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The New Arab

Leading UAE royal courts controversial Chechen leader

Ramzan Kadyrov is one of Russia's most powerful men [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 November, 2016

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Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov met Abu Dhabi's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in the UAE on Sunday, during a visit by Putin's ally to watch the Grand Prix.
Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov held a meeting with leading Emirati royal Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan at his hotel during a visit to watch Sunday's Formula 1 race in the Gulf state.

The controversial Chechen leader was received by Nahyan at the Yas Viceroy Hotel in Abu Dhabi, where the two discussed "friendship and cooperation" and "strengthening ties".

Pro-Moscow Kadyrov is in the UAE to watch the Abu Dhabi Formula 1, which is being held at Yas Marina racetrack over the weekend, according to The National.

Dressed in casual dark camouflage gear, Kadyrov spoke with the deputy head of the Emirates' armed forces on race day.

Kadyrov has met UAE chiefs several times and once alleged that Abu Dhabi offered $50,000 for start-ups in Chechnya.

He has also called for the UAE to invest in Chechnya, as a gateway to Russia.

The meeting is likely to anger some opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the UAE, where support for Syrian rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad and Russia remain strong.

"Putin's man"

Kadyrov has been criticised by human rights groups for the brutal suppression of critics in Chechnya, while activists say the former rebel leader rules the territory like a "personal fiefdom".

Kadyrov has been personally accused of torture and murder, and is a vocal supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The leader of the Muslim-Russian province has also spoke in favour of Russia's bombing of Syria, and offered troops to help bolster the regime's armed forces.

Russia's campaign in Syria has seen Moscow damage ties with Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia. 

Kadyrov is believed to be part of Russian efforts to curry favour among Muslims across the world. 

He has implemented strict "Sharia laws" in Chechnya, and tried to portray himself as a moderate "Muslim leader".

The Chechen leader also held a meeting in the capital Grozny with Muslim leaders from Egypt, Syria, the UAE and elsewhere, trying to re-patch Russia's damaged relations with the Muslim world.

It notably excluded Salafi leaders and moderate political Islamists, and viewed as a way of uniting other leaders against Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Syrian rebels.

The Grozny fatwa issued at the end of the conference called on Putin to ban Salafism and called any criticism of "traditional Islam" as "extremism".

Abu Dhabi has clamped down on the Muslim Brotherhood and cooperated with the Chechen government on religious issues, but remains close to Saudi Arabia despite the bad blood between Grozny and Riyadh. 

"Strongman"

Human rights groups say opponents are routinely arrested in Chechnya and subject to torture, extra-judicial killings and kidnappings by Kadyrov's men or loyalists.

A human rights group in Chechnya was burnt down by suspected government supporters in 2014, which Amnesty International condemned as an "act of intimidation". 

It followed harassment of Joint Mobile Group activists reportedly from members of Kadyrov's security.

"This is not the first time the Chechen authorities have unleashed a campaign of harassment against those working to protect human rights in Chechnya," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, at the time.

"These latest acts against human rights defenders suggest they are taking it to a new level of abuse." 


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