Turkey Detains Two Russians On Suspicion Of Involvement In Assassination Of Chechen Militant

April 13, 2016
Bullet hole in the window of Abdulvakhid Edelgireyev's car after his assassination on November 1, last year. Photo via cihan.com.tr


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.

Recent Analysis and Translations:

Getting The News From Chechnya – The Crackdown On Free Press You May Have Missed
Aurangzeb, Putin, Realism and a Lesson from History
Why the World Should Care About the Assassination of Boris Nemtsov
How Boris Nemtsov Was Murdered: Investigation by Novaya Gazeta
How Stalin Returned to Russian Contemporary Life – Meduza


Video: Russian Su-24 Flies EXTREMELY Close To US Navy Destroyer USS Donald Cook

As we reported earlier, Russian Su-24s have made aextremely low passes near the USS Donald Cook.

On April 12, 2014, a similar incident occurred to the Donald Cook, but this time the aircraft appear to have been so close that they made wakes in the water:

More videos of the incidents: 

CBS News spoke with a senior defense official who said that two recent incidents were “more aggressive than anything we’ve seen in some time.”

The first, on April 11, involved two Russian SU24s, when the USS Donald Cook left the Polish port of Gdynia and was about 70 nautical miles from Kaliningrad in the Baltic Sea. The official said the Russian jets made 20 passes of the American ship and flew within 1,000 yards at an altitude of just 100 feet.

In the second incident on April 12, two Russian KA27 Helix helicopters flew several circles around the Donald Cook, apparently taking photos, after which two jets again made numerous close passes of the ship in what the official described as “Simulated Attack Profile.”

In another incident this week, a Russian Kamov KA-27 Helix flew extremely close to the Donald Cook in an apparent surveillance mission. 

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A Russian Kamov KA-27 Helix hovers near the USS Donald Cook on April 12, 2016, in the Baltic Sea | Photo: U.S. Navy 6th Fleet
2016-04-13 19:56:12

James Miller
Putin Removes Gryzlov from Security Council, Apparently to Focus on Ukraine Negotiations
President Vladimir Putin has removed Boris Gryzlov, the former speaker of parliament and negotiator in the Trilateral Group talks on Ukraine, from Russia’s Security Council, the government legal site reported. In his place he has appointed Viktor Zolotov, his former bodyguard who now heads up Rosgvardiya, the new National Guard — although not as a permanent member, just as a member.
This does not appear to indicate any kind of demotion, however, as Interfax has cited a source saying that Gryzlov’s removal is only about enabling him to concentrate on Ukraine (translation by The Interpreter):

“The president has made the decision, proceeding from the tasks which he has assigned Boris Gryzlov. Among these tasks is the expansion of the opportunities for international dialogue with the purpose of resolving the situation in Ukraine, and this requires from Gryzlov participation in the work of various types of international platforms in European capitals — Paris, Berlin and others.”

It’s also important to understand that in the presidential vertical command system, the Security Council is mainly a consultative body;  it isn’t some kind of body with “democratic centralism” like the Soviet Politburo; its members are there not to share power or even nominally represent constituencies but to help pass along and enforce orders. In that sense it is quite different than Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council which is actively involved daily in coping with the war unleashed by Russia.

The secretary of the Security Council is Nikolai Patrushev, who was Federal Security Service (FSB head from 1999-2008. 

If Gryzlov is being freed up in order to visit European capitals, does that mean Russia is moving toward a political rather than a military solution of its own war on Ukraine? 
No, because if anything, the Russian-backed militants have escalated their attacks in recent weeks. Moscow does see an opportunity, however, with Europeans increasingly weary of sanctions, and some countries, such as Austria, willing now to talk business on new pipelines. No doubt the Kremlin also wants to make the most of the opportunity to ride on its (supposed) success of the Syrian bombing campaign.

Gryzlov once headed the Interior Ministry from 2001-2003 — before Putin’s rein — and then went on to become the chairman of the supreme council of United Russia, the ruling party, and parliamentary speaker for 8 years. Perhaps Putin doesn’t want to have a former Interior Ministry boss from the Yeltsin era sitting in the same meetings with the current boss of the Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops (Zolotov).

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian Military Aircraft Buzz US Destroyer In Baltic Sea

The Wall Street Journal reports, citing US military officials, that Russian military aircraft have buzzed an American destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, several times this week.

Russian Warplanes Fly Close to U.S. Navy Destroyer, Polish Helicopter

Russian military warplanes flew close to a U.S. Navy destroyer and Polish military helicopter multiple times over two days this week, according to U.S. officials, a sign of potentially rising tensions despite Moscow's recent agreement to hold new talks with the Western alliance. U.S.

