MOSCOW—The bellicose leader of Russia’s republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, rules with aggressive rhetoric and an iron fist that sparks outcries from liberal politicians but no rebuke from the Kremlin.
In fact, authorities in Moscow earlier this month stopped a one-man protest by an opposition party calling for Kadyrov’s resignation, after city officials refused an earlier request for a larger demonstration.
“It’s simply the authorities’ reaction to criticism of Kadyrov,” said Galina Mikhailova, 1st deputy chairman of Yabloko Party’s Moscow Branch. “Our authorities like Kadyrov very much. And very much dislike the liberal opposition.”
The strongman of Chechnya had called politicians opposed to President Vladimir Putin “enemies of the people” who should be judged as traitors.
Political analysts say Kadyrov’s target audience was not so much the opposition, but Putin himself.
“So, it’s a bit of carrot and stick,” said Mark Galeotti of New York University. “It’s a bit of ‘I could be a really useful friend to you, Putin; I could also be a real problem. So, basically, make sure that our particular budget donations come.’”
Chechnya depends on Moscow financially, but the Kremlin relies on Kadyrov for stability, fearing a third Chechen War without him.
The notoriously outspoken Kadyrov has told his top law enforcement personnel they can open fire at officers from other parts of Russia.
The Chechen leader maintains peace with an iron fist, ruling the republic as his own, with disregard for all Russian authorities except Putin.
“And Ramzan [Kadyrov has] repeated many times, by the way, that Putin must stay president of Russia forever, because he understands very well that without Putin, he will encounter a lot of problems,” said Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “This is his ‘red line.’ “
Kadyrov is linked to Chechens charged in the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, calling the main suspect a “true patriot.”
As the investigation turned to Chechnya, Putin very publicly presented Kadyrov with the “Order of Honor,” one of Russia’s highest awards.
“Even though almost everyone else within the government loathes Kadyrov with an absolute passion, and regard him as a dangerous, loose cannon, so long as Putin himself is willing to be Kadyrov’s protector, Kadyrov is untouchable,” Galeotti said.
As Russia’s budget shrinks with the economy, though, the Chechen leader could become a liability.
With less money to go around, Galeotti said other regions may start asking why they are feeding Kadyrov.