Reports: Russia’s Most Prominent Muslim Official Flown to Moscow with Coronavirus

Ramzan Kadyrov
ELENA FITKULINA/AFP/Getty

The leader of Russia’s majority-Muslim Chechnya region, Ramzan Kadyrov, is in Moscow with a suspected case of the Chinese coronavirus, Russian media reported on Thursday. No government officials have confirmed the news, but Kadyrov has remained out of the public eye in recent days.

The report that Kadyrov, the highest-ranking Muslim in Russia’s government, had become ill with a suspected case of Chinese coronavirus surfaced in Russian state media, suggesting it came directly from government sources. The TASS news agency did not cite government sources in its report, however, instead identifying “a source in medical circles” as the person confirming the news.

“Ramzan Kadyrov has been brought to Moscow with the suspected coronavirus infection. [He] is now under medical observation,” TASS reported that the source said, clarifying that no official confirmation of the news exists, meaning neither the Chechen Republic nor Russian officials have confirmed it.

“Kadyrov’s aide Ahmed Dudayev emphasized that the Chechen leader was personally observing the work of the regional anti-coronavirus crisis center,” TASS added.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) noted that Interfax and RIA-Novosti, other Russian government-linked news networks, also reported that Kadyrov was in Moscow on Thursday and “under medical supervision.” In contrast, RFE/RL noted that the Chechen government outlet Grozny TV appeared to have contradicted the reports out of the Moscow media outlets, saying “that Kadyrov was still in control.”

Akhmed Dudayev, the head of Grozny TV, said on his Instagram account that Kadyrov “is personally in control of the situation, he is taking all necessary measures. The work of his headquarters is under his personal control.”

Kadyrov is one of Russia’s most controversial political figures, a strongman dictator accused of perpetrating horrific human rights abuses on suspected LGBT people in Chechnya. In 2017, human rights groups sounded the alarm after Russian newspaper Novoya Gazeta reported that Kadyrov had established “concentration camps” to detain suspected gay people. A government spokesman replied that the report was not true because “if such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”

Kadyrov similarly denied the existence of LGBT Chechens in an interview that year.

“We don’t have those kinds of people here,” he told HBO. “We don’t have any gays. If there are any, take them to Canada. Praise be to God. Take them far from us so we don’t have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.”

Kadyrov claimed he was considering retirement in 2017 and has reportedly clashed with Putin behind the scenes, though he has vocally asserted loyalty to Moscow. He remains the head of Chechnya at press time.

If his coronavirus infection is confirmed, Kadyrov would join a growing number of high-ranking Russian officials fighting a coronavirus infection, among them Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who is currently hospitalized. Peskov personally confirmed his infection to Interfax on May 12. Reports at the time noted that Peskov was last seen in public in the same room as Putin on April 30, weeks before the confirmation of his health status, so it is not yet clear if Putin was exposed to the virus.

Russia has more documented Chinese coronavirus cases than any country in the world except the United States, largely due to deceptive documentation practices outside of America in places like China, where the virus originated. At press time, Russia has reported 326,488 cases of Chinese coronavirus and 3,249 deaths.

Russia’s numbers may be significantly artificially deflated. Last week, Moscow officials admitted that as many as 60 percent of the city’s coronavirus deaths may not have been added to the official tally because of co-morbidities; many governments around the world count those infected with coronavirus as official coronavirus deaths even if they also suffered from other ailments.

“Over 60 percent of deaths occurred from obvious alternate causes, such as vascular accidents, stage four malignant diseases, leukemia, systemic diseases linked to organ failure and other incurable deadly diseases,” Moscow’s Health Department said.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has also estimated that the number of total cases in the city may be three times what authorities documented.

Russian authorities have received significant criticism for their response, some of it from doctors complaining that they do not have sufficient protective gear and medical equipment to treat the large number of patients. Multiple doctors have mysteriously fallen out of windows after making these criticisms since the outbreak started.

The head of Russia’s Coronavirus Information Center, Alexander Myasnikov, also courted controversy this week by encouraging Russians to become comfortable with the large number of deaths.

“The infection will still take its toll, and we’ll all get it. Those meant to die will die. Everyone dies,” Myasnikov said in a television interview. “Even if it’s coronavirus, so what? Of course, you need to get a test to avoid infecting others, but you do understand it’s an illusion. We’ll run out of tests if everyone runs out to check after every sneeze.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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