Controversial Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is drawing scrutiny for his connection to Zaur Dadaev, one of the suspects charged Sunday in last month's killing of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Kadyrov, 38, is a strong supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin and, following Nemtsov’s shooting death, Kadyrov praised Dadaev as a “true Russian patriot” for his military service.
The motive for the attack is unclear, but police suspect Dadaev and a handful of partners were paid to carry out the hit and said Dadaev personally pulled the trigger. They suspect it was in retaliation for Nemtsov’s criticism of the Islamist attackers involved in the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January, but Nemtsov’s close allies and supporters have said they believe the hit was orchestrated by high-level Russian officials, if not Putin himself. Ilya Yashin, who co-founded the Solidarnost movement with Nemtsov, said the assertion that Nemtsov was killed for his views on the Charlie Hebdo attacks was “absurd.”
Dadaev and four others were arrested during the weekend. Dadaev and Anzor Gubashev were captured in Ingushetia, a province that borders Chechnya and were the only two formally charged as of 3 p.m. EDT Monday. Gubashev pleaded not guilty. The three others, including Gubashev's younger brother Shagid, are only suspects at this point. One other suspected accomplice blew himself up with a grenade when police moved in to capture him at an unspecified location in Grozny, Chechnya.
Kadyrov is currently the closest connection between the killing and the Kremlin, Agence France-Presse reported. Dadaev served at one time as a deputy commander of a Chechen Interior Ministry battalion, according to a local security chief, Al Jazeera reported. Kadyrov appeared to defend Dadaev Monday, calling him “one of the bravest and worthiest soldiers of his regiment,” and said he would investigate the reason why he was dismissed from that unit.
“All those who know Zaur, are saying he is a deeply religious person that he, as well as all Muslims, was shocked by what Charlie [Hebdo] did and by comments in support of continuing the printing of the caricatures,” Kadryov wrote on Instagram.
Putin’s office announced Monday the president awarded Kadyrov an Order of Honor for his “professional achievements, public activities, and many years of diligent work,” quelling some rumors Kadyrov was no longer close to the Russian leader. Putin also awarded a man British authorities suspect was behind the 2006 killing of KGB agent-turned-Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko. Andrei Lugovoy, who is now a parliament member in Russia, was recognized for his work to develop Russia's legislative branch.
Kadyrov is the son of former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in a bomb explosion in 2004. Putin made the younger Kadyrov president in 2007 after he did stints as deputy prime minister and prime minister. Kadyrov is known as a strongman who does not hesitate to personally command operations against Chechen rebels, who seek to wrestle the predominantly Muslim region away from Moscow. Kadyrov is a devout Muslim himself and installed Shariah law soon after becoming deputy prime minister. His promise to keep restive Chechnya under control has kept him in favor with Putin.
He has voiced strong support for the pro-Russian separatist movement in Ukraine and supported Russian invasions there and in Georgia where Russia fought a brief war to help two pro-Russian separatist states break from the country. He has been implicated in numerous war crimes incidents and is suspected to have ordered the deaths of those who investigated his alleged abuses.