The rise of Ramzan Kadyrov and the Kadyrovites

Nov 29, 2022

Keywords: Kadyrovites, Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya, Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT), Ukraine, Russia, Conflict

Strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, son of late president Akhmad Kadyrov rules Chechnya with the support of Putin and an army of personal enforcers known as “Kadyrovites”.The Kadyrovites origins trace back to an anti-Russian guerrilla unit that fought in the 1994 first Chechen war but have since been incorporated as an official unit of the Russian army. Despite being touted as an elite fighting unit. The Kadyrovites have not achieved any significant victories in Ukraine where they have proved more adapt at terrorising civilians and looting than engaging Ukrainian forces.Long standing animosity between Kadyrovites, elite Russian paratroopers, and Wagner mercenaries has resulted in shootouts between the parties that further highlights the issues faces by Russia as it attempts a full-scale invasion with an army comprised of several disjoint forces.


The rise to prominence of Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov and his band of enforcers known as Kadyrovites follows a familiar pattern of Putin supporters and strongmen who have been rewarded for their loyalty with wealth and power. Ramzan’s personal army of Kadyrovites and relatively unrestrained administrative powers have given him a strong man aura of power and capability which has not been reflected in the battlefield performance of Ramzan or his Kadyrovites.

The beginnings of the group date back to 1994 when they were a separatist militia that served under Ramzan’s father Akhmad Kadyrov in the first Chechen war. They have chiefly acted as a personal security force and enforcers with limited foreign deployment in Syria and Ukraine. Reports from their time in Syria indicate that their ability to work as an assault force and participate in coordinated military operations is limited. In the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, they failed in their initial assault on Kyiv, where they intended to assassinate Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Since then, the Kadyrovites have been mainly deployed as barrier troops used to punish defecting Russian soldiers and enforce Kremlin directives.

Described as TikTok warriors, a reference to their widely circulated videos showing modern military equipment and uniforms, the Kadyrovites have been feared more by their own forces than Ukrainian fighters. The enduring memory of Kadyrovites who fought against Russia in the first Chechen war, repeated incidences of misconduct, poor battlefield performance, and their special status in the Russian military as an elite unit has fuelled resentment of them within Russian ranks. This combined with the close relationship between Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been described by some as the ‘son Putin never had’, has compounded the palace intrigue between Russian armed forces, security services, Wagner mercenaries, and Chechen forces. The disastrous lack of coordination is highlighted by conflicting religious motivations between the predominantly Orthodox Russian army and Muslim Kadyrovites, multiple instances on inter-ethnic conflict between Russian forces, and power struggles between elite Russian paratroopers and Wagner mercenaries.

While the Kadyrovites and their leader Ramzan may have been effective tools with which to brutally subdue Chechnya. In the invasion of Ukraine, they have done little but compounded the problems faced by Russia as it tries to achieve success with an army comprised of several disjoint forces.

Historical background

Chechnya, a small republic of the Russian Federation, is located in the north Caucasus of Eastern Europe, close to the Caspian Sea. It covers just over 17,000 km2 and, according to the 2021 census, is home to 1.5 million people. The country declared independence from Russia in late 1991 following a popular uprising that eventually led to an internal armed conflict between separatist and government forces. In 1994 Russian forces entered Chechnya under the pretext of restoring law and order. The intervention, which was supposed to be a short surgical strike, quickly devolved into a quagmire lasting from 1994 to 1996 which despite overwhelming Russian military superiority resulted in a ceasefire and eventual peace treaty after which Chechnya declared independence. In 1999 conflict between the neighbouring separatist state of Ichkeria led to a second war that led to a Russian siege in which 80% of the Chechen capital Grozny was destroyed and eventual Russian control of the entire country. Despite military operations being officially concluded in 2003 an insurgency movement was active until 2009. During this period in 2003 a referendum, which was widely criticised as being rigged, voted to join the Russian Federation as the Chechen Republic.

During the first Chechen war, Akhmad Kadyrov fought on the side of Chechen separatists with his son Ramzan and was appointed Chief Mufti in 1995. When the second Chechen war broke out in 1999 Akhmad initially joined the fight against Russia but quickly switched sides, causing the President of Chechnya to strip him of his position as Chief Mufti. The exact reasoning behind Akhmad’s decision remains unknown; some sources suggest that the move was for personal gain and others suggest that it was motivated by his concern for the Wahhabi followings of foreign fighters from the Arab Mujahadeen and their terrorist tactics. The second Chechen war saw the predominant use of terrorist tactics such as car bombings and aircraft hijacking, which avoided the risk of facing the overwhelming Russian army in traditional land warfare.[1]

In July 2000 Akhmad was appointed Governor of Chechnya[2] by Vladimir Putin, who had become acting President of Russia following the unexpected resignation of Boris Yeltsin on December 31, 1999. Chechen rebels continued to employ terrorist tactics in both Russia and Chechnya; in October 2002 Chechen rebels took 912 hostages at Moscow’s Dubrovka Theatre. On the third day of the siege Russian special forces stormed the theatre using an undisclosed gas to incapacitate its occupants including the hostages. Over 150 people died including almost all the rebels.[3] The operation was publicly criticised for its poor execution with protests televised on Russian television. In what would become a pattern of government tightening control, NTV director-general Boris Jordan was fired[4] and a year later NTV was acquired by Gazprom Media, a Russian state majority owned conglomerate currently on the US sanctions list.[5]

On October 5, 2003, in an election that was criticized for ballot stuffing, Akhmad was elected first President of Chechnya. His presidency saw a brutal crackdown on Chechen guerrilla forces and ended seven months later when he died in a bomb blast.[6] During Akhmad’s presidency, his son Ramzan built a powerful and feared security service known as ‘Kadyrovtsy’ or ‘Kadyrovites’ who were known for their brutality and human rights abuses.[7]

The rise of Ramzan and the Kadyrovites

In 2007 having reached the age of 30 required by the Chechen constitution[8] Ramzan was appointed president of Chechnya by Putin.[7] Ramzan’s presidency has mirrored Putin’s with the region’s wealth being concentrated in a close inner circle of his loyal followers. Ramzan himself has been photographed in palatial surroundings, including pictures of his private jet that were leaked on Instagram by rapper Timati[9] a Rolls-Royce Cabriolet[10] and in February 2022 he was photographed sporting $1500 Prada combat boots.[11]

His reign has been marked by repeated media crackdowns[12] that have extended to targeting opposition forces outside Russia including the attempted murder of a dissident blogger in Sweden in February 2020[13] which was followed by the fatal shooting of another prominent critic in Vienna in July 2020.[14]

The Kadyrovites

The Kadyrovites were originally a militia group that fought against Russian forces during the first Chechen war under the command of Akhmad Kadyrov. The group was officially made the 141st Special Motorised Regiment. The term is frequently used to describe both members of this regiment and other members of the military and police that serve Ramzan.

During his father’s presidency, Ramzan built up the Kadyrovites to be his father’s private security force, following his father’s death in 2004, control of the Kadyrovites transferred to Ramzan. Since then, they have been an important tool for crushing internal descent and maintaining Ramzan’s grip on power.

The group is known for its heavy tactics including kidnapping and torture. There are hundreds of documented cases of kidnappings and victims being tortured with methods ranging from electric shocks to beatings.[15][16]

Although they started out as a militia, since 2004 the Kadyrovites have received much additional training, including exercises in Jordan and group parashoot jumps over the North Pole.[17] The elevation of the Kadyrovites to having a special status within the Russian military has caused friction between them and the elite Russian Spetsnaz, many of whom were involved in the Chechen wars.[18] In Ukraine this has been compounded by their inability to effectively work with Russian units[19] with recorded disagreements between Kadyrovites and Russian forces over the distribution of loot, including one incident which resulted in a shootout involving some 50 soldiers of Russian, Chechen and Buryat ethnicity.[20]

Deployment in Ukraine - TikTok bravado meets the reality of war

Ramzan Kadyrov confirmed on February 26 that the Kadyrovites had been deployed in Ukraine.[21] According to Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, they were deployed to capture and kill Ukraine's leaders, including Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.[22] According to Ukrainian media, Chechen troops have been used as barrier troops to execute Russian deserters.[23][24][25] On April 1, Ukrainian media reported that Chechen troops executed conscripted soldiers of the Luhansk People's Republic who refused to fight.[26] Chechen troops were also accused of perpetrating the Bucha massacre by intentionally targeting civilians.[27] Christopher Swift, a national security lawyer and specialist on Russia and the Caucasus, described Kadyrovites more as a death squad seeking to destroy the fabric of society than a disciplined armed force. “What distinguished the Kadyrovites is their willingness to do things that no one else would; the brutality was a strategy,” said Swift. “They come in at the end of an absolutely brutal conventional war to mop up. But there is a different skill set between brutalising and terrorising your population after the Russians have shelled them into oblivion and trying to invade another country.” The methods they are using, say experts, are the same that they employed for more than 20 years to crush Chechens opposed to Kadyrov and Russians opposed to Putin.[28]

Chechen troops in Ukraine have also become known for publishing videos on social media, including combat footage from Mariupol. Kadyrov was widely mocked online as a "TikTok warrior" after a picture meant to show him traveling in Ukraine showed him praying at a gas station, however the gas station (Rosneft) does not operate in Ukraine. [28][29] (Figure 3)

FIGURE 1. Ramzan Kadyrov praying at a gas station.

Following a string of failed engagements with Ukraine forces, on November 1, 2022 ,Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate the GUR reported that Chechen forces arrived at Enerhodar, likely to perform law enforcement duties.[30] Reports of their battlefield shortcomings have been corroborated by former Russian mercenaries who fought with the Kadyrovites in Syria. Marat Gabidullin who commanded a squad of Wagner mercenaries fighting for President Bashar al-Assad’s government described their videos as largely staged, stating that he did not believe that they could greatly add to the military potential of the invading Russian army. Gabidullin described their experience as a military force saying “They never were an active, formidable military force. They have never been used as assault groups”.[31]

Kadyrovite motivations for participating in the invasion of Ukraine

Ramzan was one of the first leaders to support Putin’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. In the first days of the war pictures of Chechen soldiers massed in the capital of Grozney ready to be deployed to Ukraine were circulated online.[32] Subsequent explanations of Chechen involvement in the conflict have ranged from showing fidelity to Ramzan and Putin to waging a holy war.

Chechen troops deployed in Ukraine have been recorded stating that they are on a Jihad to defend their language and values, senior leaders have been filmed stating that they will take their fight all the way to Berlin, while also reiterating their allegiance and dedication to both Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov.[33] Paradoxically Aleksandr Dugin, a religious Russian political philosopher, has stated that Russia’s invasion is a holy war against the satanic west, but instead of describing it as a holy war for Islam has instead described it as an Orthodox Christian Rus battle against the antichrist.[34] His comments echo those of Patriarch Kirill, the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church and long-time Putin supporter who also stated in early October that Putin was fighting a war against the antichrist.[35]

Domestically, Ramzan’s regime faces increasing pressure from dissenters and activists. While Putin has given Ramzan a long leash in dealing with descent, he has intervened when the associated negative press coverage embarrasses him or conflicts with his own agenda. In 2017 Putin summoned Ramzan to Moscow for an on-record conversation where Putin made open refence to the large amount of negative press that had resulted from a recent anti-gay purge, clearly demonstrating that there are limits to their relationship.[36]

However, this has not prevented Kadyrovites from conducting operations deep inside Russian territory. In late December 2021 Chechen authorities detained the family members of 5 public critics of the Chechen regime[37] in a move consistent with previously carried out collective punishment where families of activists and other opponents are targeted to punish and quell further dissent.

In January 2022 Chechen officials kidnapped the mother of Ibrahim Yangulbayev from her home in Nizhny in central Russia, which sits some 1700 km from Chechnya. Ibrahim was the founder of 1ADAT, a Telegram channel with 82 thousand subscribers that exposes human rights abuses in Chechnya.[38] Later that year, the execution of Salman Tepsurkaev, a Chechen activist and 1ADAT moderator who had been kidnapped and tortured in 2020 by Kadyrovites was confirmed.[39]

Despite Ramzan’s strong public statements of Chechen support for the war in Ukraine, recruitment efforts in support of the war have highlighted opposition the Ramzan’s authority and mobilisation efforts in Chechnya have resulted in public protests.[40] Chechens opposed to Ramzan’s rule have formed a fighting unit and volunteered to fight for Ukraine against Russian aggression, further highlighting the fractured relationship between the Russia, Chechen leadership and the Chechen people.[41]

Clear and decisive victories in Ukraine were essential for Ramzan to maintain his image as a strongman leader. Instead, as Kadyrovite losses mount and the 3-day special military operation nears its 10th month, becoming more and more like the war that Ramzan and his father successfully fought against Russia nearly 30 years ago. Ramzan’s regime has turned to shaming Chechen men who don’t volunteer to fight, lambasting them as having “drawn-on beards and tight trousers, gnawing on sunflower seeds and talking big”.[42] Highlighting the difficulties of maintaining control through fear and intimidation when ruling from afar.

Situation at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is located in southeastern Ukraine just within Russian occupied territory. The plant was occupied by Russian forces in the early stage of the war. Controlling the plant was a key element of Russia’s strategy to influence Ukraine by controlling energy supplies.

Russian occupiers, which are reported to include Kadyrovites and members of the Russian special forces unit Akhmat[43] quickly set about legitimising their occupation and solidifying control over the plant and its workers by attempting to force them to sign new employment contracts with the Russian state-owned and controlled company Rosatom. On October 28, Ukrainian Energoatom announced, that despite increased pressure from the occupiers, Zaporizhzhia NPP workers have not signed contracts with Rosatom.

For two weeks, the Russian invaders have been doing everything to force Zaporizhzhia personnel to sign contracts with the Russian fake company "Экплуатирующая организация «Запорожская АЭС»", which is managed by Rosatom. After failing to do so Russian occupiers resorted to pressure and manipulation, claiming that a thousand station workers have already signed contracts. In fact, of the 6,700 workers who remained to work at the Russian occupied Zaporizhzhia NPP, only about a hundred signed contracts with Rosatom. Moreover, the vast majority of those who "agreed" did so under the pressure from Russian occupiers. Another 4,300 pro-Ukrainian employees of Zaporizhzhia have left to Ukrainian controlled territory.[44]

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi expressed concern on October 31 about the working conditions of Zaporizhzhia NPP personnel and stated that Russian occupation authorities continue to pressure Zaporizhzhia NPP personnel into signing contracts with the Russian nuclear energy agency Rosatom.[45] Reported coercion tactics which included taking staff hostage and restricting access to food and communications.[46]

The GUR reported on November 1 that Russian occupation authorities established deadlines of November 2 to licensed employees of the operational shift and December 1 for other Zaporizhzhia NPP personnel to sign contracts with Rosatom. Occupation authorities also have limited Ukrainian personnel access to the plant. [47]


The Kadyrovites have repeatedly demonstrated an inability to be tactically effective in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and lost their aura of being an invincible fighting force. Their initial deployment, which was supposed to show Ramzan’s support for his long-time supporter Putin has instead turned into a series of embarrassing incidents that have highlighted the fractured relationship between different branches of the Russian armed forces.

Although it is unlikely that the Kadyrovites will see great success in combat with Ukrainian fighters, their ability to terrorise Russian deserters and Ukrainian civilians in occupied regions will likely see them continue to be deployed as enforcers. Their tactics, which are based on torture and intimidation, are consistent with Putin’s crackdowns on his own population and will likely be widespread in Ukraine. Poor relations between Russian forces and the Kadyrovites may continue to be exacerbated by the uneven distribution of supplies and loot. Ultimately the civilian population will suffer the greatest from their deployment, however Ramzan Kadyrov, having failed to achieve decisive victories in the war, will face increasing pressure on his regime from internal dissenters, which will likely result in even more brutal crackdown against the Chechen people. At the same time Ramzan will have to carefully balance the number of fighters required in Ukraine to demonstrate his continuing value to Putin with the number required in Chechnya to secure his hold on power.


[1] The Arab Foreign Fighters and the Sacralization of the Chechen Conflict. 2006. [Online]

[2] Russia appoints Chechen leader. June 2000. [Online]

[3] Moscow theatre hostage crisis of 2002. October 2002. [Online]

[4] Moscow theatre siege: Questions remain unanswered. October 2012. [Online].

[5] OCAC Sanctions list. November 2022. [Online]

[6] Akhmad Kadyrov, Chechen president widely seen as Moscow puppet. May 2004. [Online].

[7] Ramzan Kadyrov: Putin's key Chechen ally. May 2020. [Online].

[8] Chechen Constitution. 1992. [Online]

[9] Opulence, Chechnya's Ruler Has It. March 2017. [Online].

[10] Ramzan Kadyrov's Public Displays Of Ostentation. May 2012. [Online].

[11] Chechen ‘wild card’ Ramzan Kadyrov joins Russian war effort. March 2022. [Online]

[12] President of the Chechen Republic since 2007, Predator since taking office. November 2016. [Online]

[13] Chechen blogger escapes apparent assassination bid in Sweden. February 2020. [Online].

[14] 'They find you and shoot you': Chechens in fear after third Kadyrov critic killed. July 2020. [Online]

[15] Torture by units under the effective command of Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. Nov 2006. [Online]

[16] Joint Statement on the Human Rights Violations and Abuses in the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation. December 2020. [Online].

[17] Kadyrov Takes Chechen Special Forces Training to New Heights. March 2015. [Online].

[18] Kadyrov’s Ukrainian Maskirovka. March 2022. [Online]

[19] Two months on in the Ukraine war: what role for the kadyrovtsy? May 2022. [Online].

[20] The shooting of Buryats with Chechens – cannot share the loot. April 2022. [Online].

[21] Chechen leader, a Putin ally, says his forces deployed to Ukraine. Feb 2022. [Online]

[22] Assassination plot against Zelensky foiled and unit sent to kill him ‘destroyed,’ Ukraine says. Mar 2022. [Online]

[23] Russia may be using Commissar 'execution squads' again - report. Mar 2022. [Online]

[24] The Kadyrovtsy act as anti-retreat forces for Russian troops near Kyiv. [Online]

[25] Не дают отступить оккупантам. Под Киевом стоят заградотряды кадыровцев. Mar 2022. [Online]

[26] Чеченці розстрілюють примусово мобілізованих російською армією луганчан за відмову воювати, - Гайдай. Apr 2022. [Online]

[27] Brutal Sect of Putin’s Army Accused of Murdering Their Own Comrades. Apr 2022. [Online]

[28] Putin’s lapdog wears Prada: Chechen leader Kadyrov poses on TikTok while his men kill civilians in Ukraine. April 2022. [Online]

[29] Was this photo of Chechen leader Kadyrov praying in a petrol station taken in Ukraine? Apr 2022. [Online]

[30] Occupiers Cancel Ukrainian-Issued Passes at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Military Equipment Is Installed on Roof of Power Unit. Nov 2022. [Online]

[31] The real role of pro-Russian Chechens in Ukraine. August 2022. [Online]

[32] Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov says he is in Ukraine. March 2022. [Online].

[33] 'We'll get to Berlin' Vladimir Putin's Chechen allies threaten to wage 'jihad' on Europe. July 2022. [Online].

[34] Соловьёв LIVE интервью Александр Дугин. November 2022. [Online]

[35] Russian Patriarch says Orthodox faithful are holding back the antichrist. April 2022. [Online].

[36] Moscow Plays a Weak Hand on Lawlessness in Chechnya. February 2022. [Online].

[37] Russia: Federal authorities must ensure the release of Zarema Musaeva and stop intimidation against Ramzan Kadyrov’s critics. January 2022. [Online]

[38] Police kidnapped the wife of the ex-judge of the Supreme Court of Chechnya Saidi Yangulbayev. [Online]

[39] Human rights activists confirm murder by Chechen security forces of Telegram channel moderator abducted in September 2020. August 2022. [Online]

[40] Meet the Chechen battalion joining Ukraine to fight Russia — and fellow Chechens. September 2022. [Online].

[41] Human Rights Committee Considers Report of the Russian Federation in the Absence of a Delegation, Experts Raise Issues on the Persecution of Journalists and the Arrests of Protesters. October 2022. [Online].

[42] Authorities In Chechnya Use Aggressive Shaming To Boost Number Of Volunteers For Russia's Ukraine War. November 2022. [Online].

[43] Kadyrov’s fighters said to partially occupy Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. October 2022. [Online].

[44] Енергоатом 🇺🇦 on Telegram. Oct 2022. [Online]

[45] IAEA - International Atomic Energy Agency on Twitter. Oct 2022. [Online]

[46] Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant: A timeline of events since Russia’s invasion. October 2022. [Online].

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