Tuesday, January 19 2016 21:15 EET
Russian politician who criticized Putin ally recants after threats

A politician who called an ally of President Vladimir Putin "Russia's disgrace" made a groveling public apology on Friday, after saying he had received strong hints he might otherwise be murdered.

Konstantin Senchenko, a local politician in the Siberian Krasnoyarsk region, made waves on Thursday by posting a fierce online critique of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya.

Senchenko said Kadyrov, a former Chechen rebel turned staunch Kremlin ally, had discredited Russia by calling Putin's opponents "enemies of the people".

The Stalin-era phrase is associated with a period in the 1930s when the Soviet authorities shot dead almost 700,000 people.

Kadyrov, Putin's strongest ally in the mostly Muslim North Caucasus area of southern Russia, had also said he thought the liberal opposition should be put on trial for sabotage, angering and frightening Kremlin opponents.

On Friday, in a U-turn just a day after publishing his original comments, video footage of an anxious-looking Senchenko appeared on Kremlin-friendly news sites talking to someone off camera in a restaurant.

"I apologize. I was wrong. I acted hastily and emotionally. I am really sorry," said Senchenko. He said he had realized the error of his ways after talking to "representatives of the Chechen people".

In an interview to a Russian radio station, Senchenko described chats with individuals he declined to name in which he said strong and unmistakable hints had been dropped that he could suffer the same fate as late opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

Nemtsov was shot dead in February last year while walking across a bridge near Moscow's Red Square.

"In the course of these conversations various hints were made and certain things became obvious," said Senchenko. "For example I was asked whether I liked to walk across Red Square."

Starved of access to state media and restricted by strict laws on protests, Russia's liberal opposition is still reeling from Nemtsov's assassination.

One of the suspects awaiting trial for carrying out the shooting, Zaur Dadayev, used to serve in Chechnya's police and was described by Kadyrov after the killing as a "true patriot of Russia".

Nemtsov's daughter has said she wants police to question Kadyrov in connection with the case. Kadyrov told a Russian radio station in October the idea he was a suspect was "total nonsense."

Kadyrov on Friday posted Senchenko's apology to him on social media and wrote, with the aid of numerous smiley emoticons, that he accepted it.

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