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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Flies to Chechnya Ahead of Vote

APAlu Alkhanov, Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov preparing to lay red carnations Sunday on the grave of Akhmad Kadyrov in his home village of Tsentoroi, Chechnya.
A week before the Chechen presidential election, President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Chechnya on Sunday to lay red carnations on the grave of slain Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov.

Putin later hosted Chechen presidential candidate Alu Alkhanov and Kadyrov's son Ramzan at his vacation residence on the Black Sea, where he backed proposals by Alkhanov to increase Chechnya's autonomy.

The president's actions sent a clear signal once again that Alkhanov is the candidate he favors in the election next Sunday.

Putin, with Alkhanov and the younger Kadyrov at his side, solemnly paid tribute to Akhmad Kadyrov during a lightning trip to Kadyrov's home village of Tsentoroi early Sunday morning.

"We lost a sincere, manly, talented and exceptionally decent person," Putin said in remarks shown on state-run Rossia television. "He had no purpose other than to serve his people.

"You and I have to do everything to fulfill Akhmad Kadyrov's plans, all of his good causes and undertakings," he said.

Kadyrov would have turned 53 on Monday.

"I appreciate that you have come to the grave of our President Akhmad Kadyrov at this uneasy time," Alkhanov, Chechnya's interior minister, said in televised remarks. "We are grateful to you for this, and we promise that the cause started by Akhmad Kadyrov, his course and policies, will be continued by his supporters."

Kadyrov was killed May 9 when a bomb tore through a Grozny stadium where he was watching a parade celebrating the anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Putin's visit to Chechnya was brief. State news agencies reported that he arrived in Tsentoroi at about 7:30 a.m. and was back at his Bocharov Ruchei residence near Sochi, where he has been vacationing for the past week, at 10:40 a.m.

Meeting at his residence, Putin endorsed a request from Alkhanov for Chechnya to receive oil-export profits for its reconstruction efforts.

"It seems to me that everybody will understand this proposal. The Cabinet will pass a resolution on this if need be, and I'm ready to make an appeal to State Duma deputies if there's any need to amend tax legislation," Putin said, RIA-Novosti reported.

Alkhanov, who heads a public council overseeing restoration efforts, said Moscow would spend less money on restoration if Chechnya was allowed access to the oil money, Rossia reported.

Putin agreed. "Why spend federal budget money if the republic extracts a product that is in demand on the world market?" he said.

He warned, however, that "not a single kopek should disappear."

Under Alkhanov's proposal, the state-owned Rosneft subsidiary that pumps oil in Chechnya would hand over profits -- not just taxes -- to the Chechen budget, said Alexei Malashenko, a Chechnya analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. The subsidiary, Grozneft, produced 1.8 million tons of oil in 2003 and intends to increase production to 2 million tons this year.

Malashenko called the proposal "healthy" and "realistic," and said Akhmad Kadyrov had sought a similar arrangement.

Putin also approved a plan allowing Chechnya to oversee reconstruction funding from Jan. 1, Alkhanov said. Kadyrov had often complained that up to 80 percent of federal funding for Chechnya ended up in the pockets of Moscow bureaucrats.

Itar-Tass / AP

Alu Alkhanov, Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov preparing to lay red carnations Sunday on the grave of Akhmad Kadyrov in his home village of Tsentoroi, Chechnya.

Also at the meeting, Alkhanov told Putin that Chechen residents are snapping up cellphones -- 500 contracts per day -- after a ban was lifted last Wednesday. The Federal Security Service, or FSB, had outlawed cellphones over fears that rebels might use them to coordinate attacks.

Izvestia reported Saturday that the FSB was only allowing 10,000 cellphones to be sold.

Putin on Sunday called for more cellphone stores to be opened to meet demand.

Putin and Alkhanov also spoke about compensating Chechens for property lost in the war.

Rossia showed Putin, Alkhanov and Ramzan Kadyrov eating a lunch of grapes, bananas and watermelon after their talks.

Putin's visit followed a night of heavy fighting in Grozny that underlines the violence and chaos that continues in Chechnya despite Kremlin efforts to portray the situation as relatively peaceful.

A spokesman for the federal military campaign in Chechnya, Major General Ilya Shabalkin, said on NTV television Sunday evening that more than 50 rebels were killed and that 19 were detained.

An official in Chechnya's Moscow-backed government said more than 30 people were killed in fighting in two Grozny neighborhoods, including at least 23 Chechen police or federal servicemen and some civilians, The Associated Press reported. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said three polling stations came under fire.

Malashenko said Putin's visit aimed "to confirm that the people who are on his side will enjoy support."

Putin also may have wanted to warn Ramzan Kadyrov to tone down his rhetoric, Malashenko said. In an interview with the Georgian television station Mze on Saturday, Kadyrov said he could send 5,000 fighters from the presidential security service, which he heads, to the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia to "preserve peace."

"Kadyrov will have to lower his ambitions," Malashenko said.