Child Fights Get Chechen Dictator Slap on the Wrist From Russian Bureaucrats

Fightland Blog

By Josh Rosenblatt

Photo by Alexi Druzhinin/Ria Novosti/EPA

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when aiming to punish a theocratic dictator with a reputation for murdering journalists and human rights advocates and for using torture, death squads, political assassination, and public humiliation to buttress his cult of personality and maintain his grip on a terrified populace, the most effective tool is a sternly worded letter from a government agency. There’s nothing that terrifies a despot more than bureaucracy.

Earlier this week the Ministry of Sports of the Russian Federation sent just such a letter to Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov and his fight promotion, World Fighting Championships of Akhmat, as punishment for the underage fights the promotion put on two weeks ago in the Chechen capital of Grozny. At that event, Kadyrov’s three sons (the oldest of whom is 11) fought other children without protective gear. The fights, which Kadyrov and his cronies celebrated afterwards as demonstrations of budding Chechen masculinity, were widely condemned by the international community as barbaric, inspired disgust on Russian state media, prompted an investigation by the Russian Sports Ministry, and even raised the concern of Russian President (and longtime Kadyrov supporter) Vladimir Putin, raising the possibility of a schism between the two strongmen. That Putin’s buddy Fedor Emelianenko was subjected to a barrage of online hate and humiliation from Kadyrov henchmen after the legendary fighter and president of the Russian MMA Federation condemned the child fights surely only served to exacerbate the incident and anger Putin.

So, on Tuesday, Putin’s bureaucracy struck back, calling out Akhmat MMA for violating Russian MMA Union rules that state children must be at least 12 to compete in MMA fights, and that any fighters under the age of 18 must wear protective gear. In addition the Ministry of Sports found that the October 4 event was not on the calendar of planned athletic events in Chechnya for 2016, meaning the show was unregulated and unlicensed.  According to a press release sent out by the Ministry of Russian Sports after the meeting Russian officials recommended as punishment that the Ministry of the Chechen Republic for Physical Culture and Sport “continue to coordinate their conduct with the Ministry of Sports of Russia and the All-Russian sports federations,” and also sent a letter reminding Akhmat of the “inadmissibility” of any sporting events that don’t comply with the rules of the Russian Federation. (With thanks to Google Translate.)

Though such bureaucratic wrist-slapping might seem like ridiculous punishment for a violent autocrat like Ramzan Kadyrov, a man who controls a personal militia of 30,000 soldiers and has 2 million followers on social media and who has turned his obsession with masculinity into a national fetish, it’s impossible to know what the deeper message behind a letter coming from the government of Kadyrov’s rabbi in Russia, Putin, might be. Karim Zidan has a great breakdown of the relationship between the two leaders on Bloody Elbow, but the gist seems to be that Kadyrov likely wouldn’t have power for long without Putin’s support but that the Chechen leader has grown his own cult of personality large enough in Chechnya to pose a threat to the stability of the Russian Federation. Plus, as Zidan writes, Kadyrov’s “removal could be a dangerous risk for Russia if Chechnya falls into the hands of another Islamic insurgency. A third Chechen War is not the outcome the Kremlin would prefer to engender from an incident related to a sports event.” The two men, it appears, are stuck with each other.

And so it’s likely that the Ministry of Sports’ sternly worded letter is more than just a sternly worded letter. That there are deeper, more subtle messages being sent here, the kind of messages one would need the ears of a dictator to hear and the mouth of a dictator to speak.  That a slap on the wrist is as good as a gun at your head.


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