Chechen Leader Kadyrov Taunts Moscow Again with Talk of Retirement
By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
In an interview with the state-run television network Rossiya 1 on November 27, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov again suggested he was considering retirement. He has led the Russian republic of Chechnya since 2007.
Kadyrov, a former Islamist rebel, previously said he was considering retirement in an interview in February 2016. But Russian President Vladimir Putin extended the Chechen leader’s tenure shortly thereafter.
Chechnya is a sensitive area of the Russian Caucasus. After fighting two very bloody wars in the area, Moscow will pay a premium to keep the area stable and Kadyrov knows it.
Furthermore, Moscow is experiencing a budget crunch that pits funding of the military against funding social programs for Russia’s more than 80 constituent regions. Kadyrov clearly knows this too, so he is floating his possible retirement at an opportune time to wring concessions from Moscow.
Kadyrov Seeking More Subsidies for Chechnya, despite Regional Cutbacks
Russia’s fiscal position has been hit hard by a combination of low oil prices and Western sanctions that have caused Moscow to rein in subsidies to the regions. Russia’s military is also involved in Ukraine, Syria, Georgia and other areas, and those operations are expensive.
Social issues have risen in prominence as well. Teachers and veterans have taken cuts to their paychecks and pensions, respectively.
It makes sense that Kadyrov would use the situation and the leverage of stability to ensure that Chechnya will continue to receive more subsidies than other regions. In the short term, the money question is pressing. But Kadyrov almost certainly has an eye on the future.
With monetary shortfalls and a plethora of social issues that have persisted in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia’s long-term outlook is bleak. Russia has the largest HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia; the life expectancy of men is nearly 20 years less than that of the rest of Europe. Also, population growth among ethnic Russians is virtually nonexistent.
Demographic Changes Expected in the Future and Some Citizens Feel Threatened
The overall population of Russia is expected to remain flat until 2100, but demographic changes within the country will be dramatic. Taken together, the various minorities in Russia outstrip the total number of ethnic Russians.
Russia’s Islamic population, for example, has experienced healthy growth, especially in the Caucasus region. But a growing Muslim population is not sitting well with most Russians, who view the growth of any minority population as an existential threat.
Despite Kadyrov’s expressed desire to step down and let the Kremlin determine his successor, the Chechen leader is only 41 years old and secure in his current position. He will have adequate time to increase his grip on power locally and potentially extend his interests north beyond the Caucasus. With the change in demographics and the growing Muslim population, Kadyrov or a generational successor will make the most of political changes.
The Chechen president is indispensable at the moment, but he is not invulnerable. It is completely possible that Moscow will review its assessment of the region and search for an alternative leader, but doing so takes time.
Kadyrov did his best to deny Putin this option when he killed the leaders of a rival clan. However, new leaders can rise of their own accord or be cultivated.
It’s a dangerous game that Kadyrov plays, and it’s escalating and becoming more dangerous. But that is politics in today’s Russia.