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  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait looks at enormous, explosive Wolf-Rayet stars, and at WR 124 in particular.
  • The Big Picture shares heart-rending photos of Rohingya refugees fleeing Burma.

  • Centauri Dreams considers the potential of near-future robotic asteroid mining.

  • D-Brief notes the discovery of vast cave systems on the Moon, potential homes for settlers.

  • Hornet Stories exposes young children to Madonna's hit songs and videos of the 1980s. She still has it.

  • Inkfish notes that a beluga raised in captivity among dolphins has picked up elements of their speech.

  • Language Hat notes a dubious claim that a stelae containing Luwian hieroglyphic script, from ancient Anatolia, has been translated.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money considers the question of preserving brutalist buildings.

  • The LRB Blog considers how Brexit, intended to enhance British sovereignty and power, will weaken both.

  • The Map Room Blog notes that the moons and planets of the solar system have been added to Google Maps.

  • The NYR Daily considers how the Burmese government is carefully creating a case for Rohingya genocide.

  • The Power and Money's Noel Maurer concludes, regretfully, that the market for suborbital travel is just not there.

  • Visiting a shrimp festival in Louisiana, Roads and Kingdoms considers how the fisheries work with the oil industry (or not).

  • Towleroad reports on the apparent abduction in Chechnya of singer Zelimkhan Bakayev, part of the anti-gay pogrom there.

  • Window on Eurasia notes that rebuilding Kaliningrad as a Russian military outpost will be expensive.

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  • Bad Astronomy's Phil Plait notes that the most plausible explanation for Tabitha's Star, KIC 8462852, exists in partial eclipses of the star by dust clouds.

  • D-Brief notes that the giant stick insects of Lord Howe Island did survive in their forced diaspora.

  • The Dragon's Gaze takes a look at Kelt-9b, a planet so close to its star that it is literally melting away.

  • Language Hat looks at a website set up by inhabitants of the Faroe Islands to translate Faroese.

  • The LRB Blog shares some of the past appearances of Nobel-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro in the pages of the LRB.

  • Neal Ascherson at the NYR Daily looks at the mechanism of the referendum, in Scotland and Catalonia and elsewhere.

  • The Planetary Society Blog looks at the import of Mike Pence's promise to send Americans to the Moon again.

  • Starts With A Bang's Ethan Siegel looks at how the cosmic phenomenon of inflation explains the entire modern universe.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests Chechnya's Ramzan Kadyrov is trying to establish himself as a Russian political figure.

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  • At VICE, Tayte Hanson writes about his experience suffering from body dysmorphia in the gay porn industry.

  • Jeff Leavell, also at VICE, writes compassionately about the gay bar patrons he's seen who have self-medicated much too much.

  • This older Jezebel post, noting shared circumstances made US Muslims more gay-friendly than evangelicals, matters.

  • The latest John Ibbitson article looks at how LGBTQ Chechen refugees in Canada need continued support in their new home.

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  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly re-introduces herself to her readers.

  • Bruce Dorminey shares one man's theory about how extraterrestrials could use exoplanet sightings to build up a galactic communications network.

  • Far Outliers shares some unusual Japanese words, starting with "amepotu" for American potato.

  • Language Hat takes
  • Did the spokeswoman of the NRA threaten to "fisk" the New York Times or threaten something else? Language Log reports.

  • Drew Rowsome notes that, compared to San Francisco, Toronto does not have much of a public kink scene.

  • Starts With A Bang's Ethan Siegel examines the quantum reasons behind the explosion produced by sodium metal and water.

  • Understanding Society takes rightful issue with The Guardian's shoddy coverage of Dearborn, Michigan, and that city's Muslims and/or Arabs.

  • Unicorn Booty notes that Canada is, at last, starting to take in queer refugees from Chechnya.

  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell notes the embarrassing support for Jean-Luc Mélenchon for Venezuela. Was opposing the US all he wanted?

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  • Beyond the Beyond notes an image of a wooden model of Babbage's difference engine.

  • James Bow talks about the soundtrack he has made for his new book.

  • Centauri Dreams considers ways astronomers can detect photosynthesis on exoplanets and shares images of Fomalhaut's debris disk.

  • Crooked Timber looks at fidget spinners in the context of discrimination against people with disabilities.

  • D-Brief notes that Boyajian's Star began dimming over the weekend.

  • Far Outliers reports on a 1917 trip by zeppelin to German East Africa.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money argues that there is good reason to be concerned about health issues for older presidential candidates.

  • The NYRB Daily reports on Hungary's official war against Central European University.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog notes the origins of modern immigration to Russia in internal Soviet migration.