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Apr 13, 2016 12:53 (GMT)

According to the report, Russian Sukhoi Su-24 strike jets performed multiple close passes on Monday. In one instance, a Polish military helicopter was forced to abort a take-off from the deck of the destroyer.

On Tuesday a Russian Kamov Ka-27 helicopter buzzed the Donald Cook, followed by several more passes by Su-24s.

The US vessel was operating in international waters in the southwestern Baltic Sea.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The incidents this week could signal rising tensions once more, as the Western alliance prepares for large-scale exercises in Poland and bolstering its troop presence in Eastern Europe. A NATO summit is also being held in Warsaw in July.

U.S. officials said they were examining video from the Cook along with radar data to determine exactly what happened. But the commanding officer of the Cook told authorities the Russian planes came at a high speed at an aggressive angle of approach.

Navy officials declined to provide details, but acknowledged they were investigating.

“We are assessing the event in light of the commanding officer’s assessment that the interactions were unprofessional and unsafe,” said Adm. Mark Ferguson, the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe.

A Russian official acknowledged an encounter occurred, but declined to comment on the circumstances.

US officials told the paper that the Russian aircraft had failed to respond to radio communications from the vessel.

This is not the first encounter between the USS Donald Cook and Russian bombers.

On April 12, 2014, another Su-24 made twelve low-level passes over 90 minutes near the destroyer in the Black Sea.

At the time, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told Reuters that the maneuvres would likely have been ordered by higher command:

“I would have difficulty believing that two Russian pilots on their own would choose to take such an action.” 

— Pierre Vaux

Link Between Panama Papers and Magnitsky List — Daily Beast on the Russian Mob Connection
What did the Panama Papers remind us of? The complicated web of corrupt officials in the Magnitsky List, who have been dubbed “The Untouchables.”
So it came as no surprise that a connection has now been found between the Panama Papers and the Klyuev group identified as involved in fraud and theft by Sergei Magnitsky, who was then imprisoned by corrupt law-enforcers who left him to die in prison.

Michael Weiss, editor-in-chief of The Interpreter and contributing editor at the Daily Beast writes of the law firm that played a role in the transfer of some $2 billion from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s close friends.

As reported last week in the disclosure of leaked documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, the Zurich-based firm Dietrich, Baumgartner & Partner played an integral role in the transfer of some $2 billion from a close circle of friends and associates of Vladimir Putin—money widely thought to belong at least in part to the Russian president.

Dietrich, Baumgartner is known in Switzerland for its influential Russian client base. It even keeps code names for the ones whose notoriety demands a commensurate lack of transparency. The firm’s founding partner Andres Baumgartner is quite ostentatious about his Eastern connections. He’squoted in the Guardian as having told his colleagues: “I have relationships with people from the KGB. Right up to Vladimir Putin.”

There are also two known connections between Baumgartner’s firm and the so-called Klyuev Group, which U.S. Sen. John McCain has called a “dangerous transnational criminal organization” that has “colluded with senior Russian officials to engage in bribery, fraud, embezzlement, company thefts, and other serious financial crimes.”

Members of the Klyuev Group have been sanctioned by the U.S. government under a law named for its most high-profile victim: Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. In 2007 and 2008, Magnitsky uncovered a $230 million tax fraud allegedly perpetrated by ex-convictDmitry Klyuev and his confederates, which included state tax officials and Interior Ministry investigators. Magnitsky was then framed by the very men he exposed; he was beaten to death in a Moscow prison hospital in 2009.

Read more here. 

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Iran Reports Delivery of Russia’s S-300s — At Least in Part
Tehran said on April 11 that the first delivery of S-300s had arrived in Iran, RBC.ru reported, citing the Iranian news agency Mehr.
The report also appeared in English on Tehran Times’ news site.
An Iranian Foreign Ministry representative was quoted as saying (translation from Russian by The Interpreter):

“We have already announced that despite constant changes in the delivery schedule, the deal is in the process of realization and today I must report that the first part of this equipment has arrived in Iran, and the delivery of the other parts is continuing.”

A source in Russia related to arms exports then told Interfax:

“We have come to the practical realization of the Iranian contract, the first batch of the S-300 systems have been sent to the contractor.”

