This is the startling hypothesis advanced by elections observer Alexander Kireev.
Here’s the thing. Elections in Chechnya have been completely falsified since 2003, reaching “totalitarian” levels of 99% turnout/99% pro-Kremlin vote by 2011-12 (versus the merely “authoritarian” 90/90 levels of the other Caucasus republics).
In line with the reduction of fraud levels in the 2018 elections, I suspect that the Central Electoral Commission told Kadyrov to tone things down a bit on the tinpot dictatorship aesthetic, maybe invite a few observers, preferably don’t harass said observers, etc.
Consequently, the turnout/pro-Kremlin figures in Chechnya went from something like this in 2011:
… to something a bit less incredible:
For the first time in at least a decade, Chechnya has an actual cluster of polling stations with presumably unfalsified results.
Putin gets around 65% [Russia = 77%, real ≈75%; traditionally oppositionist Moscow = 70%]; turnout at is just 50% [Russia = 68%, real ≈ 62%]; the communist Grudinin is getting 20% [Russia & Moscow both = 12%]; and Sobchak (!) gets around 4% [Russia = 1.6%; Moscow = 4%].
This picture is confirmed by Shpilkin’s regional graph of Chechnya, on which Putin seems to be around the 65% mark in the polling stations with plausible turnout numbers.
It does however make sense in the context of the results of the 2000 Presidential elections, the last ones to be fully free of significant fraud in Russia. Even though there were Russian soldiers voting from Chechnya, not only was it one of the few regions where Zyuganov (37%) beat Putin (30%), but the gap between them was the largest of any Russian region. Not exactly surprising, considering that this was the tail end of a decade of grueling war and chaos that had culminated in what many Chechens saw as a Russian occupation.
So bear this in mind whenever you hear someone waxing lyrical about the special relationship between Russia and Chechnya. Old grievances don’t heal quickly. The more plausible reality seems to be that while the Chechens are certainly not actively resisting, they are not all that enthusiastic about Russian rule, and no amount of federal transfers equivalent to 80% of the Chechen budget or Putin taking parental responsibility for Kadyrov are making a dent in that.
Incidentally, in the last Presidential elections in 2012, the bloggers Kireev and papa_lyosha calculated the real tallies in neighboring Dagestan using a couple of different methods. Their general conclusion was that real turnout was no higher than 40% [Russia = 65%], Putin got 60% [64%], Zyuganov got 30% [17%], the liberal Prokhorov most of the rest, with Zhirinovsky and the socialist candidate each getting 1-2%.