  • Savage Minds shares an ethnographer's account of what it is like to look to see her people (the Sherpas of Nepal) described.

  • Strange Maps shares a map speculating as to what the world will look like when it is 4 degrees warmer.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy argues that the US Congress does not have authority over immigration.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russia's population will be concentrated around Moscow, compares Chechnya's position vis-à-vis Russia to Puerto Rico's versus the United States, and looks at new Ukrainian legislation against Russian churches and Russian social networks.

  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell notes how Evelyn Waugh's writings on the Horn of Africa anticipate the "Friedman unit", the "a measurement of time defined as how long it will take until things are OK in Iraq".

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  • At Antipope, Charlie Stross wonders--among other things--what the Trump Administration is getting done behind its public scandals.

  • blogTO notes a protest in Toronto aiming to get the HBC to drop Ivanka Trump's line of fashion.

  • Dangerous Minds reflects on a Talking Heads video compilation from the 1980s.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money reflects on a murderous attack against Indian immigrants in Kansas.

  • The LRB Blog looks at "post-Internet art".

  • Lovesick Cyborg notes an attack by a suicide robot against a Saudi warship.

  • Strange Maps links to a map of corruption reports in France.

  • Torontoist reports on Winter Stations.

  • Understanding Society engages in a sociological examination of American polarization, tracing it to divides in race and income.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes the many good reasons behind the reluctance of cities around the world to host the Olympics.

  • Window on Eurasia notes that where the Ingush have mourned their deportation under Stalin the unfree Chechens have not, reports that Latvians report their willingness to fight for their country, looks at what the spouses of the presidents of post-Soviet states are doing, and notes the widespread opposition in Belarus to paying a tax on "vagrancy."

  • Arnold Zwicky looks at the linguistic markers of the British class system.

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  • At Antipope, Charlie Stross imagines what might become possible with cheap heavy spacelift.

  • blogTO notes the vandalization of the iconic Toronto sign during Nuit Blanche.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper considering the detectability of interstellar comets.

  • Language Log looks at Chinese language transcriptions for Obama, Hillary, and Trump.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at impending hard Brexit and notes how the economy of Thailand is dominated by Bangkok.

  • The NYRB Daily writes at length about its apparent discovery of the identity of Elena Ferrante.

  • Savage Minds shares a Bolivian perspective on Donald Trump.

  • Strange Maps shares a list of ten potential Jewish homelands outside of Palestine.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at quiet Chechen dissidence and warns about the consequences of Putin's repressions.

  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell worries about the people soon to be in charge of the United Kingdom's Brexit negotiations.

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  • blogTO notes the growing concentration of chain stores on lower Ossington.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly describes her luck in interviewing a New York City firefighter.

  • Citizen Science Salon reports on a citizen science game intended to fight against Alzheimer's.

  • Language Hat starts from a report about unsold Welsh-language Scrabble games to talk about the wider position of the Welsh language.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money shares the astounding news leaked about Donald Trump's billion-dollar losses.

  • Marginal Revolution links to a psychology paper examining the perception of atheists as narcissistic.

  • Towleroad reports on the informative reality television series of the United States' gay ambassador to Denmark.

  • Window on Eurasia notes how Russia's war in Aleppo echoes past conflicts in Chechnya and Afghanistan, and examines the position of Russia's border regions.

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  • Acts of Minor Treason's Andrew Barton writes about the deep, ineradicable, legacies of the past.

  • The Dragon's Tales looks at China's Shijian-10 reusable satellite.

  • Far Outliers notes the bloody naval tactics of the War of the Spanish Succession and looks at the plight of the post-war English sailors in the Caribbean.

  • Geocurrents explains why Muslims in Tatarstan are much less radicalized than their Chechen counterparts.

  • Language Hat looks at the 2002 Nobel lecture of Imre Kertész.

  • Marginal Revolution misreads talk of Brexit as political theatre.

  • Steve Munro looks at the ability of the TTC to absorb, or not, an influx of money from the federal government.

  • pollotenchegg maps various language minorities in Ukraine.

  • Window on Eurasia wonders if Putin's new National Guard will affect Chechnya's Kadyrov, and wonders if Putin is preparing to strike against oligarchs for the elections.

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  • Keiran Healy suggests much of Apple's opposition to the FBI's demand it decrypt a terrorist's phone has to do with its need to establish itself as a reliable and trustworthy source of hardware.

  • Joe. My. God. notes that WWE wrestler Dave Bautista takes Manny Pacquiao's homophobia poorly.

  • Language Hat links to this 2008 map showing lexical différences between Europe's languages.

  • Language Log notes the politicized position of minority languages in China.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money is unimpressed? with Amitai Etzioni's call for genocide in Lebanon.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer, looking to Ecuador, notes that international arbitration awards do matter.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw is unimpressed by Australia's reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis.

  • Peter Rukavina shares a photo of Charlottetown transit's new maps.

  • Transit Toronto notes the delivery of the TTC's 16th streetcar.

  • Window on Eurasia notes the weakness of the Russian opposition, particularly in relation to Chechnya's Kadyrov.

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  • BCer in Toronto Jeff Jedras foodblogs from different Ottawa junkets.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly lists 20 ways to enjoy winter. (If it comes.)

  • Centauri Dreams shares the latest Pluto imagery and examines the ancient impact that created the Moon.

  • Crooked Timber notes that volunteers who help refugees arriving in Greece might be criminalized.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes that some Earth-like worlds at different points in their history might be difficult to identify, and notes a SETI search looking for flashes from KIC 8462852 has turned up nothing.

  • Geocurrents maps development in the Philippines.

  • Marginal Revolution shares Alex Tabarrok's opinion that home ownership is overrated.

  • The Planetary Society Blog's Marc Rayman notes how important light is for Dawn"s imaging of Ceres.

  • pollotenchegg notes the historical patterns of ethnic change in southeast Ukraine, the Donbas standing out as especially Russian in population in language.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog notes demographic changes in Chechnya.

  • Transit Toronto notes that Toronto has gotten its 14th and 15th streetcars from Bombardier.

  • Window on Eurasia examines possible outcomes from Tatarstan's confrontation with the Russian federal government, notes the influence of Central Asian migrants on Russian Islam, suggests Russia is over-centralized, and notes one proposal to abolish Russia's ethnic units.

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  • blogTO notes underground constructions, from subways to roads, which never took off.

  • Centauri Dreams suggests that an analysis of KIC 8462852 which claimed the star had dimmed sharply over the previous century is incorrect.

  • The Dragon's Gaze looks at the greenhouse effect of water vapour in exoplanets and wonders if carbon monoxide detection precludes life.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the economic radicalism of early Marvel.

  • Marginal Revolution argues China's financial system should remain disconnected from the wider world's so as to avoid capital flight.

  • The Numerati reacts to the recent snowstorm.

  • Personal Reflections examines Australia Day.

  • The Planetary Society Blog depicts an astronomer tracking a comet.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog notes that Ukraine now hosts one million refugees.

  • Towleroad notes that gay refugees are now getting separate housing in Germany.

  • Window on Eurasia talks about the worrying popularity of Chechnya's Kadyrov and suggests that when the money runs out Russia's regions will go their separate ways.

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At Open Democracy, Denis Sokolov writes about the fragility of the current system in the North Caucasus in the context of Russia's various issues. Things are set to break.

If 2015 was the year of purges of regional elites for the North Caucasus, 2016 will be the year of political innovation. And Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has been first off the starting blocks.

Kadyrov began the year by announcing a new political agenda — at a federal, not just regional level. In a joint statement with two other senior Chechen politicians, Kadyrov labelled Russia’s opposition and dissenters as “enemies of the people” and “traitors”.

The North Caucasus, and particularly Dagestan and Ingushetia in the region’s east, is bound to respond to these clear (and pretty scary) signals. Especially when you consider that the local political process is already moving in a dangerous direction. Both state and public institutions are in decline. They are short of money and no longer care where and how they get it. The law of ‘might is right’ is back, and it isn’t just Kadyrov’s dog Tarzan who is sharpening his fangs.

In the 1990s, when the Russian state was ‘on its knees’, the institutional specifics of the Caucasus came to the fore in the growth of ethnic nationalist movements, a rise in religious fervour and the emergence of Islamist parties.

In its most brutal moments, the national-liberation struggle descended into open war, while global Islam became the ideology behind the ‘village revolutions’ in rural Dagestan. At one point, two villages (Karamakhi and Chabanmakhi) declared themselves an ‘independent Islamic state’.

During the gloomy years of the 2000s and the first half of the 2010s, the infamous ‘power vertical’ was built in the North Caucasus, and with it, the emergence of a new political class. This new group came from former members of the FSB and other defence and law enforcement operatives.
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  • blogTO lists ten signs someone grew up in pre-amalgamation Toronto.

  • Centauri Dreams and D-Brief both react to Planet Nine.

  • The Dragon's Tales notes the new Russian manned capsule will be called Federation.

