Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Kadyrov’s Not a Malcontent, He’s a Power in His Own Right in Putin’s Russia, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 5 – Vladimir Putin was absolutely right when he said in Beijing that Ramzan Kadyrov is not “a frondeur” for his comments and actions about the repression of Muslims in Myanmar, Sergey Shelin says. Malcontents are by their nature weak, but the Chechen leader is a genuine “heavyweight” in the Putin system.

            Moreover, the Rosbalt commentator argues, Kadyrov is “someone who knows what he wants” and whom Putin, lacking any alternative, has been forced to defer to because the Kremlin leader doesn’t see any alternative that might not provoke a genuine crisis within the Russian state (

            “I assure you that there is no fronde on the part of the leadership of Chechnya,” Putin said (  “I want to reassure everyone that everything is in order” and simply note that “each citizen of the country, including the leaders of regions ‘has the right to his own opinion on the foreign policy of the Russian state.”

            That was, Shelin suggests, “a surprisingly liberal answer,” given Putin’s usual approach; and not surprisingly, it has led some to think that Kadyrov’s bold words and organization of unsanctioned meetings was all a Putin scheme planned in advance in order to help the Russian president change course on Myanmar.

            But there is no basis for such assertions, not only because Putin is quite capable of changing directions when it suits him and because Myanmar is hardly a first-order issue. Indeed, Shelin suggests, it is “a third level” one. And consequently, one needs to examine not only how Putin responded but how the entire Russian establishment did.

            After Kadyrov’s demarche, the Russian foreign ministry began to change course, Shelin says.  The official news agency took down a story treating the demonstration at the Myanmar embassy “as a prologue to disorders and terror.” And Putin’s press secretary, noted for commenting on anything and everything, this time took a time out.

            But despite all this, Shelin continues, “Ramzan Kadyrov considered it necessary to stop the polemic on a constructive note by thanking Vladimir Putin ‘for condemning force against Muslims in Myanmar’ and reminding everyone that he ‘is a true foot soldier of our president.” So far, so good.

            All this appeared to mean that “Kadyrov had flexed his muscles but stopped in time and Putin in response didn’t consider it necessary to label [the Chechen leader’s words and demonstrations] as an act of ‘frondeur.’ But it is hardly the case that everything was or is so simple,” the Rosbalt commentator argues.

            Myanmar represented a real opportunity for Kadyrov to act “as the head of Russia’s Muslims, to force the federal agencies to respond, and to show himself as an independent international player,” all thing easier because Myanmar isn’t a major power in which Russia has a large number of unique interests.

            In his remarks, however, Kadyrov made it clear that he was speaking “not as some subordinate but literally as the head of an independent region [who is quite capable] of discussing the possibility or impossibility of sending forces to Myanmar,” something Shelin says his audience understood and will remember.

            “Did this please Putin?” It is unlikely that all of it did, the Rosbalt writer says, “but he will make peace with this as with anything that has become inevitable,” just as he has done with Kadyrov’s actions and statements in the past.

            The reasons for this are obvious: “Kadyrov confidently controls Chechnya. That is his strongest card,” one that gives him access to the federal treasury.  He has a large and mobile military force, links to the Saudis, and has helped Moscow “with valuable mediation services in the division of Syria into spheres of influence.”

            Consequently, in the framework of the Putin regime, “Kadyrov is almost irreplaceable, despite the presence of strong enemies and many who envy him. They simply don’t have suitable instruments” to move against him. And that means that Kadyrov has been acting from a position of strength rather than weakness. 

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