Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gives an interview on the 60th anniversary of birth of former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov


“Hajji Akhmad was very direct and honest and, most importantly, brave and courageous. Everything he did came from the heart and from his convictions. <…> He came to the conclusion that it was time to put an end to that fratricidal war, that civil war in Russia. He sincerely believed that Chechnya should remain with Russia.”

Transcript of the interview:

Question: Mr Putin, I host the programme Dialogues on the Grozny TV channel, and this is my colleague, Medina, the face of the Vainakh channel. We deeply appreciate your finding the time to meet with us on this day, which is highly important for the Chechen people and for Russia.

Let’s talk about former Chechen President Hajji Akhmad Kadyrov, who would have turned 60 today. You faced a political choice 11 years ago, and you chose to appoint him to head the Chechen Republic. The Chechen people backed that decision, and the republic slowly began to stabilise. I would like to ask you what motivated you to make that choice, even as you were pressured by many to appoint someone else, a governor-general, an academic, or even someone from outside Chechnya?

Vladimir Putin: His personal qualities were my motivation. He was very direct and honest and, most importantly, brave and courageous. He was also quite experienced. And everything he did came from the heart and from his convictions. It is no secret now that in the mid-1990s, he took part in the hostilities on the other side. He later switched sides because he changed his view on what was happening in Chechnya and in Russia as a whole. He did not go over to the Russian side because he was scared. He wasn’t scared of fighting or of anything else – I just mentioned how brave he was.

He came to the conclusion that it was time to put an end to that fratricidal war, that civil war in Russia. And he sincerely believed that Chechnya should remain with Russia – that’s what he told me many times. He sensed that need, being a religious leader.

You know what he told me when we first met and began building a relationship? He said, “You know, it became impossible to live in Chechnya.” He was very open, sometimes even blunt. “One just couldn’t live without a gang,” he said, and then added, looking me in the eye: “And I had a gang of my own.” But one cannot live like this in the modern world. That was his first point.

And the second and most important point was that the radical groups in Chechnya – who had been using the local people’s tragedy for their own ends ever since Stalin’s repressions – had led the republic to an abyss, to endless slaughter. They have substituted the spiritual values the Chechen people held for ages with a different philosophy they brought from elsewhere. In fact they were not leading the Chechen people to freedom, but to slavery.

This was the important realisation that Hajji Akhmad came to, and that made him decide that Chechnya should be with Russia, because only with Russia could it feel truly free. Because no one would impose any external philosophy or impose values, including religious values, on it.

Question: Mr Putin, you certainly encountered much resistance then from various corners. Did you have second thoughts about your choice at any point?

Vladimir Putin: Never. Moreover, I watched in amazement at how he developed. I think I told this story publicly in the past, about the first time I met him. My first impression was that he wasn’t much of an orator. But when he got down to business, and especially as the head of Chechnya, it was a different story. I watched him on TV and I was in awe of what he said and how he said it. He was able to immediately grasp the essence of current developments and formulated his attitude to them directly and clearly. It was a revelation, honestly, and I was glad that I had made that choice.

Question: Mr Putin, I would like to raise another, related issue. After Akhmad Kadyrov’s untimely death in a bomb attack at the Dinamo football stadium during a Victory Day parade in Grozny, you had to make that choice again. Two days after that, you supported Ramzan Kadyrov, who later said many times that the changes underway in the republic would never have been possible without your support – your direct support. These are his exact words. So what new goals would you put before the Chechen Republic? It is recovering and stabilizing, and there is a lot of construction going on. Still, what new goals would you set before Ramzan Kadyrov now?

Vladimir Putin: You know, there are a few sensitive and important problems facing Russia, not just the North Caucasus or Chechnya alone. They are not fun to talk about – in fact they are rather unpleasant, but we need to discuss them if we want to improve our lives. One of them is corruption and the need to ensure that every Russian national is treated fairly, irrespective of where they live, their religion or what ethnic group they belong to. They should be treated fairly, and corruption must be fought.

There are other problems, too. In fact they are many, and they affect the whole country, not just Chechnya. So the Chechen leadership – just like any other regional government – must deal with them to be able to feel that it is doing its duty to the people.

Why is it especially important for Chechnya and the North Caucasus? Because these problems create an environment that breeds radical forces, who reach out to ordinary people, carefully choosing the most disgruntled, and tell them “We could improve that if we were in power.” But they couldn’t. We saw them try in the mid-1990s and then in the early 2000s.

They couldn’t have done any better. But this does not mean that the current leadership of Chechnya – or of any other region, or of the federal centre, for that matter – should not try its best to improve people’s lives, should not try to remove the problems, or should not strive for the best results. As for results, I must say that Ramzan Kadyrov has been quite effective. I have not expected him to begin improving the local economy so rapidly. I have visited Grozny many times, and I have seen what it looked like immediately after the fighting. It was in ruins, just like Stalingrad after WWII.

Remark: I remember you comparing it to Stalingrad.

Vladimir Putin: That’s how it looked. You know, when I walked amid the ruins and flew over the city in a helicopter and looked, my first thought was, is it possible to rebuild all this and, if so, how much time will it take? But he got down to business and he did it. Honestly, I was surprised. I think it was a job well done. I used to think that he was only good at roaming the mountains with an automatic rifle. Not so. No.

You know, when I went there for the first time, my first ever visit to Chechnya (I have already spoken about it), I met with local people at a school. The children had not gone to school for several years. There were no desks and no chairs to sit on. This year alone –  I am not talking about the restoration of Grozny, you know about it better than I do –  16 new schools are going to be opened, the teacher training university is expanding and a new academic building will be opened at Grozny State University.

This year nine hospitals, a maternity centre and a lot of social welfare facilities will open for which there is a great need in Chechnya, of course.  The amount of new housing built in the country as a whole increased by 0.8% in the first half of this year, and in Chechnya it increased by 7.2%. Chechnya, like many other republics, especially in the North Caucasus, is subsidised by the federal budget. And yet, look, the budget has a surplus of six billion in the first half of the year, that is, the revenues exceed spending by six billion. This shows that the economy is properly managed. I am judging it based on agriculture, because agriculture has always been well developed in Chechnya.

You know, when I look at the Russian regions and consider, for example, the increase of meat production, I always look at the next line and I see a drop in the cattle population, as a rule. What does it mean? It means they simply slaughter their cattle. I looked up Chechnya, and the population of cattle is growing, and meat production is growing, and all the other agricultural indicators are growing. I don’t even know the name of the person who is in charge of agriculture here, I never met him in person, but what is being done in that department is being done very well.  

There are problems of course, and they are very acute. Unemployment. The average unemployment rate in Russia as a whole is 1.8% and in Chechnya it is 38%. That is far too high. But on the whole the trend is positive because investments are flowing into industry – Rosneft has some plans there, new industrial clusters are being created. They are even thinking of creating tourist and skiing clusters and so on. If this trend continues – and I think there is more reason to think that it will than to think the opposite – then the number of people out of work will decline. I have no doubt about it.

Question: Hajji Akhmad and Ramzan Kadyrov are father and son. Do you think they are like each other? You have worked with Akhmad Kadyrov and you are now working with Ramzan Kadyrov.

Vladimir Putin: They look alike, a little. Actually, their characters are similar, both are determined and upright. But Ramzan, of course, is a young man, still a fairly young man, so, let us be frank about it, he is a more modern man and a more modern leader. And of course he has acquired and is improving his economic management skills. Again, it came as a surprise to me that he can get to the heart of the matter and follow through on his plans, which is very important because many of our people start off with a bang, but then quit halfway. And that is very important. What matters is the final result and not the process.

Question: Our conversation is revolving around Akhmad Kadyrov because he would have turned 60 today. I would like to ask you one more question. When you decided to introduce Ramzan Kadyrov into politics was it partly a tribute to the memory of his father? Or did you see the makings of a leader in him even then?

Vladimir Putin: Initially I did it because Hajji Akhmad asked me to. He told me: “Take a better look at him, he is a good guy and he shows a lot of promise.” He did not press me on it. Incidentally, I think you should know and all the people in Chechnya should know that Hajji Akhmad never asked me to appoint his son as the leader of the republic, he never asked me upfront. In general he did not lobby for him and did not push him. He said only once: “Pay attention to him. He is a good guy.” What I did later was based on my observations and the observations of my colleagues of how Ramzan works.

Question: What you said about him never asking for anything reminded me of something: I worked at a news agency at the time and he said that when he was still the Mufti, you offered him a two-bedroom flat in Moscow, you said you would ask Luzhkov to make a flat available. He replied: “No, people in my Republic would not like it. People have lost their homes and if I get a flat in Moscow they would not understand it.” Nevertheless he was grateful to you.  

It’s well known that you are a great athlete: you do judo, skiing and scuba diving, and you went to the Ussuri taiga … You frequently go skiing, and you have mentioned the tourist cluster. You have been to many places in Chechnya, if a ski resort is built will you come to Chechnya to ski? It would give a big boost to the Chechnya if you try it personally…

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. I like mountains. They are beautiful. I hope this plan will be carried through and I will certainly come there to ski.

