MOSCOW (Reuters) - Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Russia’s Chechnya, said he was ready to die for Vladimir Putin and stand down, if ordered, ahead of a federal presidential election next year which has triggered personnel reshuffles that have put some politicians on edge.
Kadyrov, 41, spoke during an interview broadcast on state TV late on Sunday that showcased what the unpredictable former warlord regards as his main achievements and, to a stirring soundtrack, showed him boxing, riding a horse, and giving his views on everything from polygamy to gay marriage.
His comments looked like a tactic, one he has used before, to secure the Kremlin’s public approval, something he didn’t have to wait long for.
“Kadyrov has repeatedly said that he is, speaking figuratively, quite a consistent and committed member of Putin’s circle of adherents and intends to continue working where and how the president of the country orders him,” Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, told reporters on Monday.
“He didn’t say anything different and that’s what we’re going on. Ramzan continues to remain the current head of the republic.”
Who rules the majority Muslim region is important for the Kremlin as Chechnya fought two wars against Moscow after the 1991 Soviet collapse, but now, in return for generous subsidies and a wide degree of autonomy, pledges absolute loyalty.
Kadyrov, who has ruled Chechnya for the past decade during which rights groups have accused him of abuses, is seen by Moscow as the guarantor of that pact and was groomed by the Kremlin for his role after his father’s 2004 murder.
‘PUTIN‘S FOOT SOLDIER’
His comments about possibly quitting came when asked by his state TV interviewer what he made of the prospect of having to leave office “at some point.”
Kadyrov said it was “his dream” to one day step down from what he described as a very difficult job. He said that, if asked, he could propose several candidates to take over.
“Once there was a need for people like me to fight, to put things in order. Now we have order and prosperity ... and the time has come for changes,” said Kadyrov.
Kadyrov, who calls himself “Putin’s foot soldier,” has made similar statements before which have come to nothing.
Nor is his position under threat. He was re-elected last year for a five-year term after Putin gave his personal blessing for him to carry in on the job, while warning him that Russian law must be strictly enforced in Chechnya.
Kadyrov’s statement, like those before it, looked instead like a symbolic show of loyalty to curry favor with Putin who the Chechen leader said in the same interview he saw “rarely” and only when summoned.
Putin, 65, is widely expected to run for a fourth term and has started clearing out the old Russian political elite to bring in younger people, a process that has seen some regional leaders pressured to stand down.
That has caused unease in some political circles and Kadyrov has found himself in the headlines in the West this year after rights groups accused him of presiding over a campaign of torture and murder of gay men.
Kadyrov, in the same interview, said the allegations had been “made up” by rights group to attract funding grants and that he and his forces could not have persecuted gay men in Chechnya because there weren’t any.
He described Putin as his idol.
“I am ready to die for him, to fulfill any order,” he said.
Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Mark Heinrich