LIVE UPDATES: Although Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov implied that Chechen spetsnaz had infiltrated ISIS, the Chechen government walked this back today, saying there were only Chechen volunteers in Syria.
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.
–The Non-Hybrid War
–Kashin Explains His âLetter to Leadersâ on âFontanka Officeâ
–TV Rain Interviews Volunteer Fighter Back from Donbass
–âI Was on Active Dutyâ: Interview with Captured GRU Officer Aleksandrov
Mikhail Kasyanov, chair of the Parnas opposition party, was attacked by two dozen men in a restaurant, fellow party members report.
Natalya Pelevina, a Parnas member, reports:
Translation: Urgent: A physical attack was made on Mikhail Kasyanov. The attackers spoke in the Chechen language.
Another party member reported:
Translation: Kasyanov is alright. He is still at the police station.
Kasyanov later told Interfax that while he was sitting in a cafe, at least 10 men descended on him and threw a cake at him, shouting threats. Then then fled in cars.
On February 7, Natalya Pelevina made a post on her Facebook page which Kasyanov reposted which described a public meeting he held with opposition supporters in preparation for the informal “primaries” to decide which candidates will run in the fall parliamentary elections.
Hecklers from NOD [National Liberation Front] and Anti-Maidan shouted at Kasyanov during the meeting.
Kasyanov has been undeterred in his campaigning since being threatened by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who published a clip of surveillance tape of him visiting Strasbourg, with a sniper’s scope superimposed over it.
Police said that the pair were on their way from Saransk, and had stopped at a mosque in the village of Staryye Studentsy in Buynsk District for the afternoon prayer, after which they headed toward the city of Buyinsk.
The next day the Toyota was discovered in Buyinsk and both men were missing.
One Muslim clergyman was killed and another wounded in a car-bombing in 2012. They were known for opposing radical Islamists.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
If anything, his persistence in the news is a kind of campaign strategy as the same cycle keeps repeating — Kadyrov attacks the opposition or says something outrageous; people react and he says he didn’t mean what it sounded like; the Kremlin says it hasn’t read his Instagram posts but then days later, makes some indication of approval.
So Kadyrov wasn’t really putting a sniper’s filter over surveillance footage of two opposition figures, it was only a periscope (but how did he get that video file?) He wasn’t really making threats – the opposition — who have suffered real assassinations and poisonings — are just cowards.
Last year he lurched from saying he’d send tens of thousands of Chechens to the war in Ukraine, to saying only a few volunteers were there, to saying he had brought all the fighters home — which he supposedly had not sent.
There have been so many scandals around Kadyrov – the chief of which has been suspicion of his involvement in the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov — that Russia is becoming desensitized, as Paul Goble writes.
So it is no surprise that an excerpt of a special feature on Rossiya-1 implies that Chechens are fighting in Syria. The feature, which will air February 10 and was initially shown on February 7, shows the training of Chechen spetsnaz and Kadyrov talking about his people in Syria. Western media picked up the claim — the Independent, for example, ran with the headline “Chechen Special Forces Are On the Ground in Syria and Have Infiltrated ISIS Cells, Says Ramzan.”
Then this claim was walked back today, Interfax reported.
Kadyrov had said on air that he had long been receiving intelligence on the training of the “Wahabbists” in the Middle East. RBC.ru reported that the announcer said on the program (translation by The Interpreter):
“The time has come to speak about those who guarantee the success of the Russian air force on the ground at the price of their own lives.”
Kadyrov then said:
“Agents of the intelligence services from Chechnya were infiltrated into these camps. They didn’t know about this in Russia yet, but I already know that it would be called the Islamic State. I especially sent my people there to find out if this was true. And our guys made collections on NATO bases.”
Intelligence gathered from detained informants has been called into question in at least one case of a Chechen whom authorities claim went to Syria to fight for ISIS but who denies it.
“We know perfectly well what threat comes from international terrorist organizations operating in Syria and Iraq. In order to oppose this threat, you have to posses surveillance information, know who from Chechnya and other regions is in the ranks of ISIL and you have to take preventive measures on the spot. These people are involved in these and other tasks.”
“Naturally, all these people pass themselves off as adherents of ISIL. This is an exceptionally hard job. There are cases when someone is exposed, and you can guess what follows afterward.”
A man from Chechnya who was said to have been pressed into service by the Federal Security Service to gather intelligence on fighters in ISIS was then caught and executed. Kadyrov confirmed the execution and hinted that he may have cooperated with Chechen intelligence.
In October, soon after Russia began its bombing campaign ostensibly against ISIS in Syria, Kadyrov made a public request to be allowed to send his troops to Syria. The Kremlin did not reply.
At that time Kadyrov downplayed the presence of Chechens in ISIS and said there were “only an insignificant number.”
Law-enforcers have said there fighters from Dagestan numbered 800; recently the Interior Ministry’s branch in Astrakhan said there were “more than 70 residents” who were “younger than 30” from their region fighting with ISIS. In Kuban last year, prosecutors said they had opened up cases against 22 people suspected of ties with ISIS; two of them were teenage girls who were recruiting fighters through the Internet. Through checking of apartment-renters and large gatherings of people, they have found suspects, they said.
Memorial Human Rights Center issued a report today of complaints from Dagestani practitioners of non-traditional Islam who said they were placed on rosters for “preventive monitoring.” Local police have so many cases to follow of such people that they say they can’t cope, but hauled in many people and treated them abusively. Some young men are placed on the watch list just for having a beard.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick