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Putin Seeks to Keep Chechen Leader On the Job

FILE - Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov speaks at a Defenders of the Fatherland Day celebration in the provincial capital of Grozny, Russia, Feb. 20, 2016. He's been nominated for another term, despite criminal allegations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday nominated Chechnya's regional leader for another term in office, shrugging off demands for his dismissal over an alleged role in the killing of a Russian opposition leader.

But in an apparent bid to rein in the unruly strongman, Putin warned Ramzan Kadyrov of the need to more closely follow the federal law.

Putin has relied on Kadyrov to stabilize Chechnya after two separatist wars, effectively allowing him to rule the region like a personal fiefdom. Kadyrov's unparalleled privileges and defiant behavior have earned him numerous enemies in Russia's law-enforcement agencies, whose leaders have long pushed for his dismissal.

The February 2015 killing of Boris Nemtsov, a prominent Kremlin critic, has raised pressure on Kadyrov, because the suspected triggerman was an officer in his security force. Russia's liberal opposition activists have accused Kadyrov of involvement in the killing, accusations he has rejected.

Putin didn't mention the killing during a televised meeting with Kadyrov Friday, praising the Chechen leader for rebuilding Chechnya and raising living standards.

The Russian president named Kadyrov, whose current term expires April 5, as the acting leader of the region and anointed him to seek re-election in September's vote. The vote is a mere formality, given Kadyrov's sway.

In what looked like an attempt to bring the wayward Chechen strongman in line, the president waited until Friday before declaring his support for Kadyrov for another term. Facing Kadyrov across the table in the Kremlin, Putin made it clear that he would no longer allow the Chechen leader to ignore federal controls.

"I would like to draw your attention to the need to coordinate more closely with federal organs, particularly on security issues," Putin told Kadyrov. "You should pay more attention to contacts with the federal authorities."

Replaced father

The gruff 39-year-old succeeded his father, the former rebel who switched sides to become Chechnya's first Moscow-backed leader before dying in a rebel bombing in 2004.

He has successfully converted his personal relationship with Putin into a steady flow of federal subsidies and effective immunity from federal controls. Even Russia's all-powerful security agencies have been forced to obey Kadyrov, maintaining a mere symbolic presence in Chechnya.

While Nemtsov’s killing offered Kadyrov's foes in the federal agencies a rare chance to finally get rid of the Chechen strongman, Putin has firmly stood by him and the investigation has fizzled. Key suspects have disappeared and reportedly have been whisked abroad, while the investigators have made little headway in apprehending those behind the killing.

Kadyrov's unprecedented clout has worried many in Russia, who have seen it as a potential threat to the country's integrity and stability.

Aware of the law enforcement agencies' push for his dismissal, Kadyrov has issued a series of vitriolic attacks on the Russian opposition, denouncing them as "enemies of the people" in an apparent bid to curry Putin's favor. In a show of obedience, he also said he's willing to step down when his term ends.