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.
Vladimir Putin has awarded medals to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov even after his praise of a suspect in the murder of Boris Nemtsov, and has also awarded Andrei Lugovoi, the chief suspect in the poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko. Western critics find the timing suspicious.
– Alexey Navalny On the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
–Theories about Possible Perpetrators of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
–Novaya Gazeta Releases Sensational Kremlin Memo: âIt is Seen as Correct to Initiate Annexation of Eastern Regions of Ukraine to Russiaâ
–Former Russian Intelligence Officers Behind Boisto âTrack IIâ Talks â and Now the Flawed Minsk Agreement.
See also our Russia This Week stories:
Remembering Boris Nemtsov, Insider and Outsider (1959-2015)
Ultranationalists Angry over âCapitulationâ of Minsk Agreement,
âAnti-Maidanâ Launched by Nationalists, Cossacks, Veterans, Bikers
The Guild War â How Should Journalists Treat Russian State Propagandists?
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There were no “contractors” in the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, investigators have told RosBalt –– meaning that the suspects already arrested alone planned and executed the murder without the involvement of any other masterminds.
Investigators who were not named in the article said Dadayev, former Sever Battalion soldier, and Bislan Shavanov, who died in an explosion when he tried to throw a grenade when knocked on his door, were the main suspects. Shavanov also turned out to be a soldier in the Sever Battalion. Says Rosbalt (translation by The Interpreter):
Studying the evidence which is now available in the case, the testimony of the witnesses and the main accused, an unambiguous conclusion can be made: the murder of Nemtsov is the personal initiative of Dadayev and Shavanov.
“They had no other ‘contractors,” said a Rosbalt source in law-enforcement. According to the source, officially, the theory is still being worked of the possibility that the ex-fighters from Sever performed the crime at someone’s request. However, no objective confirmations have been found. “The whole circle of contacts of Dadayev and Shavanov is being studied, including natives of Chechnya who now live abroad. But it all comes to the same thing, that they planned all this together.“
Officials seem eager to discount any relationship of the murder to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, let alone to President Vladimir Putin or any other top Kremlin official, so they are now pushing the theory that the killers acted alone.
Often in such high-profile assassination cases, only the immediate perpetrators of the murder are found, and the planners or the contractors who paid the others is not found.
The reference to “Chechens abroad” may explain what was leaked yesterday by another investigator regarding a “foreign footprint”.
Rosbalt says that investigators are working on a theory that after the two Sever soldiers resigned (one on health grounds and the other due to the need to help an ailing mother), “they looked for some way to be useful in civilian life but did not find it.”
The two men reportedly spent a lot of time in religious discussions both together and with other acquaintances, and the topic of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons repeatedly came up. Then, goes the theory, the two former policemen grew outraged at various Russian civic figures defending the cartoonists, including Nemtsov, who they claimed had advocated such cartoons should continue to appear.
The killers were said then to be motived not only by punishing the defenders of Charlie Hebdo but by the wish to “raise their own authority in the North Caucasus”; they singled out Nemtsov because he has made “negative statements on Muslims” in their view and had proposed “jailing” Kadyrov for his abuses, says Rosbalt.
In fact, as we reported, when Nemtsov posted a half dozen times on the Charlie Hebdo issue, most of his posts were in defense of a lone picketer with a “Je Suis Charlie” sign arrested near the Kremlin and he didn’t say anything about the need to publish the cartoons. When the “Charlie Hebdo” connection to Nemtsov was first floated by the Investigative Committee on February 28, Kadyrov in fact discounted it and said “Western intelligence agencies” were to blame for Nemtsov’s murder in a false-flag operation.
The other three suspects in the murder, Anzor and Shadid Gubashev — are distant relatives of Dadayev and their two friends, Tamerlan Ekserkhanov and Khamzat Bakhayev.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
His report was accepted. On January 27 he was on vacation for 2015 for 30 days, until February 28. As he went on vacation, he was dismissed through the established procedure and removed from the list of the military unit.
The wording of the report suggests that Dadayev resigned, and then used up his vacation days before the date of his dismissal, but doesn’t explain the reason for his resignation. Also, the deputy commander must have misspoke, as depending on how the days are counted, including January 27 or starting January 28, 30 days would take him until February 25 or 26, not February 28, given that January has 31 days.
Dadayev, who received awards for his service from Kadyrov, has confessed to the murder of Nemtsov, sources in the investigation have claimed.
When the news was released about Dadayev’s arrested on March 7, Kadyrov respoded by saying he was a “brave warrior” and a devout Muslim, and said he would investigate the circumstances of his departure from the service.
Dadayev served in what was originally called the 46th Separate Operations Brigade of the Interior Ministry, and was later renamed the Sever [North] Battalion.
In Russia, the Interior Ministry is in charge of the police, including riot police, and also maintains its own troops which are used in putting down unrest and insurgencies such as in Chechnya.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe was signed in the closing days of the Soviet Union, and it played a significant role in negotiating troop reductions in the last 20+ years.
Today, Russia has announced that it has ended all cooperation with the treaty. The Kremlin-operated propaganda network Sputnik reports:
“Russia took a decision to halt its participation in meetings of the consulting group from March 11, 2015. Thus, suspencion of actions in the CFE declared by Russia in 2007 becomes full,” the statement reads.
The Russian Foreign Ministry added that “NATO countries actually prefer to bypass the provisions of the CFE Treaty by expanding the alliance.”
An “adapted” version of the CFE treaty was signed in 1999, but NATO members refused to ratify it until Russia withdrew troops from Georgia and the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdnestria, a criterion Russia regards as an “artificial linkage.” In December 2007, Russia imposed a unilateral moratorium on the CFE treaty, citing it’s “irrelevance” over NATO’s plans to increase its military presence in Eastern Europe and the alliance’s refusal to ratify the adapted version. In November 2011, NATO member states said they would no longer exchange information on conventional weapons and troops with Russia. In November 2014, Russia suspended the implementation of the CFE Treaty.
Another English-language propaganda network, RT, adds that Russia had already basically stopped cooperating with the treaty years ago, and stresses the Kremlin line that NATO is to blame, not Russia:
1999 saw an “adapted” version of the treaty signed. However NATO members refused to ratify it until Russia withdrew troops from Georgia and the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdnestria. Russia slammed the condition as an “artificial linkage.”
In December 2007 this led to Moscow imposing a moratorium on the CFE treaty. Moscow also said the treaty was “irrelevant” since NATO planned to increase its military presence in Eastern Europe.
Four years later, the North Atlantic bloc stated exchange of information on conventional weapons and troops with Russia would be stopped. In November 2014, Moscow suspended the implementation of the CFE Treaty.
One key component of this treaty, and several others including the Helsinki Accords and the Budapest Memorandum, provide for all signatories to respect international borders and sovereignty, refrain from the use of force, and engage in other co-operative measures, including mutually informing of military drills and significant troop movements. Though Russia believes that its actions in Moldova and Georgia (and now Ukraine) are unrelated to the treaty, the fact is that Russia’s actions in all of those countries are viewed by all or nearly all of the signatories as violations that these treaties were specifically designed to prevent.
It’s also worth noting that the treaty was initially signed by the countries which were then in the NATO alliance and the Warsaw Pact. Some of the signatories who were then part of the Warsaw Pact are now part of NATO, including Poland, Romania, and Hungary, as well as multiple nations which were part of the Soviet Union. In other words, Russia stands nearly alone now, and it’s revisionist history to blame NATO for that.
— James Miller
President Vladimir Putin has handed out high-profile awards to two
officials related to the murder of two prominent critics of his regime,
prompting speculation that the Russian leader has decided to brazen out
Western condemnation of his rule and reward his henchmen.
Yesterday, March 9, President Vladimir Putin announced he was
awarding Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov with the Order of Honor “for
professional successes, active civic activity and many years of
conscientious work,” New Times (NT) reported. He also issued an
award to parliamentary member Andrei Litvinenko, the chief suspect in
the poisoning death of former intelligence aggent Alexander Litvinenko.
The timing and optics couldn’t be worse.
As Parfitt wrote in The Telegraph:
The state medal – given for “many years of conscientious work” –
appeared to be an endorsement of Mr Kadyrov, awarded less than 24 hours
after he publicly praised Zaur Dadayev, who was charged at the weekend
with Boris Nemtsov’s murder.
While a Kremlin spokesman said the timing was coincidental,
but Nemtsov’s colleagues and friends wondered if it was “sending a
message” — approval of Kadyrov, even as suspicion was cast on him when a
key suspect in Nemtsov’s murder was found to be a decorated soldier of
his Interior Troops.
Kadyrov praised Dadayev, who received medals for bravery and
service in 2010, and noted that he was a “devout Muslim,” but he said he
had left the service under circumstances that were not known, and would
Investigators say they have tied Dadayev to the murder ostensibly
through DNA sample matches with hair found in the getaway car. But as a
statement from a law-enforcement source indicated last night,
investigators are still trying to tie him to the murder weapon — which
was not found, and may have been thrown in the nearby Moscow River.
Meanwhile, Nemtsov’s colleagues feel as if the award follows a
pattern often seen in Putin’s regime — for example, when raises and
medals were given to the officials responsible for leaving tax lawyer
Sergei Magnitsky to die in prison or when Putin signaled his ongoing
support for persons put on Western sanction lists.
Political analyst Alexey Makarkin told NT that the award of Kadyrov
“could be viewed as a recognition by Russian authorities of the lack of
alternative to his regime in Chechnya.” He may have been assured now
that he will not face any criticisms related to Nemtsov’s murder
(translation by The Interpreter):
“It is clear that Kadyrov knew he would be awarded the
order. For people of that rank, nothing is a surprise. This award could
be perceived as a signal to Kadyrov that there are no complaints, at
least major ones. Therefore Kadyrov can calmly call the suspects in the
murder of Nemtsov heroes, knowing that he won’t be touched,” Makarin
said in a conversation with NT.”
Vladimir Milov, chairman of the Democratic Choice party, told NT he
does not see parallels in the awarding Kadyrov and arresting the
“Ramzan Kadyrov plans an important role in the existing
political system, he has to be given incentive from time to time. And if
we speak of the “Chechen footprint,” then I believe that this operation
is a cover-up, and that the intelligence agencies are behind the crime
Dmitry Peskov, presidential administration spokesman told RBK.ru
that such awards “take several months” to organize, and it was a
coincidence, says NT.
While anything can take months in the
Russian bureaucracy, if leaders decide a medal has to be given, it means
merely taking an existing template for a certain award and ceremony and
scheduling it. Such was done suddenly for the paratroopers of the 76th
Guards Air Assault Division when Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made an
unscheduled flight to Pskov to hand out medals after a number of the
soldiers of the 76th were reported as killed in Ukraine.
As NT notes, Kadyrov has received awards in the past and has proudly shown them off on his official web site
— in 2004, he was given the “Hero of Russia” award and has been handed
numerous other medals for his service in protecting public order and
national security and protecting children — the last personally from
Russia’s child ombudsman Pavel Astakhov who seemed oblivious to the
children left fatherless by the numerous disappearances that have
occurred in Chechnya.
While the issue of timing may be debated endlessly on Kadyrov, the
other medal handed out yesterday with equally bad timing suggests that
indeed Putin is trying to demonstratively award the very people the West
views as responsible for murder.
Lugovoi is a member of the State Duma and former security agent in the Federal Protective Service (FSO) who is the chief suspect in the poisoning of
former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko. A public inquiry into his murder
is currently under way in London.
The full statement about his award on the Russian government’s legal site containing presidential decrees (page 8) gives his title as”deputy chair of the Committee of the State Duma for Security and Anti-Corruption” without mentioning his KGB, FSB and FSO past, and says the medal is awarded “for courage and bravery displayed in the performance of his professional duty under conditions fraught with risk for his life.”
The attorney for Litvinenko’s widow told the inquiry today Putin’s award is “the clearest possible message” of Putin’s support.
On Monday, the Russian president granted Lugovoi a medal for
“services to the motherland”. Over the past three weeks the inquiry has
heard damning evidence which suggests Lugovoi smuggled polonium to
Britain three times, poisoning Litvinenko in November 2006 during a
meeting with him at a Mayfair hotel.
Ben Emmerson, the QC for Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, said the timing
of Putin’s decision was no coincidence. It came, he said, on day 22 of
the inquiry and after “a substantial amount of evidence has been called
establishing Lugovoi’s involvement in the murder”.
He added: “[It] is clearly both a provocation from president Putin
and the clearest possible message he identifies himself with Mr
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Moskovsky Komsomolets, a newspaper and online news site that tends to support the Kremlin, has published two photographs alleged to be from surveillance cameras showing the getaway car in the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
MK does not say how they have obtained the photos, or from whom..
The stills taken from footage that has not been published show the silver ZAZ Chance, a Ukrainian-made car which has been described as a knock-off of a Chevrolet Lanos.
The stills are said to be taken from the time of the murder, with Zaur Dadayev, the chief suspect, in the front seat next to the driver.
Up until now, the only footage of the scene of the crime which has been
published comes from the TV Tsentr weather camera, owned by the city of
Moscow, and some brief clips of the getaway car, published by REN-TV.
MK also reported that other new information evidently leaked from the investigation says there is also footage taken from surveillance cameras on Malaya Ordnynka Street, where Nemtsov lived, months before his murder.
MK says the “gangsters” purchased the car in September 2014, then were caught on surveillance tape in October 2014 near Nemtsov’s home, which is not far from the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge where he was shot dead.
That means the whole theory of the case involving Dadayev is unravelling. Says MK:
What is this, a coincidence? After all, if we are to suppose that the suspect had already been tailing the politician [Nemtsov], then the chief motive falls apart. Last year [in October 2014], the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo editorial offices hadn’t taken place yet, nor Nemtsov’s statements which supposedly angered Muslims…That means there was nothing to kill him over — at least, according to the logic of Zaur Dadayev.
The suspects also appear to have been careless, since they parked the car in the neighborhood of Zamoskvorechye, but never once paid for parking tickets — or speeding tickets, which they also racked up, for a total of 12,000 rubles ($193).
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick