A day after Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov bizarrely published a video of his 15-year-old son beating up a man in police custody to show how “proud” he was of the teen, the Kremlin has preemptively sought to shut down any talk of the scandal.
Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s official spokesperson, told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday, before even being asked about the controversy: “I will not comment on the story with Kadyrov’s son.” When asked to clarify why he was refusing to comment, Peskov said simply, “I don’t want to.”
Kadyrov, on the other hand, was apparently unable to stop talking about the situation. According to media personality Ksenia Sobchak, the Chechen leader video-called her Monday and talked her ear off for 40 minutes, first demanding to know why she’d written about rumors he was dead, and why she had spoken of his son on her Telegram channel.
“Why are you messing with my son?” Sobchak quoted Kadyrov as saying, to which she said she replied: “Well, you posted the video on your channel yourself and wrote that you were proud, why did you post it and write it?”
He reportedly went on to repeat the praise for his son that he’d shared a day earlier on Telegram, saying 15-year-old Adam had done a “good job” and “behaved himself like a real man.”
The teen, who was trotted out in occupied Ukraine late last year for one of Kadyrov’s predictably cringe-inducing photo-ops, was filmed beating a man in police custody on suspicion of burning the Quran. The man, Nikita Zhuravel, had not even been on Chechen territory when he allegedly committed the crime; he was arrested in the Russian city of Volgograd and transported to Grozny to face punishment.
“He beat him and it was the right thing to do,” Kadyrov wrote Monday, confirming the allegations against his son that had swirled since August. According to Sobchak, Kadyrov recounted how Zhuravel had requested to speak with him personally in a pre-trial detention center, and he went along with his son to see what the detainee wanted.
“He said he wanted to convert to Islam and I told him he was a shaitan [evil spirit in Islam] and just wanted to save his own skin,” Kadyrov was quoted saying. “I didn’t do anything to him, I’m a law-abiding citizen. But then I left the office, and Adam stayed there, I didn’t notice. He’s got a mind of his own. Then I heard screams and sent my guard to separate them.”
Asked about the convenient fact that Adam is only 15—while criminal responsibility for assault begins at 16, according to the law—Kadyrov claimed he actually often has no idea how old his three sons are.
“I couldn’t remember, and didn’t think about the fact that Adam is 15, I have three older sons and I constantly mix up their ages,” he was quoted as telling Sobchak.
Footage of the beating has sparked calls for an independent investigation and demands that the detainee, Zhuravel, be moved out of Chechnya. Eva Merkacheva, a member of the Kremlin’s Human Rights Council, called the video a “challenge to the entire legal system of Russia.”
“They showed that they can commit crimes and get away with it. Otherwise, Ramzan Kadyrov would not have published evidence of a specific crime, and public figures would not have said that yes, such a person with this name did it, essentially acting as witnesses. It’s a challenge,” Merkacheva said in a statement.
The head of the Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, gave comments to Russian media in which he spent more time condemning the burning of the Quran than the caught-on-camera beating: “This is a serious provocation and is unacceptable in our multi-religious country. This crime must be punishable by law,” he said, adding that “the court will make a fair decision against the accused in the burning of the Quran.”
Kadyrov, meanwhile, may be using the scandal to shut down speculation about his health after he was rumored to be in a coma last month on the brink of death. While Sobchak shared a screenshot of her video chat with the Chechen leader, there was no footage of their actual conversation, though she noted that Kadyrov had been “energetically eating cashews” throughout the call.
The independent Agentstvo news outlet notes that people suffering from kidney disease—which Kadyrov was rumored to have—are advised not to eat nuts due to their high protein. The detail, thus, may have deliberately been released to convince the public Kadyrov is completely healthy, according to Agentstvo.