When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s leading strongman and a close ally of Vladimir Putin, gathered his troops in the main square of the region’s capital, Grozny, to signal his readiness to join the war.
Positioned on a dais overlooking the crowd, Kadyrov found himself against a backdrop of Chechnya’s most powerful men. Among them was Abuzayed Vismuradov, the right-hand man of the dictator who was targeted by US government sanctions in 2019 for his role in purge of Chechnya’s sexual minorities. Vismuradov is also in charge of Kadyrov’s mixed martial arts fight club, an entity that is also subject to US Treasury sanctions.
Behind Vismuradov was Abdul-Kerim Edilov, an MMA fighter who competed in the UFC before being elevated to the rank of deputy prime minister in Chechnya. Although not among those deployed to fight in Ukraine, Edilov was armed with a machine gun, a tactical vest, and a skullcap with the phrase “Akhmat’s Power,” the battle cry used by Kadyrov loyalists, emblazoned on it.
He later shared footage of the meeting on his now-deleted Instagram page, which including subtitle: We are prepared to live and ready to die in the Kadyrov way.
The statement was more prescient than Edilov could have anticipated.
On December 29, 2022, Chechen activists reported that Edilov had died suddenly that day, but that the circumstances surrounding his death were unclear. The fighter’s death was confirmed by the Chechen opposition movement 1ADAT, which shared a short voice message transmitted by an anonymous contributor that said a commemoration would take place that morning in Edilov’s hometown.
Edilov’s death aroused immediate suspicion. The fighter enjoyed a close relationship with Kadyrov, known for human rights abuses including enforced disappearances, summary executions and periodic purges of sexual minorities.
And while Edilov was a member of Kadyrov’s inner circle, he had reportedly fallen out of favor with the dictator a few months before his passing.
Edilov, 31, was once considered Kadyrov’s most promising fighter. When the dictator decided to start his own fighting club and competitive MMA league in 2014, Edilov became one of his main representatives. He headlined several of Kadyrov’s early events before signing with the UFC in 2015. However, Edilov’s debut was delayed until September 2017 due to a 15-month suspension for testing positive for meldonium, a banned substance. He eventually made his UFC debut in the Netherlands, where he bested his opponent in front of an entourage of Kadyrov’s men sitting in the front row.
Despite the impressive victory, Edilov did not compete for the UFC again. Instead, he focused on a bigger prize: becoming a faithful servant of the Kadyrov family.
Over the course of the next few years, Edilov gradually transformed from a full-time wrestler into a glorified nanny for Kadyrov’s three teenage sons. She trained them to become fighters, attended Quran classes with them, and shielded them from prying eyes. His commitment earned him the favor of Kadyrov, who showered him with praise and lavish gifts, such as luxury cars and expensive watches.
In November 2021, Edilov obtained his first official government position when he became Kadyrov’s chief of staff. Three months later, he was promoted to deputy prime minister, with a focus on youth politics and sports.
“In his new position, Abdul-Kerim Edilov faces exceptionally complex and responsible tasks,” Kadyrov said in a press release announcing Edilov’s promotion. “I am sure that he will fully justify the trust placed in him.”
Edilov’s success, however, only lasted a few months. On September 15, 2022, Chechen dissident Tumso Abdurakhmanov claimed that Edilov had been “convicted of drug use” and that he had been tortured as a result. Other Chechen activists followed up with reports that Murad Agmerzoev, one of Kadyrov’s sons’ bodyguards and an old friend of Edilov’s, had been executed on Kadyrov’s orders for allegedly supplying drugs to the dictator’s entourage.
Edilov was never seen in public again. His personal Instagram account, once filled with photos of Kadyrov and his children, has also been deleted. Then, on November 23, 2022, the official website of the Chechen government announced that the former UFC fighter had resigned from the position of deputy prime minister on “his own initiative” from him. His death was reported five weeks later.
While the circumstances surrounding Edilov’s death remain a mystery, there is no doubt that the wrestler had been exiled from Kadyrov’s inner circle in the months before his sudden passing. Although he served as deputy prime minister, Edilov’s death has not been acknowledged by Kadyrov, his government or the legion of fighters in his service. Edilov’s brother, who serves as Chechnya’s sports minister, has also not been seen in public since December 2022.
Mansur Sadulaev, the founder of the Sweden-based Chechen human rights organization Vayfond, says Kadyrov’s silence should be seen as proof of his guilt.
“Of course, we believe that it was Kadyrov (or someone under his orders) who killed Edilov,” Sadulaev told The Guardian. “We think so because if Edilov had died in a different way or been killed by someone who was not loyal to Kadyrov, Kadyrov himself would have been enraged and expressed his condolences on Edilov’s death.
“We know very well how Kadyrov behaves in such circumstances,” Sadulaev continued. It’s too predictable. And to be fair, he’s not shy about crime.”
Kadyrov’s press secretary did not respond to a request for comment on Sadulaev’s allegation that Kadyrov and the Chechen government were involved in Edilov’s death.
Meanwhile, Kadyrov has found a new nanny for his children in the form of Chechen-born UFC star Khamzat Chimaev. The undefeated boxer is regularly photographed hanging out with the teenagers in Chechnya and on trips to Dubai, where Kadyrov is believed to have a Palm Jumeirah home. Chimaev also took on a coaching role with the teenagers, often posting photos on social media of training sessions of him in Kadyrov’s private gym. A June 22 photo showed Edilov posing with Kadyrov and his children. It was the last time that the now deceased fighter was photographed with Kadyrov or his family.
While Edilov’s death remains a mystery, his sudden rise and mysterious fall should be seen as a warning to fighters who continue to associate themselves with the brutal tyrant.
Chimaev, 28, is among those ingratiating himself with the Kadyrov clan by helping the dictator’s 15-year-old son Ali become a professional wrestler. He trained and cornered Ali in his first fight at the Kadyrov-owned Absolute Championship Akhmat (ACA) 150 event in December 2022, a fight that was obviously settled in the teenager’s favor.
Now situated in the role previously reserved for Edilov, Chimaev has continued to train with Kadyrov’s sons on a regular basis, especially Ali, whom he calls his “brother”. The UFC fighter recently posted a photo to his Instagram account that showed him training with the teenager at the renowned Tiger Muay Thai training center in Thailand.
“If your brother is near, then your enemies will fall like hail,” the caption read.