Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has reportedly been taken ill with Covid-19.
Rumours of the iracund strongman's evacuation to Moscow on private jet have been circling in anonymous social media channels since Wednesday. But firm reports came only a day later, with Russian news agency Interfax citing an unnamed hospital source that Mr Kadyrov, 43, had been hospitalised with suspected Covid-19.
Mr Kadyrov's press secretary was unavailable for comment at the time of publication. Akhmed Dudayev, an assistant to the Chechen leader, later claimed he remained "in control" of decision-making, but did not specifically deny his illness.
According to Baza, a social media channel closely linked to Russian law enforcement, the Chechen president arrived in Moscow on Wednesday evening, and has been diagnosed with viral pneumonia in both lungs, with results of a Covid-19 test pending.
"Kadyrov was evacuated to one of the best clinics in the Russian capital on [Wednesday]," the channel reported. "He complained of the first symptoms a few days ago. Later his condition deteriorated and doctors recommended he receive medical help in Moscow."
Other media suggest the Chechen leader made the trip to Moscow a day later, on Wednesday, noting a special flight left Grozny for the capital at 2.30pm local time.
Chechnya, a war-scarred republic in Russia's southern mountains, has been under strict lockdown since early April. Official statistics suggest a total of 1026 have been infected locally. Given issues over testing accuracy, it is likely the number is several orders higher.
It is immediately not clear how the Chechen leader could have been infected. Both he and his officials made televised trips to hospitals treating Covid-19 patients in recent weeks — though only with the protection of expensive hazmat suits and respirators. In late April, Mr Kadyrov reported that the head of his epidemic task force had fallen ill with the virus.
The Chechen leader was already rumoured to be in bad health, with reports suggesting serious illness earlier this year.
Mr Kadyrov assumed power in 2004 after his father, Akhmad Kadyrov was assassinated in a bomb blast in Grozny stadium. Since then, the tiger-loving warrior has forged a reputation for extravagance and terror, with several high-profile critics meeting their ends in suspicious circumstances.
The Chechen president was considered the driving force behind several waves of persecution of LGBT+ people, beginning in 2017, that saw at least three men killed and hundreds tortured.
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