World News

Putin endorses Chechnya leader, but says must respect Russian laws

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin on Friday gave his blessing for Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Russia’s Chechnya, to carry on in the job, but warned the unpredictable former warlord that Russian law must be strictly enforced in the majority Muslim region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) meets with Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, in this December 10, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin

Kadyrov, a former Islamist rebel, often pays little heed to the rules that govern the rest of the country and Putin’s warning will be seen as an attempt to rein him in and remind him who is boss.

Although Kadyrov, 39, swears loyalty to Putin, critics say he has carved out a state within a state enforcing a strict Islamic “code of virtue” for women and using methods against insurgents human rights groups see as rights abuses.

“It’s essential to coordinate more closely when it comes to working with the federal organs of power, especially on security matters,” Putin told Kadyrov during a meeting in his Kremlin office.

“You must do everything to ensure that Russian law in all spheres of life is observed. I want to underline in all spheres of life.”

Kadyrov, who has ruled Chechnya since 2007, said he would do his best. His current term of office expires next month. Putin said he had signed a decree appointing him acting leader until regional elections in September when he said he hoped that voters would recognize all Kadyrov had achieved.

In previous elections in Chechnya in the past few years, candidates endorsed by the Kremlin have won by huge margins.

Putin’s decision was widely expected. Alienating Kadyrov, who commands tens of thousands of armed loyalists and has concentrated power in his own hands, would have risked re-igniting an Islamist insurgency that he has helped the Kremlin leader defeat.

Since he was formally appointed by Putin in 2007, Kadyrov has overseen the rebuilding of the Chechen capital Grozny, devastated in 1994-96 and 1999-2000 wars by Russian forces intent on keeping Chechnya in Russia.

In the run-up to Friday’s meeting, Kadyrov had become increasingly unpredictable and outspoken, a sign his critics said betrayed his nervousness about whether Putin would let him stay on in the job.

Large rallies have been staged in Chechnya in his support with some attendees complaining they had been forced to attend. Kadyrov had also lashed out at Russia’s liberal opposition calling them “enemies of the people” who deserved to be tried for sabotage.

He had also been forced to repeatedly comment on the murder in Moscow last year of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov whose supporters have pointed the finger at Kadyrov.

The Chechen leader has strongly denied involvement, though he praised one of the suspects, a Chechen policeman, as a “true patriot” soon after he was arrested.

Additional reporting by Alexander Winning, Maria Tsvetkova, Denis Dyomkin and Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Christian Lowe