Kadyrov in China
Click through and watch the very strange embedded video, a video posted both to Ramzan Kadyrov’s Telegram channel and later to the Chinese language RT Weibo, on both of which it received a lot of positive reactions:
在过去的一百年里，美国和欧洲在世界各地组织了数十次战争、军事政变和入侵。 数百万平民成为他们的受害者。 然而，现在他们带来了更可怕的威胁，即摧毁人类存在期间各国人民形成的所有道德价值观。 他们想把我们变成容易被操纵的动物。…
If you didn’t click through, I’ll spoil it: perhaps the only video to go from Hitler to furries in under 15 seconds, it artfully juxtaposes images of Macron, Scholz, and Biden with Hitler, and juxtaposes that with footage from gay pride parades and Danish protests about the Muhammed cartoon affair.
In a sense, it’s a standard Russian grievance with an Islamic twist — it mixes real and culture wars, NATO and LGBTQ rights, together; on the voiceover there’s talk of the ‘Satanic’ west, a culture that encourages children to change genders, both talking points of one of Putin’s speeches last year.
But the Islamic twist at least calls for answers. And the fact that it was well-received on Chinese social media calls for answers. And the fact that Putin stalwart Kadyrov’s text, accompanying the videos, was in Chinese, well that definitely calls for answers. As far as I can tell, he has never posted a message in another language, even his native Chechen. Why post in Chinese?
I don’t have answers, but the question is interesting and instructive to consider. Some background first.
Ramzan Kadyrov is one of the most notable figures in Russian culture. Leader of the Chechen republic and general, his twin loyalties, often expressed in Telegram texts and sleepy-looking video messages, punctuated, on a phrase-by-phrase level, with the Chechen interjection ‘don’, are to Putin and to Allah. These are received enormously positively by his three million followers (of necessity: Kadyrov, unusually for such figures, avoids any possibility of negative reactions (☹️,👎) by simply not allowing viewers to use negative emoji!), and he gets a lot of attention from other leading propagandists like Solovyov who often re-post and praise him.
There’s already material for confusion here: are the twin loyalties to Putin and to Allah compatible?
The answer, seemingly, is yes. There is of course a lot of history here (Kadyrov started off in the first Chechen war fighting against Russia, only to change sides later.) This isn’t the place to recount it; suffice to say, perhaps, that Putin and Kadyrov converge on the defense of ‘traditional values’ and the value of Russia, and that is enough, it seems, to make their allegiance steady.
This in itself is interesting. It’s natural to think that among political archetypes there are those in favour of minorities and their rights and those against them, and no mixed case. But Putin is such a mixed case, being extremely against sexual-orientation minorities but coming to the defense of religious minorities. One thus gets the weird phenomenon of Putin rebuffing Blair when the latter tried to convert him to the fight against radical Islam; or again the weird phenomenon that Putin comes out better on the Islamophobic scale than many think Navalny, with his infamous cockroach video, does (it’s impossible to find a further reading about this that isn’t slanted but one could start here).
Thinking about the role of Kadyrov is useful, then, for breaking preconceptions and for getting a sense of what, in a multipolar world, compatible poles are: thus we have (some) Muslims and (some) Russian conservatives (perhaps ‘Putinists’ is better) as a coherent group in a way we might not have a priori expected.
My last couple of posts have been implicitly about this idea of multipolarity, and in particular about China-Russian relations as portrayed in the English, Russian, and Chinese language versions of RT. In looking at the latter, I noticed a strange thing, which is the topic of this post — Kadyrov is popular among the sinophone readers.
Kadyrov in China
In the last roughly two months there are 12 stories that at least mention Kadyrov, and a good chunk of them show his smiling face. They get roughly 500 likes which — though I’m just eyeballing it here — is considerably above the average number of likes which seems to be around 100. Notably, the posting of the video (which loses its voiceover when it moves to Weibo, making it even more surreal) above gets a whopping 1851 likes, which I think is the most I’ve seen ever (though I haven’t looked that much.)
Thus, just to illustrate: the story mentioned in my last post of him supposedly returning a Ukrainian POW’s dog gets around 500 likes; as does a video of him answering a question from a Chinese person about the morality of lying and saving face; as does a video of him proving his fitness in a television studio by doing pressups, and a image of him taking a selfie with Putin gets over 1,000 likes. Chinese readers seem to like him!
This is again preconception-breaking. Would you have thought a priori that Kadryov would be big in China? (more accurately: big among that presumably somewhat weird subset of Chinese people who get their Russia news from RT.) Surely the answer is no!
And then we can note the already mentioned strange fact that Kadyrov’s post accompanying the video was in Chinese —that suggests, albeit far from conclusively, that he’s attempting to do something like coalition building with like-minded people. And — further from conclusively! — it suggests, perhaps, that he things the familiar Russian rhetorical strategy of yoking of actual and culture wars, NATO and trans people, is the way to base such a coalition.
China likes Kadyrov and Kadyrov, maybe, likes China. Maybe. That’s odd.
Why is this interesting? Partly just because it’s strange, but more: if you’d have asked me before I looked at this whether (some) Muslims, (some) Russians, and (some) Chinese make for a good alliance, I probably would have doubted you. But social media suggests differently: the twin facts that Kadyrov chose to post this particular anti-West video with Chinese commentary, and that it was so well received by sinophone readers, along with the pre-existing and baffling popularity of Kadyrov on RT Weibo, suggests it might have potential as an alliance, and, perhaps (and more tentatively), that the blending of culture and real wars (Hitler to furries in 15 seconds!) is, bizarrely, the common ground linking these otherwise very different groups.