Putin Backs Chechnya Chief Kadyrov for New Term Amid Threats Row

  • Kadyrov reappointed despite saying he wanted to stand down
  • Rights groups, opposition accuse Kadyrov of stirring up hatred

Russian President Vladimir Putin reappointed Ramzan Kadyrov as head of Chechnya amid accusations from rights groups and opposition activists that he’s responsible for stirring up a campaign of hatred against Kremlin critics.

Kadyrov will continue as acting chief once his current term expires next month until elections for regional governors in September, Putin said at a Kremlin meeting with the Chechen leader on Friday.

“I expect that the Chechen people will be able to appreciate during the election campaign what you have done for the republic,” the president said. Kadyrov, who’s ruled Chechnya in Russia’s North Caucasus with an iron fist since 2007, should ensure “closer coordination” with federal authorities “particularly in dealing with questions of security,” Putin said.

Kadyrov’s reappointment came even as he told state television last month that he wanted to step down when his term expires. The Chechen strongman, who routinely declares his devotion to Putin, has faced repeated criticism from human rights groups over abuses. Controversy flared again after the deputy head of an elite police unit loyal to Kadyrov was identified as the main suspect in the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov near the Kremlin in February last year.

Kadyrov, who denies any involvement in the killing, said in January that Putin’s opponents “should be treated as enemies of the people,” a Soviet-era term that could lead to executions under the Communist system.

Conflict, Polygamy

He posted a video on his Instagram account last month showing former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, now a harsh critic of Putin, in the crosshairs of a scope sight, and later added a picture of himself with a sniper rifle. Both posts carried the same message: “Those who don’t understand will get it.” 

Kasyanov said he was attacked days later by a gang of men in a Moscow restaurant who shouted threats and threw a cake at him.

Kadyrov also openly confronted Russian federal law enforcement agencies last year, ordering his forces to shoot at police from other parts of Russia if they carry out unauthorized raids in Chechnya.

“There was an impression for some time that Putin became so fed up with Kadyrov’s conflict with federal law enforcement and security agencies, and his unpredictable actions, that the president began to think about firing him,” said Igor Bunin, director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies. “But you can’t fire the khan. Putin needs him not only to control Chechnya but also as a man who has good ties in the Middle East.”

Kadyrov has spoken in favor of polygamy, which is illegal in Russia, as permissible under Sharia law in mainly Muslim Chechnya. He prompted an outcry by supporting an alleged forced and polygamous marriage of a 17-year-old girl to a police chief 30 years her senior last May.

The former separatist leader switched sides with his father Akhmad to back the Kremlin after Putin sent troops into Chechnya in 1999 to restore control. When Akhmad was killed in a 2004 bomb attack while serving as Chechen president, Putin picked the younger Kadyrov to run Chechnya and subdue militants, making him prime minister and then president of the republic in 2007 once he’d turned 30, the minimum legal age.

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