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.
President Vladimir Putin finally appeared today at a news conference in St. Petersburg with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev, but he said little and did not explain his 10-day absence from public view.
– 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:
All The Strange Things Happening in Moscow
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?
Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costsâ.
Yesterday we reported the latest on the investigation into the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov; now there are reversals of some of the claims and new information.
sources told RBC.ru that the charges were being changed to turn the
case from a contract murder motivated by financial gain to a hate crime
motivated by religious fervor. We wondered why there was no court action
to reflect this.
But the lawyer for Zaur Dadayev, one of the accused assasings, said that as far as he
knew, the charges were unchanged because he had not received anything
from the investigation.
Among the 10 are some new points of information:
It was actually the Federal Narcotics Control Service (FSKN) that made the arrest of Zaur Dadayev in Ingushetia, although the FSB and Interior Ministry announced the arrest. It turns out that a man in the car with Dadayev was a drug dealer whose phone was tapped. Law-enforcers were following him, and then found Dadayev and the others.
When the Nazran Interior Ministry Department in Ingushetia brought the detainees in for questioning, Chechen law-enforcers tried to put pressure on them, evidently to let them go. This situation was then “rectified” by the Federal Security Service (FSB) spetsnaz which came to the region and took over. Fearing that Dadayev might be kidnapped, the spetsnaz landed at the Nazran police in masks with a show of force and took Dadayev directly to Moscow with a sack over his head.
Dadayev is the only one of the suspects who gave a full confession on videotape, saying that he was motivated not only by religious concerns but cash. Then later, when Kadyrov spoke up on his behalf and there was a lot of media, he withdrew his confession.
Dadayev’s relatives say Alibek Delimkhanov, the brother of Senator Adam Delimkhanov, flew with him to Moscow before the murder of Nemtsov and then returned to Grozny on February 28.
RBC.ru also has some new information.
The media has not said much about Temerlan Eskerkhanov (as his name is now being spelled) other than to relay his claim that he was not involved in the murder and had an alibi. He previously served in the Interior Ministry in Shelkovsky District when it was headed by Vakha Geremeyev, the cousin of Senator Delimkhanov and also the brother of Senator Suleyman Geremeyev who has been a witness in a number of high-profile criminal cases. Police in Dubai suspected that Delimkhanov was behind the murder of Sulim Yamadayev, and there is an Interpol notice out for him.
Eskerkhanov moved to Moscow about six months before the murder, and found work as a bouncer at the Duran Club. His brother told RBC.ru that Eskerkhanov sent his entire pay back home, as he has six children, two of whom he took under his care when his two brothers were murdered. Temerlan was arrested on the night of March 5-6 at a house in the village of Kozino in Odintsovsky District where he was found with the other suspects. His brother says this was accidental as he was homeless and would go around to sleep over at the homes of various fellow Chechens.
Novaya Gazeta reported about a dossier that supposedly went to President Putin in which the name “Ruslan” was mentioned — and this was ultimately surmised to be Ruslan Geremeyev, nephew of Adam Delimkhanov and Suleyman Geremeyev who also served in the Sever Battalion with Dadayev and Shuvanov, the 7th suspect who died after throwing a grenade when police knocked on his door. Ruslan Geremeyev is now aid to be under heavy guard in Grozny.
The mere fact of being related to another person isn’t proof of a crime — a principle that the Russia media does not seem to affirm. But it’s easy to understand why — this is a family with a history of involvement in criminal cases and suspicion of hit jobs on Kadryov’s enemies, including one wanted by the UAE.
RBCDaily.ru has a further story from Ruslan Eskerkhanov that his brother was introduced to Zaur Dadayev by his fellow policeman Ruslan Geremeyev (translation by The Interpreter):
My brother served as a policeman in the Shelkovsky District, in the Interior Ministry. His duties were simple — lift up the barrier and let in cars. He was acquainted with Geremeyev from having met him at various functions and holidays in Grozny. Geremeyev is himself a native of our Shelkovsky District.
Another source told RBC.ru that Geremeyev met Dadayev in the Zink Bar on Veyernaya Street in western Moscow, and that Geremeyev and Dadayev were sharing an apartment on that same street. Dadayev had followed Geremeyev to Moscow from Grozny six months ago.
Eskerkhanov denied that he knew Dadayev, he had only seen him 3-4 times — at the Zinc Bar, at the Radisson Hotel, at the banya and twice when he brought some groceries to the apartment. He remembers once talking to Dadayev on the phone about how to get to the next level in a computer game.
Police have not sought Ruslan Geremeyev in connection with the case. Relatives have been unable to reach his, his phone doesn’t answer and his home in Shelkovsky District is closed.
Eskherkhanov is charged with Arts. 33, 105 and 222, which is serving as an accomplice in the preparation of a murder; organizing of a murder; and unlawful possession of a weapon, his lawyer Roza Magomedova reports. Eskerkhanov’s brother, Ruslan told RBC.ru that investigators told him that Temerlan was the one to tail Nemtsov before the murder. But Temerlan’s other lawyer Dmitry Ulyanov said his client is innocent and that he has an alibi, with a video camera showing he was at work at his club at the time of the murder. .
Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Presidential Human Rights Council said he had asked Lefortovo Prison authorities if he could visit Dadayev but has had no response.
– Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Now Zaur Dadayev, a man whom Kadyrov has himself identified as a trusted and decorated soldier in his special brigade “available for any assignment given the order,” is said to be both the perpetrator and organizer of the murder. Dadayev is said to be tied directly to the murder through surveillance camera and DNA evidence. The others arrested are Chechens who are always the usual suspects rounded up in such cases. Will Putin overlook once again the involvement of Kadyrov in a high-profile murder in Russia? Or will he continue to tolerate Kadyrov as an enforcer who gives the Russian president “plausible deniability” in these cases?
Last week, President Putin awarded Kadyrov the Order of Honor “for professional successes, active civic activity and many years of conscientious work,” even after Kadyrov praised the murder suspects as “brave warriors.” That suggested that any “war” was now won — until Putin went missing for 10 days when the rumors sparked up again.
It’s important to remember that Putin’s administration has made a number of runs at Chechen murder suspects — and failed spectacularly.
In May 13, The Interpreter published a translation of an investigative piece by Novaya Gazeta which concerned the frustration and anger of Moscow law-enforcers who captured Chechen murder suspects — only to see them later released under mysterious circumstances.
Then in December 2013 we translated another piece, “Bastrykin’s Humiliation,” about a special cases investigator named Sergei Bobkov who was sent to clean up some corruption and unsolved murder cases in Grozny — only to end up suddenly leaving on vacation “to spend more time with his family” as soon as he started making arrests.
These pieces suggest that Putin was not coping with his supposed mission of curbing the excesses of Kadyrov — or that he might be undoing the work of others in the Investigative Committee or intelligence — except he himself signed the decree to appoint Bobkov.
Grigory Shvedov, the journalist who runs the regional news site Caucasian Knot gave an interview to Anna Nemtsov for Foreign Policy in which he noted that two other killings involve Chechens named “Dadayev” who might be relatives:
Russian lawmaker Ruslan Yamadayev was gunned down in the center of Moscow in 2008; that same year a Chechen oppositionist, Umar Israilov, was assassinated in Vienna. The killings of Nemtsov, Yamadayev, and Israilov all had the “same handwriting,” Shvedov said. Nemtsov was an outspoken critic of the Kremlin’s policies. Yamadayev had a long history of tense relations with Kadyrov. And shortly before his murder Israilov filed a complaint in an international court of human rights charging Kadyrov with direct responsibility for acts of murder and torture. A Moscow court ultimately found Aslanbek Dadayev guilty of Yamadayev’s murder, sentencing him to 15 years in prison. In 2009, a Viennese court sentenced three Chechens to life terms in jail for the killing of Israilov — and one of them was a man named Suleiman Dadayev.
There is no evidence provided that Zaur Dadayev is related to the other killers named Dadayev, or that the familial relations between Dadayev’s commander and the Delimkhanov family are proof of guilt, as the Russian press assumes.
On the other hand, Chechnya is a small republic of 1.2 million people with very close-knit ties and extended families in villages based on the teip or clan. These clans can be based on blood ties or geographical location. Since the disruption of the wars of the 1990s, in which 200,000 were killed and tens of thousands were forced to flee to Russia, or other countries in Eurasia or Europe, the teip system has weakened and it is no longer the marker it once was for political relationships.
The Russian media has not researched the teip to which Dadayev and the other defendants belonged, but law-enforcement officials in Ingushetia, a North Caucasus republic neighboring Chechnya, said that all the suspects came from Ingushetia — not uncommon as many Chechens were forced to flee to Ingushetia during the wars. All the suspects are said to have come originally from the town of Voznesensky, Malgobeksiy District in Ingushetia and moved to Chechnya or Moscow later.
