Prominent Russian human rights activist Natalya Estemirova
was abducted outside her home in the Chechen capital, Grozny, last month. Hours later, her body was discovered in a forest in the neighboring region of Ingushetia. Estemirova, who'd investigated abductions, torture and other rights abuses in Chechnya, had been shot in the head.Estemirova's colleagues
blame Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. They accuse him of fostering an atmosphere of impunity in which the abductions and killings of his critics take place. But in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL, Kadyrov denies the accusations. He says his only concern is the welfare of Chechnya's residents, and blames the West for spreading lies about him.
The interview, excerpted below, was conducted at 2 a.m. August 8 at Kadyrov's sprawling residential complex outside Grozny by RFE/RL correspondents Gregory Feifer, Danila Galperovich, and Oleg Kusov.RFE/RL: Mr. President, please describe your program for rebuilding Chechnya.Ramzan Kadyrov:
I don’t have my own program. We're carrying out the program drawn up by my father [the late Chechen President Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov]. It's difficult to say exactly how much it will cost and what it will look like. Every year the economy suffers losses but also sees gains and no one knows what's going to happen tomorrow. The only thing I can say is that we'll fully rebuild Chechnya and solve every social problem. Chechnya will be the most successful region in Russia and the world.RFE/RL: Can you explain why you believe yourself to be best qualified among Chechens to bring stability and economic success to the region?
I'm just one member of a team. We have a very strong team, and I serve the people of Chechnya.
RFE/RL: For many in the West, the image of Chechnya is of a region of violence, like the Wild West. How do you explain that?
The wildest violence in the world takes place in the West. People are being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Palestinians are being killed. Human rights are being completely violated. There are concentration camps and there's no individual freedom [in the West]. If someone says the wrong thing, he's an enemy.
But Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation. All Russian laws are observed here. Yes, human rights violations take place here, too. That happens everywhere. But if someone violates the law here, even if he's a police or special forces officer, he will be punished.RFE/RL: International organizations say there is an atmosphere of impunity for violence in Chechnya. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International believe many human rights violations are being carried out by law enforcers and the authorities -- that is, your subordinates. How do you answer those accusations?
I want to say first of all that the security structures aren’t subordinate to the president [of Chechnya]. The heads of those services are appointed by the president of Russia, as I am. That includes the head of the Federal Security Service in Chechnya. But as the guarantor of the constitution, I am trying to make them subordinate [to the government in Chechnya] and act properly.
RFE/RL correspondents Danila Galperovich (left) and Gregory Feifer interview Kadyrov at his home in Gudermes.
But we're not angels. Human rights are violated all over the world. America pressures absolutely everyone. And no one says anything about it. Take [Georgia's separatist region of] South Ossetia. The Americans snuck in there at night, shot up the entire population, and left. And everyone's silent about it.
But my father was killed. I've lost thousands of people I know. I've lost relatives, classmates and friends. And no one says Kadyrov has lost them, that Kadyrov has rights, too. Everyone's silent about that. When terrorists set off bombs in the center of Grozny, killing police, women, and children, human rights activists say nothing about that. Why don’t they protect my rights? Kadyrov has lost everything. But whenever something happens in Chechnya -- where there are a million residents -- if someone violates the law, it's always Kadyrov who's to blame.RFE/RL: You complain you've been blamed for all but introducing Islamic Shari’a law to Chechnya. Do you consider Chechen society to be deeply religious? And is Shari’a law compatible with Russian law?
The Russian Federation's laws function here 100 percent. No one has the right to violate the Russian and Chechen constitutions. But we also observe traditional Islam that our ancestors brought to the Caucasus. So we follow what they've left for us while also carrying out policies that don’t violate the Russian Constitution. One doesn’t harm the other.
We are building mosques and opening holy places. We're opening the Russian Islamic University on August 22. But we're also building churches and helping Christians. I'm against Islamic extremism. We have complete democracy in that regard in Chechnya -- freedom of speech, freedom of religion. Anyone can adopt any religion here.
Murdered rights activist Natalya EstemirovaRFE/RL: You've promised to oversee an objective investigation into the murder of Natalya Estemirova. But her colleagues blame you for her killing. Why not appoint, or welcome, an independent figure to ensure that objectivity?
Why invite people from outside to do that if we have our own laws here? Are investigations in the Russian Federation conducted worse than in other countries? A full investigation is being carried out.
[Memorial head] Oleg Orlov blamed me [for Estemirova's death]. That human rights defender violated my human rights. He should have protected me as an individual and thought about what he was going to say. But he accused me of being a murderer. He said that Kadyrov killed Estemirova. I told him, "Mr. Orlov, you're an adult. Be a real person for once in your life and tell me why you violated my rights?" He replied saying, "That's not what I meant. I meant you in your role as president."
They [human rights activists] are all lawyers. The texts they write follow the letter of the law. [Orlov] told me he blamed me as president, as the guarantor of the constitution. They're very good lawyers. But if they say that Kadyrov or his people are to blame, let them prove it. Why would Kadyrov kill women that no one needs?
[Estemirova] never had any honor or sense of shame. And still I appointed her head of a [civil society advisory] commission with the mayor of Grozny as her deputy. I wanted to be objective about addressing the issue. But she didn’t like it. She would say stupid things. I told her, "You're a woman, and we're trying to do something for the people. But if it doesn't work, don’t blame us." I said I would show her the city budget and told her to try to do better. She said, "Yes, I understand."
So I said I'd disband the commission, thanks very much for your work, but I don’t trust you. I didn’t treat her gently. I didn't tell her I loved her. I told it like it was. We were both acting in our professional capacities. She was the head of the commission, and I, as the president of Chechnya, was evaluating her work. So why am I to blame? Let the investigators conduct their work. If Kadyrov or his people are to blame, let them be tried and jailed.Kadyrov talks about slain rights activist Natalya Estemirova, whom some regard as the latest victim of Kadyrov-Kremlin policies: RFE/RL: What's your relationship to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev?
Putin is my idol. I love him. I respect him. There's no one else like him, personally for me. I owe him more than anyone else. I owe him my life. That's my personal opinion. But as the president of Chechnya, I can say Dmitry Medvedev is our president. He's a strong, wise, and proper politician, and if he were any different he wouldn’t have been elected. His team wouldn't have supported him.
Kadyrov (left) with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Grozny in October 2008
By lowering his status [by stepping down as president], Putin again showed his strength and that he's a servant of the people. But that doesn’t change my attitude toward him. I'd still give my life for him.RFE/RL: Would you like to see Putin become president again?
Very much. I want Putin to be president of Russia for life.