Residents in war-torn Chechnya say the “Kadyrovtsy”, the term describing supporters of the head of Grozny’s administration, have been terrorising the population in an effort to secure votes for their boss, a former mufti and rebel leader.

The presidential election campaign officially kicked off more than a week ago. The Kremlin is trying to convince Russia and the international community that the war it launched in 1999 in the breakaway republic is over and a political process has started.

Critics say Moscow is using the vote to legitimise Kadyrov as Russia’s figurehead in Chechnya.

Legitimacy wanes

In a move that further left the legitimacy of the election in tatters, two of Kadyrov’s main contenders either dropped out of or were removed from the race, increasing the current Chechen head’s chances of winning. 

Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechnya’s deputy in Russia’s lower house of parliament, withdrew after President Vladimir Putin offered him the position of presidential envoy to Russia’s southern region.

"I have no great desire to explain to armed men why I don’t support him (Kadyrov)."

Chechnyan bus driver 

Chechnya’s supreme court removed businessman Malik Saidullayev from the running, reportedly not without pressure from Moscow according to press reports.

Saidullayev had accused Kadyrov supporters of using murder and kidnapping to intimidate his faction.  

Last week Saidullayev said one of his campaigners was kidnapped and tortured by Kadyrov’s supporters. His campaign headquarters in Moscow said a son of a campaigner was shot dead last week in Grozny.

And on Friday, Saidullayev warned that if the court decision barring him from election stands and Kadyrov wins the poll, the situation in Chechnya would only worsen.

Menacing

Previously, residents in Chechnya had pointed the finger at Russian troops, the “federals”, for most of the disappearances and killings of civilians. Today they blame “either the federals or Kadyrovtsy”.

Clad in camouflage fatigues and armed with Kakashnikovs, “Kadyrov’s men” move freely around checkpoint-filled Chechnya.

When the campaign kicked off Kadyrov posters suddenly appeared on nearly all buses inside the republic.

“People armed to the teeth offered for me to put up the poster - if you ride in peace, put up the poster, they said,” a bus driver on the outskirts of Grozny said. “Of course I can take it down but why risk it.”

Another bus driver said they ask politely.

“If you want, you can refuse, they said. But you know, I have no great desire to explain to armed men why I don’t support him (Kadyrov) so I just put it up.”