REPORTING ON Ramzan Kadyrov, the brutal ruler of the Russian republic of Chechnya, is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Two women who sought to chronicle the human rights abuses of Mr. Kadyrov’s regime, Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova, were brutally murdered in 2006 and 2009, respectively. So were other Kadyrov opponents, including Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down four years ago.
On Monday, the courageous man who replaced Estemirova as the representative of the Memorial Human Rights Center in Chechnya, Oyub Titiev, was sentenced to four years in a penal colony on trumped-up drug charges. With luck, he will survive. But no one is left to monitor torture, disappearances and other abuses in Chechnya. Mr. Kadyrov has eliminated them all.
Having established a vise-like grip over his once war-torn republic, Mr. Kadyrov has built up a remarkable record of impunity. Chechen gunmen, some with direct links to him, were arrested in the Politkovskaya and Nemtsov cases, but investigations into who commanded them were blocked. Rather than take action to rein in Mr. Kadyrov, Russian President Vladimir Putin presented him with a medal 10 days after Nemtsov was killed on a bridge near the Kremlin.
Mr. Titiev was arrested a year ago, after police claimed to have found marijuana in his car. Ludicrously, the prosecution tried to paint Mr. Titiev as a drug addict. When allowed to speak in court, Mr. Titiev bravely indicted his accusers, charging them with falsifying evidence and adopting the tactics of Stalinist show trials.
Human rights groups denounced the prosecution, as did the State Department, which called for Mr. Titiev’s release. That’s not likely to have much impact on either Mr. Kadyrov or Mr. Putin, who know that President Trump has publicly condoned the repression they orchestrate. Mr. Putin, whose domestic popularity has been falling, has been escalating arrests of opposition activists. He just approved new laws criminalizing insults against his government, as well as the dissemination of “fake news.” What constitutes an insult or fake news is left to government officials to decide.
Mr. Kadyrov has been sanctioned by the U.S Treasury Department under the Magnitsky Act, but that doesn’t seem to have slowed him down. He has been cutting deals with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which have invested heavily in Chechnya. A resolution passed by Congress this month urges the State Department to investigate all “business activities and any entities controlled by Ramzan Kadyrov . . . outside the Russian Federation.” It won’t be surprising if Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose critics also have turned up dead or in prison, turns out to be one of those propping up Chechnya’s despot.