Ramzan Kadyrov, Head of the Chechen Republic, surprised many in Russia on Monday by declaring that it was his “dream” to relinquish the responsibilities of power.
Kadyrov told news channel Rossiya 24:
“Once there was a need for people like me to fight, to put things in order. Now we have order and prosperity … and time has come for changes in the Chechen Republic.”
Whilst mentioning no names, he added that there are, “several people who are 100% capable of carrying out these duties at the highest level”.
Is Kadyrov’s “dream” credible?
This is not the first occasion that Kadyrov has threatened to tender his resignation. In early 2016, he also expressed that he was “ready to step down” from his position in a move widely seen as aiming to gain public backing from the Kremlin.
Kadyrov often postures himself as “necessary” to Moscow, which in turn attracts more funding and more support for his brand of authoritarianism. By making such claims as his “job being done” in Chechnya, he offers a reminder to the Kremlin that he does not need to be taking on such responsibilities, and that if they would like him to continue doing so, they should meet any current or future demands he has.
Do Chechens want change?
For years, Chechens living outside of their republic have spoken out about the younger Kadyrov. Widespread repressions, targeting those of different faiths and sexuality, have been alleged by the international community but, as an extension of the Kremlin, Ramzan Kadyrov has rarely faced backlash from his own people.
Believed by many to be masquerading as a puppet for Moscow, Kadyrov has been much maligned in private, but valiantly supported in public, something which is to be expected when punishments for certain strains of speech are met with death.
As such it is difficult to gauge Chechen public opinion, but few will be under any illusions that Kadyrov’s words will precipitate major changes. Indeed, the charade of changing power may prove to be just that: a ruse. Ever since Ramzan’s father, Akhmat, was elected in a fraudulent affair in 2004, the leader of Chechnya has been someone hand selected by Moscow to do its bidding.
What would Ramzan’s departure mean?
In the Chechen capital, Grozny, what was once decimated by war has been rebuilt into dazzling stadiums and high rises. Much of this resurgence was funded by Moscow, which explains their insistence on controlling the republic’s leadership. A worry for Chechens and Russians alike is that this growth and stability could well be disrupted by Kadyrov’s potential departure.
By 2014, terrorism in Chechnya had decreased by 50% since Kadyrov came to power in 2007, a statistic widely attributed to the Ramzan’s ruthless rule.
Security remains a pressing concern as a number of Chechens have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join Islamic State. Estimates range as to the precise figure – from 500 to 2000 – but nevertheless the worry is that the return of these fighters into Chechen society could reinvigorate the insurgency movement.
Kadyrov’s grip on the security infrastructure, as well as harsh penalties for those wishing to return, may succeed in blunting the effectiveness of any returnees. As such Moscow will be keen to ensure that the transition away from Kadyrov, whether that is in the near future or in ten years, will be one that ensures the work they have sponsored for the past decade is not reversed upon the concession of power.
Who might replace him?
In the event that Kadyrov does follow his words with action, who might replace the figure that has dominated Chechen life for ten years? The likely candidates for this position will be close to Kadyrov, like Vakhit Usmayev who, known for his ruthlessness, was appointed to head the Presidential and Governmental Association of Chechnya in April of 2017.
Or perhaps it would be someone like Magomed Dashayev, the head of the Grozny police who suggested, following an international probe into abuses against gay men in Chechnya, that he would “allow a gay parade in the centre of Grozny”, and has been instrumental in maintaining security in the capital.
Both men, ranking highly in Kadyrov’s favour, could have an opportunity to take control of the Chechen Republic in the near future, but unless something unprecedented occurs, it is likely that the next leader will be similar to the current one: an outspoken strongman whose main concern is keeping Chechen separatism out of international headlines for as long as possible.