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 â 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
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:
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.
“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.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
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.
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
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.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
“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.”
“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.”
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:
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.
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.
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:
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