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Radical Chechen President Becoming Ticking Time Bomb for Putin

Analysts following what appears to be a developing political crisis in Russia suspect the growing tensions engulfing the Kremlin may be a product of the workings of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, once a loyal ally to President Vladimir Putin.

On February 27, a gunman murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow just feet away from the Kremlin. Russians and international media immediately suspected it was an inside job, especially when the Kremlin revealed the security cameras were not working due to maintenance.

Eyebrows raised higher when the Kremlin arrested four Chechens for the murder. One man, Zaur Dadayev, confessed to the murder. Dadayev is a “former deputy commander in a Chechen police unit” and close to Kadyrov, who claimed Dadayev was “fully devoted to Russia” on his Instagram account.

“Everyone who knows Zaur says he is deeply religious person and like all Muslims was very shocked by the actions of Charlie [Hebdo] and by comments supporting the printing of the caricatures,” he wrote. “If the court finds Dadayev guilty then by killing a person he has committed a grave crime. But I want to note that he could not do anything that was against Russia, for which he has risked his own life for many years.”

Nemtsov recently noticed a “fray” between Putin and Kadyrov. Putin has continued publicly supporting Kadyrov, despite the numerous human rights violations in Chechnya. Giving Kadyrov the presidency allowed the 38-year-old to “create the Islamic republic that Chechen separatists had dreamed of – albeit one entirely reliant on Moscow for financial support and where Shariah law is selective, not absolute.” But critics believe Kadyrov is now “seeking power and relevance far beyond his base” within Chechnya. Nemtsov was one of the more outspoken critics of this relationship.

“I cannot understand what Putin expects when arming 20,000 Kadyrovtsy gathered today in the stadium in Grozny,” Nemtsov wrote on Facebook. “What will happen next? The country is entering a crisis. There is not enough money for anything, including the support of regions. And the unspoken contract between Putin and Kadyrov — money in exchange for loyalty — ends. And where will 20,000 Kadyrovtsy go? What will they demand? How will they behave? When will they come to Moscow?”

The Chechen security forces are known as “Kadyrovtsy,” even though they are part of the national Ministry of Internal Affairs. However, in private, the soldiers must “swear a personal oath to Kadyrov.” He treats Chechnya the same way. From The Moscow Times:

Of the $30 billion in federal funds spent on the North Caucasus between 2000 and 2010, for example, the lion’s share went to Chechnya. Downtown Grozny has been transformed with whole herds of white elephant prestige projects, from glittering (and largely empty) office blocks to the huge Akhmad Kadyrov mosque (named for Ramzan’s father).

However, behind this apparent renewal lies a reality of massive embezzlement for the new elite and minimal benefit for most ordinary Chechens.

Kadyrov is petulant, willful, vain and unpredictable. When his sports minister aroused his ire, he expressed it by pummeling him in the boxing ring. His collection of supercars includes one of only 20 $1.25 million Lamborghini Reventons ever made — no mean feat for a man whose reported annual income is around a tenth of that.

While fingers pointed at Putin, four people told Bloomberg he was not happy about the murder:

Putin was furious when he learned of the killing, which occurred on a bridge near the Kremlin, four people familiar with the matter said. Putin, who took charge of the probe and then disappeared from public view for a week, became even more alarmed when investigators said they’d traced a hit list of other critics to Chechnya, another person said. Putin has given Kadyrov free rein to kill jihadis and create what even former Chechen officials such as Beslan Gantamirov have called a brutal police state.

“Putin has become a hostage to his own policy of radicalizing supporters so they can spring to action whenever he needs them,” said Alexander Baunov, a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “His authoritarianism is sliding into decentralized terror. His backers think he’s much more radical than he really is and are acting without clear orders.”

The FSB, which used to be the KGB, hate Kadyrov, experts believe.

“The F.S.B. hate Ramzan because they are unable to control him,” claimed Alexey Malashenko, a Caucasus expert. “He does whatever he wants, including in Moscow. Nobody can arrest members of his team if there is no agreement with Putin.”

Kadyrov said he will always be Putin’s “faithful companion, regardless of whether he is president or not. To give one’s life for such a person is not an easy task.” Some analysts believe it is a veiled threat:

If Kadyrov were indeed freelancing into political assassinations in Moscow and were allowed to walk away unpunished, he would be taking Putin and the entire Russian leadership hostage, which might be precisely his plan. This would be a threat to the Russian state that the FSB would be legally obligated to fight.

Kadyrov has been raising his political profile and sought to position himself as Putin’s most trusted lieutenant and even a peer ruler, aiming at a higher federal role. His brazen forays into Russia’s foreign and security policy, and his attempts to speak on behalf of all Russia’s Muslims, unnerved many in Moscow.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said people within the Kremlin took it as a threat. Since Nemtsov died, Putin awarded Kadyrov the “Order of Honour” just a few days after he praised Dadayev and received two more state awards.

Kadyrov just might be Putin’s undoing. From Business Insider:

Either way, an increasing number of Kremlin-watchers are coming to the conclusion that the period beginning on February 27 with Nemtsov’s assassination and continuing through Putin’s odd vanishing act marks the dawn of late Putinism — the twilight of the regime in its current form.

“Has the Russian regime’s agony begun?” asks a recent article by the prominent Russian political analyst Lilia Shevtsova in The American Interest.

Shevtsova notes that Putin’s “steely-eyed resolve” is gone, he “is losing control,” and “can’t give his entourage clear orders.” Nemtsov’s assassination, she adds, has “shattered the mirrored window concealing the Kremlin; now everyone can see the mess within.”

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