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Dec 8, 3:50 PM EST

Chechnya's leader says troops would fight happily in Syria


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MOSCOW (AP) -- Chechnya's strongman leader said Thursday that troops in the Russian province would be happy to fight the "scum" in Syria if they receive the Kremlin order.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov reacted to Russian media reports claiming that two battalions of military police from Chechnya were preparing to leave for Syria to protect the Russian air base there and perform other tasks.

Kadyrov wouldn't confirm the reports, but posted on Instagram that the troops stationed in Chechnya would be happy to deploy to Syria, if they are sent there. He added that he would be eager to personally join the fight against "international terrorism."

"I would be happy and proud to immediately go to Syria to fight the scum" on President Vladimir Putin's orders, Kadyrov said. "The enemy must be destroyed in his den before his tentacles reach your land."

Russia has waged an air campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad since September 2015, helping his forces steadily gain ground across the country, most recently in Aleppo, Syria's largest city and its commercial capital before the war.

The Kremlin has relied on Kadyrov to stabilize Chechnya after two separatist wars, effectively allowing him use generous federal subsidies to rule the region like a personal fiefdom.

International rights groups have accused his feared police force of abductions, torture and extrajudicial killings. In September, Kadyrov won re-election as Chechnya's leader with almost 98 percent of the vote.

Kadyrov has repeatedly described himself and his troops as "Putin's foot soldiers." Many Chechens have played a role in the fighting in eastern Ukraine, where they backed pro-Russia separatists against Ukrainian troops when the conflict erupted in 2014.

Earlier this year, he said in a documentary made by Russian state television that he had sent Chechens to infiltrate the Islamic State group in Syria and gather intelligence.

Putin has stood by Kadyrov amid Russian opposition claims of his involvement in the 2015 killing of prominent Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov. Kadyrov has denied playing a role in the killing. The suspected triggerman now facing trial alone served as an officer in Chechnya's security forces.

While Kadyrov had the central avenue in Chechnya's capital city of Grozny named after Putin, he also has encouraged strict observance of Islamic rules in Chechnya, making it obligatory for women to wear headscarves in public. Men in Chechnya have been tacitly allowed to have several wives, a practice Kremlin critics have used to show that Chechnya under Kadyrov has effectively become a separate state governed by its own rules.

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