Ramzan Kdyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, said this week that a local rule forcing women to wear headscarves was justified because the sight of female flesh prevents him from concentrating on his work.
Mr Kadyrov made the comments in a televised interview with Tina Kandelaki, a glamourous Russian television star who has posed for a number of men's magazines.
"You are too provocatively dressed, so I'm trying not to look at you," Mr Kadyrov told the television presenter. Ms Kandelaki was wearing a black jacket and a knee-length skirt with tights.
"If women go to work half-naked, then men won't be able to work," the Chechen leader continued. "I'll look at you, and day and night I'll be thinking about how to say salaam alaikum [hello] to you. Work will be the last thing on my mind."
Mr Kadyrov has previously cited Chechen tradition and Islamic values as reasons why women should cover up, but this is the first time he has used this particular excuse.
Tanya Lokshina, the deputy director of the Moscow Office of Human Rights Watch, said the campaign to promote headscarves has been gaining momentum in the southern Russian region.
"It has been an evolving process since 2006 and reached its peak in 2010," said Ms Lokshina, who is working on a report about the issue. "These practices are contrary to Russia's legislation, as Russia is a secular state." Women working in government offices and schools in Chechnya are required to wear headscarves, and last year there were reports of groups of men roaming the streets of Grozny in cars and shooting paintball guns at women with uncovered heads.
At the time, Mr Kadyrov said he did not order the attacks, but that the people who carried them out should be congratulated. Ms Lokshina said that these attacks appear to have ceased, but that women not wearing headscarves ran the risk of being accosted and insulted on the streets by aggressive groups of thugs.
"It's now practically impossible to get into a cinema or any entertainment venue for women who are not wearing a headscarf, and it's dangerous to be outside without one," she said.
Mr Kadyrov recently found an unlikely ally in the Russian Orthodox Church. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin proposed introducing a public dress code. He said that Russian woman who dressed "like strippers" should not be surprised if they were raped.Reuse content