Extravagant clothing, social media cat hunt, awarding his son for beating up a prisoner... Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov often caught media attention for his extravagancies, but beneath the headlines is a ruthless leader who ruled his enclave with an iron fist that saw the torture and disappearance of political opponents and dissidents.

On Nov. 8, Kadyrov threatened to fire all Chechen officials whose children do not speak the Chechen language, as reported by Chechnya Today. Two days earlier, he promoted his 15-year-old son to the top bodyguard position after his son beat up a prisoner – and received three state medals for it.

Kadyrov’s rule is characterized by his erratic behaviors, yet he still maintains a strong grip over his Caucasian enclave.

Discover Kadyrov’s background, his relationship with the Russian government, and his role in the war in Ukraine.

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Who is Ramzan Kadyrov?

Ramzan Kadyrov, president of Russia’s Muslim-majority Chechen Republic, is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has ruled the Caucasian enclave with an iron fist officially since 2007.

Born in 1976 to Akhmad and Aimani Kadyrov, Ramzan Kadyrov has one older brother (who died in 2004) and two older sisters. The Kadyrovs belong to the Benoy “teip” (clan in Chechen) in Chechnya, a once-influential group suppressed by Tsarist Russians during the 19th-century Caucasian War that saw the Russian Empire's annexation of Chechnya.

First and Second Chechen Wars

Akhmad Kadyrov, Ramzan’s father, was an “imam” (Islamic leader in Arabic) who took part in the two Chechen independence wars against Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

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During the First Chechen War (1994–1996), Akhmad Kadyrov served as a militia leader and supported the “jihad” against Russia. He was appointed Chief “Mufti” (Islamic jurist in Arabic) of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in 1995.

However, he switched sides and offered support to Russian forces during the Second Chechen War to the anger of his former comrades. The war saw the defeat and exile of Ichkeria factions, and Akhmad was appointed head of the administration of the new Chechen Republic by Putin in 2000 and later elected the president of the enclave in 2003.

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He was assassinated one year later, and Ramzan Kadyrov took over his father’s legacies and became the leader of the Chechen Republic to this day.

The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria remains in exile to this day, with Kadyrov sanctioning assassinations of Ichkeria’s leaders around the world. Ukrainian lawmakers passed a law in late 2022 that declared Ichkeria “temporarily Russian-occupied” land after the full-scale invasion.

Ichkeria soldiers have also been fighting alongside Ukrainian forces since the war broke out in Donbas in 2014.

Ramzan Kadyrov during a training of the Egyptian team at the Akhmat Arena stadium in Grozny on June 10, 2018. PHOTO: AFP.

Relationship with the Kremlin

Kadyrov has been a vocal supporter of Putin and Russia despite Chechnya’s tumultuous past with the two.

He was practically given a blank cheque in ruling Chechnya however he deemed fit in exchange for his allegiance and assistance in flushing out Islamist extremists that threatened national security.

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Moscow has also been allocating abundant resources to help rebuild Chechnya to consolidate support from the local population after the two Chechen wars that devastated much of the infrastructure.

Kadyrov also flaunted his Islamic identity – as seen in the recent incident which saw his son beating up a prisoner who allegedly burned a copy of the Quran – which could be a leverage in Moscow’s growing ambition in the Middle East.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) attends a meeting with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (R) in Moscow on September 28, 2023. PHOTO: AFP.

War in Ukraine

Kadyrov’s Chechen fighters have been fighting in Ukraine since the launch of Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Kadyrovites – a name coined for Chechen military personnel loyal to Kadyrov – were involved in numerous combat operations within Ukraine, including Mariupol and Sievierodonetsk.

He also claimed he would send his teenage sons – aged 14, 15 and 16 – to fight in Ukraine.

In the midst of the Wagner rebellion in June, Kadyrov also volunteered his troops to help suppress the mutiny. Ironically, Kadyrov’s special forces in Ukraine were nicknamed “TikTok fighters” due to their lackluster battlefield performance and prolific social media presence.

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War crimes

While Kadyrovites’ battlefield performances were reportedly lacking, their brutality was not.

Kadyrov’s troops were engulfed in a series of war crime allegations, including rape, murder and civilian torture.

  • Kadyrov's troops allegedly raped conscripted soldiers from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR).
  • Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) uncovered evidence of Kadyrovite’s torturing of Ukrainian prisoners of war and demanding ransom from their families in 2023.
  • Another SBU report said Kadyrov’s troops captured a hospital, held the patients and staff hostage, and mined the hospital in 2022.
  • A Chechen commander captured and tortured a teenager for information near Kyiv.

Chechen special forces troops take up firing positions as they attend a training session at a "Russian University of Special Forces" training centre in the town of Gudermes in Chechnya on Dec. 13, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Controversies surrounding Kadyrov's regime

Kadyrov’s regime has been associated with numerous gross human rights violations long before the war in Ukraine.

He has long been known to sanction assassinations of critics and dissidents outside of Chechnya. Notable assassinations included the death of former Ichkeria commander Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin and critic Tumso Abdurakhmanov in Sweden.

Enforced disappearance is also common in Chechnya under his rule, and human rights organizations have noticed a steep rise in forced abductions in the Caucasian enclave in 2017.

Russian investigative journalist Elena Milashina was severely beaten in Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, during a visit in 2022.

Despite his notorious track record, Kadyrov was decorated for being an “honored human rights defender of the Chechen Republic” in 2021.

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