so much that the
region hardly registers as a significant problem among
Russians. In December 2017 the Russian domestic
secret service FSB officially announced that the armed
underground in the North Caucasus was now completely eliminated.
104 Experts on the region have their
doubts about this assessment, since fights between
security forces and insurgents continue. Furthermore,
the return of Caucasian jihad migrants from Islamist
fight formations abroad could become a security challenge. This is particularly true of the largest republic
in the North Caucasus, Dagestan. In 2013 its ruler,
Ramazan Abdulatipov, announced that he was crushing the armed underground and combating corruption. However, those goals have not been (wholly)
accomplished. As a consequence, he was replaced
in October 2017 with a former high-ranking police
officer from Moscow, in the most muscular intervention by the Russian central government in regional
affairs in the North Caucasus.105 In January and
February 2018, Dagestan’s entire government was
dismissed, and there followed the most unyielding
purge to date in an autonomous republic, using
104 “Rossiya vyigrala eshche odnu vazhnejshuju bitvu”
[Russia has won another decisive battle], Vzgljad Delovaja
Gazeta, 19 December 2017,
105 Cf. Paul Goble, “A Year in Review: For the North Caucasus in 2017, Old Problems Remain while New Ones Arise”,
Jamestown Foundation Eurasia Daily Monitor, 9 January 2018.
federal-security and law-enforcement agencies including the attorney general and FSB. In the run-up to the
presidential elections in Russia, these operations were
meant to signal a further tightening of the “vertical
of power” vis-à-vis problem regions such as the North
106 With increasing frequency, high-ranking
administrative cadres from other parts of the country
are appointed to Russia’s republics in the North Caucasus.
In contrast, Ramzan Kadyrov’s rule as head of the
Chechen republic seems largely protected from such
measures. To date, the loyalty pact between the Russian president and his liege in this historically exposed
federal subject remains largely intact. President Putin
has accepted the stabilisation price for “pacifying” the
former war zone. These include serious human-rights
abuses in the republic itself; political murders that
remain unsolved; sometimes high-handed foreignpolicy initiatives; and an “Islamisation from above”
creating a legal situation within Chechnya that partly
contradicts Russian legislation. The federal power
vertical has been tightened throughout the whole
Russian Federation, as was demonstrated by the vigorous replacement of personnel within the regional
elites before the presidential elections of March 2018.
Nevertheless, the leadership of Chechnya undauntedly presents itself as a sort of sultanate that ostensibly
will not listen to reason from anyone but President
Putin himself. There is speculation as to whether the
Putin-Kadyrov pact might shift somewhat during the
Russian leader’s fourth term in office. The question
also arises what would happen should Putin ever
exercise his authority after all and demand a personnel change at the top of the Chechen republic.
Kadyrov himself has repeatedly stated that he will
106 Maria Dománska/Wojciech Górecki, A Purge in Dagestan ahead of the Russian Election (Warsaw: Centre for Eastern
Studies [OSW], 14 February 2018),
Prospects and Conclusion
Prospects and Conclusion
SWP Berlin
Chechnya’s Status within the Russian Federation
May 2018
cede his place if President Putin demands it.107 So
far, the Russian general public has not expected or
demanded such a measure: according to a Levada
Centre opinion poll published in October 2017,
Kadyrov ranks seventh among ten politicians in
Russia trusted by the public, and is seen as a “strong
108 The Russian president’s press spokesman,
Dmitri Peskov, confirmed on 27 November 2017 that
the Kremlin continues to view Kadyrov as the head
of the Chechen republic. Kadyrov’s cousin and righthand man in Moscow, Adam Delimkhanov, affirmed
this, saying the future of the republic was unthinkable without Ramzan Kadyrov.109 Similar statements
are made by the Russian power elite about the current president. For instance, Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin has issued the slogan “Putin is Russia
– without Putin no Russia”.
110 Nevertheless, it is not
guaranteed that the loyalty pact between Putin and
Kadyrov will endure throughout Putin’s fourth term
in office. There is currently no fierce resistance in
Chechnya to Kadyrov. For the time being, the contrast
with the horrific war period continues to hold sway;
with his references to “pacification” and “reconstruction”, Kadyrov aims to keep it that way. It is doubtful,
however, whether this contrast can lastingly mask the
frustration caused by his reign of terror and the socioeconomic conditions in the republic.
Regardless of the foreign-policy ambitions of its
ruler, Chechnya and the rest of the North Caucasus
are seen as an internal affair for the Russian Federation. In contrast to the South Caucasus with its three
independent states and unsolved territorial conflicts,
Russia’s Caucasian region is not open to international
politics. The exception is Chechnya’s economic and
political relationship with Arab Gulf States. Particularly since the Second Chechen War, the influence of
Europe and international organisations on the peace
settlement has been noticeably limited.111 Prior to
that, the OSCE in particular was involved as a media107 “Zajavlenie Kadyrova o gotovnosti k otstavke stalo
vtorym za chetyre mesjaca” [Kadyrov’s statement on his
willingness to resign: the second in only four months],
Kavkazkii Uzel, 29 November 2017,
108 Ibid.
109 Ibid.
110 Quoted in Andreas Rüesch, “Herrscher über eine
Sackgasse”, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 26 January 2018.
