Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah has found himself at the centre of controversy after posing for photographs with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
Images of Salah and the controversial leader quickly circulated online, with Kadyrov visibly grasping the hand of the Egypt star as a show of solidarity.
Discussion quickly spread of Kadyrov using the high-profile player as a piece of political propaganda, in order to soften his own image in public perception.
Kadyrov’s rule has been blighted by numerous reports of torture, extra-judicial killings, a purge of gay people in Chechnya among other human rights issues.
Salah was relaxing in his hotel room in Grozny when he was informed an important guest dropped in unexpectedly and was waiting for him in the lobby.
When the Egypt star forward went down, he found Chechen leader Kadyrov and his entourage waiting.
The Moscow-backed former rebel then asked Salah if he could accompany him for the short drive to the stadium where the rest of Egypt’s World Cup squad was training and several thousand local fans were in attendance.
Salah complied and headed out sporting a white Egypt jersey while his host was in a green-and-white tracksuit.
‘This is Kadyrov trying to capitalize on Chechnya being a team base to boost his own profile … it was 100 percent predictable,’ said Rachel Denber, the Human Rights Watch deputy director for Europe and central Asia.
‘He revels in the spotlight. He also has a ruthless grip on Chechnya. He has sought to obliterate any kind of political advocacy or human rights work.’