Author: Gela Khmaladze 


There have been different reports about the health of Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, circulating in the public domain, among them the suggestion that he is no longer able to carry out his official duties in full Additionally, there are assumptions that the Russian federal government is training the former Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Chechnya, currently based in Ukraine’s occupied territories, to replace Kadyrov: Apti Alaudinov, the commander of the Chechen military units, is being considered for this position. The fact that Alaudinov has been appointed as the Deputy Head of the Military-Political Main Division of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation is cited as evidence supporting this assumption.

Before drawing definitive conclusions, it is worth briefly considering the reasons for the existence of the Republic of Chechnya as a region with special status within the Russian Federation, understanding the specifics of Ramzan Kadyrov’s official authority, and exploring the potential political implications of appointing a new leader for the Chechen Republic.


The road towards personalist autocracy

In the early 2000s, the Chechen Republic’s attempt to gain independence through armed conflict with the Russian Federation ended in failure. After the active phase of hostilities concluded and Russia’s constitutional order was restored in Chechnya, the Russian authorities elevated the Kadyrov clan to the pro-Moscow ruling elite of Chechnya. In exchange for certain political and financial benefits and political loyalty, Moscow guaranteed non-interference in the internal affairs of the republic. This decision was initially designed to achieve several goals:

  • Utilize units loyal to Moscow and composed of ethnic Chechens to combat the remaining illegally operating armed groups in Chechnya.
  • Rapidly restore the infrastructure and economy of the Republic of Chechnya, which had been almost completely destroyed by the war.
  • Heal the post-conflict traumas of the residents of the Republic of Chechnya and integrate Chechen society into the unified Russian political and cultural space.

Following the appointment of Ramzan Kadyrov as the head of this North Caucasian republic in 2007, power became concentrated around a single individual. A strictly defined vertical government structure was established, in which Kadyrov included only members of his clan that demonstrated personal loyalty. He expelled or physically eliminated groups that, although loyal to Moscow, could be seen as his political rivals and potential threats to the absolute rule of the Kadyrov clan. Consequently, a situation arose where no other public groups, even those with relatively minor influence, could operate outside the authority of the Kadyrov clan in the Republic of Chechnya.


Even today, Ramzan Kadyrov’s stability relies entirely on his personal loyalty to the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. This is epitomized by Kadyrov’s famous declaration: “I am Putin’s foot soldier, and I am ready to fulfil any task given me by the President of Russia.” To prove his loyalty, it is crucial for Kadyrov that, in every presidential and parliamentary election in Russia, the Republic of Chechnya records the highest level of support for Vladimir Putin and the ruling party “United Russia.”


Ramzan Kadyrov was granted significant autonomy within the Russian Federation in exchange for his unwavering loyalty to Putin. His authoritative and masculine public image, along with his real political power, was bolstered by substantial financial resources and military control. Estimates suggest that he oversees a force of 20,000 to 30,000 armed personnel.


Kadyrov single-handedly manages virtually uncontrolled financial flows that go into the Akhmat Kadyrov Regional Public Fund. The movement of finance in the accounts of this fund are completely opaque. According to Russian experts, the annual turnover of the fund exceeds the budget of the Republic of Chechnya itself. These funds are used in the interests of the ruling clan and to enhance the image of Ramzan Kadyrov as a political leader.


The distinct status of the Republic of Chechnya within the Russian Federation was defined by the unique control of the special armed units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia and the National Guard stationed in the republic. Unlike other federal subjects, these forces were not under the direct authority of the federal agencies, but were commanded by the leader of the Chechen Republic: During combat operations, they acted under decrees and instructions issued by Kadyrov himself.


After the elimination of separatist armed groups and illegal Islamic terrorist organizations in Chechnya, federal military units continued to operate under the leadership of Ramzan Kadyrov. With the approval of the federal government, Kadyrov utilised these forces to suppress public activists, human rights defenders, and individuals who criticized him and the Russian president. These repressive actions extended beyond the borders of Chechnya to encompass the entire Russian Federation.

At the same time, the aforementioned Chechen units have been operating outside Russia’s borders since 2014. Specifically, under the directives of the Russian authorities, special military and police operations are being conducted in Ukraine and Syria.

Ramzan Kadyrov has been assigned a diplomatic role by the Russian federal government. He is actively involved in Russia’s foreign relations with Muslim countries in the Middle East, and with international Islamic organizations. Until recently, during visits to these states, Kadyrov was systematically part of Russian government delegations and hosted high-ranking representatives of Islamic states during their visits to the Russian Federation.

Along with his official position as the head of the Republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov has gradually assumed the role of leader of the Chechen people. Chechens living in any part of the Russian Federation are under the special protection of Kadyrov’s entourage, having received assurances from his clan that they will be defended in cases of rights violations and indignities. In return for this protection, all ethnic Chechens have certain political, social, and financial obligations to Kadyrov’s clan. In recent years, Kadyrov’s entourage has attempted to extend similar influence to the Chechen diaspora in European countries, where, according to various sources, more than 200,000 ethnic Chechens live.


The most visible example of the personalistic autocratic system created by Ramzan Kadyrov is his personnel policy in Chechnya. The official hierarchy of this republic is largely staffed by members of the Kadyrov family and numerous relatives. This arrangement is not altered by the frequent transfer of these family members from one position to another.

This kind of rotation, coupled with the fact that Kadyrov does not fully trust anyone outside his clan, highlights the fragility, inefficiency, and instability of the authoritarian system he has established in Chechnya.Top of FormBottom of Form

The societal mood

One significant aspect is the observable “fatigue” within Chechen society towards Kadyrov’s dictatorial methods of governance. The fear of repressions, particularly the demonstrative impunity where members of the ruling clan are not held accountable for gross violations of Russian Federation laws, has led to public alienation from the authorities. The majority of the population increasingly desires to live like other regions of the Russian Federation: Free from the unrestrained violence and disorder resulting from Kadyrov’s totalitarian regime.

Yet, objective prerequisites for separatism no longer exist in the Republic of Chechnya. The majority of society is no longer willing to fight for ephemeral independence at the cost of war and widespread destruction. They fear a repeat of the devastation caused by the struggle for secession from the Russian Federation and the quest for independence between 1994 and 2000. Since 2000, a new generation has emerged in the republic, eager to access the economic resources and career opportunities offered by the Russian state. Ramzan Kadyrov’s autocracy and all-encompassing violence have become obstacles for the majority of society in realizing these opportunities.



The perspective of the project“Kadyrov’s Chechnya”


Currently, Ramzan Kadyrov is an irreplaceable figure for the current governance model in the Republic of Chechnya. If the Russian federal government decides to replace him, it would necessitate a fundamental change in the staff composition and economic system of the clan-based government in this North Caucasian republic. In the short term, such a change would be very painful for Chechen society. The redistribution of influence could lead to social upheavals, resulting in widespread personal retribution and armed conflict. Therefore, it is likely that Moscow will attempt to gradually change the governance model of this republic and implement these changes as painlessly as possible.


Today, with most of the Russian Federation’s political and economic resources directed towards the war with Ukraine and the global confrontation with the West, it is logical that Moscow would want to avoid internal upheavals that could threaten social stability and hinder the unification of Russian society around President Putin’s political agenda.

Ramzan Kadyrov and his totalitarian rule are still considered one of President Putin’s most successful domestic political projects. Abruptly dismissing Kadyrov could damage Putin’s image as an infallible leader and visionary.

At the same time, it is necessary to ask to what extent Vladimir Putin’s political regime will need to maintain Kadyrov’s armed formations as proxy forces in the future. Until February 2022, Moscow adhered to certain red lines regarding the open and obvious use of its official armed forces to solve military-political tasks outside the borders of the Russian Federation and to suppress political opponents inside the country. This restraint primarily led to the existence of semi-official armed formations like Wagner and Kadyrov’s forces.

At the present time red lines for Moscow have since been removed. Corresponding articles of the Russian Federation’s Criminal Law Code “On discrediting government bodies and armed forces” now directly prohibit unauthorized oppositional activity and public expressions of critical opinion. Additionally, Putin’s regime has transitioned to open military aggression against neighbouring countries. As such, the existence of military units at the disposal of the governor of a Russian region is increasingly undesirable for Moscow.


The appointment of Apti Alaudinov, the general commander of the Chechen armed formations fighting against Ukraine, to a high position in the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation can be considered the first step in this direction. With such decisions, Moscow will likely try to gradually limit Kadyrov’s influence and strip him of his control over these military formations. In this scenario, these military units will be smoothly integrated into the Russian Ministry of Defense.

There is also the precedent of the “Wagner” military unit to consider. In the summer of 2023, the Russian authorities managed to neutralize the rebel commander of this unit without significant political losses or reputational damage when he attempted to challenge Putin’s political system.

The personalistic autocratic regime of Ramzan Kadyrov, minus its military force component, will gradually transform into an ordinary governorship of a subject of the Russian Federation. After the complete integration of the ruling elite of the Chechen Republic into the Russian legal framework, the notions of Ramzan Kadyrov’s irreplaceability or the significance of his potential successors will likely lose their political relevance.