Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of Chechnya, is in hospital in Moscow with coronavirus symptoms, Russian state news agencies said late on Thursday.
The news was reported by two Russian state news agencies, RIA Novosti and Tass, both citing a “source in medical circles”. If true, it would mark the most significant illness of a Russian official so far in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kadyrov has become a singular figure in his native Chechnya, where he was installed by Vladimir Putin in 2007 in order to quell a simmering insurgency. He has since turned the region into a personal fiefdom, developing a powerful national guard and a cult of personality. He has no clear successor.
“Ramzan Kadyrov has been brought to Moscow by plane with suspected coronavirus. He is currently under medical observation,” read the source’s remarks published by Tass. It was also reported by the Interfax news agency, which serves as another clearing house for official news, although it is occasionally inaccurate.
Kadyrov’s illness was first reported by the digital news outlet Baza, which had previously correctly revealed that prime minister Mikhail Mishustin had fallen ill. According to the news outlet, Kadyrov was flown to “one of [Moscow’s] best clinics” on Wednesday after his flu-like symptoms suddenly deteriorated. Baza reported there had been damage to his lungs.
Chechen officials did not confirm the news. A spokesman for Kadyrov did not answer phone calls on Thursday, although he had declined to comment on Kadyrov’s health to several Russian news outlets.
Akhmed Dudayev, an ally and the head of Chechnya’s state-run TV channel, contested the reports, writing on Instagram that Kadyrov “is personally in control of the situation and taking all necessary measures. The work of his headquarters is under his personal control.”
Kadyrov earlier this year briefly transferred power to the head of Chechnya’s government during a medical procedure. However, his government did not announce any similar decisions on Thursday.
He has made a limited number of public appearances recently, although he did feature in a heavily edited video of a government coronavirus briefing released on Sunday. Kadyrov visited a coronavirus hospital in April, donning a yellow jumpsuit similar to one worn by Putin and stopping for selfies with doctors.
He had also shaved his head earlier that month after being asked to reopen local barber shops. “I recommend that all shave their heads as beauty salons are closed and households do not have barbers,” Kadyrov said in a video released on Instagram. Other Chechen officials quickly began posting photographs online with shaved heads.
In March, he played down concerns about the virus, saying: “People are losing sleep because a disease appeared in China … they are afraid they’ll get it and they’ll die. Don’t be in a rush, you’ll die anyway. Don’t try to die before your time.”