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The groom is approaching 50, a silver-haired boss in the Chechen strongman’s feared police force. The bride is 17, a shy beauty reportedly devastated at the idea of wedding a man nearly three times her age.

Many Russians expressed outrage over the nuptials, causing a firestorm on social media and putting Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov – a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin whose introduction of Islamic law has allowed Chechen men to marry multiple women – on the defensive. The wedding went forward over the weekend anyway, the bride deathly pale and her voice barely audible as she agreed to marry Nazhud Guchigov, who reportedly was taking her as his second wife as allowed by Islamic, but not Russian, law.


The online uproar

Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s top official in charge of childrens’ rights, ignited more outrage when he supported the marriage on Thursday, arguing that women are often too “shrivelled” to marry by the time they’re 27. In response, women began sharing scowling selfies on social media under the hashtag #сморщеннаяженщина, or “wrinkled woman.”

Astakhov apologized for his remarks on Friday. “An awkward comparison or misplaced word taken out of context does not change my attitude towards the fair sex. I loved, love and will always love and respect women,” The Guardian quoted him as saying.

Kadyrov, meanwhile, has posted images and video of the wedding to his official Instagram account and accused the media of distorting the issue.

Дорогие друзья! На свадьбе Нажуда Гучигова и Луизы Гойлабиевой было очень много красивых девушек. Но лучше всех чеченский классический танец исполнила Марет Байсарова. Она является обладательницей Гран-При Республиканского конкурса парного танца в 2014-ом и 2015-ом годах. Я пригласил её на танец. Она еще раз продемонстрировала как нужно исполнить народный танец. Скромность, пластика, плавные движения, отсутствие кокетства... Это был настоящий мастер-класс... Перед свадьбой Нажуд и Луиза в сопровождение родных, близких и друзей посетили ЗАГС и зарегистрировали брак. Штампы видел лично сам!)) А затем кортеж прибыл в самый лучший, большой и красивый зал торжеств Грозного Grand Hall Firdaws, где и проходит свадьба. При этом были соблюдены нормы закона, ислама и национальных традиций. В течение многих дней отдельные СМИ сознательно искажали действительность, тиражировали ложные сведения, влезали в чужую жизнь, организовали настоящую травлю людей. Я желаю Нажуду и Луизе счастья, благополучия и согласия в семье! #Кадыров #Россия #Чечня #Свадьба #Firdaws

A video posted by Аллах Велик!!! (@kadyrov_95) on


How the scandal unfolded

Earlier this month, a leading independent newspaper reported that the 46-year-old Guchigov was forcing a 17-year-old into becoming his second wife by blocking her village so she couldn’t leave. Kadyrov stood by the police chief, saying the girl and her family voluntarily agreed to the wedding. The Chechen leader also fired his information minister, accusing him of failing to quash what he described as slanderous reports.

Kheda Goilabiyeva, second right, stands after her wedding with Chechen police officer Nazhud Guchigov in Grozny on May 16. (Associated Press)

The teenage bride told a news portal controlled by the Kremlin that she faced no intimidation. The Russian children’s rights ombudsman also said he looked into the case and found no violations.


The politics behind it

Kadyrov has enjoyed an exclusive relationship with Putin, who saw him as the linchpin for peace in Chechnya after two devastating separatist wars that killed tens of thousands. In exchange for restoring stability, Putin gave Kadyrov, a former rebel, carte blanche to run the region in the North Caucasus as his personal fiefdom. Lavish reconstruction projects, along with Kadyrov’s promotion of Islamic law and his rejection of federal controls, have helped swell his popularity, enhancing stability. The Kremlin, in turn, has sheltered the Chechen leader from criticism over killings, abductions, torture and other abuses by his feared security forces.

Kadyrov has imposed some Islamic rules, overruling federal law, allowing men in Chechnya to take several wives and introducing a tight dress code for women.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Ramzan Kadyrov in the Kremlin on Dec. 4, 2014. (Alexei Druzhinin/Associated Press)

The wedding scandal comes amid a tug-of-war between Kadyrov and Russian federal law enforcement, which escalated after the slaying of charismatic Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Kadyrov’s defiance in shielding Chechen suspects in the killing has aggravated long-standing tensions between him and Russian security agencies. That creates a headache for Putin, left with the delicate task of moderating the conflict to avoid destabilizing the region.

The tensions are unlikely to spark open hostilities or lead to Kadyrov’s removal. But they reflect an apparent effort by the Kremlin to cut the 38-year-old Chechen leader down to size and make him obey the rules – even as Putin continues to stand by Kadyrov.

With a report from Globe staff

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