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Chad Stanhope

Renewed gay purge in Chechnya places spotlight on the UFC’s concerning links to Ramzan Kadyrov

Karim Zidan delves into the reports of a renewed gay purge in the Chechen Republic, and how this reflects on the UFC’s continued association with Ramzan Kadyrov.  

On Friday, January 11, the Associated Press published a reportwhich revealed that several people had recently been detained in Russia’s Chechen Republic on suspicion of their sexual orientation.

According to the AP, which cited activist Igor Kochetkov, several men and women suspected of being gay have been detained since December 2018. Kochetkov did not state the exact number of detainees, though later reports stated that two detainees died under torture.

Investigative outlet Novaya Gazetya – which was the first media outlet to report on Chechnya’s gay purge in April 2017– also confirmed the reports of renewed persecution against the LGBTQ community in Chechnya. The Russian LGBT Network followed suit shortly thereafter, though Chechen officials were quick to reject the reports as “disinformation.”

“All this, in literary language, is untruth and disinformation. There are no prisons and places of detention in the Chechen Republic that are not part of the FSIN system,” Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for Ramzan Kadyrov, told RBC.

The reports of rekindled state-sanctioned violence against gay Chechens comes less than two years removed from the 2017 crackdown on Chechnya’s LGBTQ community, where over 100 gay men were detained and subjected to torture. Three of these victims allegedly died in extrajudicial killings during interrogation.

The Chechen government, as well as the Kremlin, denied the reported persecution of LGBTQ+ people in the republic. Kadyrov himself denied the existence of gay men in Chechnya to HBO Real Sports in July 2017 before adding that if any do exist in his republic, they should be sent to “Canada” to “purify our blood.”

Kadyrov, the regional strongman leader positioned by Vladimir Putin and backed by the Kremlin, had allegedly committed widespread atrocities throughout the Chechen Republic in an attempt to stabilize the region after two wars with Russia. The warlord turned Head of the Chechen Republic has also been known to use sports to whitewash his legacy of human rights abuses, distract from ongoing crackdowns, and to cement his legitimacy and rule over his subjects. He has placed some of the most dangerous men in Chechnya at the helm of his football club and MMA promotion, effectively transforming the sports institutions into an arm of his authoritarian government.

Through his cunning use of sports diplomacy, Kadyrov has managed to impose himself as a figurehead in several sports including mixed martial arts. He owns a fight club and MMA promotion Absolute Championship Akhmat respectively – and several of the fighters affiliated to him through the gym/promotion now compete for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Of the dozens of Russian fighters currently under contract with the UFC, five happen to represent Kadyrov’s fight club. These include Ruslan Magomedov, Abdul-Kerim Edilov, Magomed Ankalaev, Said Nurmagomedov, and Magomed Bibulatov. Former UFC champion Fabricio Werdum also represents Kadyrov’s team as an “ambassador.”

Kadyrov’s continued association with the UFC reflects poorly on the promotion and poses a public relations dilemma that is yet to be addressed. Despite this distressing issue, the UFC appears to be strengthening its links to Kadyrov instead of disassociating from the tyrant.

Courting a Dictator

In September 2018, the UFC ventured into the Russian Federation for the first time in the promotion’s 25-year history. The event, dubbed UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs. Oliynyk, featured a variety of local athletes from the Russia and the North Caucasus and was attended by 22,603 fans— the second largest MMA event in Russia.

While the event was a financial success for the UFC, it also received a fair amount of negative publicity after Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov and three of his loyal henchmen — Magomed Daudov, Abuzayed Vismuradov, and Adam Delimkhanov — attended the show. Seated in the front row in Moscow’s Olympic Arena, Kadyrov was there to watch Magomed Ankalaev, a representative from the dictator’s Akhmat MMA fight club, compete on the show but eventually stayed for the entire duration of the show.

While Kadyrov’s record of human rights atrocities is well documented, his three cronies in attendance are less recognizable to those not involved in Russian politics. However, while they may not have the infamous reputation of their benefactor, their combined list of alleged crimes includes masterminding an assassination, extortion, and overseeing the crackdown on Chechnya’s LGBTQ community in 2017.

Abuzayed Vismuradov — known by his nom de guerre, Patriot — is considered to be one of the most influential men in Chechnya. His position of power was attained through fierce loyalty to Kadyrov. As a member of Kadyrov’s clan(ancestral village), Vismuradov grew up with Kadyrov and later fought alongside him during the Chechen wars. When Kadyrov eventually rose to power in 2007, Vismuradov was elevated tocommander Chechnya’s Special Forces, the ‘Terek’ Chechen SWAT team, as well as Kadyrov’s private security detail. His complete control over the republic’s security apparatus makes him indispensable to Kadyrov.

While Vismuradov was dealt the responsibility of protecting Chechnya’s leader, he was also given the task of overseeing Kadyrov’s Akhmat MMA fight club as its president and primary promoter. He was present at all Akhmat MMA events (known as World Fighting Championships of Akhmat — WFCA) and was usually seated alongside Kadyrov himself on an elevated dais overlooking the fights.

While Vismuradov’s role with Akhmat MMA is that of a symbolic figurehead, Kadyrov’s decision to place his most trusted commander in charge of his MMA organization emphasizes the link between sports and politics within Chechnya and suggests that the Akhmat MMA fight club is an extension of Kadyrov’s government. Several of the fighters who represent Akhmat MMA are also soldiers. These include Beslan Ushukov, a former WFCA welterweight champion who also serves as soldier in the Special Chechen Forces unit— a military unit controlled by Vismuradov himself.

This was not the first time that Vismuradov was in attendance at a UFC show. In September 2017, the colonel traveled to the Netherlands to watch an Akhmat MMA fight club representative, Abdul-kerim Edilov, compete in a light-heavyweight bout at UFC Rotterdam. This led to outrage from several human rights organizations, many of whom questioned how the colonel — who was accused of torturing gay men during the crackdown on Chechnya’s LGBTQ community in 2017— obtained a Schengen visa.

Most recently, Vismuradov posed for a picture with UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby during the UFC Moscow event. The picture, which was posted on the Akhmat MMA fight club social media pages, carried a caption claiming that the UFC and Akhmat MMA had reached a new agreement to continue signing fighters from the Chechen club.

As of the time of reporting, the UFC has not responded to a request for comment.

Another figure who accompanied Kadyrov to the UFC Moscow show was Magomed Daudov, a reformed militant who rose to become an influential figure in the dictator’s inner circle. He was awarded the title of ‘Hero of Russia’ by Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2007 and now serves as Speaker of Chechen parliament— a position he uses to consolidate Kadyrov’s power through intimidation and extortion tactics.

Known by his nom de guerre, Lord— Daudov is not only considered to be one of Kadyrov’s intimidating watchdogs, but also one of the most dangerous men in the Chechen Republic. His list of controversies include the alleged blackmail and assault of a chief judge and public threats against the editor of an independent Caucasus news website, claiming he would “cut his tongue to standard size.”

Most recently, Daudov was implicated for overseeing the reported crackdown on LGBTQ people in Chechnya. According to victims of the crackdown, Daudov personally supervised their torture and later shamed them in front of their relatives. A Human Rights Watch reportstated that “Daudov seems to have played a key role in both securing and giving approval from the Chechen leadership to set in motion the purge.” The report added that at “least two detainees identified Daudov as being present at the Argun facility, watching as police punched, kicked, and humiliated the men and contributing his own verbal abuse.”

Apart from his involvement in Chechnya’s political sphere, Daudov is also the president of the Akhmat football club, a position he has held since 2011. During his tenure at the helm of the organization, the club has been accused of attempted blackmail and match-fixing. Despite these claims, the Akhmat FC team remains a part of the Russian Premier League. The controversy surrounding the team and its president also did not prevent the likes of Ronaldinho, and the entire 2002 World-Cup winning Brazilian national team from visiting Grozny to play a football match with the dictator.

Seated behind Kadyrov at the UFC Moscow show, Adam Delimkhanov is another notable figure in the strongman’s inner circle and the man reportedly designated by the Chechen dictator as the chosen successor in the event of Kadyrov’s death. A former deputy prime minister in Chechnya and current member of the ruling United Russia party and a State Duma (lower parliament) deputy, Delimkhanov has been accused of several harrowing crimes, including masterminding an assassination and kidnapping.

Delimkhanov, distinguished by his pointed grey beard, allegedly ordered the assassination of the former Chechen warlord and Russian military commander Sulim Yamadayev in Dubai back in 2009. Interpol issued an arrest warrant for Delimkhanov, stating that he is wanted in connection with the assassination and for “crimes against life and health.” Delimkhanov denied any involvement in the assassination and was never arrested because Russia’s constitution “bans the extradition of nationals for crimes committed abroad.”

It should be noted that the charges filed against Delimkhanov were dropped in 2012, shortly following Kadyrov’s visit to Dubai.

Since then, Delimkhanov’s has been involved in several controversies. In December 2013, Delimkhanov punched a fellow United Russia party member in the head and got involved in a fist fight within the parliament building that was stopped only when a gold-plated gun fell out of Delimkhanov’s suit jacket.

In 2016, Delimkhanov released a statement calling Russia’s liberal opposition party “devils” belonging to foreign powers determined to undermine Russia and also publicly threatened one of Russia’s most celebrated fighters, Fedor Emelianenko, after the fighter criticized Kadyrov’s Akhmat MMA events.

Despite Delimkhanov’s role in Chechnya’s absurd political theatre, he continues to make public appearances with Kadyrov, including on international trips such as pilgrimages to Mecca, and meetings with Gulf monarchies in the Middle East. He also chauffeured Floyd Mayweather around Chechnya when the retired boxer visited Kadyrov in 2017 and taught him to pronounce Kadyrov’s infamous slogan “Ахмат Сила” (Akhmat Power).

While the UFC reportedly took added security measures to ensure the safety of their staff and audience during the UFC Moscow event, the UFC’s silence on its links to Kadyrov, and its continued willingness to a maintain an indirect relationship with the dictator only serves to helps to distract from the crimes committed by his regime.

The UFC is yet to respond to a request for comment.

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