Illness or campaign?: Kadyrov has made powerful enemies

Ramzan Kadyrov's condition is puzzling - is the dictator seriously ill or are forces working in the background to dismantle him? He has made enough enemies and his own army is getting weaker and weaker.

Illness or campaign?: Kadyrov has made powerful enemies

Ramzan Kadyrov's condition is puzzling - is the dictator seriously ill or are forces working in the background to dismantle him? He has made enough enemies and his own army is getting weaker and weaker.

The rumor mill is buzzing around Ramzan Kadyrov: is he seriously ill? Is he possibly being slowly poisoned? The violent dictator of Chechnya has visibly gained weight within a year, his face seems slightly bloated. He appears less often in public and appears weaker than usual in some appearances.

The “Bild” newspaper reports on a “kidney problem” and refers to the former Deputy Prime Minister of Chechnya, Ahmed Zakayev. According to this, Kadyrov had a clinic manager flown in from Abu Dhabi who specializes in kidneys. He doesn't trust the Moscow doctors.

The veracity of such reports cannot be verified. Thick cheeks can be artificially inserted into the picture. The Chechen president would be suspicious, but not without reason, because at least through his public role as a critic of the Russian conduct of the war, he has made powerful enemies in the Kremlin. "Certain people from the security apparatus, especially in the secret services, would kill Kadyrov today if they were allowed to," says Eastern Europe expert Stefan Meister "Because they don't have him under control."

Time and again in recent months, Kadyrov has overtaken President Vladimir Putin on the right with verbal escalation. He grumbled about failures, and in October, after another Russian setback, suggested Kadyrov to consider using a tactical nuclear weapon. He sounded like the suit-wearing TV propagandists, but his position at the head of his own army gave his words more weight. When the West decided to deliver tanks to Kiev, the Chechen banged in a TV interview that Russian troops should reoccupy German territory. "We must return, this is our territory."

Kadyrov drove the public discourse on security and warfare forward with radical demands. And for a while he advanced from the head of a private army to a player in the political game of forces in Russia.

Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozchin presents himself in public as eloquently as the dictator from Chechnya, who, according to NGO reports, uses torture and murder to silence critical voices in his republic. Both use their own social media channels “and are very skilled players at it,” says Meister. "Beyond that and through the media that pass it on, they have managed to generate more attention than they actually have military significance."

The times when Kadyrov's private army and Prigozhin's mercenaries were traded as decisive factors in the war are long gone. "Kadyrov's troops were important - for example for house fighting, especially at the beginning of the war," says Meister. They played a major role in the capture of the port city of Mariupol, but were also sent into battle as cannon fodder. They lost a lot of fighters as a result. With reduced manpower, both private armies are now significantly less important to Russia's warfare than they were a year ago.

The loss of importance for the course of the war could now open up new opportunities for the opponents in Moscow. For months, influential men like Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valeri Gerasimov had to allow themselves to be attacked by Kadyrov and Prigozhin. "Now they're taking revenge," says Meister. "Prigozhin and Kadyrov are being systematically dried out."

In a video from the weekend, lit by a lamp, the mercenary boss laments about the shortage of ammunition and that if his people leave Bakhmut, the front will collapse. The supply of weapons is also stagnating, and the Russian prisons are no longer open to Wagner as a recruiting office for prisoners.

Kadyrov, on the other hand, is less present in the media with warmongering than with speculation about his state of health, about kidney damage from possible poisoning. There is nothing but rumours, but whoever messes with the Moscow security apparatus does not exactly extend their life expectancy. He has a relationship of mutual loyalty with Russia's president. "It is primarily Putin who protects him," says expert Meister. "That is crucial for Kadyrov's position."

It doesn't matter whether the poisoning theory is true or fictitious - it is always toxic for the dictator. "He is no longer the strong actor who dominates certain fronts, dominates the media and also influences the discourse about the war, at least in part, but it's about his health, about the question: is he still in the country at all?", explains Master.

After all, some Kadyrov thought they were in the United Arab Emirates for kidney treatment. In a phase in which Kadyrov's importance at the military and political level has suffered, his health is being questioned with increasing drama. This can be very targeted campaign work - by actors who want to finally place a weakened person on the bottom shelf.

As if it were an answer to this rumour, a video was shared on the Internet on Monday showing Kadyrov receiving Denis Puschilin, the head of the former "People's Republic" of Donetsk, which Russia illegally annexed as an oblast. You show up as friends, drink tea together. It is difficult to reliably determine when the film was recorded. There is nothing relevant in terms of content. The video may only have one task: not to look like Abu Dhabi when the sky is cloudy and the actors are in winter jackets.