February 2, 2016

Ramzan Kadyrov, dog-lover and lion-tamer, has unveiled the latest episode of what the Russian Government likes to call a PR campaign “governed by its own laws.”

1 Crosshairs
Ramzan Kadyrov, the dog-loving leader of Chechnya – a tiny, bankrupt outpost of the Russian Federation, surviving on handouts from Moscow – recently posted on his Instagram page a mash-up video showing Mikhail Kasyanov (leader of the opposition party PARNAS) and Vladimir Kara-Murza (Open Russia coordinator) in the crosshairs of a gun-sight. The title of the clip is “Kasyanov comes to Strasbourg to raise money for the Russian opposition,” and in capital letters, “ANYONE WHO HAS FAILED TO UNDERSTAND SO FAR WILL GET THIS.” Instagram took down the clip, for breaking its terms and conditions, but not before many people had cut and pasted the sniper’s target(s).

The phrase “Anyone who has failed to understand so far will get this” appeared for the first time not so long ago in a Kadyrov Instagram post attached to another video clip in which the Chechen leader posed holding an automatic rifle, and saying that an action-packed Hollywood film with the same title was in preparation. This was in response to an Open Russia documentary film looking at mass corruption in Chechnya and the lawless activities of Kadyrov’s law enforcement forces.

Kadyrov borrowed the phrase “Kasyanov comes to Strasbourg to raise money for the Russian opposition” from the pro-Kremlin media outlet Lifenews, which is where the video frames with Kasyanov and Kara-Murza originated (though Lifenews did not show them in the crosshairs of a gun-sight).

Kasyanov and Kara-Murza regard this new outburst from the Chechen leader as a death threat, and are planning to appeal to law enforcement agencies.

For Kara-Murza, “What we have here is the direct result of the lawlessness surrounding the ostentatious shooting of our comrade, the Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Everyone can see that in one way or another all the threads of this crime lead back to Grozny, but Mr Kadyrov has not even been formally questioned about it although lawyers for Mr Nemtsov’s family requested that he should be. On the contrary, the Kremlin issues regular statements supporting and approving Mr Kadyrov. Just recently, Mr Putin thanked him for his effective work, and the head of the presidential administration Sergei Ivanov said that the Russian government had no issues outstanding with Ramzan Kadyrov.”


In recent weeks, Kadyrov has been making very public threats about opposition leaders

In recent weeks, Kadyrov has been making very public threats about opposition leaders, which have been widely covered in the independent Russian media, but appear not to bother the Russian government. Mikhail Fedotov, head of the human rights department in the presidential administration, said that the video showing the opposition leaders in the crosshairs is no more than a metaphor, and part of a PR campaign, which is “governed by its own laws.”

Not many people would describe Kadyrov’s actions as a PR stunt, which might better be described as a hate speech campaign designed to inflame tensions in Russian society.

Of course, the paradox of the situation is that Putin’s security services have for many years been waging war on dissidence, making speculative use of the article in the Criminal Code, which sets out the punishment for inflaming social, national or ideological hatred. This has gone hand in glove with President Putin talking about the need for national reconciliation and unity.

When asked what was the Kremlin’s view of the crosshairs video, Dmitry Peskov, presidential spokesman, shrugged and said that they do not follow Kadyrov’s utterances on social media. But society does; the radical supporters of today’s Russian government exult, leaving approving, hate-filled commentaries under Kadyrov’s Instagram posts, while the opposition-minded part of society rages at the almost overt calls to violence.

Hatred has become so easy to manufacture in Putin’s Russia

Hatred has become so easy to manufacture in Putin’s Russia that it has spread beyond Chechnya and the walls of pro-Kremlin media outlets. Hatred rules on the street too. It is nothing out of the ordinary for ‘street politicians’ to attack opposition activists. You Tube shows an elderly protester being attacked by a group of heavies, only a step away from the Kremlin. At larger-scale anti-war demonstrations, the groups of attackers are bigger. And they are never called to account.

The Russian government impresses on its people that revolution would risk “civil war and the destruction of the state as it did in Ukraine.” And yet, in attempting to protect itself from revolution, the government seems willing to drag the country into the very thing it claims to abhor.

So yes, Mr Kadyrov, we get it. But apparently, you don’t.