At the start of the war in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin ordered Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to occupy Kyiv’s government quarters and assassinate the Ukrainian president, Ukrainian intelligence and security officials allege.
When Mr. Putin needed more soldiers on fast-crumbling front lines, the warlord rounded up thousands of men, sometimes forcibly, and sent them in, according to Chechen residents.
Now, following successive Russian retreats, Mr. Kadyrov’s men are disciplining dejected Russian troops at the front and rooting out alleged spies in occupied Ukrainian territories—sometimes resorting to torture, Ukrainian officials and human-rights organizations say.
Since the start of the invasion, Mr. Putin has relied on ranks of military officers, businessmen and rogue actors to deliver what the Kremlin needs most to sustain its prolonged offensive: money, training and manpower.
One of the most loyal figures in the president’s war effort has been Mr. Kadyrov, who has publicly called himself Mr. Putin’s foot soldier.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the Russian leader ordered the Chechen warlord to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, calling the assertion “absolutely absurd, baseless and false.” Mr. Kadyrov didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Putin has tapped Russia’s vast budget over decades to prop up Mr. Kadyrov, according to documents and interviews with Ukrainian officials and people close to the Kremlin. Now, the 46-year-old Chechen warlord is straining to deliver on the Russian leader’s critical wartime demands.
The relationship—one of the most important in Russia—demonstrates the risks and rewards that come with helping prop up Mr. Putin’s system. [Continue reading…]