  • Joe. My. God. notes an Italian parliamentarian hijacked a civil union bill by adding a new bill that would imprison gay couples who used surrogate mothers.

  • Language Log suggests again that the complexity of the Chinese writing system hinders the acceptance of Chinese as a global language.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes precedents suggesting black Americans could not get away with the Malheur occupation.

  • The Map Room Blog shares an evocative map of Boston as a collection of insular--literally insular--neighbourhoods.

  • Towleroad notes gay porn star Colby Kelly is now a Vivienne Westwood model.

  • Window on Eurasia notes Chechnya's Kadyrov is sounding increasingly unhinged and warns Belarus is now coming under attack in Russia.

  • The Financial Times's The World notes the implications of Moldovan instability for the European Union.

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  • blogTO notes that Québec chain Simons will be opening up stories in Toronto and Mississauga in the coming years.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly notes that The Devil Wears Prada actually offers good advice to job-seekers.

  • Centauri Dreams notes a search program for planets at Proxima Centauri and considers Proxima's linkage to the Alpha Centauri A-B binary.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes distant gas giant HD 106906b.

  • Joe. My. God. notes that acceptance of gays is at an all-time high.

  • The Map Room Blog links to an exhibition of colonial cartography of Algeria and points to an essay on critical cartography.

  • Marginal Revolution notes high levels of female mortality in the US South.

  • Savage Minds considers the question of how to exhibit physical artifacts in an era of 3-D printing.

  • John Scalzi's Whatever and Charlie Stross' Antipope mourn the death of science fiction editor David Hartwell.

  • Window on Eurasia notes Russia's growing difficulties wth Chechen dictator Kadyrov, observes that most Tajiks recruited for ISIS are recruited as workers in Russia, suggests the annexation of Crimea helped bolster Russia's ethnic Russian and Slavic populations, and notes hostility in Chuvashia towards Russian language policy in education.

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  • blogTO looks at Toronto's north/south-divided streets.

  • The Dragon's Gaze suggests that there might be lightning in protoplanetary disks.

  • The Dragon's Tales considers way to make gasoline a biofuel.

  • Far Outliers notes the breakdown of interethnic relations in the late Soviet South Caucasus into war.

  • Joe. My. God. let George Takei explain why he stayed in the closet.

  • Language Hat likes the poetry of Pasternak.

  • Language Log notes a bizarre clip from 1930s New York City featuring a boy scout speaking Cantonese.

  • Marginal Revolution links to a paper suggesting that economists overlooked the rise of the 1% because of sampling issues and argues that power couples worsen economic inequality.

  • Cheri Lucas Rowlands shares photos from Paris in December.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog notes unhelpful reactions to the decline of Russian as a language of wider communication.

  • Window on Eurasia notes turbulence in the Russian Orthodox Church (1, 2) and suggests the Donbas is likely to evolve into a second Chechnya.

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  • Crooked Timber shares a John Quiggin blog post, originally from 2004, in which he considers the static nature of popular culture.

  • The Dragon's Tales reports on a study of the rotating Luhman 16 brown dwarfs.

  • The Dragon's Tales examines the archeology of the Mayans and of Amazonia.

  • Far Outliers looks at the rise and fall of Baku as a capital of world oil.

  • Language Log notes at the misogyny implicit in the construction of some Chinese characters.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at this climate change Christmas.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer considers the new official names for various exoplanets.

  • Transit Toronto notes the three-year anniversary of an online TTC simulator.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy considers political ignorance on left and right.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests Chechnya is nearly independent already and looks at non-productive Russian reactions to the ongoing collapse in the number of speakers of the Russian language.

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Inga Popovaite writes at Open Democracy about Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, a mountain valley adjacent to Chechnya and with a largely Chechen population that has gained some fame as a source of radicals.

A narrow valley in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains, Pankisi Gorge is back on the local and international media radar. In fact, Pankisi has been the centre of attention for the past year after it was discovered in June 2014 that Abu Omar Al-Shishani, a leading commander in Islamic State, was born and raised here.

The focus on Al-Shishani has done Pankisi, and coverage of the region, few favours. Beka Bajelidze, Caucasus director at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), stresses that both local and international media reports lack context and deeper analysis. 'Foreign media was concerned only with the personality of Tarkhan Baritashvili [birth name of Abu Omar Al-Shishani] when they came to report from Pankisi.' Bajelidze tells me. 'They were not interested in the bigger picture - why mainly young people are joining insurgents in Syria.'

Bajelidze believes that, at a time when a lot of journalists solely rely on desktop research and online sources, they get disconnected from the reality on the ground, producing unverified and often biased material.

According to Bajelidze, Georgian news outlets also lack in-depth knowledge of Pankisi. Their reports are affected by prevalent attitudes towards ethno-religious minorities: 'For some journalists, it is enough to know that [Pankisi's inhabitants] are Muslim. Religion becomes the main cause of radicalisation. They often do not take into consideration factors such as the lack of inclusion in local governance, institutional support and social and economic alienation.'

Local and international media reports strengthen Pankisi's already infamous reputation as a cradle of radicals, criminals and terrorists in Georgia. This reputation emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the gorge became a haven not only for thousands of Chechen refugees fleeing the war with Russia, but also a base from which Arab and Chechen militants, allegedly with ties to al-Qaeda, could launch strikes into Russia. By 2004, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had cleared the gorge of paramilitary fighters – with US support – and dispersed the majority of the area's well-established criminal gangs.
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  • blogTO notes that John Tory supports the decriminalization of marijuana.

  • The Dragon's Gaze considers if there might be a hot Jupiter orbiting a pulsating star.

  • The Dragon's Tales wonders if multicellularity in cyanobacteria three billion years ago helped drive the Great Oxidation Event.

  • Far Outliers notes the 1878 introduction of football to Burma.

  • A Fistful of Euros notes that Europe is muddling through in the Mediterranean versus migrants and observes that even the optimistic scenarios for economic growth in Greece are dire.

  • The Frailest Thing considers the idea of a technological history of modernity.

  • Language Log notes an example of multiscript graffiti in Berlin.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes how the Confederate cause won the Civil War despite losing the battles.

  • Marginal Revolution argues that default will do nothing to make the underlying issues of Greece business-wise better.

  • The Planetary Society Blog looks at the intriguing geology of Ceres.

  • Peter Rukavina shows the Raspberry Pi computer he built into a Red Rocket tea tin.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog links to a paper studying Russian patriarchy and misogyny in public health.

  • Spacing Toronto looks at the genesis of the Bloor Viaduct's Luminous Veil.

  • Towleroad examines the Texan pastor who threatened to set himself on fire over same-sex marriage.

  • Une heure de peine celebrates its eighth birthday.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy reacts to the Michael Oren controversy over American ties with Israel.

  • Window on Eurasia warns that Putin's system in Chechnya is not viable, predicts a worsening of the Russian HIV/AIDS epidemic, and notes that Jewish emigration from Russia has taken off again.

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Nina Jobe and Karena Avedissian at Open Democracy look at the strange symbiosis between Russia's Vladimir Putin and Chechnya's Ramzan Kadyrov.

On 3 June, a group of masked men attacked the offices of the regional branch of the Russian Committee Against Torture in Grozny, Chechnya, destroying computers and documents, and damaging the organisation’s car. The police did not respond to calls by staff about the attack, and the Committee Against Torture reports that the attackers went about their business ‘slowly’, as if they knew the police were not going to be dispatched.

The Russian authorities have remained silent on the case, just as they remain silent on the de facto legalisation of polygamy and forced marriage in Chechnya, and the de facto acquittal of people close to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov who are suspects in the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. But these events prompt questions about the extent to which Chechnya remains a genuine subject of the Russian Federation, and highlight a deeper tension between the federal authorities and Chechnya – now boiling over after years of Kadyrov’s rule.

[. . .]

Chechnya is perhaps the most striking case of this asymmetry [between national and regional governments]. This has been exemplified in large part by Kadyrov’s repeated defiance and disregard of Russia’s federal laws. Kadyrov’s recent conflicts with the FSB – most notably when he threatened to have his men fire on federal troops who operated on Chechen territory without his blessing – and the silence of Vladimir Putin and other members of the Russian elite, have only highlighted this situation further.

For instance, when opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was murdered metres from the Kremlin’s walls in late February, blame quickly fell on men close to Kadyrov. The Chechen leader publicly came to the defence of one of the accused, Zaur Dadayev, and refused to turn over the others. Dadayev was an officer in Kadyrov's private army, the Sever Battalion, as was Ruslan Geremeyev, another high-ranking member of the battalion, who is alleged to have been involved in organising the murder. Geremeyev has since fled abroad.

With the lack of a pushback or even a statement from the Kremlin for these acts, Moscow’s authority is beginning to lose traction. While this is sometimes mistaken for outright favouritism or even the opening of a ‘soft exit’ for Chechnya from the Russian Federation, this particular free rein of power resembles what Kimberly Marten calls ‘outsourcing sovereignty.’


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