Russia’s relations with Chechnya are explosive. Hundreds of years of resisting Russian colonial rule and numerous conflicts have seen the two parties fight on multiple occasions with hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties.
To keep the federal republic under Russian control, Vladimir Putin has propped up the Kadyrov family to subdue any resistance by free Chechens. The Kremlin’s power dynamic with Kadyrov will be of much attention to the forefront of geopolitics as Ramzan Kadyrov’s health has come under question.
Putin’s Relationships with the Kadyrov Family
Vladimir Putin, a lifelong KGB officer, realized the Russian doctrine in fighting Chechen independence had failed multiple times. Switching tactics from Boris Yeltsin, the new Russian President declared a total war on Chechnya, including the highly dubious Ryazan Bombing in which the state security service, FSB, was complicit.
Putin helped placate Akhmad Kadyrov, the former Grand Mufti of Ichkeria, which was then under the leadership of Dzhokhar Dudayev. Akhmad was more critical of Wahhabism and wanted to consolidate power after Dudayev’s assassination.
Akhmad would help pinpoint key Chechen strongholds to the Russian military and created a pro-Russian militia, still controlled by the mafia family known as the Kadyrovites. Akhmad was killed in a bombing attack in 2004 and succeeded by his son, Ramzan.
Why Putin Has Favored Ramzan over Most Hardliners
Ramzan Kadyrov has been the right-hand Putin wanted and more in Chechnya. In the federal republic, Ramzan has tortured, murdered, and forced Russification upon Chechens with the approval of the Kremlin. Internationally condemned assassinations have also occurred under Ramzan’s orders.
Ramzan has been invaluable to Putin for subduing his people and offering his ruthless service to Moscow to put down dissidents or other rebellious republics across the federation. The Kremlin has paid the Chechen tyrant handsomely, pouring lucrative aid into Grozny to keep the federal republic under Russia’s fold.
According to a January 2022 Telegram post by Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen autocrat stated the federal republic wouldn’t survive without the multibillion-dollar subsidies Putin has gifted his faction since the Second Chechen War. Kadyrov also said at least $3.8 billion is allocated to Chechnya, much more than the other federal republics outside of Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Money is a crucial component of Putin’s relationship with Ramzan. The more Putin is willing to pay for Kadyrov’s lavish lifestyle, the more loyal Ramzan will remain to Putin.
Besides the subsidies, Putin has given Kadyrov military honors, such as promoting him to the rank of Colonel-General of the Russian Armed Forces, despite his brigade being famously known for their “tik-tok” style videos far behind front lines. Kadyrov has openly bickered with Russian military leadership. Putin has turned the other cheek from needing the Kadyrovites for crucial roles, such as the infamously reported ‘barrier units’ to keep conscripts from retreating and deserting in Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s Plans Post Ramzan
Due to Ramzan Kadyrov’s ailing health, Moscow has contingency plans in case of his death. Ramzan’s oldest son, Akhmat, is expected to inherit the seat of Prime Minister if the former’s health fails.
Putin met with Akhmat during the Russian invasion of Ukraine to groom and mold the potential successor to be the next loyal vassal of the Kremlin. Akhmat will most likely retain the respect of Ramzan’s militias, as Putin will continue payments to Chechnya if Kadyrov remains in power.
The Kremlin’s failsafe for Chechnya remains even if Ramzan passes away, offering the pro-Kadyrov factions’ loyalty military support and cracking down on other federal republics in return for continuously lucrative subsidies and more autonomy than any other region would receive. Nevertheless, the lucrative partnership would be precarious whenever Vladimir Putin passes away.
Ramzan Kadyrov and his family are not popular amongst overall Russian society, and the Chechen autocrat has gotten himself into numerous disputes with Russian commanders during their ongoing disastrous military campaign in Ukraine. Whoever succeeds Putin would inherit a Russian Federation that would challenge the rule of the new President, as Vlad’s power itself is measured in assassinations and brutal crackdowns.
The new Russian President will also inherit a slow economy and the most sanctioned nation on earth if Moscow refuses to withdraw from the occupied territories of Ukraine. A new head of the Kremlin would have to prioritize a diminishing labor force, brain drain, degradation of the military, and possible usurpation attempts.
Continuously sending aid to a historically hated federal republic would possibly be unpopular to a new regime in Russia, and a successor of Putin could scale back aid into the identical amounts of other national republics or cut subsidies off completely.
If subsidies are cut, Kadyrov’s family would be unable to pay their militia continuously, and the budget used to subdue 1.5 million Chechens would be nonexistent. Chechnya’s population could be free to revolt and overthrow the Kadyrovs, leading to a new rebellion and possible avenue of succession for Ichkeria.
A scenario like this would become a nightmare for Moscow, mainly due to the hundreds of thousands of casualties the Russian military has faced in Ukraine, making it unlikely any substantial troop allocation could contain a free Chechen movement again.
Overall, Ramzan’s and Vlad’s relationship comes down to one dealbreaker—money. Putin has a contingency plan for Chechnya whenever Ramzan’s time comes. However, whoever succeeds the Russian autocrat may be unprepared for the power vacuum that could come to the North Caucasus if they don’t keep the same deal with the Kadyrovites.