Question: Today is August 23, a jubilee day. What are your most vivid memories of Akhmad Kadyrov as a person?

Vladimir Putin: That has to be our first meeting. It left the most vivid impression.  

Question: Tell me about it.

Vladimir Putin: I have recounted that episode many times, I don’t want to repeat myself. I had invited him as a member of a delegation of muftis in Russia – mostly from the North Caucasus.

When I asked my colleagues to invite everybody, including the Chechen mufti, I was told: “The Chechen mufti won’t come.” I said, “Well, if he doesn’t it’s up to him, but we must invite him.” Well, he came. It was our first meeting. Later I asked him to come to my office and we talked for about 15 minutes, but I learnt a lot about the man. Sometimes I could not understand his attitude to the questions I asked him, he was very withdrawn. But then we met a second and a third time, and as we came to trust each other on a personal level, he said during one of our meetings: I have lived through a lot, I have understood many things and I am convinced that if Chechnya is to develop normally and if people are to feel comfortable and secure, are to live decently and feel free to preach their kind of Islam, Chechnya must remain with Russia.

Question: I would like to address another topic. People in Chechnya and in other parts of the North Caucasus are worried that some politicians, political scientists and others have recently been saying that the North Caucasus should be cut off from Russia. I won’t pursue it any further. It’s a familiar subject by now…

Vladimir Putin: Anyone who says that should have their bits cut off, because they do not know what they are talking about. As soon as a country starts to reject some problem territories (even really problematic ones) that is the beginning of the end of the whole country. I don’t want to go into detail, but to me this is obvious. Hajji Akhmad was right, he was absolutely right that some small republics in the North Caucasus could not exist as independent states. They would be dominated immediately culturally and economically by some forces from bordering states or further abroad. They will then be used as an instrument to shake Russia. And what would be the situation inside Russia? Nothing good, only misfortune and tragedy.

Question: We often hear Ramzan Kadyrov saying that he will be indebted to you all his life not only as the country’s leader, as president and as prime minister, but as a person because at that moment you not only introduced him to politics, on the day he lost his father and was then at the age 25 or 26 left without his brother … He says he doesn’t know how his own future or the future of the Republic would have turned out… What is your reaction to these words?

Vladimir Putin: I hear the words of the son of a man with whom I had developed –  in the final years of his life – a real personal friendship, which I am convinced played a huge positive role in the life of the Chechen people and in the life of Russia. It was thanks to his position that the situation in Chechnya, I mean the war, turned around. I think Ramzan carries on his cause. You see, we are all human and we all have our weaknesses and strengths. Like any person, Ramzan may have his problems. But he is an honest man, that’s for sure, and I value this a great deal.

Question: I remember that you said in Grozny that Russia is the best friend of the Muslim world and if I am not mistaken, you repeated these words in Kuala-Lumpur.

Vladimir Putin: Exactly.

Question: In your opinion, does the Muslim community in Russia play a strong enough role in the life of our society or do you think it should be more active? What is its role?

Vladimir Putin: First of all, I should say that Russia is a secular state.

Question: Yes, of course.

Vladimir Putin: Nevertheless, we have four official religions that coexist under the law. Islam is one of the official religions. It is not something imported from abroad; Islam is one of the traditional religions of the peoples of Russia, and the people who preach Islam, as I have said, are the citizens of this country, they have no other country. Unfortunately, problems often arise in interethnic relations. They have been increasing lately. I think the state should act in the following way: we should ensure that irrespective of faith or nationality every citizen abides by the law whether he is Christian or Muslim, Russian, Chechen, Tatar, Bashkir, or whatever. If he breaks the law he must answer for it under the law. The state must ensure safety and a fair deal for the people who abide by the law and the people with whom they live.

Question: You are an authority for the Chechen youth; you have a fan club in Chechnya. What message would you like to send to the young people of Chechnya?  

Vladimir Putin: I would like them to do everything they can to stabilise the situation and promote stabilisation in the republic. To help Chechnya take its rightful place within Russia, through its achievements in sport, healthcare and culture. I want the representatives of the people of Chechnya to stand up for a stronger Russia in general and to represent its interests both inside and outside the country. You know, I am convinced that young Chechens, the young people who live in Chechnya, have everything it takes to do that.

Remark: Thank you very much for this interview. I would very much like the next interview to take place in Grozny. I hope you will find time to visit the Chechen Republic. You come to the republic often and you are a welcome guest there – welcome to the youth and to all Chechens. You are a welcome guest in the Chechen Republic. Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you and all the best to you.

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