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Running with Ramzan Meet the most influential people in Russia's Chechen Republic

Источник: Meduza
Photo: Said Tsarnaev / RIA Novosti / Scanpix

Chechnya is the most talked about region in the Russian Federation. It’s believed that nothing happens there without the consent of its leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. At the same time, the Chechen leader has influential supporters in Grozny and Moscow—some of whom fought against federal forces during the First Chechen War. Others are implicated in serious crimes, including Boris Nemtsov’s murder. And many are also Kadyrov’s relatives. Meduza reviews the biographies of the men that make up Chechnya's ruling elite.

Islam Kadyrov

Chief of staff and head of the Chechen government

Islam Kadyrov has had the most meteoritic career in modern Chechen history.

He was born in 1987 in Ramzan Kadyrov’s native village of Tsentoroi and is the Chechen leader’s first cousin.

According to the Chechen government's official website, Islam Kadyrov became an aide to head of the republic in February 2009. He only graduated from the Institute of Finance and Law in Makhachkala a year later, in 2010. Despite his young age, he was awarded a medal for combatants in the North Caucasus in 1994-2004. And already in 2011, he was given the highest local honor, the Order of Akhmat Kadyrov, “for outstanding services to the Chechen Republic” as a participant in several special operations. Islam Kadyrov called this award the most important event in his life.

In October 2012, Islam Kadyrov took over for Muslim Khuchiev after the latter’s dismissal as mayor of Grozny. Islam was already a considerably powerful man by this time. In January 2012, he was appointed to serve as Grozny’s first deputy mayor, and by May he was deputy chairman of the Chechen government and the Minister of Regional Property and Land Relations. In November 2012, at tender age 25, Islam Kadyrov was elected mayor by the deputies of Grozny’s city council.

Islam Kadyrov (with the award) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (left)
Photo: Mikhail Klementev / TASS / Scanpix

As mayor, Islam Kadyrov relocated citizens from old and dilapidated housing, laid cable networks, and drained flooded basements. "Honestly, if I didn’t have Chechen President Ramzan Akhmetovich’s support, we couldn’t have done ten percent of what we’ve accomplished. Thanks to his continued financial and moral support, we were able to fulfill our duties effectively,” he said.

In his free time, one of the things Islam Kadyrov liked to do was drive around doing doughnuts in his sports car (to onlookers’ delight).

In 2015, another promotion awaited Islam Kadyrov. He became chief of staff and head of the Chechen government. To celebrate the occasion, he shared on Instagram a photo of himself with Ramzan Kadyrov, who thanked him for his leadership, saying, “Grozny’s most difficult problems were solved” during his tenure as mayor.

Islam Kadyrov called Grozny's rally on January 22, 2016, in support of the republic’s leader (and against Russia's liberal opposition) a "signal to foes and outright enemies."

Suleiman Geremeev

Chechnya’s representative on the Federal Council

Suleiman Geremeev graduated from Chechen State University in 1996 with a major of "Teacher of History." He is State Duma deputy Adam Delimkhanov’s cousin. Also, his uncle, Ruslan Geremeev, is an officer in the Sever battalion, which has been implicated in Boris Nemtsov’s killing. During that murder investigation, sources close to the probe mentioned Geremeev's name. In addition, Suleiman Geremeev was questioned as a witness to the murder of Ramzan Kadyrov’s former associate, Ruslan Yamadayev. Law enforcement agents also showed interest in Geremeev during the investigation of the kidnapping of the gangster Ruslan Atlangeriev.

Former Grozny mayor, Beslan Gantamirov, who is now opposed to Kadyrov, claimed that Geremeev may be involved in the murders of Movladi Baisarov (another former Kadyrov ally) and the human rights defender and journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Suleiman Geremeev was a close associate of the former Chechen President Akhmat Kadyrov. From 2000 to 2003, Geremeev led a militia that sided with Akhmat Kadyrov against militants in the Gudermesski district. He was also in charge of cooperation with village elders throughout Chechnya.

Federal Council member Suleiman Geremeev
Photo: Vladimir Fedorenko / Sputnik / Scanpix

In 2009, Ramzan Kadyrov endorsed Geremeev as the next senator from Chechnya. "Geremeev is an experienced organizer and a principled and diligent man. He worked as my assistant and solved problems with representatives of federal departments in Moscow," Kadyrov said at the time. Umar Dzhabrailov, Geremeev’s predecessor on the Federation Council, then resigned prematurely (after just two years on the job). According to Malik Saidullev, a former Chechen presidential candidate, Geremeev's appointment was a stunt to win him immunity from criminal prosecution.

Geremeev said of Russia's protest movement on the Grozny-Inform website, “And the liberal oppositionists still call themselves patriots? No, this isn’t opposition—it’s betrayal! And for that they will pay to the fullest extent of the law.”

Together with another United Russia member on the Federation Council, Vadim Tyulpanovich, Geremeev wrote a law to ban smoking hookahs in public places. However, it was struck down for technical reasons.

Adam Delimkhanov

Duma deputy

Adam Delimkhanov was born in the village of Benoy in the Nozhai-Iurtskii district of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR. He is Ramzan Kadyrov’s first cousin. He served in the Soviet Army from 1987 to 1989, and in 1990 he worked as a mechanic for Argunskii, a technical repair company. He was also a fuel supplier to the company Tesham in the Gudermesski district. In the 1990s, during peacetime, Delimkhanov hauled and sold cars and worked as a driver.

After the beginning of the first Chechen War, Delimkhanov was the personal driver for one of the most famous warlords, Salman Raduyev, who seized a hospital in Budennovsk in the summer 1995, and took hostages in Kizlyar, Dagestan, in 1996.

During the Second Chechen War, Delimkhanov was on the side of the Moscow loyalist Akhmat Kadyrov. From 1999 to 2000, he was one of the leaders of Kadyrov’s personal bodyguard. Because of this, separatists led by Aslan Maskhadov accused Delimkhanov of being a traitor. In winter 2001, he received several bullet wounds in an attempted assassination.

Adam Delimkhanov at the rally in Grozny on January 22, 2016.
Photo: Dmitri Korotaev / Kommersant

Since March 2000, Adam Delimkhanov has worked in the Chechen Department of Internal Affairs, where he’s served as an supervisor for the security of government buildings. And from 2003 to 2006 he commanded the unit that became known throughout Russia as the “oil regiment.” Formally, he was involved in the security of oil and gas facilities, which in Chechnya Rosneft owns through Grozneftgaz. In fact, the "oil regiment" beat back weakened separatists illegally tapping into pipelines, and federal television channels portrayed every such operation as the next stage of the successful struggle for peace in the republic.

About 2,000 men served under Delimkhanov’s leadership; the "oil regiment" eventually gained complete control over the fields and pipelines in Chechnya. At the time, Delimkhanov frequently began to appear at weekly meetings Ramzan Kadyrov held in Gudermes. Delimkhanov’s regiment was completely subordinate to Kadyrov (although technically it’s a subdivision of the Ministry of Interior). Frequently (on Kadyrov’s orders), Delimkhanov allowed his men to participate in military operations unrelated to oil. Delimkhanov’s organization has also detained people, primarily in Grozny.

Without taking any leave in 2004, Adam Delimkhanov graduated from Makhachkala Institute of Finance and Law with a major in "Jurisprudence."

In 2005, Doku Umarov, one of Chechnya's separatist leaders, accused Delimkhanov’s subordinates of kidnapping of his relatives, including the elderly and children, as well as kidnapping and killing a close relative of Abdul-Wahab Khusainov, a government minister of the unrecognized republic of Ichkeria.

According to the newspaper Kommersant, Delimkhanov participated in the police operation in Moscow in 2006 that resulted in the killing of Chechen warlord Movladi Baysarov. In that same year Delimkhanov began working as a deputy chairman of the government of the Chechen Republic.

In 2009, the New York Times conducted an investigation into the high-profile murder of former Kadyrov bodyguard Umar Israilov in Vienna. Israilov had publicly stated that Delimkhanov participated in torture and extrajudicial executions (namely, the torture and executions of Russian human rights activists, whom Chechen officials accused of threatening “peace”). The same investigation states that Delimkhanov regularly visited Tsentoroi every two or three days to bring Kadyrov a bag of cash. This money was allegedly the proceeds from the illegal sale of petroleum products produced at oil refineries under the protection of Delimkhanov’s men.

In addition, Delimkhanov is mentioned in connection to the high-profile murders of the Yamadayev brothers, Ruslan and Sulim, in 2008 and 2010, respectively. Sources in the security apparatus named him as “a high-ranking representative of the Chechen Republic," who allegedly directly phoned the crimes’ perpetrators. At the time, Ramzan Kadyrov interceded on Delimkhanov’s behalf but Interpol added him to the international wanted list. Ramzan Kadyrov says he considers Delimkhanov to be his closest friend, and has even called him his potential successor.

Forensic investigators work at the scene where former State Duma deputy Ruslan Yamadayev was assassinated on the Smolensk Embankment in Moscow.
Photo: Aleksei Filippov / TASS / Scanpix

In 2009, an attempt to assassinate Kadyrov and Delimkhanov was foiled. While Delimkhanov waited for Kadyrov at the construction site of a memorial center in Grozny, a car with Ingush plates tried to break into the complex. A security officer fired a warning shot into the air, and then a sniper killed the driver with a precision shot. In the car, they discovered a 200-liter (53-gallon) container allegedly filled with explosives.

Delimkhanov is now a State Duma deputy and a member of the country's ruling political party, United Russia. He was elected by party list in 2007 and in 2011. In the State Duma, Delimkhanov was appointed the first deputy chairman for the Committee on the Federal Structure and Local Self-Governance. But he’s renown not so much because of his legislative initiatives, as for a fight on December 3, 2013, with another deputy, Alexei Zhuravlev. The reason for the fight was Zhuravlev’s inquiry into the necessity for a monument to Chechen women, who fought against Russian troops in the 19th century in the village of Dadi Yurt (Ramzan Kadyrov officially presided over its opening). It was during the scuffle that Delimkhanov’s gold-plated pistol fell out of his pocket.

In recent weeks, Delimkhanov hasn't held back anything in comments about Russia's liberal opposition, saying, “Nothing is beneath them. They unfurled a political attack primarily against Russia and the Chechen people. The purpose of this dirty campaign is to rally the masses into the streets for the beginning of a ‘color scenario.’” Later, he spoke similarly at the rally in support of Ramzan Kadyrov, telling the crowd, “Whoever they are, wherever they are, they will answer for every word spoken against the leader of the Chechen Republic and Russian President Vladimir Putin! We know who all these people are! We have lists in our pockets! They will answer to the law. And not just to the law—because traitors must be treated as traitors. Allahu Akbar!"

Alibek Delimkhanov

Leader of the Sever Battalion

Hero of Russia Alibek Delimkhanov is Adam Delimkhanov’s brother and Ramzan Kadyrov’s first cousin. His first degree is from the History Department from a university in Grozny and second is from the Academy of the Russian Interior Ministry.

Delimkhanov leads the Sever Battalion. It was established in Chechnya in 2006 under Ramzan Kadyrov’s patronage. Alexander Cherkasov, an expert on Chechnya and a human rights activist for the organization Memorial, says that Sever was formed out of various irregular forces from the Second Chechen War. The battalion is mostly made up of former militants who sided with Akhmat Kadyrov. Structurally, the battalion is part of the Russian Interior Ministry, but it is totally ideologically loyal to the head of the republic. The Sever Battalion has been involved in almost every military operation in Chechnya's modern history. Over the course of its activities, it has killed more than 100 people and destroyed 90 so-called terrorist bases.

Alibek Delimkhanov presents the leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov the Star of Akhmat Kadyrov medal.
Photo: Said Tsarnaev / RIA Novosti / Scanpix

In 2014, Alibek Delimkhanov was appointed deputy commander of the Chechnya-based 46th separate special operations brigade of interior troops (the largest concentration of the Interior Ministry of Russia). The brigade is responsible for maintaining the “constitutional order” in Chechnya.

Delimkhanov was questioned as a witness in the Boris Nemtsov murder case because three of the suspects served in the Sever Battalion. According to the news agency Rosbalt, Delimkhanov repeated word-for-word one of Ramzan Kadyrov’s statements on the matter in describing his former subordinates: the soldiers fought in Sever, they were heroes, and whether they were involved in Nemtsov’s murder is for investigators to determine.

Muslim Khuchiev

Mayor of Grozny from 2007 to 2012, and from 2015

Muslim Khuchiev is one of the few people in Ramzan Kadyrov’s circle who makes independent comments on Chechen current events and speaks to the national press. Of course, his positions are fully consistent with the administration's various policies.

Khuchiev began studying journalism at Chechen-Ingush State University, then transferred to Moscow, where he graduated in journalism from Moscow State University in 1994. In the 1990s, he worked for three years as a crime reporter for the news agency RTR, and then joined a company where he worked as a HR manager and advertising executive.

In 2004, he was invited to return to Chechnya, where he became the press secretary for Alu Alkhanov the then head of the republic. But he joined Ramzan Kadyrov’s team fairly quickly. Alkhanov and Kadyrov were bitter rivals at the time. Kadyrov waited to turn 30 before he officially took over as head of Chechnya, at which point he put the screws on Alkhanov, who was ultimately pressured to leave his post before his tenure was up. When Kadyrov became president of Chechnya in 2007, Khuchiev ran the mayor’s office in Grozny (the position was renamed the “city mayor” in 2010).

Khuchiev didn’t leave the mayor’s office on his own volition, but under the most unpleasant circumstances. In 2012, Kadyrov accused him of violating real estate law when the Grozny mayor allocated a few dozen plots of land in violation of the established norms.

Grozny Mayor Muslim Khuchiev
Photo: Press service for the Mayor of Grozny

But by 2012, Khuchiev’s track record of loyalty allowed him to remain among the republic’s top officials. After all, at the same time he was mayor he was also the vice president of the Regional Public Foundation named for Akhmat Kadyrov, the main source of funding for Kadyrov's largest projects. Under Khuchiev’s tenure, Europe's biggest mosque, “The Heart of Chechnya,” and the Grozny City and Ahmat Arena complexes were built. Khuchiev was also responsible for the republic’s image. In short, he was a very important man for Kadyrov.

In early 2013, Khuchiev worked for a couple of months as an adviser to the Chechen leader, and then for an additional four months as the republic’s Minister for Territorial Development, National Policy, and Communications. Just six months after leaving the mayor’s office, he became the Minister of Economic, Territorial Development, and Trade.

In July 2015, Khuchiev was sent back to the mayor’s office after Islam Kadyrov became Kadyrov's administration's chief of staff. "Today, I appoint Muslim Khuchiev as the acting mayor of Grozny. He has a wealth of experience. I’m sure that Muslim Khuchiev will contribute greatly to the further development of Grozny,” Kadyrov commented on the reappointment. Political analysts saw this move as Ramzan Kadyrov’s desire to "demonstrate the unity of his team to the federal center."

Khuchiev personally participated in the rally on January 22, 2016. Both before and after the demonstration, he offered a few ceremonial comments about how the liberal opposition is out "to undermine the political situation and sow panic to fulfill the West’s orders." He also noted that demonstrators had "firmly confirmed the unity of the people and that the republic’s and country’s policies are correct."

Vakhit Usmaev

Secretary of the Chechen Security Council

"I remember in 1999, he declared ideological war on Wahhabism in a mosque. At the time, he was up against [Shamil] Basayev, [Aslan] Maskhadov, and their gang—all armed to the teeth. And all Hadji Akhmat had were prayer beads and a belief in his people,” Vakhit Usmaev once said of Akhmat Kadyrov.

Usmaev was awarded a medal for "participating in the military activities in the North Caucasus in 1994–2004." He is a historian by education, but the war prevented him from working in his specialty. Beginning in December 2001, he became a police officer in a separate—elite—unit of the Chechen Interior Ministry that specialized in the security of senior officials and the protection of government institutions.

In September 2004, Usmaev was appointed regiment commander of the Patrol Guard Service of the Police for special operations named after Hadji Akhmat Kadyrov (a regiment created on Akhmat Kadyrov’s person initiative). Formally, the regiment is part of the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs, but in reality, it reports directly to the leader of the republic. With broad powers, it's best known for carrying out special operations to eliminate militants.

Security Council Secretary of the Chechen Republic Vikhat Usmaev
Photo: Said Tsarnaev / RIA Novosti / LETA

In 2009, Usman received a new education and graduated from the Academy of the Interior Ministry of Russia.

Usmaev’s alias is “Jihad” because—under his leadership from 2004 to 2009—380 special operations were conducted, during which more than 700 extremists were arrested and about 200 militants were killed.

In 2014, Kadyrov appointed Usmaev Secretary of the Chechen Council of Economic and Public Security. This position is not public. Usman occasionally reports that traffic deaths in Chechnya have decreased by two and a half times, and that 548 drunk drivers were arrested in the republic in December 2015 and January 2016. Ramzan Kadyrov also instructed Usmaev to review the circumstances under which Zaur Dadaev (the man suspected of shooting Boris Nemtsov) was dismissed from the Sever battalion. Kadurov has not reported the results of this inspection.

Nurdi Nukhazhiev

Chechen human rights commissioner

Nurdi Nukhazhiev, Chechnya's commissioner for human rights for nearly ten years, has since the middle of the 2000s criticized virtually any view or individual associated with Russia's political opposition.

Nukhazhiev was born in a family of Chechens exiled to Kazakhstan. The family returned fairly quickly, during Nikita Khrushchev’s thaw. Nukhazhiev served in the Strategic Missile Forces. Then he studied to become a lawyer at the All-Union Institute of Management in Slavyansk, Ukraine.

In 1996, Nukhazhiev witnessed the storming of the Chechen mountain villages, which Russian troops carried out under the leadership of General Vladimir Shamanov. Even years after the war, Nukhazhiev refused to forgive Shamanov for these raids. "For us, his name stands next to that of General Ermolov, who purposefully destroyed all life in Chechnya along his bloody path," Nukhazhiev said, when Shamanov was appointed to serve as the commander-in-chief of the Russian Airborne Troops in 2009.

In 1997, Nukhazhiev ran in the Ichkeria parliamentary elections, but lost. From 1997 to 1999, he was the first deputy of the economy and reform for the administrative head of Gudermesskii district.

After the beginning of the Second Chechen War, the brothers Ruslan, Dzhabrail, and Sulim Yamadaev (who controlled a significant part of the Gudermesskii district) peacefully surrendered to the Russian authorities. At the same time, Nukhazhiev began to cooperate with the Russian authorities. From 2002 to 2006, he held several positions that weren't considered to be highly prestigious (like managing personal security for the Kremlin's representative on human rights and freedoms in Chechnya). On February 20, 2006, the National Assembly of the Republic unanimously elected him as to serve as human rights commissioner.

Nukhazhiev has said that his main task is searching for missing people in Chechnya. Indeed, he helped establish a database of missing persons, as well as a map of mass graves.

Vladimir Putin meets with regional human rights commissioners of the Russian Federation. (Nukhazhiev is on the right in the first row.)
Photo: Kremlin press service

On numerous occasions, Nukhazhiev has made it clear that he personally supports and defends Kadyrov’s interests. After Kadyrov made pointed statements about the liberal opposition, Nukhazhiev's reaction was to defend him as best he could. "Several miserable people are tempted by politics,” Nukhazhiev commented. “They didn’t learn anything from history. If they persist any further, then this very history will teach them all the same. In regard to the statements by so-called representatives of the Russian public about Kadyrov needing to resign, I can say only one thing: in this case, some gentlemen, as they say, are getting carried away."

Nukhazhiev believes that "the democratic institutions of Chechen society are hundreds and thousands of years old." The opposition, in his opinion, "underneath the most attractive and beautiful slogans of democracy is trying to transform [Russia] and its people into a biological mass that will not have an understanding of its history, religion, traditions, or culture.”

Nukhazhiev once defended Chechen students accused of assaulting police in a Maimonides State Classical Academy dormitory in Moscow. He is also known for having proposed the removal of regional codes on Russian license plates because it amounts, in his opinion, to "discrimination on the roads." According to Nukhazhiev, “extortion and threats from the police begin” when a motorist crosses into another administrative region. "Because of pervasive Caucasophobia, people look negatively at cars with license plates from the North Caucasus when they appear in their towns," he said.

Valid Zainalabdiev

Head of the Chechen branch of United Russia

This rather important job of heading United Russia's branch in Chechnya (which hasn't won less than 90 percent of a vote with Ramzan Kadyrov in power) belongs to a man with an exceptionally nonviolent reputation. Valid Zainalabdiev graduated from a pedagogical institute, and after the mid-1980s he worked as a typical physical education teacher. Then he held minor positions in government. At first, he was the chairman of the Committee on Physical Culture and Sport in the Nozhai-Yurt district, and later he headed the Leninskii district Department of Education and Health Administration in Grozny.

Like many officials of his rank, he automatically joined United Russia in 2003, and his party career turned out to be more successful than his work in physical education. Soon, Zainalabdiev was serving as the the head of the party's branch in the Gudermesski district. Beginning in 2010, he led President Dmitry Medvedev’s liaison office in Chechnya for two years. In 2012, he became the head of United Russia’s regional branch.

Head of the Chechen United Russia branch Walid Zainalabdiev
Photo: Gorzny-inform

In January 2015, he called on Muslims from all over Russia to come to Grozny for a mass protest against the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. "Muslims just want those who they regard as sacred to be left alone. People shouldn’t be allowed to just mock something or someone. Obscenity shouldn’t fall under freedom of speech, which in Europe is one-dimensional and unipolar," he said at the time.

But generally, Zainalabdiev has no great political life—social and charity issues are much closer to his heart. On December 24, 2015, for instance, he visited a boarding school for blind and visually impaired children. On the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, he held an event called "Plant a Tree of Victory," where volunteers actually planted 70 trees.

Zainalabdiev happily participates in the organization of the annual charity concert of Chechen pop stars for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, known as “Adversity Has No Nation.” Last year, Zainalabdiev and other members of the local United Russia branch held an event for orphaned children, organizing a tour of an ice cream factory for 40 foster kids.

Ani Oganesyan

Moscow