“Flights by Influential Russians in February-March 2020.” The light blue plane (M-YOIL) belongs to Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin; the orange plane (LX-MOW), to VEB.RF CEO Igor Shuvalov; the green plane (VQ-VBQ), to Ramzan Kadyrov; the purple plane (P4-LIG), to Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov; and the yellow plane (M-SKSM), to Svetlana Medvedeva, wife of former Russian president and prime minister Sergei Medvedev. Graphic courtesy of MBKh Media
High-Flying VIPs: How Putin’s Inner Circle Flew to Europe Without Fear of the Coronavirus
Andrei Saveliev MBKh Media
March 26, 2020
The coronavirus arrived in Europe on January 24, when the first cases were reported in France. At the time, Russian authorities were in no hurry to take any measures. Moreover, Vladimir Putin’s inner circle continued to fly abroad. MBKh Media has compiled a map of international flights taken in February and March by several people close to the Russian head of state.
The most flights of all were made by a plane belonging to Svetlana Medvedeva, the wife of the former primer minister; the plane’s registration number is M-SKSM, and it used to belong to VTB Bank. Medvedeva started her month by flying from Nuremberg to Moscow on February 2. After that, she visited Innsbruck three times, Geneva twice, and Zurich, Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Dubai, Munich, Riga, and the French resort of Aix-Les-Bains once each. The last flight took place on March 9, when Medvedeva’s plane returned from Paris via Riga to Moscow.
In second place for number of flights is the plane of Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov, registration number P4-LIG. He made his first flight in February on the seventh from Basel to Madrid. He then visited Barcelona four times, Venice and Seville twice, and Geneva, Vienna, Seattle, Wichita, and Chicago once each. Chemezov completed his travels on March 7 with a flight from Chicago to Moscow.
In third place is the plane of VEB.RF chair and former first Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, registration number LX-MOW. He made his first February flight from Moscow to London on the seventh. After that, he visited Tallinn, Riga, Dubai, Birmingham, Farnborough, Salzburg, and London again. The last flight was made on March 14, when the plane returned from Salzburg to Moscow.
Long-distance flights were also made by the plane of the head of another state-owned company, Igor Sechin. Thus, on February 4, his plane, registration number M-YOIL, made a flight from Moscow to New Delhi. The next day, the plane went straight from the Indian capital to Rome. In the following days, the aircraft visited Stavanger, London, Minsk, and Malta. The last flight is dated March 8: the plane returned from the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira, where it stayed for four days.
Also, a plane belonging to Chechnya head Ramzan Kadyrov, registration number VQ-BVQ, flew during this period. Thus, on February 14, the plane returned from Basel to Grozny. According to tracking services, the plane had been in Switzerland since January 20. On February 26, the aircraft flew to Paris and back. It was on this day that the French capital hosted a show by fashion house Firdaws, run by Kadyrov’s daughter Aishat.
The airplanes of Medvedeva, Chemezov, Shuvalov, Sechin, and Kadyrov are registered in the Isle of Man, Aruba, Luxembourg, the Isle of Man, and Barbados, respectively. Translated by the Russian Reader
Milashina and Dubrovina had arrived in Grozny for the trial of blogger Islam Nukhanov, who shot a video entitled How Kadyrov and His Associates Live, Part 1. After the video was posted, Nukhanov was charged with illegal possession of weapons, punishable under Article 222 Part 1 of the Russian Criminal Code.
Novaya Gazeta writes that the assault took place in the lobby of the Continent Hotel and near the building’s entrance. Unidentified men and women beat up lawyer Marina Dubrovina.
“It was mostly women who assaulted her, punching and kicking her,” the newspaper said.
The newspaper noted that the assailants videotaped the incident.
Milashina and Dubrovina are now having their injuries documented by physicians and plan to file charges with Chechen law enforcement authorities.
Human rights lawyer Marina Dubrovina. “We are being driven to the crime scene in a police van with its lights flashing,” writes Elena Milashina.
Milashina has just written that Musa Bekov, a neurosurgeon at the Grozny hospital [where they went], refused to examine Dubrovina carefully.
“I examined you from a distance. Everything is fine, everything will heal. Have a nice day,” Milashina quoted the doctor as saying.
It so happened that four years ago, when Kadyrov’s men attacked our van in Ingushetia, lawyer Marina Dubrovina was the first person I called and told about it —while lying on the floor of the van, its windows broken. I was beaten with sticks, first in the van, and then in a roadside ditch. Several young women next to me were beaten in the same way.
Today in Grozny, Marina Dubrovina and Elena Milashina, from Novaya Gazeta, were attacked near a hotel. I would not be surprised if the perpetrators were the same, but the man who commissions all crimes in Chechnya is Ramzan Kadyrov. Novaya writes that Marina was beaten up.
Chechen Man Who Shot Video “How Kadyrov and His Associates Live” Charged with Crime Mediazona
December 9, 2019
According to the newspaper, Nukhanov spent most of his time outside Chechnya, but in the spring he came to the republic to apply for a free operation. It writes that Nukhanov often watched the videos of opposition blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov.
“He frequently raised in conversation the question of how people were so filthy rich and lived in such palaces in a subsidized republic with very high unemployment,” Novaya Gazeta writes.
On October 31, Nukhanov posted a video, entitled How Kadyrov and His Associates Live, on YouTube. Shot from a car, the video features houses in a Grozny neighborhood that Novaya Gazeta calls the “Chechen Rublyovka.”
The newspaper describes the video’s contents: “The dashcam blankly records the houses on either side of the road. The driver does not utter a single word.”
According to Novaya Gazeta, the next day men in camouflage uniforms burst into Nukhanov’s house and took the young man away. It writes that the men confiscated all of his telephones, his computer and CPU, and the “ill-fated” Ford Focus whose dashcam Nukhanov used to shoot his video.
Novaya Gazeta writes that a day after the arrest Nukhanov’s father saw his son at the police station. He had been beaten up, his hand was bandaged, and his clothes were bloody and nearly torn to shreds.
Nukhanov was charged with illegal possession of weapons, as punishable under Article 222.1 of the Criminal Code. According to investigators, the young man was summoned to the police station to “verify intelligence.” Once at the station, Nukhanov allegedly behaved suspiciously, and so it was decided to search him. Police allegedly found two gun cartridges in his pocket, and when they searched his car, they also found a pistol. The young man pleaded guilty on the advice of his state-appointed lawyer.
The newspaper writes that Nukhanov spent nearly a month in the basement of the Grozny central police station. The court remanded him in custody only on November 27. After his wife hired Nukhanov a “proper” lawyer, he withdrew his confession.
Thanks to Yegor Skovoroda for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
“We are with Ingushetia for rights and against the lawlessness of the authorities! Crackdowns won’t stop us.”
“Putin Has Not Retreated, But Nor Have the People”: Petersburgers Picket in Support of Ingush Political Prisoners
Anastasia Belyayeva Gorod 812
October 24, 2019
In Petersburg, a series of solo pickets was held in support of Ingush activists, who were jailed after rallies protest the redrawing Ingushetia’s border with Chechnya. The picketers consider the situation in the republic critical, dubbing the arrests in the wake of the protest rallies the “Ingush Bolotnya Square case.”
The protests in Ingushetia kicked off in the autumn of 2018 after Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, then-head of Ingushetia, and Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Chechnya, signed an agreement ceding large parts of Ingushetia to Chechnya, including land on which Ingush ancestral towers are located. Outraged by this secret deal, the Ingush populace launched a series of well-attended protest rallies in Magas, the Ingush capital. Activists and elders argued the decision was illegal and appealed to Vladimir Putin. The matter made it to the Russian Constitutional Court, which sided with Kadyrov and Yevkurov. The protests in the Ingush capital continued, eventually leading the authorities to arrest and charge activists.
“Free the political prisoners! #Ingushetia #TheIngushAreNotAlone.”
On October 23, each of the picketers on Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg raised the Ingush flag and help up placards demanding the release of the jailed activists and a reconsideration of the decision to redraw the republic’s borders with neighboring Chechnya.
“We have come out today in downtown Petersburg to draw attention to a problem that the government has tried to hush up,” activist Marina Ken told Gorod 812. “We want to give people the chance to find out what has been happening in Ingushetia. The decision to redraw the borders was not made by ordinary people but by the authorities, and many dissenters are now in jail. People must understand that the problem concerns each of us as citizens of one country.”
None of the picketers was detained, although police checked their papers and photographed their placards.
“Free Musa Masalgov, co-chair of the Ingush National Unity Committee!”
Currently, over thirty people who opposed the redrawing of the Ingush-Chechen border have been jailed in remand prisons in different parts of the North Caucasus. They have been charged with calling for riots (as punishable by Article 212.3 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) and engaging in life- and health-threatening violence against law enforcement officers (punishable under Article 318.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code). At the same time, a hundred people have been convicted on administrative charges. Many of the jailed activists have complained of poor conditions in prison and torture at the hands of the authorities. According to other activists and relatives of those who have been jailed, many of them have not been allowed to see their lawyers, while hearings in their cases have been held without them.
“Free Bagaudin Hautiyev, lawyer and chair of the Ingushetia Youth Organization Coordinating Committee!”
One of the most high-profile cases is that of political activist Zarifa Sautiyeva, who has been charged with violence against police officers. She has been jailed since July, and recently a court extended her term in custody until December 11, 2019. Activist Hava Hazbiyeva, who took part in the picket, believes many of the arrests are unlawful.
“Zarifa, for example, was just doing her job by broadcasting from the protest rallies. The charges against her have nothing to do with the truth. Besides, she has been constantly moved from place to place without explanation. Among the jailed activists are two elderly men, Ahmed Barakhoyev, an Ingush elder, and Malsag Uzhakhov, chairman of the Council of Teips of the Ingush People. Malsag has severe asthma and diabetes, so being in jail is real torture for him. He constantly suffers from elevated blood pressure and nausea, and he cannot breathe when he is transferred from one remand prison to another. However, we don’t observe any signs of an active investigation. The authorities are seemingly just playing dirty tricks,” she said.
Today’s crisis actually has deep roots, according to picketer Asan Mumji.
“In the twentieth century, the Ingush were subjected to severe repression, something that is remembered in nearly every Ingush family. People were then murdered by the thousands, but the current actions of the authorities are also a real crackdown. The Ingush people do not want to give up their land for any reason. Putin has not retreated, but nor have the people. By the way, the rumors that the Ingush want to join Georgia are a wild provocation. People have been acting within the law, wanting to right the wrong that has been done to them.”
All photos courtesy of Gorod 812. Translated by the Russian Reader
If you’re a sucker for rigged elections and skewed opinion polls, like most western journalists, you would have to admit that Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov is Russia’s most popular politician, not Vladimir Putin. Photo courtesy of RFE/RL
Putin’s Unique Popularity (Spoiler: It Doesn’t Exist) Alexei Navalny
April 5, 2018
This special video is for you, dear whingers. I find it impossible to read, three weeks running, articles discussing the unique way Putin picked up 76% of the total vote at the March 18 presidential election and see the mobs of people agonizing in the commentaries to these articles.
“Lord, how terrible! 76%. What horrible people Russians are! 76% voted for their own poverty and slavery. The only way out is emigration. It’s time to make a run for it,” etc.
Here is what I have to say about Putin’s alleged “largest percentage of votes ever” and his status as the “most popular politician.”
We simply have to get one thing through our heads. At this stage in our authoritarian country’s evolution, any moron who stands for election on behalf of the regime gets 80% of the vote. Literally. But this percentage means nothing at all.
Are you horrified by Putin’s huge vote total? Then why aren’t you groaning and moaning about the vote totals the regional governors have won in elections? Did you know you would have to try very hard to find a governor who got a smaller percentage of the vote the last time he was elected than Putin did this time round?
You don’t believe me? Here is a chart showing the percentage of votes the country’s regional leaders got the last time each of them stood for election. See whether you can find our so-called national leader, allegedly, the country’s champion when it comes to popular support.
Total Votes (%)
Jewish Autonomous Region
If I asked you what the 89% vote tally for Vadim Potomsky, ex-governor of Oryol Region (who claimed Ivan the Terrible had visited St. Petersburg), meant, you would replay without hesitating, “Nothing. It doesn’t mean a thing.”
“He had no support,” you would say, laughing.
Then why does the alleged support for Putin scare you? Do you think that, in his case, the powers that be have employed other methods for generating support?
Of course, they haven’t. They have used the very same methods. Real rivals are not allowed to stand for elections. The public is smothered with lies and propaganda. Officials rig the vote, stuff the ballot boxes, and falsify the final tallies.
These are the three factors for turning political bosses in Russia into wildly popular politicians. Remove any of them from office and they will end up in the same place where all the former champions of the ballot boxes have now ended up, whether we are talking about Shantsev, Merkushkin or Tuleyev. As soon as they are removed from office, a wave of the magic wand turns their popularity into a pumpkin.
Tuleyev had almost unanimous “support” the last time he was elected: nearly 97% of all votes cast. How many of those people took to the streets to support him when he resigned? No one did.
The new governor of Kemerovo Region, Sergei Tsivilyov, is the new proprietor of that 97%.
Under this system, if Putin were placed tomorrow with his most unpopular underling—say, Dmitry Medevedev or Dmitry Rogozin—his replacement would get the same “record-breaking” 76% of the vote if an election were called.
So, there is no reason to worry and snivel.
Dig in your heels. Get involved in political debates. Expose official lies. Tell and disseminate the truth. Fight for your country and your future.
Gazprom Refuses to Name and Shame Russian Authorities Falling Behind on Bills Moscow Times
March 29, 2017
Russian energy giant Gazprom has refused to name and shame regional governments for falling behind on their gas bills.
Previous press releases by the company had turned the spotlight on authorities who refused to pay up.
Gazprom’s last debt report in 2016 slammed local governments in Russia’s North Caucasus, reporting that officials in the region owed more than 48 billion rubles ($845 million)—more than 80 percent of all money owned to the company across Russia as a whole.
This year, the company took a less-confrontational approach, declining to name its main debtors despite a rise in outstanding payments. “Overdue payments remain an urgent problem,” the company said in a press release. “In 2016, it grew by about 6 percent, amounting to 161 billion rubles ($2.84 billion) as of January 1, 2017.”
Some have seen the change as part of a bid to appease Chechen leader Kadyrov after he locked horns with the energy company last month.
Kadyrov, whose government forms a vital part of Russia’s North Caucasus region, accused Gazprom of using “worn out” equipment. He said that the company’s “bad management” forced the Chechen people to live in “19th century conditions.”
“People pay for light, for gas, but the money just doesn’t get there,” Kadyrov said.
The Chechen government has long waged a campaign to see local energy assets handed over to Kadyrov’s safekeeping.
The Kommersant newspaper reported in February that Russian oil giant Rosneft could sell its assets to the Chechen republic in a multi-billion dollar deal.
The Chechen government also took control of property belonging to Chechenneftekhimprom—the state-owned company that controls the republic’s oil-refining and petrochemical industry—in December 2015 after repeated requests to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That’s certainly a curious article.
I was walking round town the other day and came across several instances of Gazprom’s engaged in quite the opposite behavior, that is, naming and shaming ordinary flat dwellers to their neighbors for the money they had failed to pay the gentle folks who “hold the world’s largest natural gas reserves.”
The funny thing is that the worst gas-bill shirker in this particular block of flats, the bourgeois wrecker who lives in flat no. 48, owes mighty Gazprom the equivalent of a whopping 35 euros. The bastards in flats no. 35 and no. 41 owe a bit over nine euros each, but they’ve already been tied to the same whipping post as the foreign saboteur in no. 48.
The circumstances at a nearby block of flats is a bit more dire. Flat no. 58 has seemingly gone rogue, racking up an unseemingly debt of 245 euros. And yet Gazprom, which, as the Moscow Times article, above, suggests, has learned the lesson that discretion is the better part of wisdom, has also ratted out flat no. 9 for owing it the equivalent of eight euros fifty cents.
So the takeaway is that if you’re a North Caucasian republic, you can get away without paying your gas bill, which, I imagines, amounts to more than nine euros a month.
For the record, my monthly gas bill amounts to a little over six euros a month and I always pay it on time, such a fervid patriot am I.
But not everyone is conscientious as I am, as I saw a bit further down the same street, where Gazprom had named and shamed packs of shirkers wholesale—alas, to no avail.
Sigh. These folks don’t want to pay their rates at all, apparently.
А “mixed martial arts” fight between eight-, nine-, and ten-year-olds never hurt anyone.
We beat the hell out of each other in the schoolyard, although it wasn’t televised, sadly.
Later, some of us grew up to be policemen or joined the armed forces. Meaning, some of us grew up to be people who do important work in our country by keeping the inferior races down, with a couple of dozen pistol shots to head and chest, if necessary, or traveling to foreign countries to kill their people by the thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands because they had the misfortune of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time, although they never harmed a hair on any of our curly imperial heads.
Kadyrov has the right idea. He is training his own children and Chechnya’s children for the day when he and his army of Russian patriots will have to descend on the metropole and rip the empire’s “fifth column” and “national traitors” limb from limb.
And he is broadcasting it on TV so that all these enemies and traitors can see he and his people are getting ready to come after them.
Only a person completely off their rocks would call this “stability.”
For the last seventeen years, Putin has been concocting a Vesuvius-like social, economic, and political volcano that will soon blow up in everyone’s face. Worldwide. The people of Aleppo have already been hit by future seismic aftershocks from this belated volcanic explosion. Who will be next?
Kadyrov Children’s Televised MMA Bouts Prompt Criticism In Russia RFE/RL
October 6, 2016
Russia’s ombudswoman for the rights of children says she has sent an official query to the children’s ombudsman in the North Caucasus region of Chechnya after state television broadcast mixed martial arts (MMA) fights between children.
Anna Kuznetsova made the announcement on October 6, two days after three sons, all aged between 8 and 10, of Chechnya’s Moscow-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov won their fights in the cage during a so-called exhibition bout in Grozny.
Ten-year-old Akhmad beat another boy by a technical knockout.
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “If all of this is true, then probably a live broadcast of a child’s knockout is the reason for the proper supervisory authorities to closely look into this matter.”
The chairman of Russia’s MMA Union, Fyodor Yemelyanenko earlier called the fights “unacceptable,” saying the children risked permanent injury and psychological harm.
Yemelyanenko said children under the age of 12 should not be allowed to take part in any MMA fights and that anyone under the age of 21 must wear a helmet and protective gear, which was not the case in the fights involving Kadyrov’s sons.
He also expressed concerns that the children’s fight was shown on state television.
“Chernovik”: Man Who Complained to Putin about Kadyrov Has House Burned Down in Chechen Village of Kenkhi Mediazona
May 13, 2016
According to Chernovik, the house of local resident Ramazan Dzhalaldinov, who had complained to Vladimir Putin about the Chechen authorities, had his house burnt down late on the night of May 12 in the village of Kenkhi, in Chechnya’s Sharoy District.
As Dzhalaldinov’s wife told Chernovik, around midnight, masked men entered the house. They said they had come to rescue them. The women and three daughters were put in a car, but later were thrown out under a bridge.
“And the house was set on fire. Residents of the village have been forbidden to say anything on the topic under threat of their houses being set on fire,” she said.
A few weeks ago, Ramazan Dzhalaldinov recorded a video appeal to President Vladimir Putin in which he spoke about the poor living conditions in the villages, the houses left destroyed after the two military campaigns of 1994-1996 and 1999, and the corruption of local officials. After posting the video, Dzhalaldinov left the republic.
In late April, the other villagers corroborated Dzhalaldinov’s complaints to a correspondent for TV Rain. Afterwards, villagers who had spoken with the reporter were detained by Chechen security forces.
On May 6, Ramzan Kadyrov, acting head of Chechnya, visited the village of Kenkhi and spoke with several residents, who once again confirmed what Dzhalaldinov had related in his video message.
Kadyrov promised to repair roads and tower complexes in three months, supply the village with natural gas lines, and build mosques in the Sharoy District.
After Kadyrov’s visit, Grozny TV aired a report in which it was claimed that “residents of the village publicly condemned the conduct of [their] countryman” Ramazan Dzhalaldinov.
Gaisanova disappeared in 2009 after a special security operation personally led by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. According to human rights activists, Gaisanova, an employee of the Danish Refugee Council, was abducted and probably murdered.
The ECtHR ruled that the Russian authorities were responsible for Gaisanova’s abduction and probable death. The court found that Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment), and Article 5 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy ofGigapica
Hello! One of the main events of the past week for us was not Putin’s “Direct Line,” but the arrest of a man who spoke with Putin a year ago. Anton Tyurishev, a construction worker at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East, complained to the president that he and his mates were not being paid their wages. Putin promised to get to the bottom of it, but a year on nothing had changed. Tyurishev promised that in response protests would kick off. Later, he was summoned to the police station, where the “Law on Rallies” was read out to him. The day before the “Direct Line” broadcast, he was detained and sent to jail for five days, allegedly, for swearing in public.
The new defendant in the Bolotnaya Square Case, Maxim Panfilov, who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome and yet was taken into police custody, is not getting the medicines he needs. Instead, he is being administered substitutes that do not alleviate his condition. Panfilov has been appointed an outpatient psychiatric examination. The investigator has agreed to let defense attorneys attend it.
Ildar Dadin, convicted of “multiple violations of the rules for holding public events,” was convoyed from Moscow to Petersburg right on his birthday, which means he will serve his sentence in Leningrad Region.
Last week, it transpired that Magomednabi Magomedov, imam of the Eastern Mosque in Khasavyurt, had been arrested, accused of incitement to terrorism and inciting religious and ethnic hatred. Magomedov, who was transported from one place of confinement to another over several days, complained he had been tortured. Pretrial detention facility officers had beaten him and forced him to kneel, demanding that he confess to the charges.
Euromaidan participant Alexander Kostenko, convicted of harming a Berkut riot police officer, was transferred to solitary confinement shortly before a hearing where his request for parole was to be examined. Naturally, Kostenko’s parole request was rejected.
It seems soon Alexei Navalny will have no allies who are not undergoing criminal prosecution. Ivan Zhdanov, head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s legal service, and a candidate for the council of deputies in the Moscow suburb of Barvikha, has been charged with evading conscription.
Freedom of Assembly
In Ulyanovsk, police diligently searched for activists who had blocked a road in connection with construction of a residential complex. They visited one activist at work, and telephone another and asked him to report for questioning. When he demanded an official summons, they threatened him with criminal charges. Administrative charges have been filed against three people.
In Volgograd, the leader of the regional Union of Entrepreneurs and Freight Haulers has been slapped with three administrative charges for calling people to a protest rally before the rally was authorized. The court threw out two of the three charges, while the third resulted in a fine.
In Podolsk, three men attacked Maxim Chekanov, a past participant of protest rallies. The incident began when they called Chekanov by name, asked him questions about the “Kiev junta,” called him a “Banderite scumbag,” and then invited him to go round the corner. During the ensuing fight they smashed Chekhanov’s face.
Popular Chechen singer Hussein Betelgeriev, who disappeared in late March, has returned home beaten. It is unknown where he was all this time. Relatives and friends suggest he was abducted, and connect the abduction with his comments on social networks and the fact he ignored the call to attend a pro-Kadyrov rally on March 23.
OVD Info is an independent human rights media project dedicated to political persecution in Russia. We are engaged in daily monitoring of detentions at public events, and publish information about other kinds of political persecution. We believe that information liberates and protects, and analyzing the data we collect can help change the situation for the better in the future.
Editor’s Note. OVD Info sends out a weekly email news roundup, in Russian, to its supporters. I thought that, despite its brevity, this week’s roundup provided a fairly eloquent picture of the state of affairs in this country at present and not just this particular week. You can sign up to the mailing list by going to the bottom of any page n the OVD Info website and entering your email address where you see the phrase ПОДПИСАТЬСЯ НА РАССЫЛКУ.
Kadyrov Is Not Chechnya
Grigory Tumanov Snob
January 26, 2015
Kommersant newspaper correspondent Grigory Tumanov has returned from a trip to Grozny and reports everything you hear about modern Chechnya and its bloodlust is a myth invented by Ramzan Kadyrov
If you said the pro-Ramzan Kadyrov rally, held last Friday in Grozny, was a kind of vote for Kadyrov, you would have to admit it was a failure. It has long been argued the event was meant to hide some of the Chechen leader’s deeper problems, and he had begun to haggle with Moscow not by offering stability in exchange for a free hand, but by offering the explosive situation in the region. But on the ground it turned out all the stories about how, as soon as Kadyrov resigns and loosens his grip, the entire republic would secede from Russia, immediately impose sharia law, and establish a free Ichkeria are a myth.
I remember January 19, 2015, in Grozny: the rally for the Prophet, which had also been organized not without the involvement of the local authorities, to put it mildly. The vast majority of the people at the rally had, of course, never seen any Charlie Hebdo cartoons on the web, the cartoons that sparked the brutal murders of the magazine’s journalists. Despite this, however, from early morning there was a huge traffic jam even on Chechnya’s border with the neighboring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan. Yes, there were state employees. Yes, ralliers were bussed into Grozny. Yes, there were quotas and roll calls, and prototype placards imposed by the higher-ups, and campaigning in dean’s offices. It is odd, of course, to try and assess the degree to which those people went involuntarily to the Heart of Chechnya Mosque that day, but it should be said they stayed on the square both at twelve o’clock to perform the midday prayer and afterwards.
Several days later, every other car was still sporting a “We Support the Prophet!” placard. It made sense. How, in a Muslim region, would you say no to the question, “Are you going to the rally for the Prophet?” You wouldn’t say it, of course.
“I have not seen the cartoons, but I am a Muslim, so I have no choice but to come out. Rally or no rally, how could I not come out? For some reason you all say we should not be offended by cartoons about something that matters to us. But why should you decide for us? You don’t believe in it!” one rally attendee told me.
It was a conclusive victory for Kadyrov. People really did come out for the rally, driven not only by official lobbying but also by their own indignation. So it was a great way for Kadyrov to announce his candidacy for the post of chief defender of Muslims in Russia.
Contrary to the official Instagrams posted by Chechen officials and Kadyrov himself, it turned out that the personal pull exerted by the head of the republic was still not comparable to that of Muhammad. The Chechen Interior Ministry reported that over a million people gathered on the squares of Grozny last Friday. This is not true. I stood on the roof of the judicial department of the republic’s Supreme Court and saw with my own eyes that there were hardly 100,000 people in attendance. And as soon as the officials moderating the rally announced it was over, all those one hundred thousand people literally evaporated from the square. It was impressive. I was especially touched by the way that people who were not employed in the state sector proudly said they would not be going to the rally.
“Oh no, I am going to stock up on potato chips and sunflower seeds and plop down on the sofa. If it is a day off, then let it be a day off. No one is going to force me to come out for the tsar,” a private entrepreneur in Grozny told me.
“Maybe we will not be allowed to work on this day, but we are not going anywhere, so if you suddenly feel like some tea, stop by,” the proprietors of a kebab place near the hotel where I stayed told me on the eve of the rally.
While it was true there was no smoke coming from their grills the next morning, all the place’s employees were in fact at work, watching with curiosity as state-sector workers carrying placards shuffled by them on their way to the Heart of Chechnya Mosque.
Yes, everyone with whom I spoke in the crowd on the square spouted off rote phrases about how Kadyrov had raised the republic from ruins, and that he needed support, since Ilya Yashin had launched a real vilification campaign against him. But it was no less impressive to see how people squinted and smiled ironically as they said this, to see placards embossed with slogans about Kadyrov and against Navalny just lying in the flowerbeds after the rally, and how policemen quickly tried to clean them up when they noticed the interest they aroused among photojournalists.
All of today’s Chechnya is a myth invented by Kadyrov. The bloody seriousness and the obsession with sports and Islam are a myth. Another such myth is the stability Kadyrov provides, thus reining in the unbearable craving of Chechens for secession from Russia and terrorism. Talking about politics in the republic frightens everyone, especially talking about politics with reporters. There is the risk you will find yourself on a treadmill with your pants pulled down. Both critics and supporters of the regime agree on the main point, however: the wars are over, the bombing has stopped. However, if you get both critics and supporters to talk, all of them will admit that the choice between nocturnal visits by men in cars with KRA license plates [i.e., marked with Kadyrov’s initials] and Russian bombing raids is not great.
Ruslan has a cafe. If you walk down Putin Avenue and then turn into the courtyards, walk past the houses, go down into a basement, and push the door with a yellow sign featuring a guitar, inside you will find something resembling the Mos Eisley Cantina in the first Star Wars movie. The place is terribly smoky, and there are strange groups of people sitting all round it. Only the drum kit is empty. The alien band that produced the whimsical sounds in the movie has been replaced by a young boy now quite long-windedly showing his support for FC Bayern Munich, whose match is on the telly.
Ruslan was a physical education teacher and was about to get housing in a dormitory when the first Chechen campaign started. On the day Russian forces stormed Minutka Square, he was trying to find bread. Ruslan says he cannot eat supper without bread.
Ruslan also cannot live without the blues. While he never has learned to play the guitar, he knows so many artists by heart it would blow your mind. The cafe is not even a business to him but the chance to live as he likes. Sometimes, friends come to the bar and perform jam sessions, and a bottle of cognac can always be found for regulars.
“Around the New Year it was totally excellent here. Everyone would dance until dawn to Pink Floyd, and they were barely standing when they would go home early in the morning,” says Ruslan.
He understands that even in Moscow a blues cafe is a very niche establishment, not to mention Grozny, but this is how he wants to live.
“I would have long ago earned money from the cafe by showing football matches and letting customers make bets. It is quite profitable, but in Chechnya you are not allowed to engage in bookmaking. It is permitted all over Russia, but here it is forbidden. It is forbidden, and that is that. Why should I regard this as normal?” he says, incensed.
Here it is not the custom to say out loud that there is anything wrong with Kadyrov, but the cafe owner does not like having to choose between war and autocracy.
“Look, no one here has any illusions. By all means, let it be Ramzan and Ramzan. But could they just leave us in peace? I want to work in peace, not to be hassled by anyone. People have nothing to eat, but all day long they show on the telly how Kadyrov went for a sleigh ride, what car he drove and where. It is like a reality show,” says another resident of Chechnya, who has a small business.
For him, the pro-Kadyrov rally was an additional irritant. I do not know whether some good people in Moscow actually explained to the Chechen leader he should not appear before his happy people on Friday or maybe he figured it out himself, but I heard a fair number of jokes about the big theatrical production without the main character on stage.
On the eve of the rally, there were rumors in Grozny that now as never before Kadyrov had to demonstrate people’s gratitude to him, and so the presence of media at the rally that were not subordinate to local authorities was undesirable. Allegedly, the nervousness of the local government had reached such levels that members of patriotic youth clubs had been instructed to seek out federal and foreign journalists in the crowd and prevent them from doing their jobs any way they could.
Ultimately, this did not happen, but such a nervous atmosphere could hardly have arisen if the leader were confident if not in the people’s absolute loyalty then at least in its absolute fear.
Some wonder what to do with the republic’s zombified population when Kadyrov goes. But it turns out that nothing in particular has to be done at all. Kadyrov is not Chechnya, and the Chechens are not the pumped men in camouflage you see in the Instagrams, signed with nicknames ending with the number 95 [i.e., the regional code for Chechnya on Russian license plates].
These are people who are insulted to hear they are wasting Moscow’s money. These are people who are afraid men will come for them in the night. These are people who want to open the kinds of cafes they want to open, and who do not want to stand holding identical placards at eight in the morning instead of going to work, and who do not want war. And what sets them apart from the vast majority of Russian citizens (it has become all the rage lately to oppose the two groups) is that they remember war quite well.