Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (right) has played down implied criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) during the Kremlin leader's annual call-in with the public. In unusually forthright comments, Putin warned Chechnya's leadership that they should make sure their actions don't "damage stability" in the Caucasus region and beyond.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has sought to deflect implicit criticism from Russia's president after Vladimir Putin suggested some regional leaders in Russia were "hunt[ing] for enemies of the nation among opposition figures."
Kadyrov, who has governed his North Caucasus region with a free hand that many rights activists blame for disappearances and even execution-style killings of his critics, reacted via Instagram by saying he was "sometimes too emotional" but citing personal loss and sacrifice in the "everyday fight against the most determined enemies of Russia."
The 39-year-old weapons and sports-car enthusiast called "a joke" a video he posted to Instagram in January showing prominent opposition figure Mikhail Kasyanov in crosshairs.
Kadyrov has repeatedly denounced and threatened the Russian opposition, calling them "enemies of the nation who must be punished."
"I received my diplomatic education in the everyday fight against the most determined enemies of Russia, in which I lost my closest and dearest relatives, friends, and comrades," Kadyrov, whose ex-militant father led Chechnya with Moscow's blessing until he was killed by a bomb blast in Grozny in 2004, wrote. "This explains why my way of self-expression is sometimes too emotional, but it is absolutely sincere."
Of the crosshairs video of Kasyanov, which also showed Kremlin critic and activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, Kadyrov wrote, "...It was a joke, a figure of speech. By no means did it contain or could it contain any direct threat against anyone."
Kadyrov thanked Putin for his critical remarks and vowed to continue to struggle "for the interests of Russia and the people of our great country."
Putin said in his April 14 program in language that was unusually blunt: "I hope that both Chechnya's leadership and other Russian regional leaders will come to realize the level of responsibility both before the people on their territories and the entire Russia; and that they will come to understand that such statements against their opponents do not contribute to stability in our country. On the contrary, it damages stability."
Putin added praise for Kadyrov -- who once "fought against us in the woods" alongside Chechen separatists targeting Russia's federal forces -- for his "proven" loyalty to Moscow.
"One needs to understand what sort of people they are," Putin added. "Let alone the fact that we are talking about the Caucasus where people are hot-headed, the very involvement of these people in a governing job at a high political level is not an easy thing. We're all human beings. We are all stemming from our own individual past."
Kasyanov's Parnas party issued a report in February accusing Kadyrov of amassing a 30,000-strong "private army" that constitutes a threat to national security.
That document came one year after Parnas co-chairman and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov was shot dead near the Kremlin in an attack that some opposition figures suggested was carried out with Kadyrov's involvement. Five men from Chechnya have been arrested and charged with Nemtsov's killing.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian and North Caucasus services, AP, and Interfax