I had a fascinating conversation this week with Chris Nicholson on the war in Ukraine. Our discussion took place Monday, and I think everything that’s happened since then has only confirmed his analysis.
It looks like not everyone who subscribes to the newsletter gets the e-mail alert for the podcasts, so I’m flagging this here in case anyone missed it. Make sure to subscribe to Narrative Control, which is the podcast connected to this Substack that you can get on Apple, Spotify, etc. It’s featured mostly TV and movie criticism so far, but I’m going to start having more conversations with Chris about the Ukraine War and may expand into other topics.
1. I find this video fascinating.
2. Nate Silver think my view on a systematic Democratic bias in the polls is plausible. It may be relevant that polls in Brazil underestimated Bolsonaro and his allies pretty badly.
Mr. Bolsonaro had claimed for months that the polls were underestimating his support, using his enormous rallies as evidence. Yet, virtually every poll showed him behind. On Sunday, it was clear that he was right. He performed better in all of Brazil’s 27 states than what Ipec, one of Brazil’s biggest polling firms, had predicted a day before the election, exceeding the projections by at least 8 percentage points in 10 states.
Pollsters appeared to misjudge the strength of conservative candidates across the country. Governors and lawmakers supported by Mr. Bolsonaro also outperformed polls, winning many of their races on Sunday.
Cláudio Castro, the right-wing governor of Rio de Janeiro state, was re-elected in a landslide, with 58 percent of votes, 11 percentage points more than Ipec’s projection. At least seven of Mr. Bolsonaro’s former ministers were also elected to Congress, including his former environment minister, who oversaw skyrocketing deforestation in the Amazon, and his former health minister, who was widely criticized for Brazil’s delay in buying vaccines during the pandemic.
3. A demonstration of the t==difference between US and Russian military technology. The more I research the relevant weapons systems, the more confident I get Ukraine will win. The US looked incompetent in insurgency wars. When it comes to conventional warfare, it’s in a class by itself.
4. Kadyrov says he’s sending his sons, age 14, 15, and 16, to fight in Ukraine
I feel like this is the happiest man in the world. I suspect every monk or saint who claims to have found inner peace or enlightenment is coping because he can’t be a Chechen warlord. If all of the Kadyrov kids were killed in Ukraine, I feel like he would be a sad for a moment, point a finger at the sky and shed a tear because they’re with God, who hooked them up with an endless stream of virgins, and go make a few more sons.
In 2006, the government of the Chechen Republic organized a beauty contest for a cause.
“We want Chechnya to stop being associated with bearded men holding machine guns,” an official explained. “Now the symbol of the country will be a beautiful girl. We’ll show that we’re no worse than other states.”
Despite opposition to the pageant from the Chechen Muslim Spiritual Board, some 20 contestants danced, sang, cooked, recited poetry, talked about their piety, confessed their love for their homeland, and thanked the Kadyrov family — Chechnya’s authoritarian ruler Ramzan Kadyrov and his late father, Akhmat — for their leadership.
Afterwards, the contestants feasted at a lavish banquet attended by Kadyrov and his guards. When he learned that one of the young women who had not made it to the finals was crying, he ordered that she be given a diamond-encrusted gold Chopard watch. When the girls danced a traditional lezginka, rubles and dollars flew into the air. A Kommersant journalist in attendance estimated that about $30,000 was scattered on the floor by the end of the night.
The contest winner eventually received a position in the Chechen government and the title of “leading model” for the Firdaws fashion house, which belongs to the Kadyrov family. But the 14-year-old runner-up, Fatima Khazuyeva, landed an even bigger prize: She is now Ramzan Kadyrov’s second wife, OCCRP partner The Project has learned…
Still, Kadyrov has never publicly indicated whether he himself has other wives. At official events, he appears only with Medni, with whom he has 12 biological and two adopted children. On one occasion, information about the Chechen leader’s unofficial marriage did leak to the press. A local singer and dancer, Aminat Akhmadova, was reported to be Kadyrov’s third wife.
But where there’s a third, there must be a second. When reporters began to dig into the matter, they learned that Kadyrov’s marriage to the beauty contest runner-up was widely known in her home village of Makhkety, about 40 kilometers south of the Chechen capital of Grozny. Several residents of the village confirmed the marriage….
In Grozny there is visible evidence of the relationship: Khazueva’s mansion stands directly opposite Kadyrov’s working residence in the heart of the city. For the convenience and security of the republic’s leader, the course of the river Sunzha was diverted so that Kadyrov’s residence now stands on an island, surrounded by a moat.
Right across from that residence, on the other side of the river, stands the luxurious mansion of almost 1,500 square meters, built in the late 2000s, that land records show now belongs to Khazueva. It sits on nearly a hectare of land and boasts an outdoor swimming pool, a rare amenity in Grozny.
The families of some of Chechnya’s most prominent leaders also own properties in the neighborhood, including the chairman of the republic’s parliament. It’s a restricted area: A novice blogger who videotaped several streets there was recently sentenced to four years in a prison colony.
Kadyrov has a charitable foundation that owns a company that sells ice cream. It gets “donations” from civil servants in Chechnya, and spends its money on things like a hippodrome for Kadyrov’s horses and a Mercedes for a five-year old boy who did 4,000 push-ups.
The Foundation raised over $90 million in donations in 2019, making it one of the largest charitable foundations in Russia. Kadyrov says that it receives no state funds and earns money on its own, including through business. The organization is listed as the owner of multiple companies, including ones that do construction (mainly on government contracts), produce juice and mineral water, and sell an ice cream brand called “Ramkada” (presumably short for “Ramzan Kadyrov”). Their combined revenues in 2019 exceeded $60 million.
But this is clearly not the Foundation’s only source of income. Contributions to the fund have been made by friendly Chechen businessmen, officials who fell afoul of Kadyrov, and ordinary employees in the Chechen public sector, who were asked to “contribute” about 10 percent of their salaries, according to media reports.
The Foundation’s work sometimes takes the form of fulfilling Kadyrov’s whims. For example, the Chechen leader presented a two-story apartment to French actor Gerard Depardieu, paid for by the Foundation. He also used it to give a white Mercedes to a five-year-old boy who supposedly did 4,000 push-ups without taking a break. (Representatives of the Russian Book of Records declined to certify his achievement — to which Kadyrov retorted that the boy could surely repeat the feat “if only the members of the commission had the patience to count.”)
Sometimes it is difficult to understand where the Foundation ends and the Kadyrov family begins. For example, the organization paid for the construction of a hippodrome that is now home to Kadyrov’s horses.
If you told me there was a saint out there who has found a level of happiness greater than this, I would be very skeptical.