Russia Update: Six Islamist Militants Killed in Nalchik Said to be ISIS Members

July 24, 2015
Riot police and other law-enforcers with civilians near an apartment building where 6 Islamist militants said to belong to ISIS were killed. Screen grab from video published by LifeNews

Six Islamist militants shot dead by police in Kabardino-Balkaria, a republic in Russia’s North Caucasus, were said to be members of ISIS.

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.

Special features:

‘I Was on Active Duty’: Interview with Captured GRU Officer Aleksandrov
Meet The Russian Fighters Building A Base Between Mariupol And Donetsk
‘There Was No Buk in Our Field’
With Cash and Conspiracy Theories, Russian Orthodox Philanthropist Malofeyev is Useful to the Kremlin

Russia This Week:

Is ‘Novorossiya’ Really Dead?
From Medal of Valor to Ubiquitous Propaganda Symbol: the History of the St. George Ribbon
What Happened to the Slow-Moving Coup?
Can We Be Satisfied with the Theory That Kadyrov Killed Nemtsov?
All the Strange Things Going On in Moscow

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Russian Ultranationalist Ilya Goryachev, Leader of BORN, Sentenced to Life Imprisonment

Novaya Gazeta and other Russian media have reported that Ilya Goryachev, the leader of BORN (Battle Organization of Russian Nationalists), has been sentenced to life imprisonment for organizing an extremist group, unlawful possession of weapons and the murder of five people targeted for ideological reasons by the ultranationalists including anti-fascist activists Fyodor Filatov and Ilya Dzhaparidze; human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov; labor migrant Salokhiddina Azizov and a member of the “Balck Hawk” gang Rasul Khalilov.

Goryachev was also ordered to pay 5 million rubles ($85,553) to the mother of Dzhaparidze.

Goryachev was extradited from Serbia, where he had fled to after the murders in November 2013 and held in a Moscow prison. He was found guilty at a jury trial earlier this month, as we reported.

Earlier, four co-defendants were sentenced up to 24 years of strict-regimen imprisonment for the same murders.

TASS reported
that Goryachev fainted in the courtroom upon hearing the sentence. He claimed he was a political prisoner and the charges were fabricated. Vladimir Markin of the Investigative Committee said enough evidence had been found to convict him. His lawyer announced that he would appeal the sentence, claiming that pressure was placed on the jury.

Prosecutor Mariya Semenenko said the sentence was fair, and that Russia had abided by all the conditions of the European Convention of 1957, which include not using the death penalty.

The key witness against Goryachev was Yevgeniya Khasis, the common-law wife of Nikita Tikhonov, both of whom themselves were sentenced to 18 years of prison for the murder of Markelov and Anastasiya Babuova, a journalist who was with him at the time. Khasis testified that Goryachev had planned BORN to be analogous to the IRA with both an illegal and legal wing of the movement. He saw himself as the leader of a large nationalist party and planned to make a political career for himself,  she said.

Goryachev gave the orders to kill people, and then other defendants carried them out; some were planned to inflame already tense situations related to ethnic conflicts in Russia. Among the people BORN had in a list of people to target was Vadim Klyuvgant, the lawyer of Mikhail Khodorokovsky.

(Note: The Interpreter is a project of the Institute for Modern Russia, whose president is Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.)

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

What’s Happening at Ekho Moskvy?

Yesterday July 23, we reported troubles at Ekho Moskvy,
often described as “Russia’s last independent radio station,” as
minority shareholders, including some editors and journalists at the
radio itself, refused to approve a request by their company for a loan
of a 100 million rubles ($17 million) for six months to address a
deficit following the economic crisis in Russia this year.

We noted that  it was odd that Vladimir Varfolomeyev, who has been the deputy editor of Ekho Moskvy,
was described in this article as “acting” editor-in-chief when Aleksei
Venediktov has been editor-in-chief and there has been no mention of any changes in leadership of the radio station.

There is no mistaking this description of Varfolomeyev — the Russian original says v.o. glavnogo redaktora which means literally “temporarily acting editor-in-chief” — not his usual title.

When we tweeted a query about this curious adjective yesterday, Venediktov himself re-tweeted it without comment.


Perhaps the title of “acting” is only temporary for Varfolomeyev while Venediktov is traveling abroad, although we haven’t seen that use of the title before.

Venediktov is currently in the United States and visited Stanford University yesterday. He has posted photos of visits to Hollywood and Google on his Instagram account. He plans to visit Alcatraz Prison today, he noted on Twitter.

Ekho has come under increasing pressure from the Kremlin as well as from
readers of various persuasions for controversial coverage of such issues as the terrorist attack in Paris on the magazine Charlie Hebdo, the war in Ukraine, and domestic political
conflicts. Several journalists have quit because they feel Ekho is
losing its edge and has grown less friendly to opposition figures who
used to have greater access to its blog pages and interviews.

Some complain about what they see as the outsized role of Lesya
Ryabtseva, assistant to editor-in-chief Aleksei Venediktov, who has
published a number of blogs indicating her cynicism about the opposition
and who is seen as an enforcer of a new line.

Venediktov recently gave an extensive interview at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that was criticized as “too soft” on certain issues like the
progress of the investigation of the murder of opposition leader Boris
Nemtsov, who was in Ekho’s studio hours before his assassination on the
eve of a major protest march. Venediktov seemed to indicate that the
Chechens who were arrested for the murder were the only ones involved,
with no higher-ranking Chechens or other government officials as the

Yet in a Voice of American interview in Russian that followed soon after, Venediktov said the situation inside Russia was deteriorating.

Meanwhile, the pages of Ekho Moskvy itself seem
as critical as ever — today, for example, there are posts by
opposition figures Ilya Yashin and Ilya Ponomarev, a radio program
examining the sudden demand of the Russian Orthodox Church to return St.
Isaac’s Cathedral, which had belonged to the city of St. Petersburg; a
discussion of the appointment of Marya Gaidar as deputy to Mikheil
Saakashvili, now governor of Odessa Region; the order of a Chelyabinsk
prosecutor to stop certain books being read before a certain age; and a
Kremlin directive not to mention opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

It is not clear how all this will end, but readers have speculated
in the comments to yesterday’s news article that Venediktov may be
removed. He has weathered past challenges to his position, which is one
elected by the staff and approved by the owner in the Russian system.
Last year, after a journalist made a cynical remark on twitter about
Sergei Ivanov, the Kremlin chief of administration, when Ivanov’s son
was killed, Ekho came under pressure to remove the journalist and submit to a “code of conduct.” There was also a review of Venediktov.

In the end, Venediktov held his position, Ryabtseva set to work
convening meetings with Kremlin officials and journalists to make the
“code of conduct” and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov continued to give
interviews to Ekho.

Given the radio station’s enormous financial troubles, difficult changes are likely to come or Ekho Moskvy faces closing.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Six Islamist Militants Killed in Nalchik Said to be ISIS Members

The six militants killed during a “special operation” in Nalchik, the capital of the Russian Federation’s Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, were connected to Islamic State or ISIS, which is banned under Russian law, reported, citing Interfax which referred to law-enforcement sources.

A law-enforcement source told Interfax that during a search of an apartment where the militants had been hiding, weapons and ammunition were found as were a 1.5 kilogram bomb of a type used by ISIS in Syria.

The National Anti-Terrorism Committee earlier announced that the fighters were involved in a number of murders and attempted murders of law-enforcement agents. They were planning a terrorist attack in Kabardino-Balkaria.

According to Caucasian Knot, the regional news service, police declared a counter-terrorism operation at 3:00 am yesterday between Lenin Avenue and Kuasheva, Rybalko, Shchorsa, Kabardinskaya and Tolstogo streets.

An amateur video published by LifeNews shows at least 4 BTRs in the streets surrounding a large apartment building, with numerous riot police and civilians. The sounds of screaming and gunfire can be heard and smoke comes out of the apartment windows.



LifeNews published the names of those killed: Sultan
Abshayev, Marat Dotkulov, Amir Kazberigyev, Murat Bogotov, Aslan Bogotov
and the owner of the apartment where the suspected terrorists had
barricaded themselves.

Sultan Abshayev was said to be the “leader of the central sector of
the Kabardino-Balkaria militants”; Marat Dotkulov was “in the
underground for only two months” and Amir Kazberigev “was on the federal
wanted list for two years as a member of an illegal bandit formation,”
as the Russian authorities call such armed groups.

According to Caucasian Knot, a law-enforcement source cited by RIA Novosti
said two more of the six men were on the federal wanted list: Sultan
Abshayev, 22 and Nartkaly Kazgeriyev, 29, the owner of the apartment. Caucasian Knot
added that the Bogotovs were also in the wanted list on the
Kabardino-Balkaria Interior Ministry’s web site. They were registered at
the same address and appeared to be brothers.

In a story with the headline “FSB Gets Revenge Against Militants for Prosecutor,” Kommersant reported
that Abshayev was known among the Islamist militants under the Muslim
name of Seyfulla, and was wanted for the murder of a prosecutor, Marat
Tokov, 35, who served in a special counter-terrorism division of the
prosecutor’s office.

Kommersant said that the FSB was tipped off that the
militants were on the 6th floor of a 9-story apartment building across
from a mosque on Shogentsukov Street. Police then blocked off the
streets, and evacuated about 200 residents from the building. They urged
the militants to surrender, but then the fighters began shooting.

awhile, two of the militants tried to shoot their way threw the police
cordon, and threw a grenade at the special forces, who instantly fired
back and killed them.  No law-enforcers were injured. The remaining
gunmen stayed in the apartment and continued to shoot out the window.
Later it was discovered that the militants had tried to break a hole
through the floor to the fifth floor to escape but their attempt failed.

Police said they found a home-made bomb lab in the apartment along with a variety of weapons, grenades and ammunition.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick