Adam Kadyrov
Adam Kadyrov
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The Teenage Sons Of Kremlin-Backed Chechen Leader Ramzan Kadyrov Are In The Spotlight. Why?

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At first glance, he looks like any other high-school boy in tough-guy clothes and a backwards baseball cap.

But Adam Kadyrov is no typical teen, at least in terms of his background. He is one of the many children of Ramzan Kadyrov, the notorious Kremlin-appointed ruler of Russia’s Chechnya region — and, lately, the one who seems to be making the most headlines.

That prominence is largely the result of attention lavished on the 15-year-old and actions ascribed to him by state media in Chechnya and, to a lesser extent, in Moscow.

He is portrayed as a brave youth who has fought in Russia’s war against Ukraine and captured a Ukrainian soldier; received an award for combatting terrorism; and defeated Russian special forces in a tactical shooting championship.

The main state channel in Chechnya’s capital, Grozny, regularly covers Adam and his two older brothers — Akhmat, 17, and Zelimkhan, or Eli, 16 — as they accompany their father to official events and meetings or travel with him around the region.

Long-standing rumors about Kadyrov’s health have been swirling faster than ever in recent days, generating talk of what might happen if the strongman who has dominated the region for more than 15 years dies or is incapacitated. The uncertainty has added to questions about the purpose and political ramifications of the publicity afforded to his children.

Awards, honors, and accolades handed out to Kadyrov’s children serve as a warning from Kadyrov and his allies to anyone with political ambitions, Chechen political analyst Ruslan Kutayev said.

It is a “signal” from Kadyrov’s circle “not to play games” because “no one intends to put you in power,” he told RFE/RL. “It will remain with the Kadyrov children.”

How strongly that signal resonates is not clear. Analysts say that Kadyrov’s death could set off a struggle for power that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government would try very hard to control, and the Kremlin’s plans for such a development are unknown.

Putin appointed Kadyrov, now 46, as president of Chechnya in 2007. Critics say the Kremlin has turned a blind eye to what critics allege are widespread human rights abuses and violations of the Russian Constitution by Kadyrov and those under his control because Putin relies on the former rebel commander to control separatist sentiment and violence in Chechnya, the site of two devastating post-Soviet wars and an Islamist insurgency that spread to other mostly Muslim regions in the North Caucasus.

The Kremlin-appointed ruler of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov (center), with his nephew Khamzat and sons Akhmat, Zelimkhan, and Adam (from left to right).
The Kremlin-appointed ruler of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov (center), with his nephew Khamzat and sons Akhmat, Zelimkhan, and Adam (from left to right).

It’s not entirely clear how many children Kadyrov has. Some reports and biographies have put the number at 10, but other sources have put it at 14, and Kadyrov has suggested that is accurate. In July, when the United States imposed sanctions on Kadyrov, his wife, and his two eldest daughters, he was quoted as saying he had 12 other children as well.

Three of Kadyrov’s daughters hold government posts: 24-year-old Aishat is Chechnya’s culture minister; Khadizhat, 23, oversees the regional health-care system; and Khutmat, 20, acts as deputy head of Kadyrov’s secretariat.

But Akhmat, Zelimkhan, and Adam have gotten more attention than most of their siblings.

In March, a day before his wedding, Akhmat met with Putin one-on-one in Moscow, fueling rumors that Kadyrov and the Kremlin were preparing for his succession.

Kadyrov rejected the speculation about his health, as he has attempted to do this month, too, and described Akhmat’s discussion with Putin as an unofficial conversation about youth policy in the North Caucasus.

Akhmat — named for his grandfather, a former rebel fighter who became the region’s Kremlin-backed leader and was assassinated in 2004, paving the way for his son Ramzan’s ascent — has headed an umbrella movement of Chechen youth organizations set up by the Russian Education Ministry.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Akhmat Kadyrov at the Kremlin in March.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Akhmat Kadyrov at the Kremlin in March.

Zelimkhan has also made headlines. In December 2022, he had what was billed as his “professional debut” as a lightweight boxer for his father’s Absolute Championship Akhmat-Mixed Martial Arts (ACA-MMA) organization. His profile, however, only shows the one fight to date.

Some of the attention that Adam has gotten has been distinctly unflattering, at least in the eyes of many people outside Chechen and Russian government circles.

Reported displays of violence, reminiscent of the brutality that human rights activists and Western governments charge form the creed of his father’s rule, shape his public image.

