Staunton, July 31 – To boost his own influence and to prevent Chechens living abroad from reporting on his crimes, Ramzan Kadyrov has moved heaven and earth to take control of Chechen diasporas old and new both in the Middle East and Europe, deploying social media, threats to family members, and occasional murders to generate loyalty, Elena Milashina says.
The Novaya gazeta journalist says that Kadyrov has been focused on the diaspora both offensively and defensively from the moment he was named head of the republic in 2007 in order to legitimate himself by securing the return of some emigres and by preventing others from testifying to his misdeeds (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2019/07/28/81403-hozyain-chechentsev).
Kadyrov’s foreign travel has had more to do with achieving control over the Chechen diaspora than even with boosting himself in the eyes of the Kremlin or of Chechens at home, Milashina notes; and the Chechen leader has even appointed two senior officials to take responsibility for the diaspora in the Middle East and the one in Europe.
The Middle Eastern Chechen diaspora largely traces its roots to the expulsion of North Caucasians by tsarist forces in the 1860s and 1870s. Many of its members are well-established figures in the countries where they now live and provide a useful mechanism for Kadyrov’s economic activities.
The Chechen diaspora in Europe is mostly newer, the result of the post-Soviet Chechen wars. There Kadyrov has been especially active simultaneously seeking to generate support for himself and his regime and blackening the reputation or silencing his critics lest they cause trouble for him at the European Court or in the media.
To do that, Kadyrov has relied on media he controls to identify those Chechens who oppose him and then vilify them in order to undermine their credibility. He has also exploited the fact that many Chechen emigres have relatives at home who can be threatened if their relatives abroad don’t cooperate.
And in some cases, his representatives have used physical force and even murder to silence his opponents. But perhaps the most effective if least noted channel for influence are boxing clubs, staffed by Chechens from the homeland, who both recruit Chechens interested in that to ally with Kadyrov and go after those who can’t be coerced into doing so.
Kadyrov has succeeded in dividing the diaspora. Many, perhaps most still recognize him as the thug he clearly is and oppose him also because he has been slavishly loyal to Vladimir Putin and in most cases has acted as the Kremlin leader would like. But some, including some high-profile Chechens, have cooperated.
Some of these have been willing to return to Chechnya – Milashina gives an extensive list—but even more were prepared to take part in a World Congress of Chechens which in 2010 declared Ramzan Kadyrov “the national leader of all Chechens,” just as he would like to present himself.