Ramzan Kadyrov: Putin's key Chechen ally

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (right) with President Vladimir Putin, file pic Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Putin relies on Mr Kadyrov (right) to bolster Russian power in Chechnya

Once again the name of the Chechen leader - Ramzan Kadyrov - has cropped up in connection with a high-profile murder in Russia.

The authoritarian head of Chechnya has spoken out about the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, defending one of the Chechens now charged over the shooting.

Zaur Dadayev was a Russian Interior Ministry officer who served with distinction, Mr Kadyrov wrote on Instagram.

He was "sincerely devoted to Russia, ready to give his life for the motherland," Mr Kadyrov said, vowing to find out why Mr Dadayev had been dismissed from the ministry forces.

The suspect was also a devout Muslim who had been angered by the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, he said.

Mr Nemtsov was among the many liberals who defended Charlie Hebdo's cartoons, following an attack on the magazine's offices by Islamist gunmen in Paris in January which left 12 people dead.

A day after Mr Kadyrov's praise for Zaur Dadayev, the Chechen leader was given a top award by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Kadyrov got the Order of Honour on Monday for "work achievements, strenuous social activities and long conscientious service".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ramzan Kadyrov has made strict adherence to Islam a feature of his presidency

Pragmatic alliance

The award could help to quash any rumours of a split between Mr Putin and Mr Kadyrov after the brazen murder of Mr Nemtsov, says the BBC's Murad Batal Shishani, a Chechen political analyst.

Mr Nemtsov was killed on 27 February near the Kremlin walls. In the swirl of conspiracy theories some speculate that it was a bold attempt to show Mr Putin that he can no longer control Russian ultra-nationalists who hate his liberal opponents.

Mr Kadyrov has voiced strong support for the pro-Putin rebels in eastern Ukraine and for Russia's annexation of Crimea. He is on the EU sanctions list.

His alliance with Mr Putin goes back a long way.

In 2007, Mr Putin appointed him Chechen president. His father, Akhmad, had been assassinated in a bomb blast.

Ramzan Kadyrov already had a powerful, much-feared private militia called the "Kadyrovtsy". Human rights groups accuse them of torture, kidnappings and assassinations in Chechnya, a mainly Muslim republic in the North Caucasus left devastated by war in the 1990s.

So why did Mr Kadyrov become a protege of the Kremlin?

His ruthless methods against armed Islamists were useful for Russia as it tried to pacify the whole North Caucasus region, Shishani argues.

Islamist militancy became more acute in republics near Chechnya just as Mr Putin was trying to consolidate his presidency in Moscow.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ramzan Kadyrov speaking on Russian Youth Day in 2012

Anna Munster, an expert on the troubled region, says the "Caucasus Emirate" declared by North Caucasus militants "tops the threat list for the Russian government".

It has spread its influence beyond the region to Tatarstan and other parts of Russia, and carried out bombings in Moscow in 2010 and 2011, she wrote in a research paper.

Working with Islam

Ramzan Kadyrov also continued his father's successful work in co-opting Chechnya's main Sufi Muslim brotherhood, the Qadiriya.

"The brotherhood had always been hostile to Russia, but for the first time in history it had been turned into an ally against Islamists," according to Shishani.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Grozny's new central mosque is a major landmark

Mr Kadyrov developed a direct relationship with the Kremlin, bypassing Russia's bureaucratic state institutions - another convenient arrangement for both sides.

It paid off for Mr Kadyrov, as Russia funded the reconstruction of infrastructure in Chechnya, including new roads and a giant mosque in the republic's capital, Grozny.

Such projects are good public relations for Mr Kadyrov, but do little to create much-needed local jobs, Shishani says.

Previous killings

Cerwyn Moore, a North Caucasus expert at the UK's Birmingham University, says Mr Kadyrov's links to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) go back at least to 2000, when Mr Putin became president.

Critics have linked Ramzan Kadyrov to several assassinations - but he strenuously denies involvement.

A top investigative journalist who condemned his methods - Anna Politkovskaya - was shot dead outside her Moscow apartment in 2006. Two men were jailed for life, though investigators failed to determine who had ordered the killing.

In 2009, Russian human rights campaigner Natalia Estemirova was shot dead in the North Caucasus - another prominent critic of Mr Kadyrov's harsh crackdown.

In Chechnya, Mr Kadyrov "has become a sort of cult leader - like some other post-Soviet leaders in Central Asia", Mr Moore told the BBC.

"The outcome is you get ex-servicemen affiliated to him who do things that benefit him, much of which is very murky."

There have also been killings abroad of former Kadyrov associates who fell foul of him, such as former bodyguard Umar Israilov in Vienna and Sulim Yamadayev in Dubai.

Such assassinations are nothing new in Chechen politics.

Russia's war against Chechen separatists killed thousands of civilians and soldiers, and rebel leaders were removed in targeted killings, including Dzhokhar Dudayev, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev and Shamil Basayev.

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