The Kremlin appears to be losing patience with Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov’s manner of retaliation against manifestations of public dissent.
On August 18, according to the independent publication Novaya Gazeta, the Russian presidential administration intervened to ban a planned orchestrated display of repentance by 162 residents of a settlement on the outskirts of Grozny who had addressed a public complaint to Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika about perceived violations during the trial of two young local men.
The two men in question, Magomed Taramov and Djamalay Tazbiyev, were apprehended in January on suspicion of involvement in a series of attacks on police officers in Grozny one month earlier. They say they were subjected to beatings and electric shocks to induce them to confess that they had been preparing since June 2016 to travel to Syria to sign up with the militant group Islamic State (IS). In court, both categorically denied any such intention.
Undeterred by Kadyrov’s track record of pressuring those who question decisions taken by the Chechen authorities to apologize for doing so and recant, the population of the settlement of Krasnaya Turbina came out unanimously in support of the two young men.
Some 162 residents signed a 15-page complaint that was mailed to Prosecutor-General Chaika on August 16. In that missive, they detailed alleged procedural violations during the pretrial investigation and trial, and demanded that criminal charges be brought against those responsible. They also affirmed their collective aspiration, as residents of a Russian Federation subject, “to live in compliance with the law, and we also want the court case against these young men to be conducted in accordance with the law and not according to some clan or interdepartmental precepts.”
That criticism of Kadyrov’s alleged thugs was perceived as all the more damning, Novaya Gazeta reports, because Krasnaya Turbina was one of very few Chechen settlements that steadfastly remained loyal to Moscow during the wars of 1994-96 and 1999-2000 rather than side with the pro-independence Chechen resistance.
Within 24 hours, Magomed Taramov’s father, Salman, and Djamalay Tazbiyev’s uncle, Magomed, were taken by police to a meeting with Chechen parliament Chairman Magomed Daudov and First Deputy Interior Minister Apti Alaudinov, during which, according to Novaya Gazeta, they were first viciously beaten then forced to watch the two young men being tortured.
Novaya Gazeta immediately wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin to alert him to the actions of the Chechen leadership.
On August 18, police reportedly began systematically rounding up and pressuring the signatories of the letter to Chaika. The apparent objective was to stage an orchestrated, televised mass act of repentance that evening at which the signatories would declare with one voice that “they had been misled” and were unaware of the content of the missive to Chaika when they signed it. Critics of Kadyrov have been subjected to such public humiliation on numerous occasions in recent years.
Some 70 signatories to the Chaika letter were even ordered onto buses that were to transport them to Grozny for that public spectacle. But no such mass confession took place. Instead, Kheda Saratova, a member of Kadyrov’s much-maligned Human Rights Council, told journalists that some 70 Krasnaya Turbina residents had spontaneously traveled to Grozny of their own volition to meet with her.
Saratova was subsequently tasked by Mikhail Fedotov, who heads Putin’s Human Rights Council, to determine whether there was any truth to the complaints that Salman Taramov and Magomed Tazbiyev had been beaten.
The official Chechen website chechnyatoday.com quoted her as saying on August 19 that the two men assured her that police did not resort to any “unauthorized methods” against them. Saratova also claimed that the signatories to the complaint to Chaika were not aware of the wording.
So why did the Chechen authorities abandon their plans for a stage-managed public mass confession -- a decision that presumably could only have been taken by Kadyrov personally? Novaya Gazeta journalist Yelena Milashina suggests that the Kremlin intervened only because Kadyrov accused General Igor Khvostikov, who was named in March 2016 to head the Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate for Chechnya, of complicity in the complaint to Chaika. Kadyrov reportedly refused to believe either Khvostikov’s denial of involvement or similar assurances by Khvostikov’s superior, FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov, who then presumably requested that the Kremlin rein in Kadyrov.
Moscow has followed up by reaching out to Taramov’s and Tazbiyev’s contemporaries. Speaking on August 23 at the grave of Kadyrov’s assassinated father, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, to mark what would have been his 66th birthday, federal Minister for the North Caucasus Lev Kuznetsov made what he termed “an appeal to the young guys.” Kuznetsov praised the work of rebuilding Chechnya that the elder Kadyrov embarked on in 2000 following his appointment by Putin as republic head and stressed the need for the younger generation to continue it, given that the quality of their lives will depend on that input. He did not, however, appear to speak with the same fervor of Ramzan Kadyrov’s continuation of the process his father began.
Meanwhile, several Grozny residents have been quoted by the news portal Caucasian Knot as saying they approve of the “unprecedented” support for the younger Taramov and Tazbiyev shown by their fellow villagers.