News / Europe

    Chechen Ruler is 'Threat to National Security,' Russian Opposition Activist Says

    Russian opposition activist Ilya Yashin speaks while presenting a report on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, in Moscow, Feb. 23, 2016. The banner behind him reads: "National Security Threat."
    Russian opposition activist Ilya Yashin speaks while presenting a report on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, in Moscow, Feb. 23, 2016. The banner behind him reads: "National Security Threat."

    "Chechnya is a state inside Russia that is not subject to the laws of the country," says Ilya Yashin, deputy chairman of the Russian opposition party Parnas.

    He presented a report Tuesday titled "Threat to National Security" on the situation in the republic, located in Russia's North Caucasus region.

    Yashin said his main task, and that of Parnas and Russia's democratic coalition, is to demand "the immediate resignation" of Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's governor and a stalwart supporter of President Vladimir Putin. They also want Kadyrov to be prosecuted for "a number of serious crimes."

    Russian media on Tuesday quoted Kadyrov, whose second term as Chechnya's governor ends in early April, as saying he was ready leave office. However, he has not officially taken himself out of the running for another term.

    There were several attempts to disrupt Yashin's presentation, which was held at Parnas's offices in the Russian capital and attended by a large number of Russian and foreign journalists. First, a young man whose journalistic credentials were less than clear hurled a pack of fake American dollar bills at the speaker. That man was removed from the premises, but soon afterward another person began shouting loudly.

    FILE - Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov speaks at celebrations marking Defenders of the Fatherland Day in Chechnya's provincial capital Grozny, Russia, Feb. 20, 2016.
    FILE - Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov speaks at celebrations marking Defenders of the Fatherland Day in Chechnya's provincial capital Grozny, Russia, Feb. 20, 2016.

    Yashin continued to speak, but the event was interrupted yet again, this time by an announcement that police wanted the building cleared because of a bomb threat. That brought the presentation to an end.

    ‘Gossip,” says Kadyrov

    The attempts to disrupt the event seemed somewhat pointless, given that the report had already been made public — by none other than Ramzan Kadyrov himself, thanks to a technical glitch on the website of Open Russia, the pro-democracy movement founded by exiled former oil baron Mikhail Khodorkovsky, to which Yashin had given an advance copy of the report.

    Kadyrov, via Instagram, pointed his 1.7 million followers to his pages on other social media where they could read Yashin's report, which he dismissed as "gossip." The opposition, for its part, thanked Kadyrov for making the report available in Chechnya.

    The report was made public just days before the first anniversary of the murder of Boris Nemtsov, the former Russian deputy prime minister who became a leading Putin critic. Nemtsov was shot to death just steps away from the Kremlin walls last Feb. 27.

    Five suspects were arrested in connection with Nemtsov's murder, including Zaur Dadayev, the former deputy commander of a security battalion loyal to Kadyrov. Following his arrest, the Chechen ruler called Dadayev a "true patriot" of Russia.

    ‘Our local Islamic State’

    In its introduction, the opposition report refers to Chechnya as "our local Islamic State," adding that this "Chechen Caliphate" lives "by its own traditions and laws, meanwhile regularly receiving billions in subsidies from the Russian budget."

    FILE - Anti-government protesters hold posters asking who killed opposition leader Boris Nemtsov as they march during an opposition rally in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 20, 2015. (Photo by M. Eckels)
    FILE - Anti-government protesters hold posters asking who killed opposition leader Boris Nemtsov as they march during an opposition rally in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 20, 2015. (Photo by M. Eckels)

    Kadyrov is awash in luxury, Yashin said, while "implementing a policy of prioritizing certain Sharia norms over Russian laws, and building up his military power." According to the opposition leader, Kadyrov's "personal army" numbers more than 20,000 fighters.

    "Gunmen from Chechnya stage terrorist attacks on opponents of Kadyrov in Moscow and outside of Russia," Yashin said. The main purpose of his report, he said, is to "open the eyes of Russian society to the fact that Ramzan Kadyrov, with the connivance of the country's leadership and intelligence services, has become a figure who represents a threat to the national security of Russia.”

    The full text of the opposition report on Chechnya — in Russian — is available on the website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Russian service.

    ‘Authorities will be silent’

    Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior associate with the Carnegie Moscow Center and chair of its Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program, called Yashin's report "very important," but predicted that the Russian government would not react to it.

    "While Kadyrov has obviously been nervous recently, he's clearly not worried about the reaction of society, but rather about the position of the [federal] authorities," he told VOA. "And the authorities will be silent."

    According to Kolesnikov, the report will elicit contradictory responses within Russian society.

    An unidentified person throws pieces of paper, resembling banknotes, as Russian opposition figure Ilya Yashin (L) presents his report in Moscow, Feb. 23, 2016.
    An unidentified person throws pieces of paper, resembling banknotes, as Russian opposition figure Ilya Yashin (L) presents his report in Moscow, Feb. 23, 2016.

    "Some will perceive it as being inspired by the West to slander Kadyrov, others [will perceive it] as the truth," he said. "But no practical conclusions will be drawn from it. In any case, he will not be dismissed, and will continue to serve in his position."

    Putin clings to Kadyrov because he ensures peace — or the appearance of it — in Chechnya, said Kolesnikov.

    Alexander Cherkasov, director of the Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow, said Yashin's report is important because it details, among other things, the alleged murders of opponents of Kadyrov in Moscow — crimes that he said were like something out of "a television series about dysfunctional life in a dysfunctional country."

    "Ilya Yashin has compiled the available information in order to try and place on the national agenda all the things that people see and hear but try not to notice," Cherkasov said.

    Still, he said the report is unlikely to have a quick effect.

    "The spoken word very rarely causes an immediate reaction, produces results," Cherkasov said. "For that to happen, you have to prepare a base, to create a critical mass of previously spoken words. Ilya Yashin has contributed to the formation of this critical mass."

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