Sa, 2.12.2023

What will happen in Chechnya after Kadyrov?

Erkki Koort
, Julgeolekuekspert
Around September 15, relatively widespread rumors began to spread about the very poor health of the self-governor of Chechnya, and even the death a day later.
Around September 15, relatively widespread rumors began to spread about the very poor health of the self-governor of Chechnya, and even the death a day later. Photo: Chingis Kondarov / Reuters / Scanpix
  • Rumors of Kadyrov's death may be exaggerated, but something is happening.
  • Russia has been paying tribute to feudal Chechnya for years.
  • The new ruler of Chechnya will certainly not be allowed as much as Kadyrov.

Russia has essentially been a part of feudal Chechnya for years, although it seems to them the opposite. What can happen now, when Kadyrov's future is confused, writes Erkki Koort, security expert of the Postimees and Estonian Academy of Security Sciences.

Around September 15, relatively widespread rumors began to spread about the very poor health of the self-governor of Chechnya, and even the death a day later. Soon, a video appeared on Kadyrov's Telegram channel, where he walks in the rain and says that everything is fine with him. It is difficult to say which part is the truth and which part is not.

Recently, there have been many different pieces of information about Kadyrov's deteriorating health and possible poisoning. It is possible that this is all just information noise. It is possible that the information about the death was created to control any leaks.

Dead or dying?

But let's assume that his poor health is true. In fact, it doesn't matter for what reason Kadyrov dies, but what happens next is more important. How will the governance of Chechnya be rebuilt after Kadyrov's death and what will the territory's relationship with Moscow become.

The current situation arose during the second Chechen war, when Ahmat Kadyrov and his clan went over to the side of the Russians and started fighting against the independence fighters. As the highest Islamic cleric of the independents, Ahmat Kadyrov initially declared a holy war jihad against Russia, but later he became a leader of Chechnya supported by the same country.

It is not known exactly what the agreements were with the Kremlin, but the fact is that by changing sides, Grozny essentially gained independence, and in addition, Moscow began to pay tribute to this feudally functioning formation. Ahmat was assassinated in 2004, after which his son Ramzan came to power.

In essence, a situation developed where he could do whatever he wanted with impunity. The trips of the Kadyrovites to other regions ended with threats, beatings, and executions of journalists and even judges. Russian power authorities were powerless because the Kremlin needed Kadyrov to control the region.

The ruler of Chechnya was one of the few who could afford practically anything he could think of. This made him careless and unreasonably confident, which led to defeats in Ukraine. The Chechens are a force to be reckoned with, but in Ukraine it turned out that clashing with soldiers is something different than beating up some opposition politicians.

What will happen after Kadyrov?

So, it doesn't matter if he's dying or already dead. In any case, this region of the Caucasus will soon find itself in turbulence, because the frictions between ethnic groups have not disappeared anywhere. If Kadyrov is alive, but his ability to control his group is reduced, changes will inevitably begin as well.

It was easier for Ramzan Kadyrov to take leadership over from his father than for his successor to come to power. His personal influence has grown so great in Russia that the successor simply does not «step in his shoes», regardless of the capability of this successor.

We do not know who will be Kadyrov's successor because such brutal and self-centered leaders do not appoint a successor, because they are afraid of a power grab. Even if the next ruler is agreed upon, this change will displace the equilibrium point.

There are essentially two development scenarios: loyalty to Russia or disengagement. Both are still divided in turn, because if Chechnya remains loyal to Russia, it will certainly not be able to maintain its current position. The change will not be quick, but he will definitely retreat from the position where he is «»first among equals» in the federation, because it largely went with Kadyrov's personality. Moreover, the Russian special services will not let the new leader grow so strong. It is certain that Russia will continue to pay the so-called loyalty money for some time, but it is not excluded that the special rights of this region will soon be reduced.

Another possibility, where the situation becomes restless again, is also likely. The Chechens have a considerable opposition, which is distinguished from Russian opposition movements by the fact that they have actually taken up arms. If the region gets turbulence, Chechen battalions will be brought home from Ukraine. This is good news for Ukraine, because the increase in instability with the reduction of the adversary's forces is a positive development. Even if no troops are officially moved, groups begin to leave the front on their own accord.

The future of Kadyrov units is an important topic as well. They used to be directly subordinated to Kadyrov, and efforts were made to reduce his influence by creating the National Guard. The result was that these troops remained loyal.

It is possible that Kadyrov survived the poisoning, but it is unlikely that Putin was behind it. He has more to lose with Kadyrov's death, and by waging a war of conquest in Ukraine, he doesn't need another tangle of attention.

Kadyrov's death or prolonged illness will certainly change the balance of power in Chechnya, in the region and in relations with Moscow. The power authorities have not forgotten Kadyrov's special status and do not allow the emergence of a new similar position.