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Is Ramzan Kadyrov dying?
I have some thoughts...
Over the past few months, Ramzan Kadyrov—the 46-year-old Chechen warlord with a penchant for killing and combat sports—has been hit with a swirl of rumours surrounding his personal well-being.
Footage of Kadyrov appeared to show him with a bloated face and sluggish demeanour, prompting talk that the longstanding leader of Chechnya is significantly ill. Some Chechen dissidents, including Chechnya’s exiled former Deputy Prime Minister Akhmad Zakayev, claimed that Kadyrov was experiencing kidney failure due to drug abuse. Others suggested that he may have been poisoned.
Last week, the rumours intensified after Andriy Yusov, a representative for Ukraine’s military intelligence, told local outlet Obozrevatel that Ramzan Kadyrov was in critical condition due to ongoing health concerns.
“He has been sick for a long time, and we are talking about systemic health problems,” Yusov said on Sep. 15.
While Yusov did not provide evidence to support his unsubstantiated claims, his quotes quickly found their way on Yahoo News, The Daily Beast, and Newsweek to name a few, as well as in viral social media posts on Twitter, TikTok and Instagram, where reports even suggested he had also fallen into a coma. The deluge of reports about Kadyrov’s supposedly failing health gave the overwhelming impression that the dictator was on death’s doorstep.
Then on Sunday, Kadyrov posted a series of videos on his official Telegram channel, in which he could be seen smiling and strolling in the rain in an unidentified location. The footage was accompanied by a caption that read: “I strongly advise everyone who cannot distinguish truth from lies on the Internet to take a walk in the fresh air and put their thoughts in order. The rain is wonderfully invigorating.”
It remains unclear when the videos were recorded. However, their intent was clearly to dispel the rumours that Kadyrov was critically ill and in a coma.
This isn’t the first time that Kadyrov has attempted to drive off the rumours that he is unwell.
In March, he posted: “For those who console themselves with the hope that I am terminally ill, I am sorry to upset you. I am healthy and full of energy."
Three months later, he shared a video alongside one of his right-hand men, Adam Delimkhanov, who was falsely reported to have been killed in the Ukraine war in June 2023.
“We are still alive somehow," Kadyrov said while seated at a dining table alongside Delimkhanov. "Anyway, we don’t want to live long. We will live a short but decent life."
While Kadyrov appears to be alive, Chechen dissidents have argued that his recent videos do not deter from the reports of the warlord’s deteriorating health. NIYSO, a Chechen opposition group, argued that Kadyrov’s most recent footage was “archival” and that they “regularly reported and continue to report about Kadyrov’s deteriorating health condition…and this information has never been refuted.”
“And if, by the will of the Almighty, Kadyrov survives and makes a new video, then remember the golden rule: ‘Your expectations are your problems.’ If you expect him to die, then this is just your expectation, we have not stated anything like that,” the post read.
And that concludes the saga, for now.
However, I have some thoughts…
Though I am neither a political analyst or an expert (I hate that term) on Russian affairs, I have been reporting on Kadyrov for over eight years, as those of you who are already familiar with my work may recall.
What initially started as a series of articles highlighting the warlord's unusual passion for mixed martial arts evolved into a rich source of investigative journalism. I have delved into topics including how Kadyrov exploits his notorious fight clubs as recruitment grounds for his private army and his involvement in the killing of a former UFC fighter and the mysterious disappearance of a former world boxing champion. I exposed the link between Kadyrov’s fight clubs and U.S.-based organizations such as the Ultimate Fighting Championships, and how he utilized his fight club to bond with a fellow repressive regime in Bahrain.
I have even written about how Kadyrov is exploiting his sons to cement his legacy and ensure the future of the Kadyrov family as Chechnya’s supreme clan, which includes lauding the family’s perceived achievements in combat sports. That story, in particular, has gained new significance in light of the ongoing rumours about Kadyrov’s health.
Over the past year, Kadyrov began grooming his eldest son, the 17-year-old Akhmad, as his heir apparent. In September 2022, the teenager was elected as the regional chair of the Russian movement of youth and children. Then in March 2023, Kadyrov’s adolescent son visited the Kremlin to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. For some, this further fuelled rumours of Kadyrov’s health issues. For others, this signalled an impending transition in the long-oppressed republic.
Meanwhile, Kadyrov has also positioned his 16-year-old son, Ali, as an MMA fighter. The teenage boy is being trained by Khamzat Chimaev, a Chechen-born Swedish UFC superstar who also happens to moonlight as a babysitter for Kadyrov’s three minor sons. The UFC fighter trained the teenager ahead of his professional debut in December 2022 and has continued to bring him along to training camps with some of the UFC’s top fighters in places like Dubai and Thailand.
Ali’s Instagram page now claims he is an active professional in the sport, which suits his father’s ongoing plans to use his children to project strength, fearlessness and ruthless aggression — characteristics he expects all Chechen men to embody.
Kadyrov’s efforts to prime his children for more prominent roles in Chechen society could be viewed as an attempt to strengthen the position of current and future generations of the Kadyrov family as members of the political and cultural elite in the troubled North Caucasus republic, which has become especially important in the wake of an uncertain political future, due to Putin’s war in Ukraine.
To sum up: Kadyrov may not be dying, yet, but it does appear as though he is beginning to plan for a Chechnya without him at its helm.
Nevertheless, it is crucial to note that while Kadyrov’s death would leave an immense power vacuum in Chechnya in the midst of a war, it would not signal the end of the systematic abuse of human rights that have become a key characteristic of the warlord’s rule. Whomever assumes power, whether it be Kadyrov’s eldest son or one of his right-hand men, the regime will continue to employ the arbitrary use of torture, forcible disappearances and other systemic abuses to maintain an iron rule over the republic.
As Chechnya charts its uncertain course, its grim reality remains certain, and though the tyranny may change faces, it will continue to endure.
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