The source added that the contract is planned to be fulfilled completely by the end of 2016; another source said that the delivery of the S-300s had begun in March.
Yet another source told Interfax that the first regiments with Russian S-300s will be ready for combat duty in Iran’s anti-aircraft system in the summer of this year. He added that at the present time, Iranian specialists are being trained in their operation.
The contract valued at some $800 million was first concluded in 2007, but stalled when then-president Dmitry Medvedev agreed to support international sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. Iran tried to take Russia to international court in Geneva over non-fulfillment of the contract, citing losses of $4 billion, but this suit was reportedly dropped after the West negotiated an end to sanctions in cooperation with Russia, and Russia resumed plans for the export of the S-300s.
As can be seen from both the Iranian and Russian sources on this story, none of which are public and official, the language used about the actual delivery of working systems is vague. It seems some parts are delivered and some are not. The systems aren’t actually operational yet, and Iranians still have to be trained to use them.
It’s important to remember the series of stories that have preceded this story today — Russian officials have repeatedly over-anticipated the delivery schedule, and even announced the S-300s were already on their way or about to be delivered, only to have to walk back the claims and say they would come some time “at the end of 2015” or “in 2016.” 
At one point there was even an official state press announcement that a delivery ceremony was going to be held in Astrakhan with the Iranian defense minister, who was visiting Moscow at the time, but then it had to be corrected as not true.
A review of our past stories shows the twists and turns that various Russian officials have made in reporting on the delivery schedule.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Turkey Detains Two Russians On Suspicion Of Involvement In Assassination Of Chechen Militant

Turkey’s Hürriyet daily reports that two Russian citizens have been arrested in Istanbul by police on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Abdulvakhid Edelgireyev, a Chechen separatist who fought with the late Doku Umarov ( the ’emir’ of the Caucasus Emirate jihadist group), and subsequently raised funds for the group in Turkey.

Edelgireyev was shot dead in Istanbul on November 1 of last year  — the latest in a string of assassinations of Chechens involved in the insurgency in the North Caucasus.

The Guardian‘s Shaun Walker wrote an extensive report on the killing in Janurary:

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Murder in Istanbul: Kremlin's hand suspected in shooting of Chechen

Abdulvakhid Edelgireyev survived for years hiding in the Chechen mountains, launching attacks on Russian security forces and evading capture. He survived the battlefields of Syria, and those of east Ukraine. But in November his life came to an abrupt end in a flurry of bullets: he was shot dead in broad daylight in Istanbul as he embarked on a shopping trip with his three-year-old niece.

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Apr 13, 2016 11:48 (GMT)

According to the Hürriyet report, the two Russians, Yuri Anisimov, 52, and Aleksandr Smirnov, 55. were arrested in a joint operation by the Turkish police and the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) on April 8.

They are suspected of operating on behalf of the Russian state security services.

As Shaun Walker reported, Turkish prosecutors suspected that the assassinations in Istanbul bore the “hallmarks of more centralised Russian hits” than those linked to Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov’s own agents in killings elsewhere.

Turkish police tracked a car used to ram Edelgireyev’s on the day of his killing, finding that it had been rented 20 days earlier by a third Russian citizen, Aleksandr Nasyrov.

Hürriyet reports:

Nasyrov rented two cars every other day between Sep. 11 and Sept. 16, 2015, while in Turkey. The cars were then left in a parking lot in the western province of Yalova.

Nasyrov stayed alone in a hotel in Istanbul and left Turkey on Sep. 16, 2015, from Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport. 

According to the report, the police tracked Nasyrov’s movements in Turkey and found Anisimov and Smirnov had stayed in a hotel in Yalova in separate rooms between Sep. 11 and 13, 2015. 

They then travelled to Istanbul from Yalova and stayed in two separate hotels in Istanbul’s touristic Sultanahmet district between Sep. 14 and 16, 2015.  Nasyrov then met Smirnov and Anisimov close to their hotels. 

No press statement was released after the investigation into the Russians. 

The suspects arrived in Istanbul once again on April 4 and went to Yalova via car. Police caught the duo upon their return to Istanbul from Yalova, according to Habertürk reports.

Investigations revealed that both had reentered Turkey using fake passports. Fake Interpol IDs, a number of photos of Russian state officials, a USB memory stick, five cell phones with numbers and PIN/PUK information glued to them and U.S. dollars with consecutive serial numbers were found on the spies.  

According to initial information obtained from the USB, the suspects took photos of parking areas, license plates, security cameras, hotel rooms and obscure parts of the rooms. 

The alleged spies tracked the movement of security cameras for a day and took photos of the camera’s positions on an hourly basis.  

The efforts to recover the deleted information on the USB stick are ongoing.

Another Turkish daily, Milliyet, published photos purportedly showing the two detained men:

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2016-04-13 13:03:40

Russia’s state-owned RT channel reports that the the Turkish authorities have not yet notified Russian diplomats of the accusations, but the general consul did say that Russian authorities are maintaining contact with the men.

— Pierre Vaux