Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
The previous issue is here.
Russian law-enforcers have killed a suspected Islamist militant in Dagestan who was said to have sworn allegiance to ISIS.
– Alexey Navalny On the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
–Theories about Possible Perpetrators of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
–Novaya Gazeta Releases Sensational Kremlin Memo: âIt is Seen as Correct to Initiate Annexation of Eastern Regions of Ukraine to Russiaâ
See also our Russia This Week stories:
– Can We Be Satisfied With the Theory That Kadyrov Killed Nemtsov?
– All The Strange Things Happening in Moscow
– Remembering Boris Nemtsov, Insider and Outsider (1959-2015)
– Ultranationalists Angry over âCapitulationâ of Minsk Agreement
Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costsâ.
The death toll is now at 46 in the capsizing of the Dal’ny Vostok, a free-standing freezer trawler in the Sea of Okhotsk, Sakhalinmedia.ru reports.
At least 130 crew mates were on board, and at least 23 people are still missing so the number of those drowned is likely to rise.
The Russian Emergencies Ministry has not yet provided information on the cause of the sinking of the ship.
But already alternative reports have come out via social media.
Translation: The freestanding freezer trawler (BATM) off the coast of Kamchatka sank due to a crash with drifting ice floes. The sinking ship did not manage to send out an SOS signal.
The government of Sakhalin Region is currently holding an
emergency meeting about the disaster under acting Governor Oleg
Kozhemyako. (Sakhlin’s previous governor and his associates were sacked and arrested in recent corruption scandals).
Ministers of health, social protection and emergencies have been summoned from around the region, along with other agencies.
Bayandin, press secretary for the governor’s office, said 46 people had
perished when the ship sunk off the shores of Kamchatka Territory.
to Sakhalin officials, there was a total of 132 crew members on board,
45 people were taken alive out of the water, and some are still missing.
These include the citizens of five countries of which four were named by local officials: Russia, Ukraine, Vanuatu and Myanmar. Slon.ru reported that citizens of Latvia were also on board, citing RIA Novosti.
Most of the crew members were residents of Sakhalin Region. Magellan, the company that owned the ship, had no comment yet.
capsize took place at 330 kilometers from the western village of
Krutogorovsky in Kamchatka Territory, 250 kilometers south of Magadan.
The shop was registered at the port of Nevelsk in Sakhalin Region.
ships of various classes have been dispatched for the rescue operation.
The visibility is 24 kilometers winds are 9 meters/second and waves are
1.5 meters. The temperature is at about 0 Celsius.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
At least 43 crew mates have drowned after the capsizing of the Dal’ny Vostok [Far East], a large free-standing freezer trawler, in the Sea of Okhotsk, LifeNews reported this evening, citing a source in the rescue service of Kamchatka Territory.
At least 63 people were rescued, and the fate of 26 more is not known.
Two ships from Magellan Ltd., the owner of the Dal’ny Vostok, Mlechny Put’ and Andromeda, have been dispatched to pick up the bodies and those who survived and bring them to Sakhalin.
More than 130 crew mates were reported to be on board the ship.
Russia’s Emergencies Minister received the notice of the accident at 8:30 am April 2, Kamchatka time which is 23:30 Moscow time, April 1.
The cause of the capsize is not yet known.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Interfax reported the remarks of Danish Ambassador to Ukraine Merete Juhl in a headline ‘Sanctions Against Russia Will Be Lifted When It Behaves Properly’:
Sanctions are the only instrument to leverage Russia right now. That’s
why they will only be lifted when Russia behaves properly. That’s the
logic of imposing sanctions, Juhl said at a press conference in Kharkiv
On March 21, Russian Ambassador Mikhail Vanin claimed the Danish navy’s provision of shipborne radar data
for NATO’s nuclear shield was grounds for Russia’s aiming of nuclear missiles at Denmark.
“If this happens, Danish warships become targets for Russian nuclear missiles,” Ambassador Vanin wrote in the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten on March 21.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
BBC reports that Alexandrina Markvo, Ashurkov’s common law wife, is also seeking asylum. Both are facing charges which are widely considered — outside of Russia, at least — to be political retribution:
Russian prosecutors accuse Mr Ashurkov of stealing contributions to Navalny’s campaign for the 2013 Moscow mayoral elections. Navalny failed in his bid. He is under house arrest in Moscow.
Navalny, a vociferous critic of President Vladimir Putin, has rejected allegations that Mr Ashurkov did anything wrong.
Ms Markvo is also being prosecuted by Russian authorities. She is accused of embezzlement in connection with a Moscow book festival.
Recently, Newsweek ran a special report on how Russia uses INTERPOL “red notices” to target political dissidents abroad, a practice which has been investigated by both the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
It’s not clear whether Markvo will receive asylum, but so far British authorities have not arrested either Russian expatriate.
— James Miller
Meduza.io’s English version has a summary of a Russian article about the “data-leaking group” — that is, hackers who have released about 40,000 text messages from former Kremlin official Timur Prokopenko, who was responsible for Internet policy.
The big news of the story for the Russian journalists’ community was indication of the Kremlin’s manipulation of the media:
The SMS records show that Prokopenko supposedly tried to curb the critical reporting at the news agency RBC, where he grilled Nikolai Molibog, the outlet’s general director, about publishing stories that went against the grain of Russia’s state-controlled press, such as news about federalization activists in Siberia and only half-full aid convoys to eastern Ukraine.
What the English summary of Meduza leaves out is arguably RBC’s most controversial story by Maksim Solopov regarding research about the presence of Russian soldiers in the war in Ukraine. As the Russian-language original of the Meduza article notes, Prokopenko received an assignment from an unknown superior to investigate where the story came from. As Prokopenko texted, “RBC was noted today with the article about the military in Ukraine. Your mentor needs a conversation. Really you’ve f**ked up…”
As we noted in our summary of this RBC piece last October, given all the unsubstantiated and even wild accounts of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine, Solipsov’s article stood out for being carefully researched and backed up — the list of units said to be in Ukraine was drawn up on the basis of verified reports of soldiers killed.
Prokupenko went to Molibog about this piece and told him, “I was asked by Gromov’s office to draw your attention to that hell.”
The reference is to Aleksei Gromov, first deputy director of the presidential administration — an official who has been in charge of ideology since the Soviet era.
The leaked texts don’t show any answer from Molibog. But as Meduza reports, the two exchanged thanks. Then Molibog asked Prokupenko not to pressure the editorial offices — “it’s difficult with the editorial office lately, I pressure them too much. They are offended at my sanctions and call me a suppressor of free speech.”
Molibog himself immediately wrote a statement on Facebook about this exposure, linking to the original Russian article in Meduza (the English translations in Meduza don’t provide those links). The Interpreter has translated the text:
1. I confirm the fact of this correspondence. Yes, I actively communicated and meet with officials from the Presidential Administration and many other representatives of the government. We are a very large business in the media industry, and it would be strange if I didn’t do this.
2. Yes, I communicate with the government regarding our content (but I am not the one to determine what we write and show at RBC; that’s our main editors). And moreover, this seems normal to me. Because I sincerely believe that in our country (and in the world) much that is bad happens simply because we speak little to each other and don’t try to hear and listen to each other. And so that amount of changes which occurred in RBC in the last year and a half would not have been able to be done without explaining what we are doing.
3. I realize that the form of my communication in some places in that correspondence can seem unacceptable for a dialogue between the media and the state, for which I apologize. I turned out not to be prepared to have my own space of work conversation, which should never be known to anyone and should not be known, to end up in the realm of glasnost [publicized] and would like to refrain from further public discussion of my manner of non-public communication.
Mobilog’s last point raises the larger issue of the purpose of these leaks and the forces behind them. In this particular round, the net effect has been to make RBC look bad and undermine their credibility — although RBC hasn’t in fact removed or changed any controversial content. The effect is to put under the microscope a publication struggling with increasing state censorship — but not the state minders. In this case, Aleksei Gromov, Putin’s choice for managing ideology and media — is not scrutinized.
Another point is that Shaltai Boltai claims to be engaged in the more sophisticated job of leaking rather than the cruder job of hacking — yet in the case of Molibog, he didn’t leak his own conversation and it’s not clear if Prokupenko deliberately leaked it either, so “hack” seems to be the appropriate word for this coercive exposure.
Many of the Shaltai Boltai leaks focus on Prokupenko and another former official, Katya Potupchik, former press secretary for Rosmolodyozh, the youth agency, and the Nashi movement, the Kremlin-created youth movement), lower-level officials who worked for Vladimir Volodin. It seems convenient that the leaks happen after the officials in question were out of the Kremlin, leaving what goes on there today still a black box.
As has been seen with WikiLeaks, the hackers are quick to demand that no one call them hackers since they claim not to be directly related to “the technical part.” Then the question becomes — as it always is with the Russian media which is very much under state control or at least pressure — which ruling faction is trying to use leaks to the media to discredit another government faction. Slon.ru has pointed out that nothing ever gets leaked from Gromov himself, although a member of Shaltoi Boltai whom he interviewed said some of the collective’s members still worked in government.
The interview subject’s answer to Slon.ru‘s question about when the group started receiving compromising materials sheds some light on what might be a faction fight inside the Kremlin:
Yes. We have long been present. But we have come to light only now. The publication of such materials is a method of influencing reality. For example, the identity of Mr. Strelkov provoked many questions and incomprehension. After our publications it became clear who is behind it and what personally drives Strelkov. Perhaps our information filled in several blanks including in people who make government decisions. It is possible that thanks to this, open state support of the separatists in the Donbass and further escalation managed to be avoided.
To this day, Western press argues over whether Strelkov was just working for the Federal Security Service (FSB), which he himself admits he did during the war in Chechnya, or also for the GRU; Spiegel.de recently deflected the GRU claim by saying “the truth is more complex” — Strelkov worked for the FSB.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Moscow City Court has left Zaur Dadayev, the main suspect in the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, under arrest after turning down his lawyer’s appeal, Meduza.io reported.
Yesterday Dadayev and Eskerkhanov appealed to the Russian Committee Against Torture.
Dadayev said he wasn’t fed for two days and was tortured with electric shocks, and Eskerkhanov said he was photographed naked and officers set fire to his beard. Dadayev has also been prevented from meeting with his lawer Evgeny Gubin who has not seen his client in two weeks, said the Committee.
The arrests of three other suspects — Tamerlan Eskerkhanov, Khamzat Bakhayev and Shadid Gubashev — were cancelled and ruled as unlawful, although they will remain in custody pending a review of a petition for their arrest on April 8.
Dadayev formally withdrew his confession in court, saying “My testimonies were given under pressure and under dictation. There are no witnesses, I have an alibi, during the murder I was at my home.” Earlier, investigator said Dadayev had confessed to the murder and also implicated Bakhayev.
Kommersant reported March 30 that investigators have mentioned a man named “Ruslik” from Chechnya who provided the gun, a car and 5 million rubles ($87,000) to each member of the group to kill Nemtsov.
Investigators continue to look for the contractors of the murder.
Ruslan Geremeyev, commander of a company in the Sever Battalion where Dadayev served is being questioned in Chechnya as a witness, RBC.ru and Lenta.ru reported, citing two sources close to the investigation.
Geremeyev is a relative of Russian senator Suleyman Geremeyev, brother of another senator, Adam Demlikhanov, who in turn is a first cousin of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
With the imposition of sanctions against Russia over its war against Ukraine, cooperation between the US and Russia on the space program has been reduced, but not eliminated entirely as a joint mission illustrated last Friday, NASA reported.
The Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 27 to the International Space Station with Expedition 43’s NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).
“Scott Kelly’s mission is critical to advancing the administration’s
plan to send humans on a journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator
Charles Bolden. “We’ll gain new, detailed insights on the ways
long-duration spaceflight affects the human body.”
Padalka will return in September, while Kelly and Kornienko will remain aboard until March 2016.
Prior to the launch Orthodox priests blessed the spaceship — and then the journalists covering the launch. See more photos here.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Yesterday March 31, Shakhban Gasanov, 25, a suspected militant in
Khasavyurt was killed by Russian law-enforcers when he refused to
surrender, Caucasian Knot reported.
Gasanov called his mother when he was already wounded by gunfire, but
she was unable to persuade him to give himself up to police.
incident was like hundreds of others in the region in recent years.
Law-enforcers blocked off the Datuyeva Street and surrounded the building where
Gasanov’s apartment was located. There were reportedly efforts at negotiations, and a woman in the house
was released and allowed to leave, but the man barricaded inside refused. Then
law-enforcers stormed the building.
Gasanov was said to be the leader of the Kizlyar group of militants.
The National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK) then later reported that Gasnov had died in the gunfight.
“At the present time, Shakhban Gasanov who put up armed resistance has been neutralized,” RIA Dagestan reported a NAK spokesman as saying. Firearms and ammunition were found in the apartment.
Gasanov’s mother said her son had moved from the
village of Nechayevka to Makhachkala because “he was not left in peace.”
He was repeatedly threatened with being “disappeared.” When he left
town he warned his mother he would no longer call her for the sake of
Gasanov’s sister said no one called Gasanov’s home to attempt negotiations before surrounding the house.
In 2012, Gasanov’s relatives had complained to human rights
activists that they were under pressure from the police. Gasanov was
detained on July 16, 2012 on suspicion of involvement with the armed
underground. He was the sentenced to 2 years of imprisonment and was
released in 2014 at the end of his term.
The NAK says that he went underground and headed up a group of
fighters and then swore allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) which has
been declared by Russia as a terrorist organization. This has not been
A video was uploaded to YouTube which purports to be the building where Gasanov was killed.
Gazeta.ru reported that Khasavyurt has been under a “counter-terrorism operation” (KTO) regimen since March 16.
Recently Aleksandr Bortnikov, the head
of the Federal Security Service (FSB), said there were as many as 1,700
Russian citizens fighting in Syria and Iraq with jihadists.
December, Bortnikov report that in Russia, the threat of terrorism had
been “reduced threefold” because 59 planned terrorist attacks and 30
would-be terrorists had been thwarted, Moscow Times quoted him as saying:
to the implementation of a range of counter-terrorism measures, the
yearly trend of a reduction in the number of terrorist acts on Russian
territory has been preserved: with a nearly three-fold decline as
compared with last year’s figures and a four-time reduction compared
This year there have been 78 terrorism-related crimes recorded, he said. In comparison, there were 218 last year.
evidence of just how much a struggle this is is indicated in the annual
total of what amount to extrajudicial killings in the Caucasus. As Moscow Times reports:
In Russia’s turbulent North Caucasus region, where
security services have been battling members of an Islamist insurgency
for years, 233 militants were killed this year and 637 militants
detained, Bortnikov said. These include 14 killed in Grozny in a gun
battle at the press house in which 11 policemen lost their lives.
At the FSB’s annual meeting last week,
these figures were not reiterated, but Putin said that while terrorism
was less, extremism was on the rise and there were 15% cases involving
Joanna Paraszczuk, a researcher and blogger at Chechens in Syria has been covering the accounts of Chechen fighters in Idlib, Syria.
The chechen-led faction Ajnad al-Kavkaz (formerly the
Khalifat Battalion) have published a “chronology of the battles of the
jamaat Ajnadul Kavkaz (sometimes the group writes its name as Ajnadul
Kavkaz, sometimes as Junud Kavkaz and sometimes as Alnad al-Kavkaz) for
the town of Idlib” on the grop’s site, Khliafa.org.
Paraszczuk writes that she has translated some of their text “in
the hope that it helps shed some interesting light on how the militants
managed to capture Idlib and the role of this particular (experienced)
foreign fighter group.”
The post has some screen grabs of a video taken by the group on March 30.
To continue reading go to Chechens in Syria.
Reuters reported on March 6 that Chechen fighters were in Syria.
While Moscow has been one of Assad’s main protectors, members of an
Islamist insurgency involved in daily clashes in Russia’s predominantly
Muslim North Caucasus and their compatriots have trickled into Syria
to fight for the rebels.
“This is the first time
that a mass number of Chechens have taken part in military actions
abroad,” said analyst Mairbek Vatchagayev, based in Paris, adding that
claims were made that Chechens had fought with the Taliban in
Afghanistan or in Iraq, but no definitive proof had been given.
soldiers and analysts say there are dozens, and possibly 100, fighters
in Syria from the North Caucasus, a region where militants wage daily
violence to establish an Islamic state.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick