MOSCOW -- When it comes to posing with beasts, Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has just outdone his boss.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has stalked tigers, swum with dolphins, and flown with cranes.
But unlike Kadyrov, Putin cannot claim to have defeated "the forces of evil" in the form of a python -- all without messing up his hair or interrupting his prayer.
An October 21 Instagram post from the Kremlin-backed regional leader, known for both his quirky online activity and the rights abuses critics say he employs to rule Chechnya, includes a video montage that shows him kneeling on a prayer mat on a sandy beach, his head bowed.
In the skillfully produced clip, a hefty, hissing python slithers right up to Kadyrov. He talks calmly to the snake, grabs it, looks it in the eye and then tosses it aside like a harmless piece of junk. At one point he turns his head, part of the standard Muslim prayer ritual.
In case anything was lost on viewers of the post, Kadyrov wrote that it has "huge philosophical, ideological and religious meaning."
"The snake symbolizes the forces of evil that have taken over huge territories of the globe where millions of people suffer," Kadyrov explained. "This is Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, African countries. They are trying to draw the people of Ukraine into this abyss."
"The forces of the devil play peoples, religions, countries off against each other. They want managed chaos to rule, so that half the world starves, gets poorer, and settles for pitiful handouts," he wrote. "It should not be like this!"
So who is the devil?
Kadyrov did not single out any person or country. But his words echoed familiar claims by Russian officials that the United States is to blame for violence in Arab nations, was behind the ouster of a Russian-backed president in Ukraine, and -- more generally -- is out to subjugate the world.
Kadyrov called on all those who care about "the future of the planet" to "unite and reach your hands out to one another." He urged politicians to "understand that it is not acceptable to eternally keep whole countries and people in poverty, fear, and oppression."
Telling his 1.3 million Instragram followers that "we can defeat evil," he signed off his post with the hashtag: #StopTheDevil.
The post comes amid warnings from analysts and politicians that the Kremlin campaign of air strikes launched in Syria on September 30 makes Russia a more attractive target for Islamist militants, including the extremist group Islamic State (IS).
On October 20, Kadyrov warned Chechen Interior Ministry officials that the threat of an IS attack in Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim region in southern Russia that has been the site of two devastating separatist wars and the center of an Islamist insurgency, is rising.
Activists accuse Kadyrov of condoning rights abuses, ignoring Russia's constitution, and creating a climate of fear in Chechnya, and say that Putin gives him free rein in hopes of keeping order there.