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Kadyrov and Russian MP entangled in Russian army beard spat 

20 January 2023
Bearded soldiers at Ramzan Kadyrov’s residence in Chechnya. Image via RFE/RL.

A member of the Russian State Duma Defense Committee, Viktor Sobolev, and the leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, have engaged in a spat over unshaven soldiers in the Russian army.

The conflict between Kadyrov and Sobolev started after the Russian news agency, RBC, reported that the military was cracking down on unshaven soldiers.

‘They began to strain the front-line soldiers by shaving their beards, cutting their hair, and enforcing uniform standards, which, to put it mildly, is difficult to observe in the conditions of the front’, RBC wrote based on an account by journalist Daniil Bezsonov.

‘I really hope that this is a misunderstanding, someone misunderstood something, etc. Otherwise, it looks like sabotage’, Bezsonov was quoted as saying.

Sobolev, himself a former Russian general, told RBC that ‘everything in the army should be as it should be. This is an elementary requirement of military discipline, a soldier must be a soldier’.

‘I do not think that in even the most intense combat situations there are not 15–20 minutes to clean yourself up’, Sobolev continued. ‘If someone walks unshorn and unshaven, then this does not suit him either as a person or as a soldier’, Sobolev said.

Russian military regulations state that every servicemember must ‘strictly observe the rules of personal and public hygiene’, clarifying that personal hygiene requirements include, in addition to regular washing, ‘timely shaving of the face’.

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The head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, responded harshly to Sobolev’s comments on his Telegram channel, calling them a ‘provocation’ and adding that ‘99.9% of our group members wear beards’.

Many Muslims view growing a beard as a religious necessity.

Kadyrov suggested sending ‘guardians of the [Russian milliary] charter’ to the front line.

‘Sobolev knows perfectly well who wears a beard and why on the front line. Therefore, I am seriously convinced that this is a clear provocation, which is designed to extinguish the fighting spirit of the soldiers who are in a holy war for the sake of the Almighty, and who only for the sake of the Almighty wear a beard, as our beloved Prophet did’, Kadyrov wrote.

The head of the Russian occupation authorities in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, posted a video on Telegram in which he said that ‘no such orders [about shaving] were sent down’.

‘I contacted our commandant’s office and clarified: no such inspectors came with such “brilliant ideas” ’, he said.

Following his dressing down by Kadyrov, Sobolev appeared to backtrack, telling RBC he was not, in fact, ‘against beards’ but against slovenliness among soldiers. He also praised Russian soldiers from Chechnya, saying he had visited a regiment before they were deployed to Ukraine and that they ‘looked great’. 

‘Everyone had beards and no one was against it, including me. To demand that they shave off their beards would be stupid’, Sobolev said.

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