Ramzan Kadyrov is the leader of Chechnya and has a reputation for cruel methods of leadership. Since rising to power in 2007, Kadyrov has been linked to various assassinations and has waged a “virtue campaign” to restrict women’s rights. Most recently, Kadyrov has been accused of carrying out a plan to systematically persecute and torture gay Chechens.
Kadyrov is also known for maintaining a prolific Instagram account, where he often posts bizarre content to entertain his nearly 3 million followers. You’ll find upbeat snapshots of him working out, apple picking, and visiting his horses. Less conspicuous, are images that hint at the dire circumstances of his authoritarian rule in Chechnya.
Like many social media users, Kadyrov is using the platform to curate an online identity that is different from real life circumstances. But, as the leader of a Russian republic, the stakes are a little different.
For Kadyrov, Instagram has become an important tool for promoting a robust image of Chechnya and himself, so much so that some have described him as “The Strongman of Instagram.” By featuring new construction projects, celebrating Chechen heritage, and promoting government initiatives, Kadyrov creates a rosy public image that is detached from the daily reality of many Chechens.
He also uses the platform to show off his strength as a leader, and he signals a strong grasp of power by consistently featuring his personal militia, the “kadyrovtsy,” in many posts. Additionally, he has embraced a fervent religiosity that is evident in the religious content on his social media feed. To some, that embrace is an effort to thwart radicalism by attempting to appear more religious than his Islamist enemies.
Most importantly, Kadyrov uses social media to demonstrate his deference to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kadyrov’s legitimacy as a leader is ensured by the stability of his relationship with Moscow, but recent developments have created problems.
To learn more about what they are and how Putin might react, make sure to watch the video above.