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One does not simply criticize Chechnya's ruler How a Russian city councilman was pressured into apologizing for harsh words aimed at Ramzan Kadyrov

Meduza
Photo: Viktor Khrebtov / TASS / Scanpix

Krasnoyarsk city councilman Konstantin Senchenko did something this week that few people in office ever do in Russia. He harshly criticized Ramzan Kadyrov, the authoritarian ruler of Chechnya, who recently described Russia's liberal opposition as “enemies of the people.” In response, Senchenko called Kadyrov a “national disgrace.” Two days later, however, after talking with a certain “well-known” member of the Chechen community, he recanted his criticisms and apologized to Kadyrov. Meduza explains what happened.

January 12, evening. The head of the Chechen government, Ramzan Kadyrov, declares that members of Russia's protest opposition should be treated as “enemies of the people” and “traitors.” According to the Chechen ruler, oppositionists “shamelessly try to pretend they are concerned about the future of our country,” while they actually “dance to the tune” of intelligence agencies in the West.

January 13, midday. Opposition members and human rights activists demand that Russia's Attorney General issue a response regarding Kadyrov's comments. Ella Pamfilova, the country's human rights commissioner, says remarks like Kadyrov's “do Russia a disservice, casting a shadow on the country.”

January 14, morning. Krasnoyarsk city councilman Konstantin Senchenko, a businessman registered as an independent, criticizes Kadyrov in a post on Facebook, accusing him of discrediting the Hero of the Russian Federation honorary title (the highest attainable in Russia, which Kadyrov received in December 2004) and dishonoring the post of regional head. “I remember times when we here in Krasnoyarsk collected aid for our boys fighting in Chechnya. Back then, you [Kadyrov] were running around in the hills, killing our guys. Now they're lying in the ground, and you're a hero of Russia,” Senchenko wrote. He also called Kadyrov a “national disgrace.” The text spread rapidly online, collecting more than 5,000 reposts on Facebook.

January 14, daytime and evening. State Duma deputy Shamsail Saraliyev declares that Ella Pamfilova should apologize to Kadyrov. Nurdi Nukhazhiyev, Pamfilova's counterpart in Chechnya, then points out that Kadyrov never promised to prosecute anyone for constitutionally-permitted political activity.

January 15, before dawn. The television station LifeNews publishes an audio recording where Senchenko can be heard apologizing to Kadyrov. Grozny TV also publishes his apology, which reads, “In my defense, if there's anything I can say, I want to stress that I didn't even think people would swoop in and discuss this so seriously... I'll never stop apologizing to everyone I insulted. Everyone who lost loved ones in the war in Chechnya. Honestly, I was just speaking emotionally. It wasn't directed at anyone personally.” Senchenko later claimed to reporters that he never spoke to anyone at LifeNews or Grozny TV.

January 15, morning. Senchenko writes another post on Facebook, explaining that he now recognizes Kadyrov's authority and has decided to apologize, after speaking with “a very high-placed person, not just in Krasnoyarsk but in all of Russia.” Senchenko's Facebook post indicates that his new confidant is Chechen. “During this talk today with representatives of the Chechen people, I've become convinced of the authority of the leader of the Chechen Republic. The opinion of the people can't be ignored, and they truly do respect Ramzan Kadyrov, and they take great offense to statements against their leader,” he wrote. 

In an interview with the radio station Govorit Moskva, however, Senchenko says he received threats that he'd suffer the same fate as Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered in Moscow on February 27, 2015 (allegedly by Chechen assailants).

January 15, afternoon. Ramzan Kadyrov posts on Instagram (his favorite social media platform) a video showing Senchenko asking the Chechen leader for forgiveness. Kadyrov's photo caption reads, “I accept [your apology] :) :) :) :) :)”