Modeling Trump, Chechen Leader Launches His Own ‘The Apprentice’

The leader of Chechnya made two very interesting — and different — TV appearances this week.

By , a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2016 and was previously an editorial fellow.
TSENTEROI, CHECHNYA, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 2005:  Ramzan Kadyrov proudly displays his shooting skills at a firing range in his village of Tsentoroi in front of members of his private army. Officially his army are known as the anti-terrorism squad, but everyone refers to its soldiers as Kadyrovtsy - "Kadyrov's guys". Ramzan was born 5 October 1976 in Tsenteroi, Chechnya, and was made Prime Minister of Chechnya in the beginning of March 2006 and leader of a powerful Chechen militia known as kadyrovtsy. He is the son of former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in May 2004. He has the backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and was awarded the Hero of Russia medal, the highest honorary title of the Russian Federation. As the head of the Chechen Presidential Security Service, Kadyrov has often been accused of being brutal, ruthless and antidemocratic; according to media and human rights groups, he was personally implicated in several instances of torture and murder. It is also rumoured that he owns a private prison in his stronghold village of Tsenteroi, where he uses inmates as a punching bags. Kadyrov is known for keeping a pet lion cub, given to him as a gift after the birth of his first son, as well as a tiger and a number of a fighting dogs, and also used to own a wolf and a bear. He has only a few classes of elementary education finished; despite his lack of education, Kadyrov is a honorary member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  (Photo by Kadyrov Press Office/Getty Images)
TSENTEROI, CHECHNYA, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 2005: Ramzan Kadyrov proudly displays his shooting skills at a firing range in his village of Tsentoroi in front of members of his private army. Officially his army are known as the anti-terrorism squad, but everyone refers to its soldiers as Kadyrovtsy - "Kadyrov's guys". Ramzan was born 5 October 1976 in Tsenteroi, Chechnya, and was made Prime Minister of Chechnya in the beginning of March 2006 and leader of a powerful Chechen militia known as kadyrovtsy. He is the son of former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in May 2004. He has the backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and was awarded the Hero of Russia medal, the highest honorary title of the Russian Federation. As the head of the Chechen Presidential Security Service, Kadyrov has often been accused of being brutal, ruthless and antidemocratic; according to media and human rights groups, he was personally implicated in several instances of torture and murder. It is also rumoured that he owns a private prison in his stronghold village of Tsenteroi, where he uses inmates as a punching bags. Kadyrov is known for keeping a pet lion cub, given to him as a gift after the birth of his first son, as well as a tiger and a number of a fighting dogs, and also used to own a wolf and a bear. He has only a few classes of elementary education finished; despite his lack of education, Kadyrov is a honorary member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. (Photo by Kadyrov Press Office/Getty Images)
TSENTEROI, CHECHNYA, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 2005: Ramzan Kadyrov proudly displays his shooting skills at a firing range in his village of Tsentoroi in front of members of his private army. Officially his army are known as the anti-terrorism squad, but everyone refers to its soldiers as Kadyrovtsy - "Kadyrov's guys". Ramzan was born 5 October 1976 in Tsenteroi, Chechnya, and was made Prime Minister of Chechnya in the beginning of March 2006 and leader of a powerful Chechen militia known as kadyrovtsy. He is the son of former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in May 2004. He has the backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and was awarded the Hero of Russia medal, the highest honorary title of the Russian Federation. As the head of the Chechen Presidential Security Service, Kadyrov has often been accused of being brutal, ruthless and antidemocratic; according to media and human rights groups, he was personally implicated in several instances of torture and murder. It is also rumoured that he owns a private prison in his stronghold village of Tsenteroi, where he uses inmates as a punching bags. Kadyrov is known for keeping a pet lion cub, given to him as a gift after the birth of his first son, as well as a tiger and a number of a fighting dogs, and also used to own a wolf and a bear. He has only a few classes of elementary education finished; despite his lack of education, Kadyrov is a honorary member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. (Photo by Kadyrov Press Office/Getty Images)

When authoritarian Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov began planning celebrations for his 40th birthday and re-inauguration this week, he appears to have grappled with two very different themes: underage mixed martial arts fighting and U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. So to keep things simple, he just went with both.

When authoritarian Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov began planning celebrations for his 40th birthday and re-inauguration this week, he appears to have grappled with two very different themes: underage mixed martial arts fighting and U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. So to keep things simple, he just went with both.

On the eve of his birthday, he premiered his three sons, all ages 10 and under, in what appears to be authentic, unprotected MMA matches in front of an audience of cheering adults. The boys, all three of whom won their divisions in the match-ups, fought without headgear or gloves. That earned major criticism from the Kremlin, despite Putin’s recent re-endorsement of Kadyrov, who won 98 percent of the vote in recent Chechen elections.

“[The] knockout of a child, especially on television, is a reason for the appropriate oversight agencies to get involved,” a Kremlin spokesman told reporters in Moscow.

And on Wednesday, because Kadyrov just likes a good show, he surprised his audiences once again when The Team,  a Chechen spinoff of Trump’s The Apprentice, premiered on Russian state TV.

The American version of the TV program follows participants as they compete for a one-year, $250,000 salaried position at one of Trump’s companies. The goal in the Chechen version, however, is to be hired as Kadyrov’s assistant.

Each of the 16 contestants has been given a bedroom in a guest house on Kadyrov’s personal property, and will compete in each episode to remain in the running for the available gig.

The show opened with clips of him hiking through Chechnya decades ago, then shifts to him in modern-day, pointing to his walking stick.

“There used to be a machine gun, an automatic rifle or a grenade launcher; now I have this cane,” he  said.

The first task of the competition was slightly confusing, as it required the contestants to use some 3,000 “volunteers” and organize them to spell out or represent their team name on a soccer field.

And although the 16 contestants are a mixed group of men and women, the possibility of winning lies entirely with the men. When one woman asked Kadyrov about whether or not a woman stood a chance for a high-ranking position in Chechnya, he responded by saying “the woman is a housewife.”

Photo credit: Kadyrov Press Office/Getty Images

Siobhán O'Grady was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2016 and was previously an editorial fellow.

Read More On Culture | Russia

More from Foreign Policy

The USS Nimitz and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and South Korean Navy warships sail in formation during a joint naval exercise off the South Korean coast.
The USS Nimitz and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and South Korean Navy warships sail in formation during a joint naval exercise off the South Korean coast.

America Is a Heartbeat Away From a War It Could Lose

Global war is neither a theoretical contingency nor the fever dream of hawks and militarists.

A protester waves a Palestinian flag in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, during a demonstration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. People sit and walk on the grass lawn in front of the protester and barricades.
A protester waves a Palestinian flag in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, during a demonstration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. People sit and walk on the grass lawn in front of the protester and barricades.

The West’s Incoherent Critique of Israel’s Gaza Strategy

The reality of fighting Hamas in Gaza makes this war terrible one way or another.

Biden dressed in a dark blue suit walks with his head down past a row of alternating U.S. and Israeli flags.
Biden dressed in a dark blue suit walks with his head down past a row of alternating U.S. and Israeli flags.

Biden Owns the Israel-Palestine Conflict Now

In tying Washington to Israel’s war in Gaza, the U.S. president now shares responsibility for the broader conflict’s fate.

U.S. President Joe Biden is seen in profile as he greets Chinese President Xi Jinping with a handshake. Xi, a 70-year-old man in a dark blue suit, smiles as he takes the hand of Biden, an 80-year-old man who also wears a dark blue suit.
U.S. President Joe Biden is seen in profile as he greets Chinese President Xi Jinping with a handshake. Xi, a 70-year-old man in a dark blue suit, smiles as he takes the hand of Biden, an 80-year-old man who also wears a dark blue suit.

Taiwan’s Room to Maneuver Shrinks as Biden and Xi Meet

As the latest crisis in the straits wraps up, Taipei is on the back foot.