Ramzan Kadyrov is known as a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, even referring to himself as his "foot soldier." Several decades ago, however, his allegiance was not to Russia but Chechnya.
Born on October 5, 1976, in the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Oblast of Soviet Russia, Kadyrov joined Islamic separatists seeking Chechen independence in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The first Chechen war ended in 1996 after Russian forces intervened to prevent the Muslim-majority republic seceding. Following a second war, Russia's new President Vladimir Putin placed Chechnya under direct Kremlin control, installing Ramzan Kadyrov's father, Akhmad Kadyrov, as head of the region's administration. By this time, in the late 1990s, Akhmad Ramzan and his son Ramzan Kadyrov had abandoned Chechnya's separatist movement, switching allegiances to Russia. In 2003, Akhmad Kadyrov became Chechen president, with his son Ramzan serving as chief of security.
Ramzan Kadyrov's militia accused of human rights abuses
Since then, Ramzan Kadyrov has controlled a militia of pro-Russian Chechens, the so-called Kadyrovtsy, ostensibly committed to suppressing any remaining separatist elements. This militia is believed to have committed widespread human rights abuses ranging from abductions to torture and killings, with Ramzan thought to have personally participated in such crimes. The Kadyrovtsy are also believed to have kidnapped business figures to extort money.
Rise to power
After the death of President Akhmad Kadyrov in a terrorist bombing in May 2004, he was succeeded by the acting prime minister, who in turn made Ramzan Kadyrov his deputy. Analysts, however, considered Ramzan Kadyrov Chechnya's de-facto leader. Deemed a Putin favorite, he was bestowed the prestigious title of Hero of Russia in 2004.
Soon after, Kadyrov was promoted to prime minster. Upon reaching the required minimum age of 30 in 2007, Putin nominated Kadyrov as Chechen president. He has remained the leader of Chechnya to this day.
Kadyrov has ruled Chechnya with an iron fist. In Chechnya, anyone perceived to be critical of the authorities risks being arrested, prosecuted, convicted on bogus charges, abducted or even killed. Dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and bloggers — including their families — are in grave danger. In its 2022 World Report, Human Rights Watch writes that "Ramzan Kadyrov [has] continued to ruthlessly quash all forms of dissent." Increasingly, LGBTQ people are subject to massive persecution as well.
Putin's useful strongman
Putin has relied on Kadyrov to keep the North Caucasus republic of Chechnya stable and repress any unrest. Indeed, Kadyrov has pledged to "fulfill any military command from Russia's commander-in-chief Vladimir Putin." For this unwavering loyalty, Kadyrov has enjoyed considerable freedoms, governing Chechnya and speaking his mind much as he pleases. He has not shied away, for example, from lambasting Russia's top brass for recent military setbacks in Ukraine. And he has even called for the deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons.
Although some Chechens have been fighting alongside pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine for years, supposedly as volunteers, it was only in late February 2022 that Kadyrov formally declared Chechen servicemen would be dispatched there. In March, Kadyrov said some 1,000 Chechen fighters were in Ukraine, a figure that is impossible to independently verify.
Kadyrov's forces are as notoriously brutal as they are social media savvy, boasting online of their supposed battlefield successes in Ukraine. Many experts, however, dismiss this as staged propaganda and question their combat effectiveness. That said, Chechen soldiers were involved in the brutal siege and eventual capture of Mariupol earlier this year.
Kadyrov has been a vocal supporter of the war on Ukraine all along, even pledging to send his own teenage sons to the frontlines.
Recently, Kadyrov announced that Putin had promoted him to the rank of colonel general. Putin's self-avowed "foot soldier," it seems, just keeps climbing the ranks.
Edited by: Rob Mudge