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The Dictator Behind Chechnya’s Anti-Gay Purge Wants to Resign. Putin Won’t Let Him

Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has claimed in a rare public interview that his “dream” is to abdicate power. But the man allegedly behind the deaths of more than 100 gay men isn’t going anywhere, at least if the Kremlin has anything to say about it.

The 41-year-old dictator told Russia 1 TV that his rule is no longer necessary in the semi-autonomous Russian republic.

“Once there was a need for people like me to fight, to put things in order,” he claimed in a Monday broadcast. “Now we have order and prosperity … and time has come for changes in the Chechen Republic.”

Kadyrov was appointed by President Vladimir Putin in 2007 to crack down on insurgency in the war-torn region, which was decimated in a bloody conflict which stretched on for nearly a decade. A former rebel leader in the independence movement, he was confirmed as president by the Chechen Parliament in 2011 and won reelection last year by a 98 percent vote.

But Kadyrov claimed 10 years of rule had taken its toll.

“It’s very hard to be a leader and bear the responsibility for the people, for the republic in the face of God, the country’s leaders,” he told the state-run news channel.

The fitness enthusiast and father of 14 children added that he would help the Kremlin to select his replacement, claiming that “there are several people who are 100 percent capable of carrying out these duties at the highest level.”

Should Kadyrov step down, few in the LGBTQ community would mourn his departure.

Kadyrov has been the face of Chechnya’s anti-gay purge, in which at least 100 people suspected of being LGBTQ have been rounded up, beaten, and thrown into concentration camps. The pogrom has led to the deaths of at least four men, most recently the popular Russian singer Zelimkhan Bakayev.

The pop star, last seen in the capital of Grozny in August, is believed to have been a victim of the extermination campaign.

Even while claiming that Chechnya would eliminate its LGBTQ population by Ramadan, Kadyrov has denied that the camps exist. In an odd bit of mixed-messaging, he has publicly rejected the notion that gay men live in the Muslim-majority territory at all.

“We don’t have any gays,” Kadyrov claimed in a July interview with Bryant Gumbel. “If there are any, take them to Canada.”

But despite Kadyrov’s stated wish to step down, the Russian government quickly distanced itself from any talks of his retirement. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told members of the media that the despot “continues to remain as the current head of the republic” and suggested that this was not subject to change.

“He did not say otherwise,” Peskov said Monday. “We are proceeding from this.”

This isn’t the first time that Kadyrov has signaled his desire to resign. Putin urged the one-time insurgent to campaign for reelection last year even after Kadyrov claimed that he no longer wanted the job. The Chechen leader, a position that is directly overseen by Putin himself, is voted in for a four-year termmeaning he will be up for election again in 2020.

Kadyrov said on Monday that he will remain loyal to the Kremlin, calling Putin his “idol.” The strongman claimed he was “ready to die” for the Russian president and would “fulfill any order” given to him.

Although the Islamist leader is the bête noire of the diplomatic community, Kadyrov’s rule remains widely popular in Russia. Prior to his September 2016 reelection, a survey conducted by the independent Levada sociological center found that 69 percent of his countrymen backed his candidacy, with just 13 percent opposed to another term.