Adam Delimkhanov, potential successor turned Chechen kingmaker

State Duma Deputy for Chechnya Adam Delimkhanov will likely play a pivotal role in deciding who succeeds Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov.

Adam Delimkhanov

Adam Delimkhanov has represented Chechnya in the Russian State Duma since 2007. He is a close ally of current Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and one of the most influential people in the republic. Although a candidate to succeed the ailing Kadyrov in his own right, he is just as likely to be pivotal figure in any transition of power to one of Ramzan’s sons. He boasts extensive networks at the local and federal level and is both better connected and wealthier than potential rivals for the top role in the republic. He has been sanctioned extensively by the West, primarily for his involvement in Russia’s war on Ukraine, but is strangely missing from the UK’s sanction radar.

Date profile information last updated: 8 December 2023.

Delimkhanov: From heir apparent to kingmaker

Adam Delimkhanov has been a key member of the Chechen elite for two decades, having risen through the ranks of the security services before becoming State Duma Deputy for Chechnya in 2007 (1, 10). He is one of the closest allies of Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov and one of the three most important people in Ramzan’s inner circle, alongside Chechen Parliamentary Speaker Magomed Daudov and Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Abuzayd Vismuradov. BBC Russian Service noted in 2018 that the three men appear alongside Ramzan and are covered by local media more than anyone else (4), and their influence appears to persist to this day. Delimkhanov’s family ties to Ramzan, however, appear to be exaggerated: Although the media often refer to him as Ramzan’s “cousin” and there is a distant matrilinear relationship, Kavkaz Reallii notes the connection is too weak to be considered a blood tie in Chechen society (5).

Delimkhanov’s influence means that he has long been viewed as a potential successor to Ramzan Kadyrov in the event of the latter’s demise. Indeed, in 2009, Ramzan himself identified Delimkhanov as his successor, claiming he would continue the policies of the Kadyrov family and describing him as “my closest friend, even closer than a brother” (3). As will be shown below, Delimkhanov certainly boasts more extensive connections at the local and federal level than either Daudov or Vismuradov, making him a stronger candidate to succeed Ramzan – whose health problems have been widely reported. In particular, Adam’s brothers Sharip and Alibek occupy key positions within the Chechen security services, and the Delimkhanov family is closely allied with the influential Geremeyev clan, whose key representatives are matrilineal cousins (5).

Nevertheless, the likelihood of Adam succeeding Ramzan appears diminished compared to 2009. This is not due to any decline in Adam’s own influence or loss of position, but rather to the coming of age of Ramzan’s sons. They – in particular, his eldest son Akhmat (11) and, increasingly, Adam Kadyrov – have assumed much higher public profiles in recent months, suggesting attempts to position them as Ramzan’s heirs. While Adam Delimkhanov could seek the leadership, it is equally plausible that he would support a familial transition as the best means of maintaining a status quo that has long benefitted him. Either way, Adam Delimkhanov is, alongside Ramzan Kadyrov himself, likely to play a pivotal role in shaping any managed transition within the existing system.

Delimkhanov more prominent in Ukraine than State Duma

Delimkhanov has been a leading figure in Chechen involvement in Russia’s war on Ukraine. Ramzan Kadyrov first announced his involvement in March 2022 and claimed that Delimkhanov personally participated in planning operations at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. His activities were rewarded with the title of Hero of Russia in April 2022 and promotion from member to first deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee for Security and Combatting Corruption in June 2022 (1, 7). Since then, Delimkhanov has repeatedly been photographed in Ukraine, and his involvement has led to multiple Western countries sanctioning him, as will be discussed further below.

Several Ukraine-related scandals have accompanied Delimkhanov’s involvement. In March 2022, the Chechen authorities became involved in a dispute with Aleksandr Khodakovskiy, commander of the Vostok Battalion operating in the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” after Khodakovskiy called into question the preparedness of Chechen units. Delimkhanov met with Khodakovskiy to explain he errors and resolve the dispute (25). In October 2022, Delimkhanov publicly threatened Russian higher education students who opposed the war, claiming “they will answer for it” (6). In June 2023, Delimkhanov was part of the Chechen leadership that became embroiled in a dispute with Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the owner of the private military company (PMC) Wagner, over Chechen involvement in Ukraine (1).
Zvezda TV reported in June 2023 that Delimkhanov had been wounded in Ukraine, but this was denied by Kadyrov (1). The same month, Delimkhanov and Kurchaloyevskiy Rayon police chief Rustam Aguyev accompanied the Zapad-Akhmat Battalion when it was deployed to Belgorod Oblast to provide security and prevent Ukrainian diversionary operations (8).

It is difficult to say whether Delimkhanov’s Ukraine-related activities have significantly impacted his performance of duties as a State Duma deputy. On the one hand, in November 2023, Agentsvo reported that Delimkhanov had not participated in a Duma vote since July 2022 (9). On the other hand, while the Duma’s voting register shows he did actively participate before that (38), media reporting on Delimkhanov rarely focuses on his legislative activities. In 2016, Kavkaz Realii noted that Delimkhanov had never addressed a legislative session (5); it is unknown whether he did so in the intervening years.

