MOSCOW (Reuters) – Vladimir Putin visited Russia’s restive Chechnya region on Monday, showing support for a local leader accused by rights groups of abuses and demonstrating Moscow’s presence in a mainly Muslim region racked by violence.
Central Russian channels showed Prime Minister Putin and Kremlin-backed regional chief Ramzan Kadyrov alighting from a military helicopter at Tsentoroi, the Kadyrov clan’s home village in the southeastern Chechen foothills.
Putin launched a second war to crush Chechen rebels in 1999 that gained him widespread popularity and propelled him to the highest office. Violence has flared again in the past months, with attacks by militants seeking an Islamist state in the north Caucasus spreading to neighbouring Dagestan and Ingushetia.
Surrounded by heavily armed guards in camouflage and with sub-machineguns at the ready, the two men laid a basket of red and white roses at the tombstone of Kadyrov’s father, Akhmad, who was killed in a bomb blast in 2004.
“It is thanks to this courageous man that the war ended. He gave his life for Russia and Chechnya,” a sombre Putin said, to a roar of helicopter gunships patrolling the area.
Kadyrov faces strong criticism from human rights bodies after kidnappings and killings of human rights and charity activists in Chechnya. He denies any link to killings….