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Ramzan Kadyrov: “…And I really mean it!”

© AP Photo/Musa Sadulayev
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Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Chechnya’s leader in a TASS special project Top Officials
Andrey Vandenko 
by
Andrey Vandenko

Andrey Vandenko was born on November 8, 1959 in Lugansk, Ukrainian SSR. In 1982, he graduated from the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev with a degree in journalism. Since 1989, he has been living and working in Moscow. For over 20 years, he has built his career as a journalist specializing in interviews. His work is published predominantly in Russia’s leading mass media outlets, and he is the recipient of numerous professional awards.

Part 1
1

 

About fears, foes and friends, Boris Nemtsov and fighting wars

 

- It’s been a long time since I recorded an interview in a gym. Most of my interviews are preferably at office desks…

- But it’s only me who is here for a sweat-drenching workout, so don’t worry. It’s OK with me. I’ll answer any question, any whatsoever.

Here we go!

- Do you like to make people scared?

- Whom do I frighten? Russia’s enemies: terrorists, extremists and their likes? Yes, such enemies should be afraid of me. Deathly afraid. They do know my stance is unwavering. Someone who harbors evil designs, who is plotting a terrorist attack, who is about to take the lives of innocent people must be neutralized before he has a chance to push the button. An individual like this must be apprehended and brought to justice. But, if they put up an armed confrontation, they should be done away with. Mankind has not devised another way of going about this business yet. Should my enemies be afraid of me? Yes! And they must not just feel fear. They ought to stay away from me as far as possible, at the other end of the world. They deserve no ceremonies. Their place is either behind bars or six feet under. May they choose which option suits them best. However, if they show up in Chechnya again, we’ll wipe them out, one by one, down to the last man.

Should my enemies be afraid of me? Yes!

- All this garbage about people being against Kadyrov just ticks me off. I’m with my people. Their concerns and worries are also mine. I dedicate my life to the people and the people love me. I’m a warrior, a defender. I took the oath and I serve the people. I’m prepared to give my life for them. Let my enemies be stricken with fear. As far as I’m concerned that’s fine.

- Let’s talk a little bit more about terminology then. Who are those people whom you call enemies?

- Above all, those who 20 years ago brought war to my land, who were killing the Chechen people, who were destroying our cities and villages, those who still refuse to acknowledge that they were defeated, that the people have made their choice.

What other enemies can there be? My enemies are the enemies of Russia and Chechnya.

- But in 1994 all that was officially called ‘restoration of constitutional order…'

- I’m telling you about terrorists from 51 countries who had come to Chechnya, and about traitors whose aim was to ruin Russia as a sovereign state, the shaitans (literally evil demons) inside the country who were dancing to the tune of the West, the Khodorkovskys, Berezovskys and others of their ilk.

What does constitutional order have to do with all that? Are you trying to tell me that Khattab and Basayev were restoring constitutional order?

They’re nothing but riffraff! Whoever’s left of the enemy forces is in now hiding, but we know who they are and what they are after.

- The Islamic State – are they enemies, too?

- Definitely.

- But some of them are Chechens, aren’t they?

- Yes, there are Chechens. But it’s a drop in the bucket next to the hundreds of thousands of terrorists who have poured in from America, Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia… The Islamic State, a devilish, Iblis state, and also Al-Qaeda are both offspring of the same parents.

- Making sure that those defectors won’t return is essential, isn’t it?

- Nothing to worry about! They will not return. There’s no place for them in Chechnya any more. Be sure about that! America and Europe are dreaming of shaking our state loose with somebody else’s hands. If it were up to them, they would’ve undoubtedly turned all of Russia into another Aleppo. But it won’t happen. We won’t go down on our knees and we won’t starve to death! The sanctions are toothless. They picked the wrong opponent! Russia has a vast territory, thank God. The land is rich. As for the tests that we have to overcome, they will only make us stronger. The West will be asking us for help someday. I’m certain that this is bound to happen.

America and Europe are dreaming of shaking our state loose with somebody else’s hands

But today they are our enemies. So, I regard them as my enemies, too. As a citizen. But I don’t have any personal foes! I’m the most peaceful man in the whole world.

- Are you?

- I’ve always been this way, since my school days. I helped the weak and those who needed protection. In my class and on the streets. But I’ve never gone as far as open hostility toward anyone.

Yes, I did have a blood feud once. They’d been killing true sons of the Chechen people and sons of Russia – my friends, my own father – the first president of the Chechen Republic, Hero of Russia Akhmat-Hadji Kadyrov, a politician and religious figure of world acclaim …

None of them has stayed alive. All are gone. It was our duty. Gangsters and criminals understand no other language.

- Do you regard the non-systemic opposition as enemies?

Journalist Andrei Vandenko and Chechen Republic’s head Ramzan Kadyrov Head of Chechnya press service
Journalist Andrei Vandenko and Chechen Republic’s head Ramzan Kadyrov
© Head of Chechnya press service

- No. They are loudmouths, people who have no shame. They have no dignity, no conscience and no Motherland. All they want to keep doing on and on is to sell the interests of the state. For thirty pieces of silver.

- Are you referring to some particular persons?

