It’s Crunch Time for This Putin Ally’s Infamous Nepo Babies

While Kremlin-appointed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov reportedly circles the drain with a terminal diagnosis of necrotizing pancreatitis, the spotlight has shifted to his three notorious sons, including his 16-year-old teenager Adam, who was reportedly given a major promotion this week.

On Sunday, just a week after news of Kadyrov’s diagnoses broke, the Chechen leader announced that his 16-year-old son, Adam Kadyrov, will become the supervisor of a Chechen special forces training school in Gudermes, according to the Current Time. “He is closely familiar with the activities of the famous university, so I believe that he will cope with his assigned responsibilities very well,” Kadyrov said in a post on social media.

Ramzan Kadyrov’s effort to prop up his son isn’t a surefire sign that he is grooming him to take on larger responsibilities in the region. For the people of Chechnya, however, the looming power vacuum and possible succession fight could determine the the future of a republic that has been wracked with countless reports of human rights violations, kidnappings, and torture incidents. (The United States has sanctioned Kadyrov for alleged involvement in “gross violations of human rights,” including extrajudicial killings.)

Although the teenaged Kadyrov is still young, he is not unknown to Chechnya. Last year, footage circulated online showing Adam beating a teenaged prisoner in custody. The prisoner, Russian teenager Nikita Zhuravel, was arrested for burning a Quran. After the beating, his father generously heaped on the accolades on his son, saying he has achieved the “adult ideals of honor, dignity and defense of his religion.” Adam was promoted to a senior role in his father’s bodyguard in November, Chechen officials said.

In October, Adam was awarded the Hero of Chechnya award. A month later, he was named curator of the Sheikh Mansur battalion. By that time, he had already received at least nine state and public awards, according to the Caucasian Knot.

Svetlana Gannushkina, the chair of the Civic Assistance Committee, has said that she believes Ramzan’s interest in elevating his son in the security apparatus and presenting him with a bevy of awards is a sign that Kadyrov views his power as hereditary. And indeed, Kadyrov has slowly been laying the groundwork for years to enmesh his family in the government of Chechnya.

But the only true precedent in Chechnya for handover of power is from when Ramzan Kadyrov took over after his father, so it’s not entirely clear there is a plan in place. And while Ramzan may prefer his children to take up the mantle, Moscow will ultimately have a hand in who leads Chechnya next, said Ivan U. Kłyszcz, a researcher of Russian policy at the International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS) in Tallinn, Estonia.

“By design, Chechnya’s institutions are weak. The only true limitation to Kadyrov’s authority is the Kremlin and any potential resistance within Chechnya,” Kłyszcz told The Daily Beast.

Moscow is “likely to prefer a ‘conservative’ approach in a Kadyrov succession, as Chechnya remains volatile and there is no appetite for taking risks in managing the region,” Kłyszcz said, adding that doesn’t necessarily mean the children are a shoo-in.

Head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov (2nd L) and his son Adam Kadyrov (2R) seen prior to Russian-UAE talks on December 6, 2023, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Contributor via Getty Images

The Rat Race

It’s not clear how many children Kadyrov has, as reports have differed on their tallies through the years. Last year he indicated he has 14 children, including two daughters who are sanctioned by the United States, according to RFE/RL. In 2022, two of his other sons—18-year-old Akhmat and 29-year-old Zelimkhan—reportedly visited Donetsk in Ukraine along with Adam. Ramzan Kadyrov later claimed they each came back with a captured Ukrainian soldier.

While Adam has been praised in the media as a brave youth fighting for Russia, Akhmat has also been in the limelight in recent months. Akhmat, for instance, met with Putin last year, ostensibly to discuss youth policy in the North Caucasus.

Just this February, Akhmat was appointed minister for youth and sports and received Chechnya’s highest award, the Order of Kadyrov. He has been on a power trip since, and recently directed his staff to hunt down social media users in Chechnya “whose actions contradict Chechen culture and mentality,” according to the Caucasian Knot.

Akhmat has also had his turn receiving apparent favoritism in the boxing ring, too. In 2020 at an international sparring championship, called the Time of Legends, his opponent never attacked him and finally fell to the floor, handing Akhmat the win. That same year, a 10-year-old who was matched with Adam, didn’t make a single move on Adam, and oddly enough received 100,000 rubles after losing to Kadyrov’s son, in an apparent payoff to throw the fight. The money came from a foundation run by Adam Kadyrov’s grandmother, Meduza reported.

But Kadyrov isn’t above picking favorites. In February, the ISW research group assessed that “Kadyrov’s quiet acknowledgment of Akhmat’s new [minister] position stands in contrast to the recent praise and appointments of his other children, including his appointment of his younger son, Adam, to the Chechen security service position that Ramzan Kadyrov held prior to succeeding his own father. The reason for the apparent snubbing of his eldest son is unclear.”

Some of his daughters have also received attention from the state recently. Aishat—his eldest daughter, who previously served as the Chechen Minister of Culture—was named Deputy Prime Minister of Chechnya for the social block in October. She also received the Order of the so-called “DPR” in February, while another one of Kadyrov’s daughters, Khadizhat, was named the first deputy head of the administration of the head and government of Chechnya.

Just this month, another one of Kadyrov’s daughters, 19-year-old Tabarik, received an award for her “contribution to the development of entrepreneurship” in Chechnya, despite only being in business for a year with a new venture, while another one of her companies sustained a loss of 22 million rubles.

The Kadyrov children aren’t the only names being thrown out as potential successors to Ramzan. Rumors have swirled that Major General Apti Alaudinov, the commander of the Chechen special forces volunteer association, may be top of mind for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Alaudinov has been working as deputy at the Main Directorate for Military and Political Work at the defense ministry after Putin personally appointed him to the role.

Russia has a vested interest in maintaining a pro-Russia leadership streak in the Russian republic, even as Kadyrov—also known as “Putin’s foot soldier” for his willingness to go to bat for Putin at every turn—may be making for the exit.

While Ramzan Kadyrov has sent pro-Russia fighters to fight in the war in Ukraine, Chechen citizens have not been gung ho about the war. Some Chechens have even countered by sending their own pro-Ukraine warriors to fight back.

And, as the saying goes, history may not repeat itself but it often rhymes; Ramzan himself followed in the footsteps of his father, Akhmad Kadyrov, after his death in a 2004 bombing. After serving as the head of his father’s militia and deputy prime minister, Ramzan came to power in 2007.

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