111 Cf. Europa im Tschetschenienkrieg. Zwischen politischer
Ohnmacht und Gleichgültigkeit, ed. Martin Malek and Anna
Schor-Tschudnowskaja (Stuttgart, 2008).
tor in the conflict between Moscow and Grozny. In
1995, after Russian troops marched into the renegade
republic, it founded an assistance group for Chechnya; helped (under its leader Tim Guldimann, a Swiss
diplomat) to end the First Chechen War; and kept a
presence in the war-ravaged republic until late 1998.
Because of the dramatic security situation during the
interwar period and the anarchy reigning in Chechnya, which was de facto independent as of 1996, the
OSCE was forced to evacuate the assistance group to
Moscow; the lack of an international presence in the
conflict area during the Second Chechen War, as of
October 1999, was conspicuous.112 In 2001 the OSCE
assistance reinstated itself in Chechnya, in Znamenskoye, a location that had been largely spared by the
war. However, its remit was severely restricted and
it was ultimately unable to fulfil its original farreaching mandate – mediating between the parties
involved in the conflict, observing human rights,
promoting the rule of law, protecting the population,
and facilitating the return of refugees. In late 2002 its
mandate was not renewed. Its mission, and an international presence in Chechnya, ended just as Moscow
was initiating its policy of Chechenisation, and the
rise of the Kadyrov clan began.
And yet developments in Chechnya and the North
Caucasus continue to have international importance
and an impact on Europe due to the flow of refugees
and migrants. Since the start of the Second Chechen
War, between 130,000 and 150,000 refugees and
migrants from Chechnya have made their way to the
EU, especially to France, Austria, Belgium and Germany. During the First Chechen War, many inhabitants also fled the large-scale violence, but they remained in their close or extended neighbourhood:
Dagestan, Ingushetia or the Russian interior. A flow
of refugees towards Europe mainly began during
the Second Chechen War. In 1999, only 368 Russian
nationals applied for asylum in Germany; a year later
it was already 3,001 (including 1,025 Chechens), and
in 2001 4,824 (including 1,994 Chechens). Since 2012
the figures have risen again, peaking in 2013 with
14,487 applications. Their success rate was highest
between 2003 and 2005 (2004: 32 percent). By contrast, in 2016 just over 4 percent of applications were
112 “Rückkehr der OSZE nach Tschetschenien”, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 15 June 2001; Wolfgang Grycz, “Tschetschenien
vor Ort. Interview mit dem OSZE-Beauftragten Botschafter
Jorma Inki”, Ost-West. Europäische Perspektiven (OWEP), no. 4
(2003): 311–16.
Prospects and Conclusion
SWP Berlin
Chechnya’s Status within the Russian Federation
May 2018
accepted. Of the more than 12,000 citizens of the
Russian Federation seeking asylum in Germany that
year, 9,850 were Chechens, i.e. over 80 percent.
Representatives of the Chechen diaspora in Paris,
Berlin and Vienna point out that the migration and
refugee crisis in the EU is noticeably transforming
asylum policy.
114 The German intelligence service
has recently warned of increased terror threats from
battle-hardened Islamists from the North Caucasus,
who have been involved in armed conflicts on foreign
jihad fronts in the Middle East.
However, equating Chechen migrants with militant Islamists must be treated cautiously. Humanrights abuses on Kadyrov’s territory are not only
forcing the markedly reduced armed underground to
emigrate from Chechnya, but also those affected by
collective punishment, those identified as opponents
and critics of the head of the republic, or accused of
transgressing Chechen tradition through their sexual
The link between migration problems and humanrights problems demands international attention for
the situation in Chechnya. Accordingly, international
organisations and governments in Europe and the
USA have expressed their concern about the precarious human-rights situation in the Caucasus republic
more frequently since March 2017 than at almost any
other time during the past decade.
113 Olga Gulina, “What Happens When Chechens Seek
Asylum in Europe?”, Intersection (Russia/Europe), 2 October
114 “Chleny diaspory rasskazali o strache pered vlastjami
Chechni” [Members of the Diaspora report on their fear of
the Chechen authorities], Kavkazskii Uzel, 27 December 2017,
ASSR Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic
FSB Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy
Federatsii (Federal Security Service of the Russian
IS “Islamic State”
LGBT Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender
OMON Otryad Militsii Osobogo Naznacheniya
(Special Purpose Police Unit)
OSCE Organisation for Security and Cooperation in
RSFSR Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic
VTsIOM Vsyerossiyskiy tsentr izucheniya obshchestvennogo mneniya (Russian Public Opinion Research

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