Elena Milashina. Photo by Anna Artemeva / Novaya Gazeta.

Journalist who recently fled Russia talks of the brutality of the Chechen regime. 

Elena Milashina, an investigative reporter for the Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, recently reported on the vendetta launched by Ramzan Kadyrov, the regional head of Chechnya, against the family of former judge Saidi Yangulbayev because of their criticism of Kadyrov’s rule. Following those reports, Kadyrov made several personal threats against Milashina, branding her a “terrorist.” A powerful Russian official has also been attacking Novaya Gazeta on several grounds, demanding that a criminal case be opened against the newspaper. Novaya Gazeta made the decision last week to send Milashina abroad for her own safety. Before her departure, Milashina appeared on the newspaper’s podcast “What’s New?” to discuss her perspective on what’s happening in Chechnya, as well as the fate of Yangulbayev’s wife, Zarema Musayeva, who was detained and forcibly returned to the republic. Novaya Gazeta highlighted some of Milashina’s most powerful quotes from the episode.

On the “Wolves Creed” Telegram Channel

Kadyrov’s hatred of the Yangulbayev family stemmed from the participation of the judge’s son — Ibragim — in the “Wolves Creed” Telegram channel, which shed light on the many human rights abuses committed by the Chechen authorities. After imprisonment and torture, he has since fled Russia and now operates the channel from abroad. Of its success, Milashina says:

“They have a huge number of sources and cover almost all of Chechnya. So if the channel is talking about a particular district, even a village, they can find information about how many people were, say, illegally detained in that district […] They have a large database of information in Chechnya and they train people, especially young people, on how to get information about what is happening in Chechnya and to make it public.”

On Reinforcing Stereotypes

The Chechen authorities are digging their own grave, says Milashina:

They “do not realize that with each step they take they make their attitude toward Chechnya and the Chechen people even worse. What is happening now is an absolutely barbaric violation of all the foundations of, Chechen, Caucasia, and Muslim society.” 

… And on Trying to Break Them Down 

“I am doing everything I am doing so that the citizens who live in Russia understand that the people in the Chechnya region are still enduring Stalinist times.” She adds that she aims to help citizens outside of Chechnya “not to associate Chechen people with that small handful of people who hold the power there.”

On the Fate of Zarema Musayeva

While the publicity around the case may afford her some protection, Milashina worries for Musayeva’s safety since women held hostage by the Chechen authorities often suffer rape as well as beatings:

“[In Chechen culture] a woman is a saint and must not be touched. According to Islam, one must not look at a foreign woman, much less beat her. Rape is what is happening now and it is an absolutely barbaric violation of all the foundations of both Chechen and Caucasian and Muslim society.”

On Putin’s Silence

The attempted detention of Judge Yangulbayev and the successful detention of his wife show the complicity of the Russian federal authorities in Kadyrov’s campaign of persecution. Of the Kremlin’s failure to reign him in, Milashina says:

“The longer Putin doesn’t say anything, the more emboldened Kadyrov becomes, the more barbaric his statements and those of the security officials nearest to him.” She adds that the Kremlin’s disregard for violations committed by the Chechen authorities belies their own insistence that Chechnya is an inalienable part of Russia.

“It’s a demonstration that one and a half million people of Chechen ethnicity are not really citizens of the country. Then, wait a minute, what kind of territorial integrity are you talking about? You’re dividing the people yourselves […] You can’t separate Chechen people from Russia like this. Everyone is protected, or no one is protected.”

BACKSTORY. Ramzan Kadyrov has been the head of the Chechen Republic since 2007 and has gained a reputation for ruthlessness and political repression. He is the son of former Chechen President Akhmed Kadyrov, who was assassinated in 2004. He is a staunch supporter of President Putin, while also building his own power base and personality cult. He is considered by many as the second most powerful politician in the Russian Federation, and has frequently styled himself as the representative of the country’s some 20 million Muslim citizens. Many of those who have dared to oppose him have ended up in prison or murdered. He is, for example, widely believed to be behind the murder of human rights campaigner Natalia Estemirova in 2009. He has also presided over the systematic persecution of LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya, infamously claiming that the republic has “no gay people.”

You can listen to Milashina’s podcast interview in full here, as well as see a full transcript (in Russian). This article was originally published in Novaya Gazeta. Produced and reprinted with the support of the Russian Language News Exchange. To find out more on how to support Novaya Gazeta’s coverage, see their membership plan