Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov posted a surveillance-style video depicting a former Russian prime minister-turned-opposition leader and a Kremlin gadfly in crosshairs.
The clip, on the Moscow-backed strongman's Instagram account, came against a backdrop of alarming political violence associated with Russia, including a U.K. public inquiry concluding that the murder by radioactive poisoning in London of a former Russian spy was "probably approved" by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the assassination nearly a year ago of strident Putin foe and Yeltsin-era Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov.
The appearance in the video of the ailing antigovernment activist Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. was particularly poignant, since he has alleged he was poisoned and nearly died over his political activities last year.
It also follows weeks of public attacks and implicit threats on social and other media by Kadyrov and his allies against Russian opposition leaders and journalists.
International rights groups have warned of past instances of violence after such "menacing rhetoric."
The video that emerged on January 31 showed former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov (2000-04) and Kara-Murza entering a Strasbourg building and was filtered to appear as if the men are being viewed through the scope of a rifle.
The text accompanying the clip read: "'Kasyanov has come to Strasbourg to get money for the Russian opposition'. 💰💰💰💰 WHOEVER DOESN'T GET IT, WILL! ☝."
The first sentence was a headline taken from the Internet news website LifeNews, which published the video -- sans the filter -- on January 26. The second was a slogan associated with a purported action-movie project in which Kadyrov plays the main part:
Kasyanov and Kara-Murza were in Strasbourg to participate in a session of the Council of Europe, of which Russia has been a member since 1996.
LifeNews claimed the video, shot from afar, shows the men approaching La Vignette Robertsau restaurant, where Russian oppositionists allegedly met with representatives from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Kadyrov recently called for Russian opposition activists to be treated "as enemies of the people, as traitors" -- language that rights activists have associated with Soviet history's show trials, executions, and banishment to the notorious gulag prison system.
The Chechen leader frequently plays the role of attack dog against Kremlin critics, leveling outrageous accusations and using rhetoric regarded as too bellicose for many politicians, even on the notoriously coarse Russian political landscape.
But he has also been accused of ordering or even carrying out atrocities against rights activists or journalists.
A lawyer for the slain Nemtsov has suggested the defendants in that continuing case are scapegoats "in order to deflect attention from Kadyrov's inner circle."
Kara-Murza claimed via social media that Kadyrov had used essentially the same phrase, "Whoever didn't get it, will," on May 25, one day before the activist fell suddenly ill from what he claims was poisoning.
Kasyanov said he regards Kadyrov's post as a death threat.
"I believe that this is a direct murder threat of a statesman, as described in the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. I will consult lawyers and, most likely, appeal to law enforcement based on this [article]," he told Interfax agency after the video was released.
Kasyanov said he expects a reaction from President Vladimir Putin, who is "the guarantor of the country's constitution."
Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he would look into the post but added that social media generally does not concern the Kremlin.
"We are not following Kadyrov's Instagram," Peskov said, according to RBK. "In general, we don't follow Instagram."
Instagram eventually removed the video, after calls that it contravened its own guidelines. Instagram spokeswoman Marni Tomljanovic confirmed to RFE/RL that the company removed Kadyrov's post because it violated Instagram's community guidelines.
Instagram's community guidelines state that it removes "content that contains credible threats or hate speech, content that targets private individuals to degrade or shame them, personal information meant to blackmail or harass someone, and repeated unwanted messages."
In a later post on his Instagram page, Kadyrov lashed out at the social-media site.
“How about that vaunted American freedom of speech! You can write anything you want, but don’t touch the dogs of America, the friends of the Secretary of State and Congress. You know perfectly well what I’m talking about.”
Some chided Instagram before their decision:
Others suggested the blame lies squarely at the top of Russia's official structures.
"Kadyrov threatens terrorist attacks," opposition leader Aleskei Navalny tweeted. "And you can't say that this is not sanctioned by Putin anymore."
"Not a bit embarrassed by his [alleged] role in the murder of Nemtsov, Kadyrov openly offers Putin his services in the further physical liquidation of the undesirable," wrote Russian political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky.
Kadyrov often portrays himself as a defender of Islam, and he regularly shares excerpts from the Koran and stories about his children studying the Islamic holy book.
"Somebody send me a quote from the Koran where it says that you can share photos of people in a rifle scope on Instagram. The page and the line in a direct message please," one person tweeted.
But many others didn't share Kasyanov's unease, claiming that both sides can play the Internet meme game.
"It's OK for a Russian opposition activist to publish a fake photo of Putin in a coffin, but a fake photo of Kasyanov in a scope is bad," one user tweeted, referencing speculation during the Russian president's mysterious 10-day disappearance in 2015.
Others also interpreted the published video as a joke, but one of a different sort.
"[Doesn't] Kasyanov allow himself to blame Kadyrov for Nemtsov's death? Without evidence, based on personal feelings. So Kadyrov joked about it," tweeted Russian lawyer Violetta Volkova.
"Optical scope may also be used to surveil the terrain and calculate distances to objects, for instance," wrote Maria Katasonova, an aide to Russian deputy Yevgeny Fyodorov.