Top Vladimir Putin Ally, Who Said Quarantine Breakers Should Be Killed, Reportedly Hospitalized With COVID-19

A top Chechen leader and key ally of Vladimir Putin, who once suggested that COVID-19 patients should be killed if they fail to obey strict restrictions, has reportedly been hospitalized after testing positive for coronavirus.

As The Guardian reported, Ramzan Kadyrov has not been seen publicly after Russian state media reported that he was taken to Moscow for treatment following a positive test result. Kadyrov has been leading the southern Russian republic of Chechnya after being installed by Putin in 2007, ruling the region with an iron fist and exerting particularly tight control amid the outbreak of the virus.

The Russian state media report said that Kadyrov had suffered damage to his lungs from the infection, though details about his exact health status or whereabouts were not disclosed. As Radio Free Europe reported on Saturday, Kadyrov issued a recorded message congratulating Muslims on Eid al-Fitr, signaling the end of Ramadan.

The reported hospitalization comes weeks after Kadyrov issued threats against patients with COVID-19 who broke quarantine, saying that these people should be "killed" and likened Chechens who do not self-isolate and lead to others becoming infected to "terrorists," suggesting that they be buried in pits, The Moscow Times reported. As a result of these threats, many people with COVID-19 in Chechnya have remained in their homes rather than seeking medical treatment at what the report called the "ill-equipped hospitals" in the region.

Kadyrov also issued threats against journalists writing about the coronavirus outbreak and measures that his leadership had taken to slow its spread.

"If you want us to commit a crime and become criminals, just say it," Kadyrov said, via the Moscow Times. "One (of us) will take on this burden, this responsibility, will be punished in accordance with the law… Don't make bandits and killers out of us."

Kadyrov is already under sanctions from the United States after being identified as a violator of human rights. The Chechen leader was installed by Putin in order to seize tight control in a region that had seen unrest and resistance to Russia's rule.

Like Kadyrov, Putin has come under scrutiny for his country's response to the coronavirus pandemic, which included early claims that it had not struck Russia as it had in neighboring countries. Critics of the Russian government have continued to claim that the numbers of both deaths and infections being reported are incorrect.

"I think those statistics were just absolutely untrue," Bill Browder, a British financier and political activist who has been one of the most vocal critics of Putin, told Salon. "You basically can't trust anything that the Russian government says. And they're always looking for an angle. It wasn't clear what they were trying to achieve by saying it wasn't hitting them. Now they seem to be presenting an accurate number of cases, but they're still wildly undercounting the number of deaths."