- I wouldn’t like to mention any names. If I start blurting out names, I won’t be able to proceed with my workout routine. They’d make me feel nauseous. They are eagerly awaiting the moment when I’ll let one word slip. Then they will instantly fly into an uproar and they’ll jump at this opportunity to gain publicity. I’d rather keep quiet. Everybody knows them well enough anyway. Someday, the public will be chasing this riffraff from place to place like stray dogs. Even their relatives will turn their backs on them as a disgrace to the family name.

Putin knew that he had a vast, multi-ethnic and multi-religious Russia to rely on

Come on, what kind of opposition are they? On September 18, the people went to vote in the election. In the Chechen republic these chatterboxes received tiny fractions of a percentage point. They enjoy no credibility at all. What do people usually say in such cases? “You know where the exit is!”

The opposition has already messed up all it could. Now it’s played out… What’s the name of that place in Moscow where the demonstrators used to assemble? Bolotnaya Square, right?

They’d thought they would scare Vladimir Putin into giving up plans for another presidential term – the people are against it, don’t you see… It boomeranged. Putin knew that he had a vast, multi-ethnic and multi-religious Russia to rely on. He didn’t give his enemies the slightest chance of ruining the country. He moved on boldly, as usual, and we followed him.

Now it’s all over! There’s no one who would care to pay for Pussy Riot-like escapades and hand out grants to all sorts of marginal groups, like the one that drew an obscenity on the Liteyny Bridge in St. Petersburg. For me, all these individuals are enemies of Russia. They could enter a church and put on an obscene song and dance show… Had they ventured into a mosque, a double crime would’ve occurred. They would’ve been instantly torn to pieces…

There was certainly somebody behind all those provocations. But for who’s sake was all that done for? We all know it very well, but we keep silent. Nobody gives them money any more. This explains why they’ve gone quiet.

- But some have gone quiet forever. Boris Nemtsov, for instance.

- True, Boris is dead. I’ve already expressed my opinion on that score. I have nothing to add. I had had absolutely no connections to him…

- But was he an enemy of yours?

- No, Nemtsov has never been an enemy of mine, nor was he a friend, though.

Our paths never crossed. He made himself an enemy of Russia – my Russia. If only today’s Russia had these types of enemies! There was nobody or nothing behind him, just hot air. His cronies were perfectly aware that Nemtsov was of no use any more, so they thought they might try to kill two birds with one stone – by gunning down Nemtsov and eliminating Kadyrov.

But they failed to knock me out. I’m absolutely calm. I do not respond to lies and provocations. I tell them where to go in very certain terms and go on living a normal life.

- You had promised that you would report to the investigator who was looking into the Nemtsov murder and testify, but that that has not happened yet.

- I’m ready to do that any moment! Right away. I’d just change my clothes and take the first flight. But I’ve got to get an official subpoena to begin with.

- Nemtsov in 1996 tried to stop the Chechen war… He held a sign-up campaign to collect one million signatures and brought them to the Kremlin… You were on the opposite side of the frontline then, weren’t you?

- True, in the early 1990s many in Chechnya cherished independence.

Many believed what Dudayev, Udugov, Basayev and Maskhadov were telling them. They were ignorant all those types were guided by enemies, who wished to see Russia’s demise and who were using our people as cannon fodder.

Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev abandoned weapons warehouses in Chechnya to lure us into a trap… It took us a while to figure out what it was all about.

First we thought that we were warriors and that our calling was to defend our people. That’s the sort of ideology we had at that time.

- When did you realize that you were moving in the wrong direction?

- The Khasavyurt deal that Lebed and Maskhadov signed in August 1996 yielded no benefits. It was just a lull. My father and I and also Nadir Khachilayev had accompanied Lebed from Makhachkala to Novyie Atagi. We flew there by helicopter…

In the summer of 1999 the authorities of the then-Ichkeria violated the agreements. Basayev invaded Dagestan and a second military campaign began. It turned out to be very different and still more ferocious. My father rose in revolt against Maskhadov and Basayev. He said: “This is not jihad, but a betrayal of the laws of Islam.” It was a fundamental disagreement. They passed a death sentence on Akhmat-Hadji. We then went to war with the Wahhabis and the terrorists.

The Prophet (May Allah grant peace and honor upon Him!) said: the one who will be killing these dogs of hell will go to Paradise.

- And how many of them are to be killed to secure a place in the Heaven?

- We are discussing a very serious subject! We are talking about terrorists who shed the blood of thousands of women, the elderly and children…

- But have you counted them, those ‘dogs’?

- No. I was fighting against aliens from five dozen countries, who for some reason had come to Chechnya and who might had never heard about this land before. Career officers from western secret services constituted the backbone of those groups. They were killing my people.

- What about Russia’s federal forces? You were fighting against them too, weren’t you?

I’ve never ever told anybody that I was killing Russian soldiers

- I’ve never ever told anybody that I was killing Russian soldiers. I never said such things in full seriousness or in jest. I’ve never uttered such a phrase! These words are wrongly attributed to me. This rumor was propelled into the worldwide web on purpose. Those who are still repeating it know well that this is a flagrant lie. True, during the first military campaign I did carry weapons and I was with my people. I was too young and foolish then, but I was beside my father all the time. I recall the day when we took two prisoners of war (one of them had been serving on contract) away from the militants and handed them over to headquarters. In a sense, we saved them. Musa Dadayev, the agriculture minister in our government, too, is known to have rescued contract servicemen, who’d been captured by militants, and returned them to the federal forces. He said then: “We are not wild beasts. Treat them humanely. Let them go home and tell their mothers and wives that the Chechens are defending their land.”

Of course, you may think that Kadyrov is afraid of telling the truth – what if a public outcry follows. May I be cursed, if I am not telling you the cold hard facts! I have nothing to hide. Let me say once again, I was always by my father’s side. Next to him… As a mufti he saved the lives of numerous military servicemen.

- Why do you call Akhmat Kadyrov Chechnya’s first president? Before him, there had been Dudayev, Yandarbiyev, and Maskhadov… After all, the history of the Republic of Chechnya did not just begin in 2003?

- I was not the one who proposed that. It was the Kremlin’s idea. You may not remember, of course, but Russia annulled all decrees, resolutions, documents and ranks dating back to the Ichkeria period in Chechnya’s history. If Dudayev and Maskhadov were to be recognized as presidents, then Ichkeria would have to be recognized too, together with its ministers. Basayev, Khattab, Udugov and others would have to be recognized as legitimate politicians, but they were gangsters and terrorists. True, at a certain point, during the early period (of Chechnya’s recent history) I strongly supported Dudayev. I believe that even his son Johar Dudayev did not support him as strongly as I did back then. Remember, though, that was in the early 1990s.

But does it make any difference today who Chechnya’s first president was? Is this the yardstick to estimate one’s services to the nation? The people have already got used to it: Akhmat-Hadji was Chechnya’s first president. They refer to him this way. If I tried to change something, the public would not understand me.

- The central thoroughfare in the Chechen capital Grozny is named after Akhmat Kadyrov. So are the main mosque – the Heart of Chechnya - and the republic’s stadium – home to the Terek football team. There is a special museum dedicated to Akhmat-Hadji Kadyrov incorporating his office. And the newly-built mosque in Argun was named after your mother, Aimani. You are certainty a considerate son…

- I hope I am. What can be more precious than parents? Who can be closer? I’d have done a whole lot better in their honor, if I could. I removed the monument to my father, though. It was against our faith. Only his portraits and bas-reliefs at memorial sites are left.

Part 2
2

 

About true faith, medical science, the Quran’s mystic power and the Fyodor Yemelyanenko affair

 

- You’ve mentioned faith, haven’t you? Let’s now talk about faith. Chechnya holds first place in Russia by the number of mosques. There are less than 1,500 parishioners per mosque on the average. In 2014, 31 mosques were built, and in 2015, 43…

- The people need Divine Mercy. They have the right to have it. Always! But the mosques have not been built with government money. Not a dime has been spent on them from the budget. This goes without saying!

- Sadly, as far as hospitals are concerned, the situation is not as good. There is a great shortage of specialists. One doctor per 140 people. The ratio is the worst in the country…

- You are posing such questions to me although you surely know well enough why Chechnya still lacks medical doctors. You’ve studied our statistics well enough, so I believe you’ve been able to see how many doctors and nurses were killed here during the war, have you? Killed while performing surgeries. And how many hospitals have been razed to the ground.

We’ve been trying to turn things around for the better. Believe me, if there is true spirituality, everything else will fall into place.

- But faith can hardly be a substitute for medicine.

- I would disagree. But nobody says it should be a substitute, though, by the way, medicine is unable to substitute for faith. When I’m ill, I always recite the Quran. Even if I cut a finger I hurry to recite a prayer.

Believe me, if there is true spirituality, everything else will fall into place

Here is a telling story. At a medical center in Moscow a woman patient was told she had a terrible diagnosis – cancer. She was told a spinal surgery was a must. The woman was no longer able to walk on her own. She thought she’d die soon. And know what? When she came to Grozny, I met that woman and had a talk with her. The Quran began to be read out by her bedside. After sometime that woman went back to Moscow only to learn that nothing bad was discovered in her body this time. She recovered!

This is not just one case. One day I heard on TV that Alexandra Prokhorenko, a little girl in Chita, was hopelessly ill. The disease was said to be very serious! A fund-raising campaign was launched. TV viewers were asked to donate money for her treatment. When I saw the story on the news, I phoned her mother and invited to come to Chechnya. Alexandra was taken to the Islamic Medical Center in Grozny, where the main means of treatment is the Word of Allah, and not medications. That girl had sudden attacks of the disease. She could go to sleep suddenly on the move only to never wake up. She could not be left unattended for a second. We did not tell her mother right away that we would be reading the Quran to her daughter. She was a Russian girl, baptized as an Orthodox Christian, so some might have suspected that we wanted to convert her to our faith. The praying lasted for a month and a half. Now she is safe and sound. She spent here quite a while running around, roller-skating, dancing and enjoying herself.

The head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov during a visit to the Republican rehabilitation centre for disabled children Elena Afonina/TASS
The head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov during a visit to the Republican rehabilitation centre for disabled children
© Elena Afonina/TASS

You need more examples? Here’s another witness right in front of you to testify. Ruslanbek, will you come over, please? He coaches me during his spare time, when he is not at work. Meet Ruslanbek Ismailov, the prefect of the Oktyabrsky district of Grozny.

Sometime ago doctors said he had bone cancer. The last sage. In their opinion he had no more than a month to live.

Ruslanbek was examined at Moscow’s best clinics. His complexion already turned greenish. He was half-dead with grief and getting ready to pass away. His father and grandfather had died of the same disease… I told him not be in a hurry, though. Then I asked him to take a seat next to me. Then I read the Quran for some time and touched the aching spot on his body. Surely there was an inflammation, but it was not cancer, I thought. I cannot tell you right now what made me think so, but that’s exactly what happened. A friend of mine, Adam Delimkhanov, who was with us at the moment, advised Ruslanbek to calm down and take it easy. Everything will be OK, just as Ramzan promised. Ruslanbek decided to have another examination, not in Moscow, but in Germany. The doctors said he had a bone inflammation, but, fortunately, nothing terrible. Then he got back home. We read the Quran again and again. Now he is well and oversees my workouts at the gym. He makes me sweat again and again.

I’m not saying that the medical science should not be developed. It should, of course, and we do develop it in the most fundamental way. In October 2016, alone we opened three newly-built healthcare centers boasting cutting-edge equipment. We have an excellent oncological dispensary. Hundreds of excellent specialists have moved to Chechnya since the beginning of this year. Moscow is reforming its health care system and dismissing medical doctors. Some resettle to Chechnya. We are very glad to welcome professionals here, to help them with accommodation and to settle down in all other respects.

But the traditional means and methods should not be neglected. The Word of Allah brings miracles!

- Does this explain why each time you take the electronic beads after get off the gymnastic machine?

- I am an awful coward and I just one thought of Almighty God fills me with awe and respect. I never miss a prayer. The first one is at half past five in the morning. That’s in winter time. And in summertime I do the praying even earlier - every single day - and I carry the beads with me all day.

I recite the Salawat (special message) addressed to the Prophet - May Allah grant peace and honor upon him! I ask Allah for the forgiveness of sins, for strength, wisdom and courage, for His guidance and for His permission to serve the cause of faith and truth.

- Can the Quran replace school education?

- You can find anything there – history, culture, medicine, space… Everything! But the Quran is not a substitute, of course, but a complement. This year we’ve built 19 new schools and we will open another five or six by January. But classrooms are still overcrowded. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev held an on-site conference on educational problems in Ingushetia just recently. He suggested adopting special programs that would help Dagestan and Chechnya do away with three-shift schooling. Many boys and girls still have to stay at school too late in the evening!

And the problem with childcare centers remains unsettled. Ours is a war-ravaged region, where everything has been ruined. Everything! No schools or hospitals were left. Many localities, including my hometown of Tsentoroi, have never had childcare centers. Now it has.

Ours is a war-ravaged region, where everything has been ruined. Everything! No schools or hospitals were left

I would like all Chechen kids, including my own, to grow up to be smart and educated individuals. Now I’ll invite some of my boys to join us. You’ll have a word with them to see everything for yourself. Here are they: Akhmat, Eli and Adam. Feel free to ask them questions on any school subject. They are ready to answer. All of them have straight A’s in school.

- No teacher would dare give low marks to Kadyrov’s children.

- A stupid question deserves a stupid answer! On Instagram, I sometimes read stupid posts, too. I lose respect for such people. If I found out that any of my kids had received an undeservedly high mark, I can swear by Allah’s name I would do my utmost to ensure such a teacher would be dismissed the next day without any chances of getting a job elsewhere in the republic. What’s the point of insulting children in this way? They are capable enough of achieving everything on their own, without such disservices.

Adam started memorizing the Quran when he was three. Six hundred pages in Arabic, by heart. Also, he was studying Russian and English and taking up sports and dances. I’m very proud I let my children study the Quran. I can just imagine if I were told, Ramzan, here are two options for you to choose between: You will be jobless, moneyless and homeless and lose everything else, but your children will know the World of Allah, or you will be the richest man in the world, you will have anything you wish, but your children will never learn the Quran. I would’ve not hesitated for a second to choose the former. May I be cursed if I’m not saying what’s on my mind. I can swear to it! That’s the main thing I’ve given them, my boys and my daughters. Praise be to Allah!

I’m teaching my boys to be real men and warriors, who are not afraid of anybody or anything

Studying the Quran makes your faith stronger and it trains the mental faculties. Children memorize everything virtually in no time. Before the autumn vacation, Adam took part in a Russian language contest at school and he won it. My boys are not spoilt at all. Their daily schedule is very tight. After classes they do their homework and then go to the gym. Here are their coaches – Abdul-Kerim, Khamzat and Lechi…

I’m teaching my boys to be real men and warriors, who are not afraid of anybody or anything.

Adam, Akhmat, tell Mr. Journalist: will you challenge Yemelyanenko? Won’t you feel scared? Brave boys! Carry on this way!

- Let’s discuss the Yemelyanenko affair without the kids hearing us.

- Agreed. But first you must tell me what you think about all this. In your own words.

- You came down really hard on Yemelyanenko. And your friends went too far.

- Do you really think so? Do you think we were wrong?

- Certainly. Very wrong.

- Why?

- Fyodor Yemelyanenko leads the Mixed Martial Arts Union and, as far as I understand, he had every right to express his own opinion on the MMA fights for children, organized by the Akhmat club.

- He is in charge of an amateur MMA union, which is in no way related to the professional clubs, including our own. Why does he feel free to comment?

I have my own question I’d like Yemelyanenko to answer. Next to his commentary in the Internet he placed a photo of my little son. Different people visit the social networks. Some have insulted my kid…

Fyodor could have also posted a picture of his own bruised face taken after his fight with Maldonado, if his commitment to high principles is so strong! He shouldn’t have taken aim at somebody else’s son by no means. Yemelyanenko’s behavior was both unethical and unmanly. He meddled in my family affairs.

An aide of mine phoned him and spent half an hour explaining the details. He said that the sparring fights between minors were just for show, that their parents were present in the hall… We asked him to remove the photo. Fyodor refused, saying that otherwise some would think he’d got scared. He should’ve congratulated the Akhmat club upon winning its first belts and then come up with some criticism. Our club is already in the WFC rankings’ top five in the world! We’ve arranged for and held successfully a major international tournament timed for Grozny City Day!

Nobody says that helmets aren’t necessary. When in training, the children do use protective gear. Do come to the sports club where my sons are trained and you will see that all the kids use protective gear. It’s a must. Demonstrative sparring is nothing but a show! For spectators, for parents. The promoter had announced everything beforehand. The kids’ coach was appointed as a referee. He knew perfectly well when to halt the fight to ensure that nobody got hurt by accident. Everybody looked happy, except Yemelyanenko. Why couldn’t he say he was happy to see everybody else was happy?

Part 3
3

 

About insults, humiliation, respect, blood feuds, polygyny, budget spending and aides

 

- I reckon you took the affair too close to heart…

- They are my kids and it is up to me to decide what they should do, where to compete and whom they should fight…

- It’s not only Yemelyanenko that I have in mind. Those who’ve dared say something not very flattering about you often have to apologize in public. Almost on their knees.

- That’s not true. I don’t humiliate anyone. You must’ve misheard or misinterpreted what you’ve been told. In one instance, a woman villager complained to me that she had been grossly overcharged on her electricity and natural gas bills. I brought in the district’s top officials, asked them to take a seat in front of that woman and asked if they had demanded that lady should pay more than she was expected by the law. Their answer was “NO.” Then I invited the woman’s fellow villagers and repeated the same question. Nobody confirmed anything. I’m the head of the region and I must look into the affair. Then I asked that woman – Aishat Ianyeva was her name – why she had made such charges. She acknowledged she’d been too emotional and asked all those she’d insulted to forgive her. Please remember, she apologized not to me, but to her neighbors, whom she’d lied about and disgraced.

What other examples do you have in store?

- A legislator in Krasnoyarsk once called you Russia’s shame only to take his words back very quickly.

- I’ve never seen that man. I don’t even know his name. After he made that allegation a Chechnya-born resident of Krasnoyarsk came up to him and asked him why he was so rude in his remarks about the leader of the Chechen Republic and what reasons he had for this. Do you think I sent that man to ask questions? Certainly not! Why did that legislator decide to apologize? OK, you said what you said, but then stick to your own words, show courage, and don’t dodge responsibility!

Figuratively speaking. I’m not acquainted with that legislator, though. And I cannot say anything about him…

I can also tell you this story. When I was personally involved in fighting terrorists in the field myself, I once promised my men that if I caught that warlord Amir Yusuf, I’d force him down on his knees. And eventually I did capture him…

Now I’ll make a phone call to someone who was by my side then. I’ll turn the speakerphone on to let you hear everything well enough…

 

“As-Salaam-Alaikum! (Peace be upon you!), my dear friend! Please answer me in Russian. Remember I once promised to you and other fighters I’d put Yusuf on his knees when I take him? We seized that devil and then I asked you for permission not to do that. He was our enemy but he’d been fighting bravely and did not deserve humiliation. You then agreed with me. Do you confirm what I’m saying?

 

There you are. You could hear everything for yourself. I am a Chechen. This says it all. I respect myself and I display respect towards my enemy, if he behaves decently.

- What did you do to that warlord?

- Yusuf was tried in strict compliance with the law, although he had killed quite a few of our comrades.

- When was that?

- To my recollection, in 2002 or 2003… I’m for honesty and justice. You must shoulder responsibility for what you’ve done.

- And what if a wrongdoing was committed not by me, but say, by my brother, son or father? Will the whole family be brought to account?

- Certainly. We’ve always had it this way in Chechnya. The elders get together and then pronounce a verdict for a whole year. With no chances of anyone overturning it.

Collective responsibility is an effective way of maintaining discipline

Only very naïve people think that a blood feud is needed as an instrument of murder. It’s the other way round. It was invented as a means to prevent killings. Before putting someone to death, you’ll think twice about what punishment may follow and who will bear it. Collective responsibility is an effective way of maintaining discipline. My sons know that if one of them did something wrong, all of them would be held responsible. Naturally, they keep an eye on one other to prevent each other from going astray. This is what real brotherly help is all about. This makes families and marriages much stronger.

- That’s true. Chechnya has the lowest divorce rate in Russia. Only 1 in 1,000 Chechen families falls apart.

- We’d still like to achieve better results. Our goal is to have no divorces at all. There are centuries-old traditions. We seek to complement and improve them somehow and to set the rules how to go about wedding procedures and which relatives are obliged to attend. It’s a whole ritual, a blend of traditions and rituals!

The rules of divorce are to be specified, too. No husband should feel free to say: it’s all over, we are going to part. There have to be serious reasons. The ‘used-abused-and-refused’ attitude is no good. Young ladies are nurtured and reared not for being eventually returned to the parents’ home as boring dolls. The woman wishes to be happy and the man’s duty is to do his utmost to make this dream come true.

- What’s your attitude to polygyny?

- What do you think of it yourself? Is there a man who would refuse? I’ve already said more than once: if I meet a real beauty, a worthy one who would conquer my soul, I’ll marry her in an instant. Now! But I haven’t found any woman like that yet. Because I haven’t been looking for one. I have my Medni, the mother of my children, who helps me with bringing them up. We have six boys and six girls. The youngest, Abdullah, was born just recently, on October 12.

I’m really in love with my wife. And she loves me. We met back in school and we’ve been together since 1995. It’s been a long while, a whole life!

I took office as Chechnya’s prime minister in November 2005, when I’d just turned 29. I had to delve into economic matters and I’d spent several months studying round-the-clock before I learned the ropes

When a boy, I was a real troublemaker who never backed down from a fight. On Sovetskaya Street in Tsentoroi, where our home was, I always kept a firm grip on the neighborhood. And I’ve never thought that someday I might be holding down a civil service job, sitting at a desk in a personal office. Thoughts like that never visited my mind. It all happened at fate’s discretion. Somebody had to assume the responsibility to make sure the cause of Akhmat-Hadji Kadyrov would not be in vain. It was hard, terribly hard. I took office as Chechnya’s prime minister in November 2005, when I’d just turned 29. I had to delve into economic matters and I’d spent several months studying round-the-clock before I learned the ropes.

My first year at the helm was more difficult than all the others. I was working really hard to understand what was to be done to prevent professional executives and functionaries from cheating, to make them honor their promises. In fact, I memorized Chechnya’s whole budget. I kept in mind specific statistics and targets for each government ministry and agency to meet, what funds had been allocated, how much is to be spent and what is to be built… Once you’ve mastered the information, the job begins to look much easier.

I took over Chechnya when I was already well aware of what was happening inside the government and what instructions must be issued in the social sector and the economy. It is most important to bear responsibility before the president of the country, my people and Almighty God. Not letting anybody down and doing everything right. This is what really matters.

I believe that over the past ten years we’ve restored the economy and propelled Chechnya to a new level. All parameters are excellent. Many investment projects are financed from extra-budgetary sources.

- But you are getting a proper chunk of the budget pie. A hefty chunk, I should say.

- We get as much as any other region, not more than the others.

- How should I put it? The share of irrevocable transfers in Chechnya’s budget over these years has remained at above 80%. Over a period of 9 years, from 2007 to 2015, the republic received 539 billion rubles in subsidies, budget transfers and grants.

- Then you had better also take a look at the share of grants to pre-war Chechnya! You must see what the republic has been stripped of, the real cost of its losses.

Don’t confuse it with the money spent on restoring the social sector.  Under a federal program extending until 2020 we have received only 79 bln rubles instead of the promised 149 bln rubles. You do see the difference, don’t you? It was slashed by half. The neighboring regions get tens of billions to develop farming. There’s a special program for that. We are a post-war region. The money we’ve got was just enough to restore the buildings’ walls and roofs. But there was nothing inside except for bare walls – no equipment, nothing! We had to identify the sources of financing for that on our own.

We keep working hard. We aren’t waiting for somebody to send us money

Just imagine, all of your property has been destroyed, including a sturdy family home that took you a lifetime to build, the car, and the garage. And in the end you get a compensation of 350,000 rubles. What would you be able to afford with a sum like this? Would it be enough to build a new home or buy an apartment on the real estate market? In fact, in Chechnya this is how it precisely happened. One ruined household was entitled to compensation totaling 350,000 rubles. Period. Mind you, far from every household got the compensation. Is that fair?

We pay the taxes to the federal budget like everybody else, we give away the oil and gas that are produced inside the republic. If only we were allowed to keep the money we wouldn’t have had to ask for donations. In 2007, Chechnya’s budget stood at 9.6 bln rubles. Now it has grown to above 60 billion. Do you see what I mean? We keep working hard. We are not going door to door begging for our daily bread. We aren’t waiting for somebody to send us money. The city of Grozny covers all of its expenses on its own. So does the Sunzha district, as do some others… We improve the parameters with every passing month.

We enjoy no budget privileges. And we have to present solid arguments to back up every single item on the budget.

- Last year the federal authorities cut other regions’ funding by 3% on average, but yours rose 8%.

- I really don't know where you dig up such figures. What I see is different. Russia’s Finance Ministry has suggested cutting the Chechen Republic’s 2017 spending. How is that possible? We are trying to find out.

Don’t you forget and also tell everybody else: starting from 1994 hundreds of thousands of peaceful Russian citizens have been killed here. About 7,000 of them still remain unaccounted for. Tens of thousands have been crippled and orphaned. This is the kind of people I am expected to work with. I’m supposed to find a common language with each single person and to unite them under the Russian flag. To make sure these people should not be deceived again and not used in another war against our state. Do you think this is an easy job? It’s not, believe me! It’s very easy to indulge in speculations while sitting at home on the sofa. Let these armchair experts come to Chechnya and talk to those who have had their homes burnt down and relatives killed… True, ours is a problematic region, but I am certain that the country will be proud of Chechnya, as it has always been.

I don’t get the money, it’s the war-ravaged republic that gets the money

If the republic gets an extra billion in federal funds, these pseudo-patriots immediately get stirred up into a frenzy and start yelling that Kadyrov enjoys preferential treatment. But is this right? I don’t get the money, it’s the war-ravaged republic that gets the money. God forbid anybody should experience what we’ve been through…

We do all we can. We work with Arab countries and with other foreign partners, but we do need help from the center. Russia’s Economic Development Ministry should’ve proposed a specific program for our region long ago. All right, we agree we cannot do without subsidies, but do help us make money then! Select investment projects and tell the banks to fund and subsidize them! The Economic Development Ministry does nothing of the kind. It keeps calculating some macroeconomic parameters instead of getting down to earth, closer to the people’s everyday needs.

Ulyukayev has already gotten himself into hot water and now he’s under house arrest.

If only each civil servant were doing what is expected, the benefits of this would’ve been far greater.

Last June, the village of Tsa-Vedeno suffered a terrible landslide, 26 homes were ruined and 200 people ended up homeless. The same happened in the Shatoi and Nozhai-Yurt districts. And the Urus-Martan district was hit by heavy flooding.

Hundreds of families were left without a roof over their heads. Had I decided to just watch and wait for the federal authorities to take action and to give money to build homes, those people would have to spend the winter in tents.

With our bureaucratic system as it is, it’s easy to die from cold and hunger before you collect all the papers and have them signed!

- And whose idea was it to launch a TV show to select your aides?

- The Rossiya TV channel suggested a special program called The Team. I agreed.

- Chechnya’s unemployment rate is still one of the highest in Russia. Weren’t there any worthy native-born Chechen candidates?

- Of course, there were quite a few. The best have already joined my team. I’d like to make things clear: when I took over the republic, unemployment was above 76%. We’ve now cut it by a factor of seven, to 10.2%. But I still need more people – competent individuals, with unique skills.

A yet-to-be selected aide will be responsible for international affairs.

- But you’ve been saying all along there are only foes across the border.

- That’s why I’d like to make them speak the same language as we do.

Part 4
4

 

About shepherds, warriors, the State Duma’s new speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, Vladimir Putin and human rights

 

- But coming to terms inside the country sometimes proves impossible.

Russia is a multi-ethnic country, we shouldn’t let anyone tear it apart

- Why, it is possible. Always! People are in the habit of sticking to stereotypes. They don’t wish to use their heads or at least plug themselves into the required mode of thought. Somebody has heard something someplace and runs to pronounce a verdict, without looking into the details. Please, you’ve got to study the problem first and only afterwards pass judgements. Some of our people are still too quick to anger: “There you have it!”

Russia is a multi-ethnic country, we shouldn’t let anyone tear it apart. First they will set peoples against each other, and then our adversaries will come and tear us to shreds. We’ve got to stand together.

Everyone should remember the peoples of the Caucasus are not a mindless herd or shepherds. We are warriors. We are builders. We are creative people. We’ve always been and we’ll always be this way. Don’t blacken our image. Don’t throw stones at us. And we’ll stand firm, defending Russia and our peoples.

So my message to all sorts of bums who may dare try to provoke us, to trigger chaos and instability is very clear: keep your mouths shut

The Caucasus is a special region. It’s Russia’s stronghold. So my message to all sorts of bums who may dare try to provoke us, to trigger chaos and instability is very clear: keep your mouths shut. All of your efforts are in vain!

- Ramzan Akhmatovich, that sounds like a threat!

- I’m not trying to make somebody feel frightened. Why should I? I am an honest person and I always say what’s on my mind. And I always fight to the bitter end. It’s either – or.

- And what would you do if you made a mistake, if you ended up being wrong?

- I would gladly apologize. I believe this is one of the essential virtues of a really strong personality.

- Have there been any such cases?

- Surely there have. More than one.

- For instance?

- When you meet Vyacheslav Volodin, ask him if Ramzan Kadyrov has ever presented apologies to him. I remember somebody was spreading some falsehood about him, and I was just listening and nodding. And after a while, I learned that Volodin was a different person, not the type that was described to me. When we met in person, I came up to him and said: “I have to apologize for being present in that company when that conversation was going on.” Volodin was totally unaware of what I was talking about. As for me, I knew that what I said was enough.

A person’s position does not matter at all. I mentioned Volodin because he is a public figure. I always apologize to ordinary people, if I know I made a mistake. That’s normal.

True, each of us changes as the years goes by. I was 27-28 years of age when I entered into big politics. It is not the right age for a politician at all. Now I’ve gained some experience, but deep down I didn’t change a lot. At least that’s the way I feel.

The friends near me are the same, just as ten or fifteen years ago. We may have tea together, play football, box in the gym, but when it comes to work, I may punish them sometimes. I don’t mix friendly relations with politics. Friendship is friendship, while duty will remain duty.

As I’ve already told you, I am a peaceful and kind-hearted person. Some have created the image of Kadyrov the Strongman. Possibly, those people derive some benefits from portraying yours truly as a monster.

I’ve never been power-hungry, nor have I ever tried to be liked. I’ve always sought to act as Almighty God requires. Trying to impress a specific individual is not my style.

- What about Putin?

- My allegiance to the president is infinite. I’m devoted to him stronger than anybody else. President Putin has his bodyguards and crack troops to defend him. I am loyal to him not by virtue of my position. It’s personal. I owe my life to him…

My allegiance to the president is infinite. I’m devoted to him stronger than anybody else

May I be cursed if I’m uttering words that are empty of meaning.  I am obliged to him! On one occasion I called myself Putin’s soldier. It’s been quoted as a catch phrase many times since, but I feel that I still don’t even deserve this rank as Putin’s soldier. Any task, even the most daunting one, set to me by the president will be the highest reward for me and a great happiness. I dream of it!

I’ve selected a commander for myself. The Supreme Commander-in-Chief and I will stay loyal to him. At work and in everyday life.

Do you know that some Muslims have been castigating me for being in the service of a Christian? I’ll wind up in hell, I am told. But I do know what type of person Vladimir Putin is in reality and what he has done for my people and for me personally.

- And what it is?

- When my father Akhmat-Hadji Kadyrov was killed, Putin gave me a chance to fight against the enemies of the Chechen people and of all of Russia – against the terrorist devils.

He knew well enough that I was still a very young man, and not very educated. He understood that I was neither a politician, nor an economist. Yet, he had confidence in me and assigned me to a certain job. I asked the president for an opportunity to die a good death in battle. That’s the only thing I cherished. And that’s what makes me feel obliged to him.

I was chasing terrorists and, while wiping them out, I was prepared to meet my own death.

- Were you chasing death?

- I was chasing terrorists and, while wiping them out, I was prepared to meet my own death.

Putin supported me at the most dramatic moments in my life. Such things are to be never forgotten…

- Do you feel personally responsible for your father’s death? After all in 2004 you were responsible for his security.

- No, I was not the chief of his bodyguard service then. Different people were in charge. But still I cannot forgive myself for his death. On May 9, 2004 I was in Moscow. My father had told me to stay to settle some issue of importance. Had I been by his side on that day, possibly, nothing would have happened. On the other hand, I agree that there’s no escaping one’s fate…

I still greatly miss my father. He was a very wise man, he understood people very well, he hated yes-men, and he always condemned flattery.

- And you, sir? Your portraits can be seen in Grozny at every street-corner.

- But not on the buildings of government offices. I cannot prohibit individuals from decorating the facades the way they deem appropriate. I’ve asked the people no fewer than two dozen times to refrain from displaying my photos on the streets. Some agreed to take them down for a while only to put them up again…

What if they like me? What if they find me handsome? Don’t you think this is possible? I’m just kidding, of course. Only memories of my father are really sacred. I’ve never taken the seat he used to take. So great was my respect for him… As for my own photographs, I take this calmly. I conducted no election campaign in Chechnya this year. No posters or leaflets. Why should I need them? I told the people plainly: I won’t be able to do much more than I’ve already done. I just promise that I will remain in your service as long as I can. That’s all.

 - Is it true that at the beginning of 2016 you had resignation plans? That you asked Putin to let you step down?

- Do I look like a gabber? What do you think? Of course, I wished to resign.

- What would you devote your spare time to?

- Household chores and the family. I’d be spending more time bringing up my kids.

- That’s all?

- Doesn’t this look enough? I have an excellent wife, kids, my mother – Aimani is her name – and my adopted brother Vissit, who is Russian. My mother adopted him from an orphanage in Grozny when he was 16. Vissit has a job at the staff of Chechnya’s leader, he helps me a lot.

If I left the civil service, I would do still more praying, studying the Quran and visiting holy shrines.

- Some well-wishers have calculated that over the past fifteen years you have been awarded 59 orders, medals and other decorations. Today there may be more than 59 of them.

Head of Gudermes district Vakhit Usmaev, head of the Chechen republic Ramzan Kadyrov and Chechnya's interior minister Ruslan Alkhanov  AP Photo/Musa Sadulayev
Head of Gudermes district Vakhit Usmaev, head of the Chechen republic Ramzan Kadyrov and Chechnya's interior minister Ruslan Alkhanov
© AP Photo/Musa Sadulayev

- So what is your question? Is 59 too many or too few? Putin conferred upon me the title of the Hero of Russia, he decorated me with the Order for Services to the Fatherland the order of Courage and the Order of Merit. Is there somebody who’d say Kadyrov does not deserve these awards?

- Some of them are really amazing. For instance, the Gold Star of Honor and Dignity and the title of the Distinguished Human Rights Activist.

- Where did that one come from?

- An International Committee for the Protection of Human Rights.

- Here you are. These people just don’t give out awards for nothing. This means I protect human rights well enough! The only ones who disagree with this, are adversaries who slander our country.

- Are you telling me that only those who support the authorities deserve to be called patriots?

- I’ve never said this. But since you’ve asked me I will tell you that the true patriot is the one who loves the Motherland and will defend the authorities.

The true patriot is the one who loves the Motherland and will defend the authorities
Interviewed by Andrei Vandenko

Born November 8, 1959 in Luhansk, Ukraine. In 1982, Andrei Vandenko graduated from the Kiev National University of Taras Shevchenko specializing in journalism. Since 1989, he lives and works in Moscow. Vandenko has more than 20 years of experience in the interview genre. He was published in the major part of top Russian media outlets and is a winner of professional awards.

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