Delimkhanov’s relationships show relatives in key positions

Family

Delimkhanov is, like Ramzan Kadyrov, a member of the Benoy teyp (5).

Delimkhanov has three brothers – Sharip, Alibek, and Amkhad/Akhmat/Surkho – who all occupy positions within the Chechen security services. Of the four, Amkhad has the lowest public profile.

Razita (Makka) Delimkhanova is or was Adam’s wife – their current marital status is unclear. In 2011, Razita was the registered owner of a Moscow apartment valued at R500 million; Adam’s mother, Maryam Delimkhanova, also owned a Moscow apartment, this one valued at R100 million. According to some reports, Adam divorced Razita in 2014, and she ceased to appear on his income declarations. However, Ramzan Kadyrov congratulated a Makka on her birthday in 2017, referring to her as Adam’s wife. Kavkaz Realii opined that Makka was Razita’s second name, reflecting common practice in Chechen society for people to have two names (10, 20, 21).

Business interests

Officially, Delimkhanov has only ever been employed by the state – first within the security services and then as an official. However, in 2011 Finans magazine identified Delimkhanov as Russia’s 313th richest person, with wealth of $300 million; it classified the source of his wealth as “privatisation, as well as founding business with the help of a patron” (31). In 2021, Delimkhanov’s income declaration stated an income of RUB 5,750,274.60 and ownership of 8,676m of land, one 500 sq m house, one 729 sq m apartment; the size of all three were greater than in previous years (10).

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Delimkhanov’s biography

Basic details

Full name:Adam Sultanovich Delimkhanov.
Variants and nicknames:ДЕЛІМХАНОВ Адам Султанович; ДЕЛИМХАНОВ Адам Султанович.
Date of birth:25 September 1969 (2, 32).
Place of birth:Benoy, Nozhay-Yurtovsky Rayon, Chechen Republic (2, 32).
Place of residence:Dzhalka, Gudermesskiy Rayon, Chechnya; Moscow (16).
Citizenship:
Passport number:
Other identification numbersTax ID: 200500356113 (10).
Military/police rank:
Awards:Hero of the Russian Federation (2022) (2); three orders of courage; Akhmat Kadyrov award (1).

Education

In 1994, Delimkhanov graduated from the Chechen-Ingush Tolstoy State University (1).

In 2004, Delimkhanov graduated from the Makhachkala Institute of Finance and Law, with a specialisation in jurisprudence (1).

Professional background

Delimkhanov served in the Soviet Armed Forces 1987-1989. In 1990, he worked as a metal worker for the Argunskoye repair and engineering company. In 1990-1991, he worked as a supplier for the Tesham company, and was also accused of reselling stolen cars (1).

Prior to the start of the Second Chechen War, Delimkhanov worked as a driver for Chechen warlord Salman Raduyev, before switching sides and acting as bodyguard to Akhmat Kadyrov. He then built a career within the Chechen security services (1, 10):

  • March 2000-2003: Employee of Chechen Interior Ministry.
  • August 2003-September 2003: Commander, Gudermesskiy Rayon Extradepartmental security police regiment, Chechen Interior Ministry.
  • September 2003-July 2006: Commander, Oil and Gas Regiment, Chechen Interior Ministry.

In 2006, the ‘political’ phase of his career started (1, 7, 10):

  • July 2006-December 2007: First deputy prime minister, Chechen government.
  • December 2007-December 2011: State Duma deputy, deputy chairman of the Committee for Federation Affairs and Regional Policy.
  • December 2011-October 2016: State Duma deputy, first deputy chairman of the Committee for Federation Building and Local Governance Issues.
  • October 2016-October 2021: State Duma deputy, member of the Committee for Security and Combatting Corruption.
  • October 2021-date: State Duma deputy, member of the Committee for Security and Combatting Corruption. He became deputy chair of the Committee in June 2022.

He joined the United Russia party in June 2019 (10).

Between 2009 and March 2015, Delimkhanov was also president of the Groznyy Volleyball Club, and, between December 2010 and January 2016, president of the Combat Sport Federation of the Chechen Republic (10).

Delimkhanov allegedly involved in multiple murders

As befitting an established member of a Chechen regime that has a long history of systematic abuses of human rights, Adam Delimkhanov has been involved in multiple scandals, including allegations of involvement in high-profile murders.

  • In November 2006, former Gorets commander Movladi Baysarov was shot in Moscow by a group of Chechen police officers during an alleged operation to detain him. Baysarov had previously challenged the authority of Kadyrov. Former Groznyy Mayor Beslan Gantamirov accused then Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Delimkhanov of personally carrying out the killing, while State Duma Deputy Mikhail Markelov claimed that Delimkhanov had participated in the operation (15).
  • In 2009, Dubai placed Delimkhanov on the Interpol wanted list for his alleged role in the killing of former Vostok commander Sulim Yamadayev. Dubai claimed that Delimkhanov had organised the killings, but Delimkhanov enjoyed immunity as a State Duma deputy. Dubai retracted the accusations and removed Delimkhanov from the wanted list in 2012. The two alleged perpetrators of the murder – one of whom was a former horse trainer for Ramzan Kadyrov – were sentenced to 25 years but released after 27 months. The year before the murder, Delimkhanov had accused the Yamadayev family of working on behalf of exiled oligarch Boris Berezovskiy and besmirching the name of the Chechen people (1, 28).
  • Also in 2009, The New York Times investigated the murder of former Kadyrov bodyguard Umar Israilov in Vienna. Before his death, Israilov had claimed that Delimkhanov had personally participated in his own and others’ torture and extrajudicial killings in the republic (22).
  • In 2017, Adam’s brother Alibek was questioned by police as a witness in the investigation into the murder in Moscow of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Investigators rejected calls from the Nemtsov family to question Adam (1).

There have also been a number of other notable scandals or incidents in which Delimkhanov’s name has featured:

  • In 2001, Delimkhanov survived an assassination attempt by unknown individuals in Chechnya, but was shot several times (1).
  • In 2013, Delimkhanov was involved in a fight with fellow United Russia member Aleksey Zhuravlev on the floor of the State Duma. Delimkhanov was reportedly angered by Zhuravlev calling for a Chechen memorial unveiled by Kadyrov to be investigated for extremism. Zhuravlev also reportedly questioned the role of special forces troops in training the Chechen security services. During the fight, a gold pistol allegedly fell out of Delimkhanov’s pocket (30).
  • In 2017, the website Russiangate published a detailed investigation into Delimkhanov, his biography, and the assets of his family members. It claimed that Delimkhanov had organised an attack on journalists and human rights activists from the Committee Against Torture, which took place on the Chechnya-Ingushetia border in March 2016. It claimed the attack was perpetrated by Ibragim Belkhoroyev, a leader of the Batalkhadzhintsy religious order and an associate of Delimkhanov’s (16).
  • In 2018, two officers from the Sever Battalion, Said Akhmayev and Lechi Bolatbayev, who worked as Delimkhanov’s bodyguards were released after criminal charges of extortion were requalified as a lesser offence; they did not have to pay even the appointed R50,000 fine because of statute of limitations. Human rights activists claimed the case was an illustration of how Chechen security services manage to evade accountability (12).
  • In February 2023, Delimkhanov threatened to “cut off the heads” of the Yangulbayev family, which has been critical of and targeted by the Kadyrov regime (1).

Delimkhanov’s online presence

Delimkhanov has previously operated accounts on Twitter (@delimkhanov95), Facebook (delimkhanov95), and Instagram (za_delimkhanov95 and delimkhanov95.fan) (10).

He currently operates the “adelimkhanov_95” account on Telegram. As of 7 December 2023, he has 999,023 subscribers, 2404 messages, 317 photos, 1,078 videos. He uses the channel to report on official visits and activities, shower praise on Kadyrov, and occasionally threaten people.

Delimkhanov heavily sanctioned, with one notable exception

UkraineUnited KingdomUnited StatesCanadaEuropean UnionOther
YesNoYesYesYesYes

On 2 July 2014, the US sanctioned the Brothers’ Circle, an alleged transnational criminal organisation based primarily in the former Soviet Union. As part of the designation, Delimkhanov was sanctioned for alleged links to the group, and for supposedly acting on behalf of Gafur Rakhimov, one of its key members (26). Rakhimov was himself sanctioned in 2012 for his alleged role in Uzbek drug smuggling; Novaya Gazeta claimed that Rakhimov played a key role in securing the 2014 Winter Olympics for Russia and was an honorary guest at the events, despite being wanted by Uzbekistan and listed by the Russian Interior Ministry as a leader of an organised criminal group (33).

Delimkhanov was again sanctioned by the US on 30 September 2022 as a member of the Russian parliament involved in illegal attempts to annex Ukrainian territory (32, 34).

The EU sanctioned Delimkhanov on 21 July 2022, asserting that he was “responsible for establishing Chechen forces in the Donbas region since March 2022 and for leading the siege on the city of Mariupol in March 2022. He has been personally involved in preparing the attacks since the beginning of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. For these actions, on 26 April 2022, he was made a Hero of the Russian Federation by decree of the President of the Russian Federation. In this capacity, he is responsible for, supporting or implementing actions or policies which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, or stability or security in Ukraine” (2). At the same time, Sharip Delimkhanov was sanctioned for threatening Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and Alibek Delimkhanov for commanding troops in the Donbass (34).

New Zealand sanctioned Adam Delimkhanov on 12 October 2022, as a member of the State Duma (35).

Ukraine sanctioned Delimkhanov on 19 October 2022 for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity (36).
Switzerland has also reportedly sanctioned Delimkhanov (36), but at the time of writing the website listing Swiss sanctions was inaccessible.

Somehow, the UK has not yet sanctioned Delimkhanov.

A rare instance of more positive international engagement occurred in 2016, when Delimkhanov met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on a visit to Baku. No substantive details of the meeting were reported by the media; On Kavkaz speculated that the two may have discussed Azerbaijani investment in Chechnya and Chechnya’s experience in the security sphere (14).

Sources

Show sources
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