Ramzan Kadyrov seeking influence in the Balkans – DW – 11-25-2022

Recent visit from an advisor Ramzan Kadyrov Turko Daudov again drew attention in Belgrade to the efforts of the head of Chechnya to strengthen his position in the Balkan region. Partly integrated into the EU, the Balkans, with their sizeable Muslim communities, are often seen as a suitable springboard for spreading influence. And Kadyrov’s envoys have been coming here for years with gifts and generous financial promises.

The public most likely would not have known about Daudov’s private meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić had it not been for Daudov himself posted a photo on his Instagram account, in which the Serbian leader appeared in a donated cloak and with a hat in his hands. As Daudov wrote, he held a working meeting commissioned by Kadyrov “at this difficult time, when Russia stood up for spiritual, traditional and family values ​​and showed the West that it disapproved of the alien ideology imposed on them”.

Kosovo factor

Belgrade experts interviewed by DW found it difficult to explain the necessity of Vučić’s contacts with Daudov, believing it was more about propaganda and personal PR. According to them, Serbia and Chechnya have no significant economic and political ties, and to discuss serious or sensitive issues President Vucic usually invites the Russian ambassador, or one of the high-ranking representatives may fly over from Moscow.

Vladimir Putin and Aleksandar Vucic (photo file)
Vladimir Putin and Aleksandar Vucic (photo file)Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/Sputnik/M. Climatev

It is not clear whether Daudov’s visit is related to the crisis that has worsened in recent months around Kosovo, whose authorities declared independence from Serbia in 2008. In this context, it is interesting that Vucic said in August that Serbia had information that a group of Chechens and Circassians from the opponents of the Kadyrov regime had visited Kosovo. Their job was reportedly to monitor the situation in Serb-populated northern Kosovo and recruit potential soldiers for combat operations in Ukraine.

Blerim Vela, the head of Kosovo’s presidential cabinet, rejected the claim: “Not a single Albanian from Kosovo joined the war in Ukraine. Neither the Chechens nor the Circassians intended to kill the Kosovo Serbs. This disinformation serves the Russian story.”

Disputes about the Hafiz school

Perhaps a notable event in the Serbian-Chechen direction was the visit of the Serbian sports delegation to Chechnya in January. Then the intention to develop cooperation in boxing was announced, and Ramzan Kadyrov called on this occasion Alexander Vucic and thanked him for the events held in Serbia last year in memory of his father, the first president of Chechnya.

Akhmat Kadyrov (archive photo)
Akhmat Kadyrov (archive photo)Photo: picture-alliance/AP Photo/D. bondareff

According to Kadyrov, the Muslims of Serbia asked him to build a school for hafiz (reciters of the Quran by heart) in the city of Novi Pazar, which is considered one of the most important Muslim spiritual centers in the Balkans. It was reported that the school and the street it will be on will be named Kadyrov Sr.. However, the Islamic Community of Serbia claimed that the initiative to build the school did not come from them, but from the delegation of the European Muslim Forum, a little-known organization founded several years ago.

Representatives of the forum toured the Balkans almost completely last summer, handing out generous financial promises. They visited Greece, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Croatia. Among the interlocutors were many well-known Muslim politicians from the region. The results of the meetings were associated exclusively with the continuation of the names of two Chechen leaders – Akhmat and Ramzan Kadyrov.

War in Ukraine changes Kadyrov’s plans

Kadyrov ever made a pool of Balkan journalists loyal to him, but promoting a positive image against the background of his radical statements and international sanctions seems increasingly difficult. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Muslims make up half of the population, almost all projects in honor of the Kadyrovs wars in Ukraine were folded. Guests of the European Muslim Forum last year promised to repair one of the streets in the city of Zavidovichi for 500 thousand euros and immediately presented a sign with the name Kadyrov Sr. In the same place, but in honor of Ramzan Kadyrov, it was proposed to build a bridge with money from Chechnya.

Ramzan Kadyrov (pictured third from right) with Chechen security forces after the Russian invasion of Ukraine
Ramzan Kadyrov (pictured third from right) with Chechen security forces after the Russian invasion of UkrainePhoto: Yelena Afonina/TASS/photo alliance/dpa

The head of the local administration, Hashim Muyanovich, even invited Kadyrov Jr. for a visit and called him “our president.” But recently, Mujanovic said the forum missed the agreed deadline for funding a project worth nearly €1 million. And he called the protocol signed last year invalid. “In a human and moral sense, I support the Ukrainian people, so there is no more cooperation,” Muyanovich said.

A year ago, plans were also reported to make three Bosnian cities – Sarajevo, Zavidovichi and Gorazde – sister cities to Grozny, Shali and Gudermes. However, according to official statements, no further action is being taken on this matter. The involvement of Chechen security officials in the war in Ukraine also seems to have disappointed Ramzan Kadyrov in Bosnia’s former Supreme Mufti Mustafa Tserich, who attended his inauguration last October and praised him for his achievements.

An instrument of Kremlin policy?

Some experts believe that the use of the capabilities of the President of Chechnya is an integral part of the Kremlin’s propaganda, and its purpose is to increase Russia’s influence. In the Balkans, however, Kadyrov does not seem to expect much now. As Bosnian historian Husnija Kamberovic explained in an interview with DW, the Chechen leader has no significant influence on Muslims in the region, and his contacts here are ineffective, the same Mustafa Tserich is already a marginal figure.

“Kadyrov has nothing to count on politically or religiously. If Moscow really intends to enlist the support of Muslims through the Chechen leader, then this is the wrong guess. Sympathy for Russia can only be tarnished by a change of course from the Kremlin in the region,” says Kamberovich.

Russian policy in the Balkans often called pro-Serb by observers, and for many it is associated with ignoring the interests of Muslim communities. For example, in 2015 Moscow blocked a draft resolution in the UN Security Council condemning the genocide of Muslims in Bosnian Srebrenica in 1995.

Also see:

Chechens at war in Ukraine

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By Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at