Vladimir Putin has nominated Chechnya’s controversial leader Ramzan Kadyrov for a new term in office, despite claims that the Chechen had links to the murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov last year.
Kadyrov, whose term as leader runs out next month, was appointed acting leader by Putin and is expected to stand in elections in September. He had previously said he planned to step down, but most analysts saw this as a ploy to force the Kremlin to back him publicly, after a year in which he has faced criticism from many quarters.
Kadyrov is a former rebel fighter whose father, Akhmad-Khadzhi Kadyrov, switched sides and ran the republic with Moscow’s blessing until his death in a 2004 bomb attack. Since then, Ramzan has been in charge, turning Grozny into a modern city of skyscrapers and new-build apartment blocks, all with the Kremlin’s money. At the same time, a personality cult has grown around Kadyrov, who has humiliated those who dare criticise him.
In return for the loyalty Kadyrov has pledged to Moscow, critics say he has been allowed a free hand to run the republic. Russian law often appears to be secondary to local customs or Kadyrov’s personal whims, and many of those who have investigated abuses by Kadyrov’s forces have met sticky ends.
A high-ranking member of one of the armed battalions under Kadyrov’s control was charged with Nemtsov’s murder in Moscow last year. The politician was shot in the shadow of the Kremlin, a murder which shocked Russia, and there are suspicions that the chain of command goes much higher than the men who have been arrested. However, investigators have been unable to question Kadyrov or his associates over the killing.
Earlier this month, a minibus carrying journalists on a press tour organised by one of the last human rights agencies working in Chechnya was attacked by masked men who beat up the journalists, set the bus on fire and screamed that the group was not welcome in Chechnya. When the agency’s head, Igor Kalyapin, travelled to Grozny to investigate the situation, he was evicted from his hotel and attacked on the street.
While many in the higher echelons of Russian power dislike Kadyrov, he has always retained the support of Putin. The Russian president said on Friday he had reappointed Kadyrov because of “everything that has been done in the past years for the Chechen people first and foremost, and by extension for the whole of Russia”.
He did, however, allude to the impunity which Kadyrov appears to enjoy.
“There needs to be more attention paid to the federal power structures. You, and future leaders of your republic should of course do everything to ensure that Russian laws are obeyed in all spheres of life. I want to emphasise this: in all spheres of life,” Putin said.”