President Vladimir Putin has praised Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Russia's Chechnya region, who has been widely accused of human rights abuses and recently unleashed a series of verbal attacks on liberals and Kremlin opponents.
Speaking at a conference of his loyal All-Russia People's Front movement in the southern city of Stavropol on January 25, Putin expressed his "thanks to Chechnya, to its people...and the current leader." Without actually uttering Kadyrov's name, Putin said: "He is working effectively."
The brief remark was Putin's first public comment on Kadyrov since the regional strongman and his allies began branding liberal opposition politicians, activists, and journalists as "enemies of the people" and Western-backed "jackals."
Those remarks were echoed by demonstrators at a huge rally organized by Kadyrov on January 22 in Chechnya's capital, Grozny.
The verbal attacks have provoked calls for Putin to dismiss Kadyrov, whom one lawmaker called a "disgrace" to Russia.
International rights groups have said the attacks constitute a serious threat to their targets, and have also urged Putin to take action.
Putin installed Kadyorov as head of Chechnya in 2007.
Kremlin critics say Putin tolerates or encourages Kadyrov's words and actions because he relies on him to maintain control of Chechnya, the site of two post-Soviet separatists wars and an ongoing Islamist insurgency.