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Amid Reports Kadyrov Is Ill, Kremlin Mulls What's Next For Chechnya

Chechnya head Ramzan Kadyrov participating in a question-and-answer broadcast from Grozny in December 2023
Chechnya head Ramzan Kadyrov participating in a question-and-answer broadcast from Grozny in December 2023

It was apparently business as usual on May 22 when Ramzan Kadyrov reportedly stopped by the Kremlin for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to a post on Kadyrov's Telegram feed, the Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya informed Putin about purported economic successes in his region and pledged to send "several tens of thousands of trained and equipped reservists" to fight in Ukraine "at the first command."

Although Kadyrov looked fit in the one still photo of the event that was released, the meeting comes amid reports the 47-year-old is suffering serious health problems. These reports, a flurry of high-level personnel changes in Chechnya, and an acceleration of Kadyrov's long-standing practice of awarding government posts and awards to his children have fueled suspicions that a transition is being prepared for the region, both in the Chechen capital, Grozny, and in Moscow.

Ramzan Kadyrov (left) and Vladimir Putin during their reported Kremlin meeting on May 22
Ramzan Kadyrov (left) and Vladimir Putin during their reported Kremlin meeting on May 22

And in recent months, Major General Apti Alaudinov, the commander of Chechen forces in Russia's war against Ukraine, has emerged as a likely successor -- one observers say is backed not by Kadyrov but by so-called siloviki, representatives of the military and security agencies, in Putin's entourage. Eyebrows were raised when both Kadyrov and Alaudinov attended Putin's May 7 inauguration in separate delegations.

All In The Family

Putin installed Kadyrov as head of Chechnya in 2007, three years after the assassination of Kadyrov's father, Chechnya head Akhmed Kadyrov. Using strongman tactics that have been condemned by rights defenders in Russia and abroad, Kadyrov was charged with bringing stability to the country's most restive region.

In April, Novaya Gazeta Europe, which is known for well-informed coverage of the North Caucasus, reported Kadyrov had been diagnosed in January 2019 with acute pancreatic necrosis. Recent videos showing Kadyrov visibly bloated and slurring his words have added to evidence of health problems.

Kadyrov has repeatedly denied the reports, but the heavily edited videos purportedly showing him exercising that he released to make his case left many analysts unconvinced.

"It is clear this man feels poorly," exiled Chechen opposition blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov said. "There seem to be times when the doctors manage to stabilize or improve his condition. But it is clear that Kadyrov is ill and is not being cured."

On May 21, Kadyrov replaced the region's prime minister, Muslim Khuchiyev, who had held the post since 2018, with Deputy Prime Minister Isa Tumkhadzhiyev, who is married to a relative of Kadyrov's. At the same time, Kadyrov's 18-year-old son, Akhmat, was named regional sports minister. He also appointed his 20-year-old son-in-law, Ramzan Vismuradov, as deputy prime minister without portfolio. Of the top 23 posts in the regional government, six are now held by Kadyrov's children or their spouses, while five others are held by more distant relatives or natives of Kadyrov's hometown.

"Kadyrov needs to appoint his relatives to protect himself from changes in power in the republic if his health deteriorates," said Ilya Shamanov, head of Transparency International in Russia. "If that happens, he'll have close, trusted people in key posts."

Just days earlier, on May 16, came the more shocking news that Magomed Daudov, long one of Kadyrov's most loyal and aggressive allies and the head of Chechnya's parliament since 2016, had been removed. Chechen human rights activist Abubakar Yangulbayev said Daudov's surprise dismissal was most likely not a direct result of Kadyrov's health issues but may have stemmed from the political anxiety in the region.

"The fact that it happened so suddenly would seem to indicate that Magomed Daudov did something behind Ramzan Kadyrov's back, something that Ramzan didn't know about," Yangulbayev said.

"Daudov's future is very uncertain," he said, adding that when speaking to reporters after his dismissal, Daudov was "clearly very frightened."

Reports that Daudov would soon have a new job have not been borne out as yet.

'His Star Is Bright'

On April 16, Putin signed an order naming Alaudinov as deputy head of the Defense Ministry's "military-political" department, making him essentially responsible for political obedience in the military. The 50-year-old will continue as commander of the Chechen Akhmat Battalion, a special-forces unit active in Ukraine.

Apti Alaudinov (file photo)
Apti Alaudinov (file photo)

Alaudinov reportedly gained standing in the Kremlin in the wake of the short-lived June 2023 mutiny of Wagner mercenaries headed by the late Yevgeny Prigozhin. After a resolution to the mutiny was negotiated, Alaudinov facilitated the integration of many Wagner mercenaries into Akhmat Battalion units.

Kirill Martynov, chief editor of Novaya Gazeta Europe, told Current Time that many influential siloviki dislike Kadyrov, who has been the most prominent regional leader in Putin's Russia. Tensions between Kadyrov and parts of the Russian security forces go back to the 2000s.

"It is possible that the Kremlin thinks that, with the war and the high military budget and Alaudinov's military career -- he was awarded the Hero of Russia for his work in Ukraine -- there is now a window of opportunity to use Kadyrov's poor health to bring a new 'order' to Chechnya," Martynov said, adding that many would like to see Chechnya as "just another region of the Russian Federation."

Abdurakhmanov agreed that Alaudinov was under "very serious consideration."

"His star is generally bright now in Russia's political arena," he added.

Written by Robert Coalson based on reporting by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, RFE/RL's Russian Service, and Current Time

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