MOSCOW (AP) — Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov announced Monday that he is ready to step down — a move largely perceived as a publicity stunt.
Kadyrov said in a rare interview aired Monday morning that it is his "dream" to step down because he finds the responsibility of leading the Russian region to be too heavy.
Kremlin-backed Kadyrov, a former rebel who switched his loyalties to Moscow, has been the dominant figure in Chechnya since the 2004 assassination of his father, President Akhmad Kadyrov.
Kadyrov Jr. has previously spoken about wanting to resign but never followed through. His public statements have been widely seen as part of a power play with the Kremlin for privileges and extra funding for his region which relies on subsidies from the federal budget.
"It is my dream," Kadyrov said in the interview on the Rossiya 24 channel, asked if he would be willing to step down at some point. "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."
The Chechen leader reiterated his allegiance to Putin, calling him his "idol": "I'm ready to die for him, I'm ready to comply with any order."
Kadyrov has enforced strict Islamic rules in Chechnya, relying on his feared security forces to stifle any dissent.
His rule has been marred by numerous reports of extrajudicial killings and torture in the republic which saw two devastating separatist wars in the 1990s. This year, Kadyrov came under pressure when widespread reports surfaced of a broad crackdown on gay people in Chechnya.
While denying accusations of leading the purge, Kadyrov has publicly insisted there are no gays in Chechnya. An investigation ordered by President Vladimir Putin has not produced any results yet.
The Associated Press has spoken to several Chechen men who were tortured for being gay but they have not identified themselves for fear of reprisals.
The first man went public about his ordeal in October, filing a complaint with Russian authorities over systemic attacks against gay people that human rights defenders say have taken place in Chechnya under Kadyrov.
The Kremlin sought to play down Kadyrov's statement Monday.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Kadyrov is a Putin ally and "in this instance he intends to work in the capacity that the country's president has instructed him to."