Analysts following what appears to be a developing political crisis in Russia suspect the growing tensions engulfing the Kremlin may be a product of the workings of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, once a loyal ally to President Vladimir Putin.
Of the $30 billion in federal funds spent on the North Caucasus between 2000 and 2010, for example, the lion’s share went to Chechnya. Downtown Grozny has been transformed with whole herds of white elephant prestige projects, from glittering (and largely empty) office blocks to the huge Akhmad Kadyrov mosque (named for Ramzan’s father).
However, behind this apparent renewal lies a reality of massive embezzlement for the new elite and minimal benefit for most ordinary Chechens.
Kadyrov is petulant, willful, vain and unpredictable. When his sports minister aroused his ire, he expressed it by pummeling him in the boxing ring. His collection of supercars includes one of only 20 $1.25 million Lamborghini Reventons ever made — no mean feat for a man whose reported annual income is around a tenth of that.
Putin was furious when he learned of the killing, which occurred on a bridge near the Kremlin, four people familiar with the matter said. Putin, who took charge of the probe and then disappeared from public view for a week, became even more alarmed when investigators said they’d traced a hit list of other critics to Chechnya, another person said. Putin has given Kadyrov free rein to kill jihadis and create what even former Chechen officials such as Beslan Gantamirov have called a brutal police state.
If Kadyrov were indeed freelancing into political assassinations in Moscow and were allowed to walk away unpunished, he would be taking Putin and the entire Russian leadership hostage, which might be precisely his plan. This would be a threat to the Russian state that the FSB would be legally obligated to fight.
Kadyrov has been raising his political profile and sought to position himself as Putin’s most trusted lieutenant and even a peer ruler, aiming at a higher federal role. His brazen forays into Russia’s foreign and security policy, and his attempts to speak on behalf of all Russia’s Muslims, unnerved many in Moscow.
Either way, an increasing number of Kremlin-watchers are coming to the conclusion that the period beginning on February 27 with Nemtsov’s assassination and continuing through Putin’s odd vanishing act marks the dawn of late Putinism — the twilight of the regime in its current form.
“Has the Russian regime’s agony begun?” asks a recent article by the prominent Russian political analyst Lilia Shevtsova in The American Interest.
Shevtsova notes that Putin’s “steely-eyed resolve” is gone, he “is losing control,” and “can’t give his entourage clear orders.” Nemtsov’s assassination, she adds, has “shattered the mirrored window concealing the Kremlin; now everyone can see the mess within.”