Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, has accused social-media networks of bowing to pressure from Washington and disabling his Russian-language pages after the U.S. Treasury Department hit him with financial and travel sanctions.
Kadyrov said he found his Russian-language Instagram and Facebook accounts were not functioning on December 23 and that he never received a response from Instagram after sending a request for service support. His English-language Instagram account was unaffected.
"Instagram's move, which still wants to pretend it is independent from official Washington" is weird, he wrote on the social-media site Telegram.
"They wanted to stir my indignation, but were wrong, and this is the only thing which pleases me in actions Instagram and their patrons in the White House are undertaking. I have planned already to quit the network. But I thought I could fail my friends and subscribers, as on Instagram and Facebook I have more than 4 million followers," Kadyrov added.
Representatives from the social networks and the U.S. government have yet to comment on whether the accounts were officially blocked.
However, Dzhambulat Umarov, Chechnya's press and information minister, called the issue a "vile sabotage cyberattack" by U.S. authorities.
"Each word, every look from Ramzan Kadyrov instills fear in the greedy hearts of overseas cowards, capable only of behind-the-scenes geopolitical fuss and bleeding nations," Umarov was quoted by the RBC.ru news website as saying.
Kadyrov said on Telegram that a new social network, Mylistory, was being tested in Chechnya and should be up and running in the New Year. He added that in the meantime he would continue to communicate through other social networks such as VKontakte, Twitter (RKadyrov), and Telegram.
One of the last Instagram postings before the page went down was a video recording by Kadyrov in which he responded to the sanctions, brought about under the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that aims to punish Russians alleged to be involved human rights violations, by saying he had no current reason to travel to the United States.
Human rights groups say Kadyrov has used threats and abuses to maintain control over Chechnya, the site of two post-Soviet separatist wars and years of insurgent violence stemming from the conflicts since Putin appointed him to head the region in 2007.
The U.S. sanctions law is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was arrested after blowing the whistle on what he said was the theft of $230 million from Russian state coffers through tax fraud.
He died in jail in December 2009, and relatives and rights activists said he had been tortured and denied medical care. A Council of Europe investigation concluded the conditions leading up to his death amounted to torture.
The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta was the first to document evidence that police in Chechnya rounded up, tortured, and humiliated dozens people they considered to be gay.
The report was later corroborated in part by RFE/RL as well as Human Rights Watch, which said the "antigay purge" lasted from late February until at least early April and that "it was ordered and conducted by officials in Chechnya."
Kadyrov and the Kremlin have denied the accusations.
Relations between Russia and the United States are badly strained by tension over issues including Russia's aggression in Ukraine, its role in the war in Syria, and what U.S. intelligence agencies say was an "influence campaign" of interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
With reporting by TASS and Interfax