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What is Chechnya's Kadyrov up to in Middle East?

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has recently been engaging leaders in the Middle East, but not just with Chechnya's interests in mind.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) meets with Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, March 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. - RTSC7SC

In recent years, Chechnya has been conducting a dynamic activity beyond Russia’s borders. Once a rebellious land, but now one of the most loyal republics to the Kremlin, it has built a number of economic and political contacts, including some of the most influential leaders in the Middle East. Its charismatic leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, positioned himself as a staunch “foot soldier” to Vladimir Putin willing to provide support — military and political alike — for whatever initiative the Russian president comes up with. Kadyrov has been extremely supportive of the Russian operation in Syria: He supported Chechen volunteers fighting for Assad as well as sending members of Chechen law enforcement to help guard Russian military facilities in Syria.

On Nov. 27, Kadyrov came to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also the defense minister and chairman of the Council on Economic Affairs and Development. The two discussed the issues of combating terrorism and religious extremism as well as relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia in the region. Kadyrov’s visit is timely: Russia is helping the Syrian government to gain more ground, and as interested regional parties are trying to figure out the future for Syria and themselves after the US election, some — especially those who feel their position is unlikely to get any stronger under the new administration — continue to seek better relations with Moscow. From that perspective, Kadyrov might be a Kremlin messenger. Having warm personal ties with Saudi leaders, a reputation of being a strongman and ambitions of becoming a renowned Islamic authority, he is well-positioned to better convey Russia’s interests to the Saudis as well as to negotiate thorny issues between Moscow and Riyadh.

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