Court Fails to Put Together Jury for Nemtsov Murder Trial; Selection Postponed Until September

August 24, 2016
A memorial to slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge where he was assassinated February 27, 2016. Nemtsov's supporters have taken turns guarding the memorial even over night as vandals from ultranationalist groups keep removing the photos and flowers. The last photo on the right shows Nemtsov with Pavel Sheremet, a Belarusian journalist who was himself assassinated in Kiev last month. Photo by Dmitry Gudkov

LIVE UPDATES: The Moscow Military District Court has failed to put together a jury in the trial for the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

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.

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Hostage-Taker In Moscow Bank Surrenders To Police; ‘Bomb’ Turns Out To Be Cardboard Box with Salt

The man who has riveted the attention of Muscovites today after holding bank employees hostage and threatening to set off what appeared to be a bomb has surrendered to police, Novaya Gazeta says.
The hostage-taker turned out to be Aram Petrosyan, 61, and the item he attached to himself with yellow tape which many suspected was fake indeed turned out to be a cardboard mock-up with only salt inside. He himself explained this as he handed the box to law-enforcers, who confirmed it.
Before he surrended, Petrosyan released all of the remaining bank employees. 
During the hostage drama, he announced that he wasn’t there to rob the bank but to seize and gain attention to his demands which apparently related to business debts.
None other than Vladimir Kolokoltsev, the Minister of Interior, went out to meet him, although Russian law-enforcers have rarely negotiated with terrorists in a number of very real hostage incidents including in a Moscow theater and a school in Beslan, storming the buildings and causing the deaths of hundreds of people.
Special forces and other police bosses negotiated with the hostage-taker until he surrended — a rare occurance with situations involving bombs in Russia.

And among the hostages just happened to be Gleb Bryansky, deputy editor-in-chief of TASS, the state wire service, who said Petrosyan smoked a lot and seemed nervous, and even apologized for his act.

“He hostage-taker didn’t look like a hardened criminal but a desperate man.” It may be that even within the first minutes of the drama, police determined that the man wasn’t a terrorist and therefore decided to have Kolokoltsev come.

A source in the police told TASS regarding Petrosyan:

He explained that he wouldn’t have taken this step if he could have resolved his financial issues with the authorities.

TASS reported that Petrosyan said he ran a business producing first-aid kits but went bankrupt. He handed out his first-aid kit to the 3 bank employees including a guard and three customers he took hostage.

He let out one bank employee who told him she was pregnant. Then the guard managed to escape on his own, said TASS.

Other media, notably Meduza, were able to get very clear close-up photographers of Petrosyan and his “bomb” during the drama, sparking widespread discussion about how authentic the incident and the bomb were.

The bank happened to be a branch of the New-York based Citibank on Bolshaya Nikitinskaya Street.

All of these details taken together are likely to cause many on social media to wonder if the entire incident was staged for maximum press benefit to distract from other dramas of war and corruption. But it’s also just as likely that a man adversely affected by Russia’s economic crisis became very desperate.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

UPDATED: Reported Bankrupt Businessman Threats to Blow Up Bank in Center of Moscow; Hostages Inside Bank

UPDATES: See below. 

A man is threatening to blow up a bank in Moscow.

RT says he is a bankrupt businessman, according to a source.

At least two female hostages have been let go, but as many as four people may remain in the bank, Novaya Gazeta reports.

The man has asked that police come to the scene, and has demanded negotiators.  

The Interior Ministry himself has gone to the scene. 

Translation: Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev has arrived at the scene of the seizure on Bolshoi Nikitskoy.
The unidentified man has wrapped a yellow box around his neck with protruding wires which he says is a bomb.

Translation: We found in VKontakte the man who seized the bank in the center of Moscow. He asked for help from Putin 2011.

We will have more updates as the story proceeds.


Police have preliminarily identified the man who has taken hostages and threatened to blow up a bank as Aram Petrosyan, born 1961, Lenta reported.

Translation: #Today The identity is established of the man who has seized the Moscow bank: Police have identified…

Gazeta has reported that Petrosyan has said, “I came not to rob the bank but to seize the bank”.

He added, “Even the women left their money out of fear but I said, take it.”

Spetsnaz have arrived at the scene, Gazeta reported. 

Gazeta, citing RIA Novosti, says that police sources are telling reporters that the man appears to be a bankrupt businessman in a state of intoxication. 

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Court Fails to Put Together Jury for Nemtsov Murder Trial; Selection Postponed Until September
Moscow District Military Court failed to put together a jury in the trial of the five Chechens indicted for the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in February 2015.
The trial is closed because it is in a military court, due to the fact that some of the defendants were members of the Sever [North] Battalion of the Chechen Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops.

At a preliminary hearing on July 25, the judge agreed to impanel a jury for the trial after the defense’s petition.

But today, 45 of the people summoned out of 59 announced they could not serve due to personal reasons.

Vadim Prokhorov, the attorney for the Nemtsov family said:

“It’s suspiciously a lot of people who have withdrawn; I think that people are simply afraid of the person who is behind this crime.”

Shamsutdin Tsakayev, attorney for one of the defendants, said that when he saw 59 people came to the selection, it would not be enough.

The jury selection is now postponed until September 28.

The jury system was introduced in Russia in 1993 in a pilot program in some regions, and by 2003 was established throughout Russia except for Chechnya, which finally began them in 2010. Jury trials are for only a limited number of crimes, i.e. terrorism trials are excluded. According to research by Sergei Tomakov, jury trials thus make up only five percent of all trials, but they have a much higher acquittal rate than other trials: 20%. 

The institution of jury duty as a civic duty enforced by law is not established in Russia, where judges cannot compel service, and lists for summoning prospective jurists are flawed and outdated. Because of the legacy of Soviet repression, people are inclined to side with the defendant, which has engendered the phenomena of  judges often deliberately committing reversible errors in trials, so that prosecutors will have grounds for appeal if a jury is determined to acquit. Many jury verdicts are overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court, says Tomakov.

It is widely believed by opposition and human rights activists as well as the independent media that the real mastermind of the assassination of Nemtsov is not on trial and has escaped justice.

The defendants are Zaur Dadayev, who is believed to be the trigger man; the brothers Anzor Gubashev and Shadid Gubashev; Tamerlan Eskerkhanov and Khamzat Bakhayev. Ruslan Mukhudinov, a former Chechen officer has been placed on an international wanted list and is believed to have fled Russia. He was the driver for Ruslan Geremeyev, the deputy commander of Sever who has not been charged but is believed to have organized the murder.

The prosecution says that the five defendants began stalking Nemtsov in September 2014 and performed a contract murder for financial gain, having been promised 15 million rubles [$23,000].

At various times since their detention in March 2015, the defendants have given testimony and then retracted it, saying it was made under torture.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick