Law-enforcers have shot dead another suspected Islamist militant in Dagestan.
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
Shane Harris of the The Daily Beast reports on the mysterious death of Mikhail Lesin, the former Gazprom Media chief who died in a Washington, DC hotel room; there is some speculation Lesin may have been in the US to cut a deal with the FBI and inform on the Putin regime in exchange for dropping an investigation into his own suspect luxury real estate deals of some $30 million.
Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi who has spent years looking into corruption and human-rights abuses in Russia, had asked the Justice Department to investigate Lesin. In December 2014, the department confirmed it had referred Lesin’s case to the Criminal Division and to the FBI. While officials declined to say whether they formally opened an investigation, several close watchers of Lesin’s case told The Daily Beast they thought it was all but certain that he was being pursued by U.S. law enforcement. And if he wasn’t under active criminal investigation, the FBI had enough evidence to consider opening a case, they said. A bureau spokesperson declined to comment on the matter.
So why did Lesin, who was 57, tempt fate by entering the United States this past November?
The purpose of his visit was never made clear. But he was staying in a mid-range hotel on Washington’s DuPont Circle. While not shabby, it’s doesn’t seem the kind of place that attracts people who buy multi million-dollar estates. It does, though, offer a comparatively low per-night rate, perhaps more in line with U.S. government budgets, and is known to host foreign government officials and visitors on exchange programs. It’s also located a short drive from FBI and Justice Department headquarters.
About two weeks after the Justice Department informed Wicker that the allegations against Lesin were referred to the FBI, Lesin resigned as the head of Gazprom-Media, citing unspecified “family reasons.” Kara-Murza, the journalist and Putin critic, who himself fell mysteriously ill last summer, has directly linked the department’s announcement to Lesin’s stepping down and said it showed that the threat of sanctions and prosecution could be used to bring down corrupt Russian officials.
Kara-Murza’s article was published in December 2014; in May 2015 shortly after visiting the Russian city Kazan to launch a lecture program for Open Russia, the organization founded by businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Kara-Murza was mysteriously poisoned and nearly died. After intensive medical intervention he recovered and underwent further rehabilitation abroad, after which he returned to work in Russia.
In November 2014, Ekho Moskvy, the independent radio station that has increasingly come under pressure from the Kremlin in the last year, was involved in a protracted battle for its existence after reporter Aleksei Plyushchev insulted top Kremlin aide Sergei Ivanov on Twitter. He was dismissed without the approval of Aleksei Venediktorv, editor-in-chief, who feared he himself might be next.
Eventually a compromise was reached whereby Pluyushchev was sent on leave and Venediktov remained. Ironically, later Lesin stepped down. Then in the ensuing months, there were a number of incidents of alleged censorship and some editors resigned, citing conflicts with Venediktov’s assistant Lesya Ryabtseva. She resigned late last year and revealed that she had cooperated with Kremlin propagandists to spy on and expose Ekho Moskvy.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
On December 15, 2015, Federal Security Service (FSB) head Aleksandr Bortnikov said 156 militants had been killed by law-enforcement in 2015, less than in previous years.
On December 28, Caucasian Knot reported on a total of 9 militants killed in the week after Bortnikov’s report:
— On December 23 in Khasavyurt, police opened fire on a driver who refused to stop, and he was killed. He was identified as Magomed Zakaryyev, of Tsumadin district, born 1992, and was said to have aided the Kizilyurt gang.
– On December 23, a driver of a Gazel refused to stop in Reduktor ; police opened fire and killed him. He was identified as Dzhambulat Aliyev, born 1972.
– Three more militants in Cherkesska were killed in a battle in an abandoned home; explosives and weapons were found in a car nearby. Six others were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the group.
– As we had reported, on December 24, another three militants were killed in battle in Kabardino-Balkaria who were identified as Nazir Tokhov, born 1983; Baksan Aslan Zagashtokov, 42, and Inal Tkhazaplizhev, 26. They were said to have trained in Syria.
Then, on December 28 another leader of a terrorist group, Shamil Nurmagomedov, was killed in Dagestan during a raid; he had been wanted by federal authorities for the murder of civilians and an attack on a police convoy in May 2014.
Thus, with the addition of these 10 militants killed in the last two weeks of December, the total for suspected Islamists killed by police and security forces in the North Caucasus in 2015 was 166.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick