October 1, 2022 - 6:00pm

It would appear that devotion to one’s President is one of the few loves between men permissible in Chechnya. In 2010, proclaiming Russian President Vladimir Putin his “idol”, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov declared: “I love him as a man loves a man”. Kadyrov’s dedication to Putin has been one of the mainstays of the Russian leader’s regime, but as Chechen battlefield losses have mounted, Kadyrov has shown signs of disenfranchisement, rallying against the failures of Russia’s military leadership and advocating a more brutal approach. 

Indeed, as Russian forces now retreat from Lyman in eastern Ukraine, Kadyrov has today criticised the leadership’s “lack of elementary military logistics” and claimed to have earlier raised the prospect of such a loss with Russia’s Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov. Consequently, the Chechen leader now advocates “more drastic measures” including “the use of low-yield nuclear weapons”.

Kadyrov has been expressing frustration with the slow pace of Russia’s advances for some time now. Despite dispatching 20,000 Chechen troops to the Ukrainian battlefield, the Chechen leader complained of the Russian military being “too slow and not effective” and of the Ukrainians being “coddled”. Then in March, after admitting that six Chechen soldiers had been injured and two killed, Kadyrov urged that the war “move to large-scale measures”. He subsequently castigated Russia’s military leadership over territorial losses in the North-East last month, denouncing the situation as “astounding” and vowing to personally speak with them about battlefield “mistakes”. 

His increasingly strident criticisms are perhaps as much a reaction to feeling personally thwarted than the tactics themselves. In March, Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, claimed that a cadre of Chechen hitmen had reached Kyiv to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky, only for their plans to be foiled by anti-war elements within Russia’s Federal Security Service. Allegedly the FSB informed Ukraine’s security services, allowing the Chechen assassins to be “eliminated” in time. 

On 3rd September, Kadyrov posted a cryptic video speculating “I realised I have been sitting in my position for a long time, I think my time has come”, either from a genuine sense that his own fate may be sealed or as a warning to Putin that his loyalty may not endure. This is because Kadyrov has also been facing another battle on the domestic front, confronting the equally formidable opponent of Chechen mothers. On the day Putin announced a partial mobilisation, approximately 130 Chechen women took to the streets of Grozny, furious at their sons being drafted.  In addition, leaflets soon announced a new underground resistance group, the ‘Sons of Ichkeria’, and threatened: “It all ends here”.

These protests have garnered results. On 22nd September, Kadyrov announced that Chechnya will not fulfil Putin’s mobilisation order, meaning it is not participating in an enlistment drive he personally spearheaded. Rattled by unprecedented levels of dissent, he pleaded with “the population of Chechnya, particularly our beloved and respected mothers, to remain calm”.

For its part, Ukraine is eagerly capitalising on the resistance. This week Zelensky addressed the people of the Caucasus, saying Ukraine sees them “resisting the criminal mobilisation” and they should “defend (their) freedom now in the streets and squares…to avoid death”.

As Ukraine seeks fast-track NATO membership and claims to have taken the lives of 58,500 Russian servicemen, Putin needs all the support he can muster. Ostensibly, he has it in Kadyrov. After Putin’s announcement yesterday of the annexation of occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, Kadyrov proclaimed it “one of the brightest and most wonderful days in Russia’s history”. However, as he faces domestic turmoil and battlefield losses, Kadyrov’s support may exist in words only.