Commentary Magazine


State Department Takes Action Against Chechen Leader

After the U.S. instituted a travel ban against the Russian officials involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, Russia responded with its own visa “blacklist” of American officials unwelcome in the Russian Federation. But the State Department seems to have one-upped the Russians again.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin’s brutal surrogate in the North Caucasus, has now been given the diplomatic cold shoulder:

Thoroughbred racing has always attracted a mix of royalty and rogues. Blue bloods like the Whitneys and the Vanderbilts have long been owners. So, too, have mischief-makers like the mobster Arnold Rothstein, who won the 1921 Travers at Saratoga with a racehorse named Sporting Blood.

It appears, though, at least in New York and in Kentucky, that there are limits to who can race a horse. Officials in those states have taken steps to exclude from racing a horse owned by Ramzan A. Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, who has been accused by human rights groups of murder, torture and other abuses over the years.

The fact that mobsters are more welcome in the horseracing industry than Kadyrov–whose exclusion from the races came at the behest of the State Department–speaks volumes about the tyrant. In 2009, the human rights group Memorial effectively shut its Chechen operation when one of its workers, Natalia Estemirova, was murdered and her co-workers fled. Memorial has been succeeded in the area by the Joint Mobile Group, whose members never travel alone and try to ensure their every movement is recorded and transmitted to the group’s distant headquarters in Nizhny Novgorod.

WikiLeaks cables released earlier this year showed American officials fretting that the most frequent threats to investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya came from “Kadyrov’s people.” Two days before she was gunned down, Politkovskaya told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that she was planning to go public with information about Kadyrov’s habit of torturing civilians.

None of this stopped celebrities like Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme from attending Kadyrov’s recent lavish birthday party. But the State Department, which apparently told two racetracks to rescind or withhold Kadyrov’s participation, made the right call. As the New York Times story acknowledges, the moral failings of racehorse owners are usually overlooked. It’s nice to know Kadyrov didn’t get a pass.

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