This week Ramzan Kadyrov, President of the Chechen Republic, a territory in southern Russia plagued by civil war and instability since nationalists launched a failed bid for secession in the early 1990s, is considering whether to go to a criminal hearing in Vienna regarding the killing of one of his former security officers.
Viennese authorities suggest that the attack may have been ordered by Chechen authorities. After years of allegations of involvement in killings, disappearances, and torture in cases that rarely made it to court, Human Rights Watch, among many others, believe Kadyrov should go to Vienna for some much needed question and answer.
Former U.S. Ambassador William Burns wrote of his suspicion about President Kadyrov and the man’s eccentric if not mafia-esque leadership style in communiques recently leaked by Wikileaks: Former employees disappearing. Wild spending of money and enjoyment of dancers during a period in which Chechnya suffers post-war poverty and accepts Kadyrov’s brand of Sharia law which restricts public behavior as well as women’s fashion.
But these kinds of points are not evidence that the leader ordered a killing. So what exactly happened in Vienna?
In 2006, the early days of Kadyrov’s rule in Chechnya, his former security officer Umar Israilov left Russia for Austria. Three men attempted to kidnap Israilov, but killed him in the process. Viennese authorities indicted the men, alleging in the case that they were attempting to bring Israilov back to Chechen government authorities.
Kadyrov, beyond any accusations about his government’s involvement in political killings, assassinations, and torture, has overseen a dramatic change in Chechnya, but not one of a transformation into a peaceful republic. By working with the Kremlin to squash rebels and any civilians even remotely related to them while at the same time constructing his own brand of conservative political Islam, Kadyrov has not succeeded in winning even incremental steps toward peace. The only reason Chechnya does not remain in headlines is that violence in the neighboring republics has risen to a similar level.
People throughout Russia and the Chechnya region have long been desparate for peace in the North Caucasus. If Kadyrov talks, perhaps there is hope, however small, for change in Chechnya. If not, then perhaps Moscow and the local population will be reconsidering, again, whether Kadyrov is the right leader for ending a two-decades long war and rebuilding a republic.