Chechen Officer Suspected of Organizing Nemtsov’s Murder Issues Statement

February 26, 2016
Ruslan Geremeyev, middle and Tamerlan Eskherkhanov at the President Hotel in Moscow. Photo by Novaya Gazeta

LIVE UPDATES: Ruslan Geremeyev, deputy head of Sever Battalion, said to be the organizer of the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, has issued a statement to the court.

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 Translations:
The Non-Hybrid War
Kashin Explains His ‘Letter to Leaders’ on ‘Fontanka Office’
TV Rain Interviews Volunteer Fighter Back from Donbass
‘I Was on Active Duty’: Interview with Captured GRU Officer Aleksandrov


Mass Fist Fight of Chechen and Russian Soldiers Breaks Out in Borzoi Over Insult. Shots Fired

A mass fist fight broke out among Chechen soldiers stationed in Borzoi. Shots have also reportedly been fired.

The regional news service Kavpolit was evidently the first to cover news of the mass fight from social media, based on the video. Shots are audible in the video.

The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that the fight had taken place, Novaya Gazeta reported, citing RIA Novosti.
A video of the incident has been uploaded to YouTube.

According to the Defense Ministry, the fight was provoked by two contract soldiers, then others joined them. But no one was injured, the South Military District press service said in a statement.

Borzoi is a town in the Chechen Republic where one of the bases of the South Military District is located. The 8th Mountain Motorized Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces is based there.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov also made a statement on his Instagram page (translation by The Interpreter):

“A fight among several servicemen occurred at a military united based near Borzoi. The fight was openly related to everyday life and had no relationship to the fulfillment of military duties.  The start of the conflict was an incident that took place back on February 23. One of the serviceman made a remark to another over his vividly expressed swear words in the presence of a woman cook. This led to a quarrel.

Certain media and persons are making deliberately false commentaries, trying to portray what happened as a conflict between Russians and Chechens. This is a fight between men, in which people of completely different ethnicities took place, and not only Russians and Chechens. There is nothing surprising in this. Such phenomena occur in any army of the world. Together with representatives of the army command, we have taken the necessary measures. And the degree of guilt of each person will be determined by the competent agencies. I advise people not to try to politicize and blow up an ordinary incident. The servicemen themselves have already understood one another and have repented. The final word will be with the law, which all are obliged to observe.” #Kadyrov #Russia #Chechnya #Army

According to Sergei Krivenko, head of the Presidential Human Rights Commission on the rights of the military, the fight could be related to the drafting of natives of Chechnya into the army, which began in the fall of 2014. In an interview with, Krivenko said:

“Before, the Defense Ministry did not draft soldiers from Chechnya, but now a generation has grown up which by virtue of their age did not fight during the first and second Chechen campaigns. But tension could remain.”

There’s a context he didn’t mention: For years, Kadyrov refused to allow men from Chechnya to be drafted into the federal Russian army and kept his military men at home, in the Interior Troops which have been under his personal control. Some human rights lawyers had even contested this refusal of the Chechen leader to participate in the draft that all other regions of Russia have to comply with. Ultimately, Kadyrov had to start allowing Chechen men to be drafted, and the adjustment may not have been easy.
While the ethnic component was discounted by Kadyrov, the video makes clear that a dispute that involved only one individual dissing another over ostensibly chivalrous concerns escalated instantly to a mass fist-fight because people were able to be galvanized quickly to take sides on some basis — which could be ethnic affiliation or even just being from the same town or republic. That a quarrel could turn into mass unrest reveals underlying tensions in the army.

If it hadn’t been for the YouTube, neither Kadyrov or the Defense Ministry would likely have mentioned the incident.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Nemtsov March Organizer in Chelyabinsk Beaten; Activists in Moscow Expect to Go to ‘Nemtsov Bridge’

While technically authorities in Moscow and a number of cities have granted permission to the organizers of a marches in memory of Boris Nemtsov, in reality, the secret police are trying to discourage them.

First, the Moscow organizers’ request to hold the commemoration at the actual place Nemtsov was assassinated, on Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge near Red Square, was turned down. 

Then earlier today, police showed up at the home of the parents of one of the organizers, demanding to see him in person and issue a summons in a case from last November.

Now comes news that in Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains, the organizer of the march there was severely beaten, RFE/RL reports:

A member of the opposition PARNAS party, Aleksei Tabalov, wrote on his blog that Vyacheslav Kislitsyn was attacked by unknown men in Chelyabinsk on February 26.

According to Tabalov, Kislitsyn was hospitalized with numerous wounds, a broken rib, and heart problems. 

MP Dmitry Gudkov expects the march in Moscow to go through tomorrow and even efforts to go to the bridge where Nemtsov was killed, which the opposition has informally re-named “Nemtsov Bridge.”

Translation: the Moscow authorities and police promised not to interview with us going to Nemtsov Bridge on Saturday.

This remains to be seen, given that past incidents at the bridge have not involved the police per se, but various ultrnationalist groups such as the NOD (Russian National Liberation) or Anti-Maidan which harass democratic activists while the police look the other way.

In other towns, where there is less press and foreign diplomatic attention, it may be easier to close events down on pretexts — or with brute force as in Chelyabinsk.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Police Summon One of the Organizers of Nemtsov Memorial March
Police from the Orlovsky Region criminal investigation department came to the Moscow apartment of the parents of Vitaly Serukanov, the lawyer for the opposition Party of Progress, one of the organizers of the march in memory of Boris Nemtsov, RosBalt reported.
According to Serukanov, the officers demanded a personal meeting with him in connection with an administrative case they are opening against him for picketing last November 8 in defense of Oleg Navalny near the labor colony where he is being held in Orlovsky Region. Oleg is the brother of opposition leader Alexei Navalany; bother were charged with a fraudulent mail-order scheme involving the French company Yves Rocher, although the company has no claims against the Navalnys and the case is believed to be contrived in retaliation for Alexei’s exposing of corruption among high officials.
The officers said they had to hand Serukhanov a summons to Uritsky District Court for March 12.

But the court says Serukhanov’s case was long ago returned to the police, and no summons was issued. The court’s web site notes that a trial of Serukhanov already took place and the case was returned.

Opposition organizers have a permit to conduct a march in memory of Nemtsov, but did not get permission to go past the site where he was assassinated, near the Kremlin. They will march instead to Sakharov Avenue.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Chechen Officer Suspected of Organizing Nemtsov’s Murder Issues Statement
Rosbalt reports today that a source “close to the situation” has reported that Ruslan Geremeyev, deputy commander of the Sever Battalion, suspected of organizing the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, intends to send a statement to the trial of the suspects who are already in custody. Geremeyev is believed to have fled Russia and gone to the United Arab Emirates.
Rosbalt learned the substance of the statement. According to Geremeyev, he has not hidden from the investigation, but was taking part in a “special operation at a mountain location” which was conducted against unlawful armed groups, “including those associated with ISIS.”
Geremeyev said he learned that he was of interest in the Nemtsov case from the media and that “this information provoked his surprise.” He said he had never taken an interest in Nemtsov, and had “no motivation for experiencing dislike of him.”
He said that he was on an “official business trip to secure high-ranking representatives of the Chechen Republic” in early 2015. He says he has no connection to the murder.
As the independent media has reported, however, Geremeyev was seen by surveillance cameras in Moscow the day before the murder, with one of the other suspects, Tamerlan Eskhiranov. Zaur Dadayev, who is said to have been the trigger man, was his subordinate in the Sever Battalion.
The State Duma rejected a proposal to hold a minute of silence to mark the first year anniversary of Nemtsov’s assassination February 27.
In an op-ed for Moscow Times published today, Ilya Yashin, deputy chair of the Parnas party and Nemtsov’s close associate, said that Nemtsov’s murder was intended to frighten the opposition:

This was essentially an act of terrorism, a high-profile assassination, intended to intimidate others. I am certain that he was killed in order to silence critics of the Kremlin, and to compel them to leave Russia. And many people did exactly that: They got scared and left the country.

But the murder also had the reverse effect, one that whoever ordered the murder had not anticipated. Many people who were shocked by Nemtsov’s murder joined the protest movement and became activists for the opposition

The killing also demonstrated that the siloviki’s hands are tied when it comes to investigating political assassinations. During the initial stage, investigators managed to apprehend the trigger man and put together a criminal case with strong evidence showing that he was an officer of the Chechen battalion “Sever.” But the moment it became clear that the trail led back to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and other government officials, the investigation stopped

It is now abundantly clear that the people behind Nemtsov’s murder will escape accountability — at least until a new team moves into the Kremlin.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick