By Paul Goble
In another display of his ability to act independently of Moscow, Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov has given to two new battalions he has raised for fighting in Ukraine the names of North Caucasian heroes Sheikh Mansu and Baysangur of Benoi who fought the Russian imperial advance into the Caucasus.
Not only has this raised eyebrows in Moscow, but also it has raised questions in Chechnya itself because up to now, Kadyrov has downplayed these figures because of the support they still have among Chechens and other North Caucasus, support that could be the basis of challenges to his own position (kavkazr.com/a/geroi-borjby-protiv-rossii-zachem-kadyrov-nazval-bataljony-v-chestj-komandirov-vremen-kavkazskoy-voyny-/32659844.html).
According to a Grozny University historian speaking on condition of anonymity, Kadyrov’s regime very much fears “heroes of former times because they have enormous authority” and because they “can eclipse the Kadyrov family whose cult is being imposed on Chechens.” His view is shared by many in Chechnya.
In Moscow, the reaction has been muted but it far more diverse, perhaps because in the minds of many, Kadyrov’s effort to revive figures from the past including on different sides of the battle line is simply a local application of Putin’s “single stream” approach to the history of Russia, although the Kremlin leader likely wouldn’t tolerate it anywhere else.
Moscow analyst Aleksey Makarkin says that in his view, Kadyrov has taken this step in order to deprive his opponents of the possibility of using these figures from the past against him. But Modest Kolerov, a nationalist commentator, says that what has happened highlights “the weakness of the Kremlin.”
But while some Russian politicians want the Kremlin to reverse Kadyrov’s move, other analysts both there and in the Caucasus see a narrower factor at work: they point out that both of these heroes are members of the same extended family or taip as Kadyrov is and that his use of their names is part of the Chechen leader’s effort to strengthen his taip against all others.