In Russia This Week, you will find links to the stories of Russia Update in the last week and to special features, plus an article following up on the news and trending topics below.
Last issue: All The Strange Things Happening in Moscow
Last Week’s Top Stories:
– Kremlin Publishes New Picture of Putin Amid Concerns About Absence
– Questions About Putinâs Health After Canceled Meetings & Vague Answers
– Chechen Suspects in Nemtsov Murder Withdraw Confessions, Say Were Tortured
– Getaway Car Suspected in Nemtsovâs Death Also Found Near His Home in October
– Chechen Suspect Reportedly Offended at âNegative Commentsâ by Nemtsov on Islam
– 5 Chechen Suspects Brought to Court in Murder of Boris Nemtsov
– Suspects Detained in Murder of Boris Nemtsov from North Caucasus
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Buzzfeed’s Max Seddon has posted an article on the state of the investigation of the murder
of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov that explains the case the Russian
government is making, in essentially pinning the murder on Chechens
connected to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, and not going too far
regarding who might be behind them — whether in the Chechen power
structures or in Moscow.
Similar articles have been published by RFE/RL’s Brian Whitmore and
Bloomberg’s Moscow correspondents as well as The New York Times in an editorial and news piece in which it is clear that, for
intellectuals in both Russia and the West, there’s a way to address the
horrifying implications of the murder plausibly, that will leave
Vladimir Putin and his vertikal system intact.
And that’s to say that “Kadyrov did it” — not because of anything
about Charlie Hebdo cartoons or Islamism or even “fifth columnists”
but because that’s what Kadyrov does — gets rid of enemies of the
Kremlin as needed, with plausible deniability — but now he’s “gone too
far.” We need not worry, however, as the FSB, which has long been
fighting Kadyrov and attempting to curb his excesses, has prevailed. Medals have been handed out to Kadyrov and his men, with possible other
deals behind the scenes, and the status quo ante — in jeopardy while
Putin was missing and possibly the target of a coup by hardliners — is
now safe since Kadyrov has been “dealt with.”
Anyone who might still feel threatened has been not-so-quietly
told to leave Russia at least temporarily — which is why Kseniya
Sobchak, the talk-show host and editor of L’Officiel is now abroad,
reassuring the public that the rumors her friends spread about
“emigration” were false. But she’s not disavowing the other piece of the
massive news coverage of her statements to friends before her departure
— that intelligence agents themselves told her that it would be in her
best interests to take a trip for a while.
Usually, the pattern in Russia has been to let victims of state
security figure out for themselves that they need to leave the country —
and many have — or to warn them that if they don’t, their safety can’t
be ensured. This is different; this is portrayed as helpful by the
people who supposedly prevailed in a supposed war with Kadyrov.
Alexey Venediktov, the actual target of Kadyrov’s wrath because he
published the infamous cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad, has also gone abroad but says he has “no
comment” on matters of his travel and security. In contrast, not only was Nemtsov ignored by Kadyrov back in January when the Charlie Hebdo journalists
were massacred, Kadyrov didn’t mention the
cartoons at all after the assassination, but said that “Western intelligence” killed him.
Both Seddon and popular Russian blogger Oleg Kashin have focused on an important Facebook post Nemtsov wrote on December 28, 2014 about Kadyrov and his army (his other posts on Charlie Hebdo are explored by The Interpreter here).
It’s important to look at the full translation, because not only
does Nemtsov express alarm about Ramzan’s personal army and ask ominously where Ramzan’s army may go
if subsidies are cut off — as The
Interpreter’s synicated columnist Paul Goble did at the time and as Alexey Navalny did after Nemtsov’s
murder — he also questions whether Putin could really rely on such a force:
I can’t understand what Putin is counting on when he
arms 20,000 Kadyrovites who have gathered together today at the stadium
Today Kadyrov announced that his fighters are
ready to become defenders of the regime and fulfill any order of the
Kremlin. I gladly believe that. After all, Putin finances Chechnya every
year like clockwork, sending echelons with cash.
the level of subsidy of the republic is at least 60 billion rubles a
year at a minimum. And how many subsidies that pass through various
other programs of kick-backs like the North Caucasus Resort, Allah alone
What will happen next? The country is entering a
crisis, there isn’t money for anything, including supporting the
regions. The unstated contract between Kadyrov and Putin — cash in
exchange for loyalty — is ending.
And where will 20,000 Kadyrovites go? What will they demand? How will they behave?
When will they come to Moscow?
don’t recall a single example in the history of Russia where Russian
rulers put their stakes in the struggle for power on Chechen
P.S. In the years of World War I, the
Caucasus Homeland Calvary Division was formed where Chechens served. But
their task was to fight on the fronts of the war, and to fulfill
While this post indeed sounds eerie, it’s important to note
that Nemtsov didn’t think they were coming to Moscow to get him within
two months, and in fact asked a reasonable question that challenges his
own previous statements — what ruler in his right mind would rely on
troops in a breakaway republic to hold their power? He found it wild
that Putin would do such a thing and it’s still a question that has to
be asked even now. That means that Putin is either going to go rogue and
rely on a peripheral army to keep power, or clip the wings of that
troublesome army as needed.
LifeNews broadcast Ramzan’s stadium event with 20,000 men
pledging their allegiance to Putin but it didn’t get a lot of other state media coverage. It also appeared on Ramzan’s
Instagram and YouTube accounts, which at least ensured that, even during a holiday
weekend on December 28, a few bloggers noticed it.
But the facts have to be gathered: a) is the subsidy to Chechnya
– a $1 billion annually – being ended or reduced just because of the economic crisis? b) would Putin in fact
rely on this “army” instead of more traditional means of power such as
the FSB and the Interior Ministry? Surely 20,000 men and their murderous strong-man leader could
not be controlled by a mere medal of valor and a pat on the head. So, either they weren’t that much of a problem to start with, or something else is up.
We have to judge by what facts have occurred — Nemtsov has been
murdered, his friends and colleagues silenced and some have gone abroad.
But Putin has ordered the arrests of five people either in or
associated with Kadyrov’s army and may arrest a 6th or more. Efforts to
curb Kadyrov’s excesses before failed, but this might work given the
stakes at hand.
On the other hand, Putin has awarded Kadyrov the Order of Honor.
Then the Federal Corrections Service (FSIN) took the trouble to send their director, Gennady Kornienko, to Chechnya to Ramzan’s home and office to give him an
award — and allowed Kadyrov to give him an award, too.
However, for this theory of the case — that Kadyrov is to blame but he’s been dealt with and Putin would never do a thing like this — to stick and persuasively convince the intelligentsia at home and abroad, several things still have to happen:
1. Ruslan Geremeyev has to be prosecuted as the organizer of the crime. It will not be enough to prosecute five people, who in fact retracted their testimony under torture, that in part explained that he was the organizer. As we have reported, leaks to Novaya Gazeta and RBC.ru ensured that he was held out to dry — he’s now in “protective custody” as a “witness” but unless he is prosecuted, the story of Putin’s non-involvement isn’t likely to stick.
Is that possible to do? Will Ramzan sacrifice a relative of his relatives to keep his own position? So far he has conceded readily that Zaur Dadayev, the trigger man, must be prosecuted if he has committed murder, but he hasn’t clarified Geremeyev’s status. It seems likely he could sacrifice him given the stakes at hand.
2. The status of the alleged “crime families” of the Delikhanovs and the Geremeyevs must be clarified. These are tied to Ramzan through family relationships (Adam Delikhanov is his cousin) or political connections (Suleyman is also Chechnya’s senator in the Federation Council). Will Ramzan be willing to sacrifice them or at the very least, stand by while “everybody” points the finger at them as once again the “masterminds” behind political murders of both Ramzan’s enemies and the Kremlin’s enemies?
3. The status of “Ramzan’s personal army” of 20,000-30,000 Chechen policemen and Interior Ministry troops have to be clarified, which means clarifying the role of Daniil Martynov. Martyunov is a Russian and former FSB Alfa spetsnaz officer, who has the title of “presidential aide for liaison with law-enforcement and security,” and who essentially trains and runs this army.
Perhaps missed among Ramzan’s multiple and profuse professions of loyalty to Putin this week with various “buddy” snapshots, was another important signal. Ramzan fronted and praised Martynov as a loyal and reliable aide who, as we know, went to the North Pole for Ramzan to plant the Chechen flag, and performed many other deeds to promote both Chechnya and its armed forces.
We know from Argumenty i Fakty (AiF) that Martynov is Russian, with a family of four in Moscow, and worked for 8 years in the Federal Security Service’s (FSB) elite Alfa unit.
No one thinks that FSB agents ever become “former,” but in Martynov’s case, AiF asks us to believe that — by saying that some years ago, Ramzan “renounced” the traditional services of the FSB which usually guard leaders of constituent Russian Federation republics — and that Martynov’s services for Kadyrov are “freelance.”
So a lot depends on whether Martynov begins to “phone home” more (i.e. cooperates with the FSB) and Ramzan is persuaded to accept that new situation – or whether Ramzan is saying to us on Instagram that he and his detached FSB man are going rogue.
Kadyrov’s army has, in fact, had a place to go — southeast Ukraine — and its
members have fought and died there. Chechens have taken over the crucial
border town of Krasnodon as we reported and as social media keeps
reaffirming with pictures like this sign on the door in both Russian and
Chechen in a local Krasnodon restaurant telling people to disarm their
weapons before entering.
Chechens have been in evidence in many other places
like the Donetsk Airport, where they were reported to be among casualties in the first battle of May 2014 and later were even reported to be in a mutiny against a Russian officer whom they killed. Will this be the border army that is deployed to keep
the Russian Empire’s border “protected” — often by making other countries move theirs back — as has been the case throughout Russian
history? Will the West tolerate it? How well do they get along with the Cossacks, who also have
played that role?
On the one hand, Chechen suspects have been rapidly arrested despite being former officers in Kadyrov’s army and information has been abundantly leaked from the investigation to the press about this. These arrests occurred despite the fact that Kadyrov praised Zaur Dadayev and Beslan Shavanov as “brave warriors” and said Dadayev was a “devout Muslim.” To be sure, he said that if he were found to have committed murder he would have to be tried, but he also said he would investigate the reasons for why he left the Sever Battalion — and then never followed up publicly, suggesting that he went silent on this topic of exonerating the murderers because he was told to keep quiet.
On the other hand, with the medals for Kadyrov and possibly
non-arrest of Geremeyev; with more incidents of terrorism or raids by
Kadyrov, Putin’s border army and he himself will be seen as reckless and
will be put down by other forces, some of whom are also very combat
ready and seasoned from fighting in Ukraine.
The order — and the motivation — to kill Nemtsov may go far
higher than Kadyrov, and Putin is responsible in the end for the
climate of incitement against dissenters, the impunity of political murders in general
during his reign, and the monster that the Kadyrovites have become. What
his 11-day absence has shown — as the world’s major editors and
journalists are concluding — is that people would prefer to answer Oleg
Kashin’s famous quiz — FSB or Kadyrovites? — in the same way his
readers did: FSB.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick