Russia Update: Putin Replaces Klimentyev, Head of Presidential Security with Dmitry Kochnev

December 14, 2015
Repairs have been under way on Red Square in the past month. Photo by RIA Novosti

Izvestiya reported this morning that President Vladimir Putin has replaced Oleg Klimentyev, the head of presidential security, with Dmitry Kochnev, about whom nothing is known.

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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Opposition Leader Navalny Briefly Detained and Warned After Attempting to Film Official’s Dacha

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny was briefly detained today in connection with his research into official corruption, Novaya Gazeta reported.

Translation: Police in Maryino detained me today in my car. They demanded an explanation as to why we were photographing the cottages of deputy prosecutor general Lopatin in Malakhovka.

Maryino is a district in Moscow and Malakhovka is a suburb of Moscow known for its historic dachas, or Russian summer homes.

Lopatin is one of the figures included in a sensational allegations of corruption involving Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, his two sons, and his subordinates. 

Translation: It’s funny to watch really when the entire machinery of state is protecting the dacha of prosecutor Lopatin, built on the cash from business with Tsapok.

Sergei Tsapok was an underworld boss who terrorized Krasnodar Territory for years until his conviction for the murder of 12 people, including 4 children.  

Navalny and his colleagues were released after police confiscated documents and warned them.

Translation: The bosses called. We were released, although they said “the car is now being watched and will be stopped everywhere.”

According to Navalny’s report, Lopatin’s wife, Olga Lopatina, was involved in a company with the wives of organized crime bosses one of whom was later jailed for murdering a whole family.

Lopatina denied her involvement, says Novaya Gazeta, but the independent newspaper was able to gather more information from public registries showing her among the company’s founders.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Poland Deports Russian RT Journalist
Poland has finally deported Leonid Sviridov, correspondent for the Kremlin’s top foreign-language propaganda outlet in Warsaw, Russia Today, Joininfo reported, citing Vesti.
The Russian foreign minister called the expulsion “a blatant disregard of international obligations.” 
Sviridov said that, after he was stripped of accreditation, the Polish security services appealed to the local authorities in Warsaw to remove his residence permit as well. He complained that he was expelled without a trial.
The head of the Polish Security Service issued a statement saying, “Mr. Sviridov is a real and serious threat to Poland’s security.” As AP reported, Poland has kept the details of their suspicions secret.
Jacek Kozlowski, the governor of Mazovia, the province in which Warsaw is located, said in April that after some months of investigation, he believed the evidence against Sviridov was “strong,” but that he could not reveal it “for security reasons.”
Sviridov was originally accused of espionage in Poland in 2014 after Polish authorities arrested a top Polish army official and Polish-Russian lawyer on suspicions of spying, the Daily Mail reported at the time.
Sviridov claimed he didn’t know the other two men and was the target of political retaliation. He fought the efforts to deport him, although in 2006, he had also been denied the right to work in Czech Republic as a journalist on grounds that he was engaged in espionage. Following long Soviet practice, some Russian journalists continue to use the profession as a cover for gathering intelligence.

Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Russia Today, said Sviridov plans to sue the decision to deport him.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Aleksandr Ryklin, Editor of Censored Yezednevny Zhurnal Arrested in Moscow After Constitution Demonstration
Aleksandr Ryklin, the editor of Yezhednevny Zhurnal (Daily Journal), a website banned by the Russian censor, was arrested today on Pushkin Square, his colleague Georgy Saratov reported on his Facebook page (translation by The Interpreter):

I urge everyone who was a witness of my arrest and then his arrest on Pushkin Square and also a witness of his escort from the Meshchansky [police precinct], who can provide us with testimony, photos, footage, to IM me and provide information how to get in touch.

Sasha [Aleksandr] called me. His car had been placed on a bulletin list, traffic police detained him. He believed they were taking him again to the Meshchansky Precinct. A car can be put on the wanted list only if a criminal case has been opened. I urge help and maximum reposts. Don’t put likes.

Translation: Journalist Aleksandr Ryklin has been detained. The traffic police announced that the activist was wanted.

Both men had been participating in a picket to mark Russian Constitution Day, a tradition began 50 years ago by Soviet dissidents. Saratov, a mathematician and president of InDem, was an aide to Yeltsin. Ryklin has organized opposition protests in the past and gave testimony that slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was personally threatened by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. His website was blocked in 2014 although Russians continue to read it using circumvention technology.

Yesterday December 13, opposition activist Ilya Yashin wrote that Ryklin had been interrogated by the Extremism Center:

Constitution Day was symbolic this year. Several dozen activists went out on Pushkin Square, some with a poster, some with the little book of “Fundamental Law.” People demanded from the government to observe its basic laws enshrined in the Constitution. They were all swept up by police of course and packed into police vans.

The fact that among those detained was Georgy Satarov — one of the authors of the document [the reformed Russian constitution under Yeltsin –The Interpreter] lent drama to this action. That is, the author of the Constitution was picked up on Constitution Day for a demand to observe the Constitution. What could be more symbolic?
Most of the detained were apparently let go with notices to return to court. But the story did not end there.

All Sunday, the police and E [Extremism] Center agents were looking for our comrade Aleksandr Ryklin, whom the authorities believed had organized the action. They came to his house, questioned his relatives, showed his photograph to neighbours, trying to fin his whereabouts. Apparently they want to jail Ryklin — he is threatened with up to 30 days of prison under the article of the Administrative Code with which he is charged. In fact, it may all be more serious: one of the agents let slip something about an investigative inspection that might wind up as a criminal case.

This is, of course, shocking. There’s a total uproar in the country — the economy is collapsing, incomes are falling. we have quarreled with the whole world. But the government is catching and jailing activists with posters in defense of the Constitution. They have nothing better to do.

Recently, the trend of the Russian government under a new law has been to hand out stiffer labor colony sentences to repeat offenders who have been arrested for picketing in the past.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Opposition Activist Yashin Requests Meeting with Chechen Leader Kadyrov to Discuss Nemtsov Murder Case

Ilya Yashin, deputy chair of the opposition Parnas party, has sent an open appeal to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov asking for a meeting with him to discuss the investigation of the murder of his close colleague Boris Nemtsov, Kommersant reports. Five Chechens have been arrested in the murder and the organizer and mastermind of the assassination is said to be related to Chechnya’s crime families. Kadyrov’s office said yesterday they had not seen the letter.

Yashin wrote in the letter that he was prepared to travel to Grozny to asked some questions “that you will definitely not like,” but is calling out Kadyrov’s repeated claim that he does not fear a direct conversation about “inconvenient questions.”

Yashin said he was been working on a report about Nemtsov’s murder and wanted to get “honest and direct answers” from Kadyrov so that “no one can accuse me of propaganda.”

Moscow City Court is reviewing a petition today regarding whether the decision of the Investigative Committee not to interrogate Kadyrov in the murder was lawful, Vadim Prokhorov announced.

Prokhorov’s petition to have Kadyrov interrogated was rejected on April 22, which he appealed on October 14 and lost again. Rosbalt has reported that the lawyer for Zaur Dadayev, the chief defendant in the case, has also filed a similar petition, given that Kadyrov had spoken glowingly of Sadayev as “a great patriot of his country who simply couldn’t commit the crime with which he was incriminated.”

Alexey Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy, posted a poll on Twitter.

Translation: Will Kadyrov meet with Yashin?

So far, 69% voted “no” and 16% voted “yes,” with 15% checking “Who are these people?”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Secretary of State Kerry Headed to Moscow to Meet with Putin Tomorrow as Kremlin Unleashes Criticism of US on Syria
Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been in Paris to attend the summit on climate change, is headed to Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the State Department reports.
The Russian Foreign Ministry released a testy statement today expressing “surprise” at recent statements by Kerry on Syria on the eve of the meeting (translation by The Interpreter):

The claim of some kind of “isolation” of Russia on the international stage is particularly awkward. Taking into account that the US Secretary of State is coming to our country for the second time in seven months — and in fact, as in May, the visit is organized at the insistent behest of the American government — such propagandistic attempts are simply ridiculous.

As we have repeatedly noted, Russia is open to constructive cooperation but it is possible only on the principles of equality and mutual respect. They may convince themselves in Washington of the “effectiveness” of sanctions against us as much as they like. As before, in defining areas for joint work with the US, we are guided by exclusively our own interests, including the task of strengthening our own and international security.

This relates to the Syrian issues to the fullest extent, about which Washington is looking for support fro American approaches which do not always coincide with international law. During the course of tomorrow’s talks in Moscow, we hope to gain the necessary clarifications from the State Secretary.

For our part we will continue to obtain from the US Administration a review of the policy based on an effort to divided terrorists into “bad” and “good”.
Unfortunately, even after the terrorist attack against the Russian passenger airline which took place October 31, the US is not displaying a readiness to establish full-fledged coordination with us in the battle with ISIL. Moreover, although a memorandum of flight safety of combat aviation in the Syrian skies was signed by both countries, Washington, taking upon itself the responsibility for actions of the whole coalition it heads, has not guaranteed implementation of the relevant statutes of that document by its ally, Turkey.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Turkish Patience With Russia ‘Has a Limit’ With Yet Another Incident At Sea

The Turkish government has warned that Ankara’s patience with Moscow “has a limit” after tensions between the two countries were highlighted yet again when the Russian destroyer Smetlivy fired warning shots as it neared a Turkish fishing boat yesterday.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, the fishing boat did not make radio contact or respond to to signal lamps and flares as it approached the Smetlivy near the Greek island of Lemnos. Crew on board the destroyer fired warning shots with small arms when the boat came within 600 metres.

But the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, told Italy’s Corriere della Sera in an interview published today that the Russian reaction was “exaggerated.”

Reuters reports:

“Ours was only a fishing boat, it seems to me that the reaction of the Russian naval ship was exaggerated,” Mevlut Cavusoglu told Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview.

“Russia and Turkey certainly have to re-establish the relations of trust that we have always had, but our patience has a limit,” Cavusoglu said.

This afternoon, Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency reported that there had been another incident involving Turkish and Russian vessels, this time in the Black Sea.

According to the report, a Turkish-flagged merchant vessel illegally crossed the path of an oncoming convoy of Russian ships, including a Black Sea Fleet missile boat, a Federal Border Service patrol boat and a towed drilling platform, forcing vessels to make emergency manoeuvres to avoid collision. 

The Chernomorneftgaz company, which owns the rig being towed, claims that the Turkish-flagged vessel did not respond to radio calls.

The Border Service patrol boat and missile boat then “forced” the merchant vessel to change course.

It is worth noting that Chernomorneftgaz was one of several Ukrainian state-owned entities that were seized by the Russian government during the annexation of Crimea last year. The company is under both US and EU sanctions.

Meanwhile the Caesar Kunikov landing ship returned north through the Bosphorus today. When the vessel passed south through the strait on December 6, en-route to Syria, a crew member strode the upper deck with an anti-aircraft missile launcher at the ready. 

The passage was well-documented and triggered complaints from the Turkish government. Mr Cavusoglu described the incident as “a provocation” at the time.

Today, with heavy media attention on the vessel, there was no brandishing of weaponry on deck as the Caesar Kunikov passed through:

— Pierre Vaux
Putin Replaces Klimentyev, Head of Presidential Security with Dmitry Kochnev

Izvestiya reported this morning that President Vladimir Putin has replaced the head of presidential security.

Oleg Klimentyev, who held the post at the Security Service of the President (SBP) since 2013 left his position to take the position of first deputy head of the Federal Protection Service (FSO), the agency that guards the Kremlin grounds and top officials, according to a source in the presidential administration.

The FSO later confirmed to Izvestiya that Kochnev replaced Klimentyev as head of the presidential security service. Putin reportedly issued a decree appointing Kochnev but it has not yet been published.
In 2013, Lt. Gen. Viktor Zolotov, who at that time was head of the SBP was made deputy commander of the Interior Ministry’s internal troops, and Klimentyev replaced him, also with the title of deputy director of the FSO.
Izvestiya noted that there was no official biography available for Kochnev at or the FSO’s site.
Putin first apointed to the job of head of the SBP Yevgeny Murov, now 70, who left in 2014 to “spend more time with his family.” At that time, Aleksei Mironov was discussed as his potential replacement and was put in the job of deputy director. Now according to Izvestiya‘s sources, Klimentyev is being discussed as a candidate to replace Murov.
The Security Service of the President has been a component of the Federal Protection Service since 2000, when Putin came to power
The FSO is the descendent of the KGB’s 9th Directorate and is assigned to protect top officials including the president, prime minister, the heads of both chambers of parliament, the Supreme Court head, the head of the Investigative Committee and others.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick