Ascent of a Tyrant

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Bad news from Chechnya. (One might ask: in recent years, has there been any other kind?): But, as the latterly largely unreported war there has receded from view – not least because of the almost complete silence of the Russian media, Novaya Gazeta excluded, and the great difficulty for any other journalists or investigators to obtain access to the region, there does appear to have been some sense that, in certain regards, life in the Republic has been returning to whatever has passed for normality there in its least troubled times, relatively speaking.

To be sure, the Federal Russian Authorities, even when they were waging destruction down on Chechnya from the skies, and turning a blind eye to, or abetting a punching fist, a kicking foot, to the great brutalities waged in the name of territorial integrity and – first “anti-terrorism” – and then “maintaining constitutional order” and then – dealing with a region “that is not at war but which merely has a very high crime rate” – as though Groznyi were some outpost of Stonebridge or South Central, have never been in the habit of letting any honest information out from this troubled borderland region.

This normality has certainly had more than its fair share of perversions: theme parks, nascent cults of personalities – and one must never forget that, even outwith Chechnya, the dream of living in what is termed a “normal country” – to live normally (normal’no) is a commonplace among many citizens of the Russian Federation – but none the less it is more or less true that the level of violence in the republic has reduced markedly in the last two or three years, and that a rebuilding of sorts has been to take the place of yet more fresh destruction.

(Alas that the subsection of the Terek Grozyni football club supporter’s website which formerly provided a service to those who had fled, by providing photographic evidence of the contemporary state of locations requested by interested parties appears to have gone into abeyance, at least for now.)

Of course, a small number of prosecutions notwithstanding (and – perhaps more relevantly – a larger number of cases under investigation at the European Court of Human Rights) – the perpetrators of the worst abuses (at least on the side of the Federal Government and their allies) are more likely than not to get off absolutely scot-free. (Of those on the other side, while deploring capital punishment or indeed its wartime or quasi-wartime relative of targeted assassinations, I none the less find it difficult to regard the death of the likes of Shamil Basayev – terrorist mastermind extraordinaire or al-Khattab as any great loss either to humanity or the future of the North Caucasus.)

And one must not forget – shamefully unreported or under-reported though it may be – as the violence in Chechnya – or I should say, since 2004, “the Chechen (Nokchi) Republic” — the stability of many of the nearby regions within the Russian Federation – has degenerated rapidly. Assassinations of law-enforcement officials seem to have become almost a weekly occurrence in the Caspian sea territory of Dagestan, and that of regional or local government officials not very less frequent. The same can be said, more or less, in Ingushetiya, on the opposite site of Chechnya. And bombings and assassinations of officials are now far from unknown in North Osetiya and in the Kabardino-Balkar and Karachay-Cherkess Republics, too. And, while it would indeed be unjust to lay all of the troubles of the region on Islam – or even on Islamism (let alone make some of the wilder claims that certain visitors to this website like to bandy about)– it is clearly the case that the growth of Islamist cells, jamaats, a proportion of which are certainly committed to using violent means in pursuit of their aims, and a proportion of which equally certainly are not – is a major factor in making much of the North Caucasus increasingly ungovernable for the Russian authorities. (It is barely surprising that opposition to the Government should take such a form in these border regions, with mainly Turkic or Persian populations, and historic affiliations with the broader Muslim world, but all the more so given the almost entire absence of meaningful democracy here, as elsewhere in Russia.)

The specific item of bad news that I alluded to at the start of this piece is the following: an out-and-out crook, scumbag, tyrant, amoral piece of shit, call him what you will, has this week been appointed as the new President of the aforementioned Chechen (Nokchi) Republic (albeit in an acting capacity, pending legislative approval – although this is certainly merely a formality). Ramzan Kadyrov – gangster, owner of pet tigers, one-time head of the utterly ruthless and notorious so-called “Presidential Security Forces” during the period (2000-2004) that his somewhat less vicious father Akhmad-haji was President. Said forces being noted not just for their brutality and complete disregard for decency in their treatment of Chechens, but also known to take part in abductions and “cleansings” (how rich are Slavic languages in euphemisms for disgusting deeds) not just within Chechnya, but, again, in neighbouring republics of Russia that have not their own fair share of difficulties and (in the case of Ingushetiya/North Osetiya) their own unresolved conflict and refugees.

Ramzan Kadyrov: 30 years old last October. Acting Prime Minister after the last one before was injured in a car crash in late 2005, the real thing from not very much later afterwards. (Another hint of Serbia in the 1990s: or Ukraine before the Orange Revolution: how foolish so many politicians in these places must have been to entrust their passage to chauffeurs so evidently unable to get out of the line of other trafffic. But I digress.) Adored by the Kremlin (seen on camera to burst into tears in Putin’s presence, apparently, having somehow succeeded in obtaining a personal meeting with the man, something that nominally more powerful regional leaders not infrequently fail to do.). Granted Honours by the Russian Academy of Sciences too (despite leaving school with an incomplete education, and not being noted for his intellect or even any kind of articulacy.)

Even putting aside the military and human rights abuses that he has overseen (and not mentioning any obviously unproven implications of his role in killings of rivals or critics – journalistic or otherwise – in Moscow and elsewhere), what about his actions as Prime Minister? Where to start? With the amusement park he opened in his father’s memory perhaps? With his encouragement of men to take four wives in accordance with Shar’ia (despite, seemingly, as well as having already five children of his own, reputed to hang out with rather more easy women in the gangster-filled-and-favouring type of fleshpots of Moscow, who one presumes he would prefer were stoned back at home) – and his insistence that there would be no need to change the law in order for this to occur? With his attempts (prevented by the somewhat more reasonable then Chechen President, Alu Alkhanov) to expel Danish NGOs from the region at the height of all that “Motoons” nonsense?
(Although please do not mistake the man, again, perhaps – perhaps – unlike the father, who was at one time the Mufti of Chechnya, for a pious Muslim. He is nothing of the sort. Piety is not there: Tyranny, rather, and Tyranny alone.)

Maintaining disorder and mob-law, encouraging law-breaking and amorality, gangsterism with menaces, threatening neighbours.

And such a man is now Acting President of this vital (and, yes, potentially wealthy – as regards natural resources, as both a source and transit route) region.

What is most depressing of all is the argument, presented in the past by the likes of Anna Politkovskaya, and one that I find most convincing, is that, in Putin’s Russia (and – as with Ramzan Kadyrov, dating back to his time as Prime Minister, than Acting President, then President), that the cruelties and corruption, and everyday tolerance of the most brutal violence so prevalent on the part of the state authorities in Chechnya, have seeped into public life, albeit in lesser and varied forms, and to a greater or lesser extent, across the entire Federation.

While there are questions about how acceptable Kadyrov’s appointment may be to Chechens – who have a history of egalitarian social organization that long predates the Soviets – and the potential for the eventual revival of a civil war there – for Russia his appointment is doubtlessly an extremely retrograde move, and one that ought to be condemned in the harshest possible terms.