It’s little surprise that in the Russian republic of Chechnya, the wife of its leader Ramzan Kadyrov has become the focus of a highly unusual public discussion about the virus that almost killed Donald Trump’s son-in-law. The virus, a coronavirus from the same family as SARS, killed 109 people in 2003. It apparently originated in pigs, but is thought to have been introduced to humans by an infected camel in the Galapagos Islands. In 2015, the Russian Ministry of Health launched an investigation into the nature of the virus, finding the World Health Organization’s 2012 characterization of it as being distinct from SARS to be unhelpful. But in December 2016, researchers and epidemiologists based at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, including Valentina Stepanova, decided it was something new, different and possibly linked to animal origin. Though almost all Kadyrov’s critics are apparently silent on the subject in the Russian press, Alexander Dugin, the controversial leader of a nationalist cult, has done the media rounds with the Russian-language version of his blog. Dugin has done the rounds on the Russian-language version of his blog in fact, many of his theories on all sorts of topics are supported by scientific method. Such as when he claims that the breakup of the Soviet Union had a subliminal connection to today’s events — that Sergei Chernomyrdin, then prime minister, had to act decisively because Vyacheslav Molotov, then defense minister, might have played a destabilizing role. Dugin has been closely associated with Kadyrov, who himself and his brother have had many run-ins with Chechen and Russian security forces, leading to Dugin serving jail time in the early 2000s. He is staunchly anti-Western and has been a vocal advocate of returning Russian-occupied territories to the Motherland. Kadyrov has repeatedly denied all human rights abuses in the war with the Islamist rebels, though he has acknowledged that after July 2004, the number of civilian deaths in Chechnya caused by Russian bombs increased dramatically. And he has made much of the fact that the civilian death toll, when he became president in 2007, had dramatically decreased. To this he has added torture, however. But both Russia and the U.S. governments have already concluded that Kadyrov has engaged in torture, abductions and extrajudicial killings. International leaders have already reached the conclusion that Kadyrov has therefore "lost the trust of all international communities." Trump was correct in once saying the allegations of Kadyrov’s involvement in extrajudicial killings are "outright lies." But there is little to dispel the one-man-show that Kadyrov brings to the Russian political scene — a man in the news to the extent that he needs to spend a fortune on security to be able to walk down a street, go on television or meet with foreign dignitaries. For those of us in the American public sphere (with organizations like the New York Times, Washington Post and others keeping him in the news and pushing him hard), the questions we need to ask are: Will the reality check of a presidential election actually have any effects on the interference from Russia in the election? Will Hillary Clinton be able to retake the public’s trust in our democratic system? Will Hillary be able to assure Putin that an American leader will not bend to Russian pressure, either overtly or covertly? And would the militarism that has defined Putin’s Cold War of having the U.S. in a "state of warfare" have persisted? We still need to make it through this election and beyond, because letting the investigation drop would allow someone else to play the role of antagonist.
This article first appeared in The Atlantic.