The Kremlin-backed head of Russia's Chechnya region, Ramzan Kadyrov, says he hopes President Vladimir Putin will remain in power for life.
The remark, not unusual for a regional leader who has frequently praised the president and called himself Putin's "foot soldier," comes weeks ahead of a March 18 presidential election that seems certain to hand Putin a new six-year term.
"I wish our president and supreme commander in chief a long life and hope that he will run our country for life," Kadyrov said in a post on Telegram on February 15.
Kadyrov also called Putin a "superhero," accusing unnamed opponents of making too much of a cold that the Kremlin has said Putin came down with a few days ago, prompting him to scale down his schedule this week.
"Some are trying to make a political intrigue out of a common cold, forgetting that the president of Russia is not superhuman -- though he is a superhero," Kadyrov wrote.
Rights activists say that Kadyrov, who was appointed to head Chechnya by Putin in 2007, rules through repressive measures and has created a climate of impunity for security forces in the province in the North Caucasus. They claim that he bears responsibility for abuses including kidnappings, disappearances, torture, and killings of political opponents.
Kremlin critics say Putin turns a blind eye to alleged abuses and violations of the Russian Constitution by Kadyrov because he relies on the former rebel to control separatist sentiments and violence in Chechnya, the site of two devastating post-Soviet wars and an Islamist insurgency that spread to other mostly Muslim regions in the North Caucasus.
With the Kremlin controlling the levers of political power nationwide after years of steps to suppress dissent and marginalize political opponents, Putin -- who is 65 and has been president or prime minister since 1999 -- is virtually assured of victory in the election. A constitutional limit of two consecutive terms means that he would be barred from seeking reelection in 2024.