On August 16, Russian ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova wrote in a post on Telegram that a man jailed in Chechnya for allegedly burning a copy of the Koran, Nikita Zhuravel, had complained that Adam Kadyrov had visited his cell and beaten him.

After visiting Zhuravel in prison, Chechen ombudsman Mansur Soltayev said that the prisoner had claimed that, during a meeting with Ramzan and Adam Kadyrov, Adam had beaten his arms and legs after the elder Kadyrov had left the cell.

At Moskalkova’s request, Soltayev, baselessly claiming that the authorities in Chechnya respect human rights “at the highest level,” said that he would investigate the complaint about Adam’s behavior, but the results of this investigation are not known.

Meanwhile, Kadyrov’s cousin and ally, Adam Delimkhanov, a senior member of the security and anti-corruption committee in Russia’s lower parliament house, the State Duma, praised the teenager’s reported conduct, saying on Telegram that he had “even acted very humanely” since Zhuravel is still alive.

In addition to the Koran-burning charge, Russian investigators have claimed that Zhuravel, a native of Ukraine, was paid to photograph Russia military sites for the Ukrainian secret services.

Adam Kadyrov is seen during an exhibition boxing match in September 2020 in Grozny.
Adam Kadyrov is seen during an exhibition boxing match in September 2020 in Grozny.

Kadyrov claims to have dispatched some 26,000 troops to fight in Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the country in February 2022. Displays meant to indicate that his children share his enthusiasm for the campaign are part of what critics call a show.

In October 2022, when he was 14, Adam purportedly visited the front line in Ukraine’s Donetsk region along with Akhmat and Zelimkhan. A social media video shows the three boys sitting in a small trench and shooting from automatic rifles and a grenade launcher. Gunfire is heard in the distance, but no shots reach the teens.

visual comparison of two videos from this trip suggests that the boys actually were a few kilometers from the front line.

Kadyrov, however, later claimed on Telegram that each of his sons had come back from the front with a captured Ukrainian soldier. In video footage of the alleged POWs, the three boys wore matching sunglasses and carried matching automatic rifles; Adam and Akhmat wore clothes inscribed with “K13” and “Dustum,” references to their father.

A month later, Adam went through a traditional coming-of-age ceremony.

On Telegram, his father said the milestone entails “flawlessly” following the “code of honor” of a “kyonakh” — a Chechen honorific that translates as a “worthy man” or a “hero.”

To mark the transition, Adam received a dagger and traditional tall woolen hat called a papakha. His father asserted that the youngster must “raise the [dagger] for the sake of defense of religion, honor, and his homeland.”

nation, honoring your word, and aspiring for justice.

“Adam absolutely did not deserve this name from the fact that he wore a papakha and tied on an expensive belt with a dagger hanging from it,” said Kutayev, who is chairman of the Assembly of Caucasus Peoples, a group of independent regional experts.

Yet since his coming-of-age ceremony, Adam, photographed illegally driving a car in Dubai in February, has acquired ever more adult roles — at least officially.

Fifteen-year-old Adam Kadyrov behind the wheel in Dubai.
Fifteen-year-old Adam Kadyrov behind the wheel in Dubai.

In March, the Chechen Interior Ministry awarded Adam and Akhmat merit badges “for distinction in the fight against terrorism.” There was no explanation of any specific grounds for the awards.

Later that month, Adam, accompanying his father, appeared in footage from a site near the eastern town of Gudermes where Chechen special forces had killed two alleged militants said to have been suspected of planning an attack on law enforcement. Contrary to Russian law, which does not allow individuals under the age of 21 to carry weapons outside of military service, the youngster, clad in a bulletproof vest, was shown carrying a U.S.-made automatic rifle.

That role-playing continued in late August, when Adam joined a security force controlled by his father to compete in the Chechen city of Gudermes against special-forces teams from throughout Russia in shooting, an obstacle course, hand-to-hand combat, and driving armored and other vehicles.

Though the team did not place in the final rankings, Adam was given a medal “for leadership qualities.”

Adam and his brothers have encountered controversy before for competing underage in a martial-arts event organized by their father’s Fight Club Akhmat, or, in one of Adam’s boxing matches, being declared the winner after a nonexistent “knockout.”

But the honors keep coming, as they have for years.

In 2013, Chechen religious scholars named 6-year-old Adam “Russia’s youngest hafiz,” referring to a person who has memorized the Koran by heart — a feat that can take adults years to accomplish.

Written by Elizabeth Owen based on reporting by Andrei Besedin and other contributors to RFE/RL’s Caucasus.Realities.

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