Monday, May 26, 2014

The Chechens and Ramzan Kadyrov - reply to a reader

After my recent post about Chechnia and the hope it gives me, one reader posted a particularly interesting comment which, I believe, deserves a full answer.  One thing which particularly motivated me to write this more detailed reply rather that a shot comment-reply was that what this reader wrote almost exactly mirrored my own thoughts just a few years ago.  So in replying to this reader I have the opportunity to explain why I changed my opinion about Ramzan Kadyrov and the Chechen people today.  So let's take the comments of this reader one by one:

1. “Image of Chechnia and Chechens is radically changing in Russia”. In reality, Chechens are being considered what they are – thugs from the mountains, using knives and guns without hesitation after slightest provocation, for example in a restaurant, against usually barehanded adversaries. What is worse, it’s well known that they will get away with it even with blood on their hands. Officials will be bribed or intimidated, so no one will be prosecuted. Even if the case gets to a court – well, persons involved will just go back to Caucasus, where local police will never try to catch them. These guys go through the downtown Moscow in dozens of cars, shooting live ammunition into the air and surrounding vehicles, and again, with impunity. So – there is no change in attitude towards Chechens: they are feared and hated. And since they are really a very small minority the only thing keeping them from being harassed and killed one by one is support from the police, judicial and special services. Sad but true. Google phrases below, if interested. Click images section or youtube if you don’t know Russian: Кавказский автопробег.
Стреляющая свадьба.

There is much truth to what you write.  However, what is important here is this: what is Ramzan Kadyrov's stance on the actions of these Chechens?  The reply is that he calls such behavior a disgrace for Chechens and that he demands that Chechen behave more courteously and more respectfully than any other ethnic group.  He not only says so, he takes action which one famous case illustrates very well.  There is this volunteer group in many regions of Russia called "Stop Kham" (stop the rude person") which confronts rude drivers and which glues a big sticker on the front window of cars parked illegally (you can find their videos on YouTube, some with English captions; they are quite fun to watch).  One day they confronted a rich and arrogant woman who, as it turned out, was the wife of a senior Chechen official.  She got really angry and called up some "body guards aka thugs" and a big fight ensued.  When Kadyrov learned about that he immediately dismissed the official.  So yes, there is a lot of Chechen thuggery and banditry, but that is not behavior Islam approves (often the Chechens acting this way are drunk) and Kadyrov tries as hard as can be to crack down on such behavior.

2. Media calls Kadyrov hero? That’s because he was awarded with the Golden star (highest Russian decoration) and title of Hero of Russian Federation, move, that caused sheer outrage and disgust in the Russian military. He is also called academic, which is also true. When Kadyrov is called a hero in media, there is /sarc tag in 100% cases. The tag you are probably missing.

Did you watch the latest Вести Недели с Дмитрием Киселевым (Weekly News with Dimitri Kiselev)?  He clearly means it when he says that Kadyrov is a hero and, as I am sure you know, Kiselev is arguable the most powerful and influential person in the Russian media right now.  As for the Russian military being disgusted with Kadyrov getting the medal of "Hero of Russia" this makes sense: he used to be a Chechen warlord who switched sides after all.  But look what he did after that?  His father was murdered and he inherited a horrible situation in Chechnia and yet he achieved what was in theory impossible: there are no more terrorist gangs to guerrilla warloards in Chechnia.  And look at the key role Chechen security forces have played in their elimination, including the recent one of Doku Umarov.  Does that not deserve the title of Hero of Russia?  I think that is completely does and any Russian with such achievements would have obtained it.

3. Kadyrov is really playing very important role. He (actually, his father) was chosen to become a rat wolf of a kind. A creature trained to eradicate its fellow rats, i.e. warlords, that failed to strike deal with the Kremlin first. Was that necessary to bring up such creature? The answer is likely “yes”. It was cost-effective solution. But that doesn’t change Kadyrov from what he is, nor it helps to improve attitude towards him. Nothing will help here, i think.

You are making one huge assumption here: that in essence folks like Maskhadov, Dudaev, Umarov, Basaev, Iandarbiev, Raduev, Zakaev or Baraev are of the same nature as Kadyrov.  That they are all rats.  I totally disagree.  The former were thugs and liars, they made a mockery of Islam and they used Wahabi Islam as a cover for their banditry and mobster activities.  They were in for the money first and foremost, for power second and for hatred third. These guys were truly vicious rats, the scum of the earth, and they have to be eliminated one by one.  I believe that Kadyrov is truly religious and that his goal is categorically different: he is trying to built up a peaceful and prosperous Chechnia and for that he puts his life on the line each day.  Can I prove it?  No.  Can you?  No.  Neither of us are mind-readers.  So it is your deeply held and sincere conviction versus mine.  All I can say is that I used to think exactly like you do.  Two things made me re-consider: discussions with Chechens and listening to Kadyrov in interviews.

4. After elimination of most rivaling warlords Chechnya is living quite well, thanks to the money they got from the federal state budget. Money, that doesn’t go to other regions, that is. They build great mosques and skyscrapers (skyscrapers, for god’s sake, in a rural area!) at expense of regions of Russia proper. It’s well known, and causes a lot of tensions too.

Is Kadyrov wealthy?  Yes.  Does a lot of money come from the Federal Center.  Yes.  So what?  Kadyrov is no richer than any other regional leader and pouring money into Chechnia was an absolute necessity to prevent the return to another civil war fueled by criminal gangs.  Does Chechnia need great mosques and skyscrapers?  First, it is not for us to judge what they want to do in their own country as long as they don't act against Russia.  But second yes, I do believe that Chechnia badly needed big mosques and skyscrapers!  Why?  To restore the badly hurt pride and self-confidence of the people and to give them a sense of hope for the future.  In New York they figured that neighborhoods with broken windows and painted tags foster crime.  So they decided to fix that and it worked.  Same thing for Grozny: these construction are a powerful, visible, signal of what Chechnia wants to become and that is essentially for a city which has almost been leveled to the ground.

One last thing: it would be naive in the extreme to compare Kadyrov to Buddha, Gandhi or Saint Seraphim of Sarov.  The main cannot simply press a button and transmute himself into a Sergei Lavrov kind of refined intellectual.  Besides, while a person like Lavrov is needed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he would not make a good leader in Chechnia.  I think that Kadyrov should be compared to another Hero of Russia: General Shamanov who also did a fantastic job in Chechnia, who is equally hated by western "human rights" professionals and who is himself not averse to take some, shall we say, semi-legal actions.  These are tough guys, hard has iron, both personally very courageous and both merciless to their enemies.  These are folks you do not want to mess with and you definitely want them on your side.  But are they both also intensely patriotic and intensely committed to their ideals?  I believe so.  Of course, just like with Kadyrov, we don't really know what Shamanov really thinks or what he believes in.  But I think that this is a fair comparison: Kadyrov and Shamanov.  Neither of them will ever become a refined intellectual and both will always remain dangerous predators in their heart.  That is exactly the kind of persons Russia needs in the Caucasus today: to keep any wannabe Georgian, Dagestani or Ukrainian enemies of Russia frightened and deter them from taking any hostile action.  At least this is my personal conclusion.

Kind regards and many thanks,

The Saker