One of the key pieces of information in the investigation aside from video surveillance tapes and cell phone records is the testimony of Dadayev’s sister, who said that her brother left for Moscow, with his commander, Alimbek Delimkhanov before the murder.
If Dadayev and the others are related to the Dadayev sentenced for other murders, they might wish to seek revenge under the rules of the teip against figures associated with the imprisonment of their relatives.
But then it’s not clear how Nemtsov relates to any of this at all.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
There’s been a number of turns in the Nemtsov murder investigation today. As Interfax reported, law-enforcers have “corrected” the charges from one that would support the thesis of a contract murder, to one that would constitute a hate crime.
That means they can develop their theory that the suspects “acted alone,” first leaked by anonymous investigators on March 10.
Interfax cited “a source close to the investigation” about today’s change (translation by The Intepreter):
The charge against the suspects was made under Art. 105, part 2, pars. zh and l of the Criminal Code: crimes committed by a group of persons by preliminary conspiracy or an organized group from the motives of political, ideological, racial, national or religious hatred.
At the arraignment last week, two of the suspects were charged under Art. 105, part 2, but different paragraphs — zh and z — which is “from mercenary motives or on contract.”
Authorities had nothing more to say about possible contractors, or a possible foreign connection which could have involved a Chechen abroad, based on contacts found among the suspects last week.
Now that the “contract” part of the case is dropped with the articles related to mercenary motives or an actual hire, authorities are free to focus only on the 6 Chechens they’ve captured, and not worry about other theories of who might have masterminded the murder.
The other sections of Art. 105 are capacious enough that prosecutors can decide to stick with the theory the suspects are devout Muslims angered by the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, or pick a political or ideological motive, i.e. their hatred of “fifth columnists.”
Last week, the independent Novaya Gazeta published a sensational article implicating relatives of the Delimkhanovs, a powerful Chechen family, in the murder, although no sources were cited and complete names were not published. Adam Delikhanov is a senator in the Federation Council and Alimbek Delikhanov is the head of the Sever Battalion where both Nemtsov murder suspects Dadayev and Beslanov Shavanov served.
Novaya also implicated a certain “Ruslan” who is believed to be Ruslan Geremeyev, the nephew of Senator Adam Delimkhanov and also Senator Suleyman Geremeyev. Ruslan was decorated in 2010 at the same ceremony as Zaur Dadayev and the name is published on a government website.
That article also published the claim that Putin received a report that Kadyrov maintained a “hit list” of liberal Russian opposition figures and journalists, which has now led some to go abroad temporarily.
On March 12, Novaya Gazeta’s editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov announced that he was suspending the print edition and the future of the online version was uncertain; he mentioned that one shareholder was “trying to put him out of business.” Both Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and oligarch Alexander Lebedev have shares in Novaya.
As we reported, a new suspect, Khamzat Bakhayev was charged today along with Tamerlan Eskerkhanov, who says he has an alibi. A seventh, Beslan Shavanov died in a grenade explosion as police came to his door.
Dadayev’s lawyer announced today that he has an alibi as well.
Translation: Dadayev’s lawyer: “Dadayev has an alibi, but we are not announcing it for now to either the investigation or the prosecution,” he announced to everyone. Have you understood something?
RBC.ru reported that he had evidence that Dadayev was not on the bridge where Nemtsov was murdered at the time of the crime, but at another location.
Two other suspects have also claimed alibis; the lawyer of Tamerlan Eskherkhanov says a video surveillance camera at his workplace, at least 15 minutes’ drive away from the scene of the murder shows that he was at work on the night of February 27. The wife of Bakhayev can provide an alibi for him, said his lawyer.
There is one indication that the “mastermind” concept has not been dropped however — Kadyrov is keeping Ruslan Geremeyev under guard by Chechen police.
Other than that, the case is following a well-established pattern — and with lightning speed — whereby Chechen suspects who may or may not have been contract killers are the only ones found in the investigation and the masterminds are never implicated.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
On March 13, Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP) published an interview with an anonymous FSB officer, spinning a theory of the murder of Boris Nemtsov that involved a Chechen volunteer for the Ukrainian army, Adam Osmayev.
The Interpreter has a translation:
“I consider this total delirium which is not even worth commenting on. I don’t have anything to do with this, of course. I am not acquainted with Zaur Dadayev and never spoke to him on the phone; there is nothing to talk about at all with this category of people. In
principle, they don’t particularly know how to talk, they know a few
words — ‘Stechkin,’ and so on. They are traitors to their own people, and
traitors are dealt with in the same way everywhere.”
A “Stechkin” is a type of Russian automatic pistol.
Osmayev said he was very “pained” by the news of Nemtsov’s murder.
Osmayev is a pro-Kiev and anti-Moscow Chechen who now heads the Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion, after its previous leader, Isa Munayev, was killed in battle near Debaltsevo. He was arrested in 2012 and accused of plotting to assassinate President Vladimir Putin, but was ultimately cleared of these charges even under the regime of Viktor Yanukovych. He was sentenced for possession of explosives to time served and released last year.
KP’s source claimed that Osmayev gave the order to kill Nemtsov — although even he could not supply any plausible motive.
A version of this story was floated right after the murder that tried to tie the US government and Right Sector’s leader Dmitry Yarosh to a plot to “destabilize Russia” and discredit Putin in this way. Nemtsov’s colleagues discounted it, saying it was a distraction from finding the real culprits.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Earlier we reported that, according to Kremlin-operated news agencies, Putin himself has ordered the Northern Fleet and paratroopers of the Western Military Region on high alert for an unannounced inspection. The drill will include 38,000 soldiers, 3,360 armored vehicles, 41 ships, 15 boats, and 110 planes and helicopters.
RFE/RL adds a quote from Russia’s Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu:
State-run RIA news agency quoted Sergei Shoigu as saying on March 16 that Russia faced new threats to its security which forced it to boost its military strength and capabilities.
“New challenges and threats to military security require the armed forces to further boost their capabilities. Special attention must be paid to strategic formations in the north,” RIA quoted Shoigu as saying.
A few weeks ago we’d note that this fits a spate of recent actions from the Russian military, which has held a series of unannounced drills, some of which have even included its nuclear arsenal. Russia has been keen to show off its strength, and perhaps demonstrate that its military is not stretched thin. There are other possible analyses as well: that perhaps, with fighting lessened in Ukraine, Moscow wants to find other ways to flex its muscles.
But there is also an added context at the moment — that today it Putin’s first appearance in ten days, and he did not look good. There have been plenty of rumors about Putin’s absence, ranging from the ridiculous to the intriguing. Some of the theories have even suggested that Shoigu himself may have been involved in a “quiet palace coup,” either as one of the instigators or as a defender of the President. These theories, of course, are all speculative, but with “All the Strange Things Going on in Moscow” — among them the assassination of a leading opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, the interesting travel itinerary of Defence Minister Shoigu, and the disappearance of the President — Kremlinologists are grasping at every piece of data for a possible clue into what may be happening behind closed doors.
— James Miller
Russia’s LifeNews reports that a 37-year-old Ukrainian male has died after being attacked by a large gang of ultra-nationalists at a train station in Moscow.
According to the report, Roman Muzichenko was attacked a week ago by a group of 21 people, ranging in age from 15 to 20, on the platform at Silikatnaya station, in the Scherbinka area of southern Moscow.
Security cameras recorded the attack:
Muzichenko died in hospital having never regained consciousness.
LifeNews reports that investigators, who gave the numbers and ages cited above, had said that the attack was committed on grounds of nationality.
The new channel, which is suspected of close ties to the state security services, claimed that Muzichenko’s attackers had mistaken him for a Tajik immigrant (Tajiks and others from central Asia have often borne the brunt of xenophobic attacks by Russian ultra-nationalists). There was, however, no attribution for this claim.
The participants in the attack were reported to be practitioners of pankration, a combat sport combining elements of mixed-martial arts, combat self-defence and “Russian hand-to-hand fighting.”
Investigators also told the channel that this same group had already carried out another attack that same day. Just half-an-hour earlier, the group had allegedly beaten a man at Chekhov station, north of the city centre. The victim of that attack was less severely wounded and was discharged from hospital.
— Pierre Vaux
Law-enforcers have arrested a new suspect, Khamzat Bakhayev, in the Boris Nemtsov Murder investigation, RBC.ru reported.
Zaurbek Sadakhayev, a lawyer for Bakhayev retained by his relatives, said
he was unable to meet with his client in the isolation investigation
cell. He intends to submit a complaint to the prosecutor’s office about
the failure to allow Bakhayev to meet with a lawyer, which is a civil
right under Russian law.
Another lawyer for Bakhayev, Sofya Rubanskaya,
said she could not divulge anything about the case as she had signed a
non-disclosure statement but she did say Bakhayev was not pleading
Authorities also say they have determined the roles played by the supposed murderers, RBC.ru reported, citing a source.
Dadayev was said to follow beyhind Nemtsov and his companion Anna
Duritskaya and commit the murder, and Anzor and Shagid Gubashev, two
brothers, were allegedly the ones to pick him up in the getaway car.
the street-cleaner came on to the bridge, its noise drowned out the steps
of the perpetrator. According to one source, he approached Nemtsov and
shot him several times in the back.
“At that moment, a car
appeared on the bridge, in which the law-enforcement agencies suppose
the brothers Anzor and Shagid Gubashev were riding, they picked up
Dadayev, then they sped away,” said the source.
investigators discovered a house in a Moscow suburb where the organizers
and executors of the murder practiced shooting and worked out the
murder plan. Bullets were found there that match those that killed
Now all five suspects who were brought before a court
last Monday have been charged; Shagid Gubashev was charged today, March
16, Interfax reported,
citing his lawyer. On Friday March 13, Tamerlan Eskerkhanov and Khamzat
Bakhayev were charged. Eskerkhanov says he has an alibi.
have also been reported to change the charges from murder motivated by
commercial gain to murder based on hatred for political, ethnic or
– Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
President Vladimir Putin appeared today at the Konstantinov Palace in St. Petersburg to meet with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev.
But the meeting started late, was very short — and Putin spoke very little.
It didn’t strike us right away that in fact Putin was not speaking much — because the others were doing the talking.
First a faithful reporter in the Kremlin pool tweeted that he could tell from Atambayev’s face that Putin’s handshake was very strong. This was a reference to a comment presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with Ekho Moskvy last week, that Putin’s handshake was so strong “it would break your arm.”
Then President Atambayev boasted that Putin had taken the wheel himself and driven him around the grounds of the palace and said “everything is fine.”
He continued to speak of how he would tell anyone who gossiped about the president that “they wouldn’t get away with it.”
But Putin look waxen, and his hair seemed thinner than in past appearances, and one side of his face seemed slightly bruised.
In the first video made available by RT.com, Putin speaks about the discussion on economic issues he had with Atambayev, but is speaking rather softly.
In this video, we can see he only says a few words, at a whisper:
“It would be boring, without gossip, surely.”
It’s still not clear whether Putin is ill or recovering from an illness or surgery, and may not have wished to speak much for that reason.
We’ll have to wait until other meetings are broadcast to see if Putin is “back to normal.” The summit in Astana of the EurasianUnion is now re-scheduled for March 20.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Gazeta.ru, TV Rain and other media are reporting a statement by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu run by RIA Novosti that President Vladimir Putin has given the order to put the North Fleet and certain units of the Western Military Region and Paratroopers on combat readiness alert for inspection today.
These units are in Kaliningrad. A similar inspection was called last year.
The order was given at 8:00 am Moscow time.
Shoigu is reported to be at the National Center for Defense Management in Moscow.
The sudden inspection involves 38,000 soldiers, 3,360 armored vehicles, 41 ships, 15 boats, and 110 planes and helicopters. .
The Russian air force and the commanders of the troops were simultaneously delivered packets with instructions.
Talk-show host Kseniya Sobchak, targeted with death threats at the funeral of Boris Nemtsov — and the target of harassment campaigns before that for challenging President Vladimir Putin — has decided to leave Russia for a time, Kommersant reports.
Sobchak was reported to be on a “hit list” of opposition figures reported by be maintained by Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Chechnya, according to a report in Novaya Gazeta.
Sobchak came under fire from the Chechen strongman when she challenged his patron, President Putin, at his year-end press conference in December 2014, asking why he allowed Kadyrov to issue orders to burn down the homes of terrorists, which was unlawful. Putin conceded the point, but said Kadyrov could be understood, as one of the policemen killed in a shoot-out with terrorists in December at the press building in Grozny was his own relative. After that, Sobchak was deluged with hate mail and hecklers who stood outside her home.
Sobchak was recently appointed as the editor of L’Officiel and threw a party this weekend at the Central House of Writers for the occasion — which turned out to be a send-off party. Here she is seen with oligarch Alexander Lebedev on the right.
Kseniya Sobach (L), Alexander Lebedev (R) Photo by Sergei Bobylev/Kommersant.
Sobchak was accompanied by her husband, actor Maksim Vitorgan and two bodyguards.
The Russian edition of the magazine has had a troubled history but recently found a new investor, Artcom Media’s Aleksandr Fedotov, who bought 80% of the shares and installed Sobchak, with whom he was familiar with from his other publication she edited, SNC.
UPDATE: Sobchak tweeted this morning that when she woke up, her husband read her the headlines about “immigrating” from Russia, as some sources said, or that the investigators had advised her to do this and seemed surprised. She deleted that tweet. Then she issued this one:
Translation: Officially: my friends exaggerated about the immigration; the dinner at L’Officiel really was heartfelt and with good wine.
The original story in Kommersant by Yevgeniya Milova said the following (translation by The Interpreter):
Close friends unofficially learned that she [Sobchak] is leaving not due to her own sensitivity, but at the recommendation of intelligence agencies.
What Sobchak hasn’t made clear is whether she is taking a temporary trip or not.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
President Vladimir Putin is expected to meet today in St. Petersburg with Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev, who has already reportedly arrived in the city.
An announcement on the meeting appeared last week amid concerns that Putin has not been seen in public since March 5, when Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi met him at the Kremlin, and later some mothers taped an International Women’s Day show with him aired March 8.
Other stills and videos of Putin meeting with regional governors and the head of the Supreme Court could not be authenticated as having been filmed live. There were a number of sources that indicated they could have been taped the previous week.
Only some journalists have received accreditation for the press conference following the meeting, where the two leaders are to discuss Kyrgyzstan’s possible entry into the Eurasian Customs Union. Currently Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are members but other allies in the Commonwealth of Independent States are reluctant to join.
Translation: Translation: Almazbek Atambayev arrived in the Northern capital for a meeting with Putin.
– Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The bell-tower at the Novodevichy Convent caught on fire at about 22:00 last night, creating a dramatic skyline in the center of Moscow and fueling conspiracy theories about what has happened to President Vladimir Putin, missing for 10 days.
Novodevichy Convent is near the Novodevichy Cemetery where many prominent Russians are buried. It is not near the Kremlin.
For a time, the Earthcam for Moscow was showing the flames but now that it is morning in Moscow just the husk of the tower is visible. Novodevichy is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For Yod’s photo report of the fire, go here.
Yod News reported that a 5-billion ruble ($80 million) reconstruction project began on the bell-tower last year, and scaffolding around the tower may have caught on fire.
The bell-tower has never suffered a fire it was built in 1524. Even when Khan Devlet Girey set fire to the cathedral, it was not touched. According to legend, even Napoleon was unable to burn it down in 1812, despite trying to torch it twice; nuns were able to douse the flames.
Meduza‘s Danya Turovsky reported that neither the scaffolding or tower collapsed as reported, but that the structure has been seriously deformed.
At least 18 fire trucks responded, and a large crane was brought in as well. There were no injuries.
Interfax reports that the restorers of the bell-tower were being blamed for the fire, says Yod.
Naturally, in the current atmosphere there were no shortage of dramatic pronouncements made regarding this historically significant site.
The blogger v_n_zb writes that Vasily III built the convent in honor of the seizing of Smolensk in 1514. As he did this despite a pledge given by Tsar Vasily II, known as “Vasily the Dark,” to the Lithuanian Prince Kazimir that Moscow would renounce taking Smolensk “forever,” there had to be retribution.
So — goes the analogy — Russia signed a treaty with Ukraine not to attack it and took back Crimea, violating the agreement — which Putin decided to boast about a year later — so on the anniversary, the bell-tower built in honor of a violated vow now caught on fire, 501 years later.
It seems very unlikely, however, that someone would deliberately burn down a historical monument given that there was an $80-million restoration project riding on it, and risk losing that.
Last week a shopping mall collapsed in the city of Kazan, capital of Tatarstan, a constituent of the Russian Republic. Seventeen people were killed. And in the city of Kirov, snow fell from a roof on to two little girls and injured them, prompting the opening of a criminal investigation by the Investigative Committee. These kinds of accidents are all too frequent in Russia due to crumbling Soviet-era infrastructure, shoddy construction, poor maintenance, and bribery of inspectors. The lack of independent media and an independent bar and judiciary make it difficult to fight local or national government responsible for these disasters.
These accidents have all contributed to the sense of catastrophe some Russians have about their country right now, although for most Russians all of these accidents will seem as remote as they themselves are from Moscow or Kazan.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick