The Wait Is Finally Over: Chechen Leader Picks New Protege in ‘The Apprentice’-style Reality TV Show Finale
- By Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
Everyone’s favorite Chechen leader is back in the news. Ramzan Kadyrov, who’s been described as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “sniper,” willing executioner,” “dragon,” “blunt instrument,” and a whole slew of other equally dramatic monikers has chosen a new protege on his reality television show finale, Komanda.
With viewers nationwide tuning into the show’s season finale Tuesday night, Kadyrov announced the winner — 24-year old Philip Varychenko. Fireworks erupted and Russian pop music blared as Kadyrov congratulated his new protege, Newsweek reported. Winning over a dozen other candidates, Varychenko nabbed the ultimate prize in reality television history: a job in the Chechen government’s department for strategic development.
Chechen strongman Kadyrov has modeled his show on President-elect Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice,” as Foreign Policy reported. Kadyrov had over a dozen contestants participate in a series of competitions each episode to weed out the weaker candidates.
But the show is more than an elaborate job interview: It also attempted to soften the Chechen leader’s harsh public image. Kadyrov has “gradually built a tyranny within Chechnya,” according to Human Rights Watch, stamping out dissent and violently silencing critics.
Komanda (meaning ‘Team’) wants to help viewers forget about all those pesky human rights abuses and instead focus on the Kadyrov’s gentle side — the side that likes collecting wild flowers or helping tame wild horses.
The show could also help groom Kadyrov for a larger role in national politics, following Trump’s lead in the United States. “They are aware of the experience of Trump; they are aware of the experience of other people who have used media stereotypes for their political careers,” Caucasian journalist Grigory S. Shvedov told the New York Times. “This is clearly political PR,” he added. The reality show broadcasted nationally — not just locally — on the state-owned Rossiya 1 channel.
Komanda isn’t Kadyrov’s only PR push. Chechnya’s leader is a frequent Instagram poster, using the social media platform to muse about politics, search for his lost cat, spark fights with HBO television star John Oliver over said cat, or just simply threaten political opponents. But whatever he is doing is working; his account has over 2 million followers.
While Foreign Policy couldn’t get its hands on a copy of the dramatic Komanda season finale, it offers a humble consolation prize: American action star Steven Seagal performing the traditional Caucasus dance, Legzinka, while visiting his close friends Putin and Kadyrov in 2013. Riveting.
Photo credit: ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images