In Part I, Polygraph.info revealed connections between Mylistory, the social media app that Chechen governor Ramzan Kadyrov is promoting, a 24/7 Auto Parts store, dozens of PO-Boxes located in different parts of Moscow, and the foundation Kadyrov uses to extract and launder money.
As we showed in Part I, Kadyrov’s claim that Mylistory is “as good” as Instagram, the app it was cloned from, is false. Furthermore, his claim that the app was created in Chechnya by a local developer is likely also false.
For testing purposes, we created an account in Mylistory and discovered certain oddities suggesting the app is controlled and used by Kadyrov’s team as a propaganda tool -- and, possibly, a surveillance tool.
Creating a Mylistory account is similar to how it’s done on a majority of other social networks: the app asks you for an email address, a “Nickname” and a password. It is even easier if you have an account with Facebook or its Russian analog vKontakte:you can sign up using either of these. The privacy setting is also standard: Myliststory requests access to your microphone, speech recognition, camera, photos, contacts and location.
Once you have an account with Mylistory, two things happen instantly: the app tells you who to follow, and somebody almost immediately follows you, no matter how obscure you appear. Studying these two lists provides insight into who controls Mylistory, and to what extent.
Who to follow
Once you hit a “search” icon, Mylistory’s gives you a list of 38 profiles, all belonging to people or institutions closely related to the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Number One – Ramzan Kadyrov’s Russian language profile. As was the case with his Instagram account (which Facebook deleted because of the U.S. sanctions), Kadyrov shares videos and pictures of his daily life, both personal and professional, and publishes statements and announcements. His home videos are an ostentatious demonstration of wealth in a republic still emerging from the rubble after two devastating wars with Russia. Kadyrov came to power after living in poverty like the majority of Chechens, and his official salary is nothing close to what would support his lavish lifestyle. According to the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, one of many Kadyrov’s houses built in 2010 and cost 10 billion rubles (approximately $33 million). Kadyrov’s official annual salary has been growing over the years reaching its highest 11.5 million rubles in 2016 (about $174,000)
Number Two –Grozny TV. A state-owned Chechen TV channel, The Independent newspaper called it “Kadyrov TV” because of the Chechen leader’s control over its programming and his omnipresence in its broadcasts.
Number Three – Magomed Daudov, aka Lord. The speaker of the Chechen parliament and one of Kadyrov’s closest allies. Daudov has been on the U.S. “Magnitsky list” since December 2014.
Daudov frequently garners international attention for violations of human rights and freedom of speech. In his latest Mylistory post, Daudov mocked Lithuania – a country he said he “could not locate on the map” – for adding his name along with his boss’ on Lithuania’s own Magnitsky list.
Number Four – Turpal-Ali Ibragimov, aka Bistriy [Russian for “Swift”]. Ramzan Kadyrov’s secretary, cousin and the head of Chechnya’s Shali district, the republic’s largest municipal territory.
Ibragimov also serves as chairman of Chechnya’s infamous “Citizen’s Council” – a kind of morality police that reportedly dictates social rules and identifies and punishes dissidents, including sexual minorities, and relatives of the suspected rebels.
Number Five –Akhmat Fight Club. Ramzan Kadyrov’s personal mixed martial arts (MMA) project. Akhmat Fight Club is famous for offering honorariums that are oversized even by the UFC standards, and for attracting big names like Mike Tyson.
The fight club is also known for videos of cage fights featuring preadolescent children, including Kadyrov’s own sons, which have drawn international criticism.
Besides Ramzan Kadyrov himself, who is probably the champion of his own social network, Mylistory’s top list of “who to follow” does not seem to be based on popularity, but on how close and how useful the people and entities are to the head of Chechnya.
Seven strangers started following Polygraph.info as soon as the Mylistory account was established. Three of them clearly are local retailers advertising goods, such as furniture makers, and these we left out of this fact-check.
The others, however, seem to share the self-description “pekhotinets KRA” [KRA’s foot soldier]. KRA is the abbreviation for “Kadyrov, Ramzan Akhmatovich,” which is used by Kadyrov’s subordinates. especially members of his personal guard or army, also known as “Kadyrovtsy.” The “foot soldier” phrase became a motto in Chechnya after Kadyrov declared himself Vladimir Putin’s foot soldier.
The slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya called them “Kadyrov’s death squad.” Four Chechens have been convicted for her 2006 murder.
The “Kadyrovtsy” have been linked to numerous high-profile assassinations both in Russia and abroad, including the murder of Vladimir Putin’s political opponent Boris Nemtsov, and several Chechen figures Ramzan Kadyrov viewed as rivals.
We do not have sufficient factual evidence to prove that “KRA’s foot soldiers” have instantly followed the Polygraph.info account in Mylistory for surveillance purposes. However, it would be accurate to say that they are demonstrating special interest in watching the new arrivals.