Karim Zidan looks at the ongoing blood feud that resulted in MMA fighter Murad Amriev being tortured and forced to flee from Chechen special forces.
On the morning of June 6, 2017, Murad Amriev was escorted from a temporary holding cell to the prosecutor’s office in Bryansk, Russia. Under arrest for allegedly carrying a forged document, the former amateur MMA champion faced far worse than a traditional prison sentence. Amriev was a person of particular interest to the Chechen special forces, who have been searching for him since he fled the republic in 2013. Despite being detained in the Bryansk Oblast (region), the fighter was facing possible extradition back to Chechnya.
While Amriev awaited his ill-gotten fate within the graying building, Chechen commandos and Interior Ministry officers dressed in civilian clothing reportedly began to surround the building. Some stood around menacingly in black masks — automatic weapons in hand — and refused to answer to any local authorities. One among them revealed that Kadyrov’s personal operatives have the right to detain suspicious citizens across the Russian Federation. Amriev was to be no exception.
One of the Chechen commandos approached Amriev’s lawyer, Peter Zaikin, when standing in the prosecutor’s office and rudely revealed that the client in question is “on the federal wanted list.” When asked by the lawyer for the basis upon which the Chechen authorities made that claim, the response was firm and aggressive. “Who cares!” spat the commando.
The Chechen operatives’ presence made one thing absolutely certain: if the prosecutor didn’t extradite Amriev back to Grozny, they would take matters into their own hands.
Following a few tense hours, the prosecutor determined that Amriev was free to leave the building and would not be extradited back to Grozny, thus ensuring he did not fall into the hands of a government that would act with impunity towards him. The prosecutor’s decision coupled with the commando’s sheer contempt for Amriev’s lawyer led to a verbal altercation between the Chechens and the defence. The commotion lasted a few minutes, leaving Amriev with enough time to sprint out of the building and dive into his relatives’ car, who immediately stormed off.
The sense of impending doom lifted. Amriev had narrowly escaped Kadyrov’s forces. And yet, a longstanding blood feud and his status as a wanted man in Chechnya ensures that the threat on his life remains an all-too-realistic possibility.
Blood Feud Revived
Murad Amriev’s problems began two days earlier when he was forced to return to Russia to extend the foreign visa that would allow him to reside abroad. After deciding to take the train back to his home country, he was detained at Suzemka railway station, the first Russian stop past the Ukrainian border.
Once local Bryansk authorities claimed the amateur MMA champion’s name was on the federal wanted list, Amriev was placed in a temporary detention center by Russian police who suspected him of carrying a forged travel document. While the Chechen athlete sat and awaited his fate, he was informed that he faced possible extradition back to Chechnya. It became evidently clear that Amriev’s detention came at the request of Chechen law enforcement who had been searching for him since 2013.
According to the Novaya Gazeta, the independent newspaper that reported on Kadyrov’s gay purge over the past few months, Amriev’s troubles are rooted in a personal conflict with a local Chechen police officer. The report suggests that the aforementioned police officer was likely the head of Grozny’s police force, Magomed Dashaev. Back in 2013, Dashaev had accused Amriev’s older brother of an attempt on his life, though was unable to act on it because the brother resided in Germany and was outside of his jurisdiction. Instead, the officer invoked a blood feud and transferred the burden of punishment onto younger brother Murad.
As a result, Amriev was kidnapped on August 25, 2013, and thrown into a black car with his own t-shirt covering his head. He was taken to a secret detention centre and was tortured repeatedly in order to sign a statement accusing his brother of attempted assassination. Despite being handcuffed to the ceiling for two days, where he was brutally beaten and electrocuted simply for being related to a suspect, Amriev refused to sign the statement.
Following 48 hours of excruciating treatment, Amriev was escorted back to his family home by Chechen law enforcement. They informed his parents that if the older brother did not return to face the consequences of his supposed actions, the entire burden would fall on Murad. In short, the senior police officer had declared Amriev his natural enemy.
Fearing for his life after the police officer invoked the blood feud, Amriev approached the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and was forced to flee his country. He moved to Ukraine and took up professional MMA, where he compiled a 3-0 record by 2015. However, he was placed on the Russian federal wanted list in 2014 after Chechen authorities claimed his travel documents were forged.
The forgery charges stemmed from an actual typo on on Amriev’s re-issued birth certificate, which his mother applied for after their house was bombed in 2000 during the Second Chechen War. His birth year is now listed as 1986 instead of 1985, and he has been unable to change it ever since. This minor infraction allowed Chechen authorities to place Amriev on the wanted list and ensure that he would be detained if he ever returned to Russia.
A Case Study in Kadyrov’s Sphere of Influence
While Amriev’s case highlights the dangers of being targeted by Chechen law enforcement officers motivated by personal revenge, it also emphasizes the extreme freedom with which longtime head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov acts throughout the Russian Federation.
The arrival of plain-clothed Chechen special forces and masked commandos in the Bryansk region – over 1800 km away from their jurisdiction in Chechnya – was an alarming display of Kadyrov’s autonomy from Kremlin command, as well as the influence he enjoys over Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. It also served as a reminder that Kadyrov’s private army, infamously known as the Kadyrovtsy, remain a terrifying force within Russian circles.
The Kadyrovtsy emerged during the First Chechen War in the early 1990s as an armed militia fiercely loyal to the Kadyrov clan. Formed by Ramzan’s father, Akhmad Kadyrov, the unit expanded to include former rebels from the two Chechen wars and transformed into a presidential security service by 2003, sworn to protect the republic’s president. They were even formally integrated into the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) before Akhmad Kadyrov’s assassination in 2004.
During his rise to power, Ramzan Kadyrov made use of the units that remained loyal to his clan. They even took part in an armed conflict against the forces of former president Alu Alkhanov. Reports in 2005 from the late, great Anna Politkovskaya showed examples of how the Kadyrovtsy were mutilating dead bodies by severing their heads and suspending them from pipelines before taking pictures with their mobile phones. Matters only got worse by the time Ramzan Kadyrov officially became president in 2007, as he had gained control over the informal network of militia units as well as the MVD.
By 2008, Kadyrov had eliminated remaining rivals like Movladi Baysarov, who controlled competitor units like the Gorets force, and reorganized the Kadyrovtsy to a single controlled leadership loyal only to him. Ever since, the fearsome private army has been accused of torture, kidnapping, murder, and rape. They enforce Kadyrov’s oppressive regime and cement his absolute rule through fear mongering and violence.
And though exact figures of the private army remain unconfirmed, estimates suggest that the Kadyrovtsy are 10,000 to 20,000 members strong.
While Amriev’s case is hardly the most notable or well-publicized example of the Kadyrovtsy operating outside of the Chechen Republic, it is yet another reminder that Kadyrov, the man Putin personally nominated to pacify Chechnya, is outgrowing the Kremlin’s control.