Last Wednesday I wrote in this space that Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov put pay to my own feeble attempts at black humor when he said there was “not the slightest doubt” that the assassination of Nemtsov had been the work of the Western secret services. Since then the joke has grown even funnier – so absurd, in fact, have subsequent events made it that continuing last week’s post is an irresistible prospect.
We know that, to the junta that rules Russia, Kadyrov is what the Dadaist painter Marcel Duchamp was to Alfred Jarry’s Collège de Pataphysique – a “transcendent satrap.” Even the congenitally pussyfooting New York Times acknowledged on Saturday that “Mr. Kadyrov and his supporters assumed a highly visible role in the anti-Maidan movement that seeks to block any attempt to recreate in Russia the kind of political upheaval that forced a change in government in neighboring Ukraine…. In a large march through central Moscow on February 21, young supporters of Mr. Kadyrov carried signs saying ‘Putin and Kadyrov will prevent Maidan in Russia’ and ‘It’s the enemies of Russia who want Maidan.’” Indeed, on Sunday the Kremlin bestowed upon Kadyrov an Order of Merit for his “many years of honest work.”
We also know that Kadyrov is absolute master of his domain. No bird can chirp, no blade of grass can stir in Chechnya without his authority and sanction. And yet, suddenly, right on the heels of Kadyrov’s “not the slightest doubt,” comes the news that Moscow’s prime suspect in the assassination of Nemtsov is none other than a highly decorated former commander of his own, Kadyrov’s, “North” interior ministry battalion, one Zaur Dadayev. Suddenly a judge in Moscow opens her tight-lipped mouth and pronounces that “Dadayev’s involvement in committing this crime is confirmed by, apart from his own confession, the totality of evidence gathered as part of this criminal case.” Suddenly it looks like the long arm of the Western secret services has reached into the heart of Kadyrov’s Grozny.
Fret not, sticklers for consistency. Just a day after the assassination, investigators in Moscow were already mentioning the victim’s support of Charie Hebdo as a plausible motive. So now, two weeks later, after five suspects, all Muslims from within Kadyrov’s domain, have been arrested, Kadyrov is no longer certain that the assassination is the work of Western secret services. He must’ve got it wrong. It must’ve been a false rumor. “I have known Zaur Dadayev,” Kadyrov now declares, “as a true Russian patriot… Yet all those acquainted with Zaur can tell you that he is a deeply religious person who, like all Muslims, was shocked by the conduct of Charlie Hebdo… And, I repeat, he could never have taken a step against Russia, for whose sake over the years he risked his life.”
I’ve tracked down the original words of the victim, spoken on Friday, January 9, that are supposed to serve the prosecution in Moscow as the motive for “deeply religious” Dadayev’s homicidal fury. “Murder,” said the accursed enemy of Islam, “is a great sin, even when committed in accordance with the Koran, while satire, even when it offends, is not.” Makes one’s heart boil with righteous indignation, eh, Mr. Kadyrov?
That isn’t the punchline, however. The truly astounding insolence of those who are organizing these sham proceedings lies in the assumption of magical powers by the prosecution in Moscow, which, two weeks before having any suspects in the case, already knew that Nemtsov’s comment on the Charlie Hebdo incident would be the motive of his assassins.
It’s like the Kremlin has a crystal ball, isn’t it? Not since the show trials of the infamous “Trotskyite Gang of Spies, Pests, Subversives, and Assassins” under Stalin has history noted such acts of clairvoyance, at once hilariously absurd and bloodcurdlingly chilling.
Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles. The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator. His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.