An independent local legislator in Siberia's Krasnoyarsk Krai has crossed swords with the powerful head of Russia's Chechnya region in the North Caucasus. But just one day after lawmaker Konstantin Senchenko posted a scathing attack on Ramzan Kadyrov on social media, he apologized "profoundly" following a mysterious conversation with a representative of the Chechen community whom he refused to name.
However, the incident has sparked a social-media debate over Kadyrov, who has been widely accused of gross human-rights abuses and is believed by many to have overseen the assassination of political opponents both in Russia and abroad.
The cross-country dust-up began on January 12 when Kadyrov posted an official statement accusing anyone who opposes the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to foment unrest during Russia's current trying economic times.
"Some people who no one had ever heard of before are climbing out of their skins in order to get attention for opposing Russian President Vladimir Putin," Kadyrov is quoted as saying. "The representatives of the so-called nonsystemic opposition are trying to benefit from the country's complicated economic situation. Such people should be treated as enemies of the people, as traitors. There is nothing good about them."
"These people do not care about the fate of Russia or the peoples of Russia," he added. He also said they were "playing a game that was invented by the Western secret services and dancing to their tune."
'Killing Our Boys'
Senchenko, an independent deputy in the Krasnoyarsk city assembly, took Kadyrov's comments personally and on January 14 he posted a scathing response on Facebook addressed directly to the controversial Chechen leader.
"Ramzan, you are a disgrace to Russia," Senchenko wrote. "You have discredited everything it is possible to discredit." Senchenko added that Kadyrov's statement was particularly unbecoming for a man who holds Russia's highest honor, Hero of Russia, and who is a member of the country's Academy of Sciences.
"I remember a time when we here in Krasnoyarsk were collecting aid for our troops who were being sent to fight in Chechnya," Senchenko wrote about the war in the mid-1990s in which Kadyrov fought on the side of Chechen separatists. "At that time you were running around in the mountains and killing our boys. Now they are lying in the ground and you are a Hero of Russia."
Senchenko also criticized Kadyrov for the fact that Chechnya's budget consists overwhelmingly of "subsidies from Moscow," some of which come from the oil-rich Krasnoyarsk region. “When you take money from state-sector workers and build palaces for yourself, you are already beyond the boundary of good and evil. So, get out of here, academic and hero, and stop preventing normal, honest, working people from building up their beloved Russia."
In comments to RFE/RL's Russian Service the same day, Senchenko said "I absolutely don't care whether there is any reaction or not. I wrote the post mostly for myself and for my friends."
"When I discussed Ramzan Kadyrov's statement with my friends I could hear fear in their voices," Senchenko continued. "People are afraid and they don't understand how they should proceed -- whether they should leave the country or not. That is why I took this role on myself and publicly said what many people are thinking but are afraid to say in public. Maybe my action will serve as a stimulus for some kind of change and more normal, sensible people will decide to stay and help develop our country instead of leaving."
Later on January 14,state-controlled Grozny TV broadcast a nearly seven-minute story on the incident including audio the channel said was Senchenko apologizing for his remarks. The pro-Kremlin LifeNews and Zvezda television channels also reported the apology.
In the comments broadcast by Grozny TV, Senchenko says "I apologize for any incorrect and offensive words," adding that the "situation was emotionally tense and complicated."
The broken and difficult-to-understand audio was, Senchenko wrote on Facebook on January 15, taken from a private conversation he held with "a respected person" representing the Chechen community in Krasnoyarsk. Senchenko declined to identify the person and did not say if he was aware he was being recorded.
He called his post about Kadyrov a "gesture of despair because my nerves are stretched to their limits, the economic situation is getting worse, and I see no prospects for improvement." He said he had "become convinced of the authority of the leader of the Chechen Republic," adding that many Chechens "really respect Ramzan Kadyrov and are very offended by statements against their leader."
'A Lesson To Everyone'
In an interview with local VK radio on January 15, Senchenko said he may have spoken overly harshly and that he did not mean to offend the people of Chechnya. He said he has been upset in the past hearing national politicians saying that anyone who disagreed with the government is an "enemy of the people," and Kadyrov's declaration was "the last drop that overflowed the cup of my patience." He said that if he had known his statement would attract so much attention, he would have "written more correctly, more formally."
On January 15, Kadyrov posted on his Instagram page a short video clip showing Senchenko, likely from the same conversation with the unnamed representative of the Chechen community, apologizing to Kadyrov and saying that he had acted "emotionally." Kadyrov wrote on the post: "I accept."
Prominent opposition politician Aleksei Navalny posted on Facebook that he regrets that Senchenko walked back his criticism of Kadyrov. "This is a lesson to everyone not to say things that you are actually afraid to say," Navalny said.
Krasnoyarsk journalist Anton Andreyev quickly wrote on Senchenko's Facebook page that "maybe now they won't kill you."
By contrast, Putin's human rights ombudswoman, Ella Pamfilova, told journalists on January 15 that she will not apologize for her criticism of Kadyrov's statement, which she called "a disservice to the president and a shadow over the country."
After Duma deputy Shamsail Saraliyev advised her to "take a sedative and apologize," Pamfilova said: "If I, as the human rights ombudsman, start apologizing to every high official for my criticism of them when they violate the constitution or overstep the law, then I might as well resign."
Meanwhile Senchenko's feeling that he was saying "what many people are thinking" could be correct. His original Facebook post has prompted something of a social-media flash mob around the slogan of "Kadyrov Is A Disgrace."
Yekaterinburg journalist Aleksei Shaburov wrote on Facebook: "Let every honest person write that Ramzan Kadyrov is a disgrace to Russia. They can't force everyone to apologize."
Leonid Volkov, an assistant to Navalny, joined the criticism, accusing Kadyrov of establishing a "feudal, medieval dictatorship with a personal army that holds his 2 million domestic serfs in fear and boldly, publicly terrorizes 140 million people outside his territory by dispatching murderers."
Duma Deputy and former Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Valery Zubov wrote on Twitter: "I consider what [Senchenko] has done a strong, courageous beginning. His action is politically and economically justified."
Ekho Moskvy Deputy Editor Vladimir Varfolomeyev wrote on his Twitter page: "I don't understand those who today are writing "Kadyrov is a disgrace to Russia."
"On the contrary, he is a fairly accurate reflection of it, its very essence," he wrote. "This is what our country is like."