Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has denied reports he was behind an alleged plot to kill a Georgian journalist.
Local media say a Russian man detained by Georgian state security on Monday was sent to murder television presenter Giorgi Gabunia on Mr Kaydrov’s orders.
The journalist sparked a major row last year when he crudely insulted Russian leader Vladimir Putin live on air.
But Mr Kadyrov said that while Mr Gabunia was his “enemy”, he did not organise his murder.
“Trust me, if someone is acting on my orders, he will carry them out,” he wrote on the messaging app Telegram (in Russian).
“Giorgi Gabunia had better go down on his knees and ask for forgiveness… Otherwise, he will, I repeat, remain my enemy,” he added.
Georgian officials have not commented on the allegations.
Who is Giorgi Gabunia?
Details of the alleged murder plot first emerged on Monday, but the story dates back to July last year, when presenter Giorgi Gabunia sparked a row between Russia and Georgia.
Live on Georgia’s main commercial TV channel, Mr Gabunia launched into a tirade against Mr Putin. Protesters gathered outside the channel’s building, and it went off the air for security reasons soon after.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov at the time called the journalist’s remarks “totally unacceptable”, saying it was because of Georgia’s “reluctance or inability to restrain extremist youths.”
The outburst came amid worsening ties between the two nations. Many Georgians remain angry about the large numbers of Russian troops in two areas, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, that broke away from Georgia in 2008 following a short war.
What is the alleged plot?
On Monday, Georgian state security services announced they had detained a Russian citizen identified as VB for using forged documents. The arrest came as part of an investigation into “preparation of murder by contract”, the statement said.
It made no mention of the journalist or of Mr Kadyrov, and asked people not to spread “fake information” so they can “establish an objective truth in this case”. Security services have asked for more information “through Interpol channels”.
That same day, Mr Gabunia’s boss Nika Gvaramia told Open Caucasus Media that the individual VB was sent to assassinate the journalist on the orders of Ramzan Kadyrov, and that security services learned of the plot from Ukrainian officials.
Formerly a Chechen separatist, Mr Kadyrov is now a staunch ally of President Putin. Critics have linked him to several assassination plots in the past, but he has denied any involvement.
Human rights groups accuse him of torture, persecuting homosexuals and disappearing opponents.
The powerful leader was reportedly rushed to a Moscow hospital for treatment last month after contracting coronavirus, but later told reporters he was “absolutely healthy”, while appearing to have a cannula in his right hand.