Chechen leader blamed for assassination of Kremlin critic, called a threat to Russian security

AP

A Russian opposition activist bluntly accused Chechnya’s Moscow-backed regional leader of involvement in the killing of a prominent Kremlin foe, describing the Chechen strongman as a security threat to Russia in a report released Tuesday.

Ilya Yashin said he had “no doubt” that Ramzan Kadyrov was behind the killing of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead near the Kremlin on Feb. 27 last year.

Yashin said he was sure the suspected triggerman, an officer in Kadyrov’s security force, and his alleged accomplices would not have acted without Kadyrov’s approval. Kadyrov has denied the accusations and the official probe has failed to identify the mastermind behind the murder.

The Chechen leader posted a link to Yashin’s report on his Instagram account, where he has 1.7 million followers, and other social networks hours before its official release, dismissing it as “chatter.”

Yashin’s presentation of the report at the opposition party’s headquarters in Moscow Tuesday was interrupted by a bomb threat and police moved to clear the hall. An unidentified protester threw replica U.S. dollars at Yashin, suggesting perceived U.S. support for the Russian opposition.

In his report, Yashin accused Kadyrov of misappropriating generous federal subsidies to Chechnya to enrich himself and his loyalists and relying on a personal army of 30,000 to enforce his rule.

“Chechnya has become a separate state within the Russian state,” Yashin said. “Kadyrov effectively rejects the federal law and ignores the Russian constitution.”

President Vladimir Putin has relied on Kadyrov to stabilize the region in Russia’s North Caucasus after two devastating separatist wars. The gruff 39-year-old succeeded his father, a former rebel who switched sides to become Chechnya’s first Moscow-backed leader before dying in a rebel bombing in 2004.

Kadyrov has used personal ties with Putin to ensure a steady flow of federal funds and effective immunity from federal controls. His unparalleled clout has angered leaders of Russia’s powerful law enforcement agencies, who have pushed for Kadyrov’s dismissal.

Nemtsov’s fatal shooting on a bridge outside the Kremlin reportedly enraged Putin and emboldened Kadyrov’s foes. The probe into the killing has bogged down, however, apparently reflecting Putin’s view of Kadyrov as a linchpin of stability in Chechnya.

Tensions around Kadyrov heightened in recent weeks when he launched scathing criticism of Russian opposition leaders. With Kadyrov’s term set to expire in early April, some observers saw his statements as an attempt to secure Putin’s support for keeping the job.

In a radio interview broadcast Tuesday, Kadyrov mixed obedience with expressions of unswerving loyalty to the Russian president, saying he was proud to be a “foot soldier” of Putin ready to step down when he says so.

“If they tell me to keep on serving I will serve, and if they say goodbye I will bid farewell,” Kadyrov said. He added that he dreams about leading a military unit to fight “enemies of Russia.”

Yashin said Kadyrov’s ouster would be in Russia’s interests, calling his regime a “threat to national security.”

“Vladimir Putin has placed a time bomb in the North Caucasus that may blow up in case of any serious political crisis and turn into a third Chechen war,” he said.