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.
Six suspects in the murder of Boris Nemtsov have decided not to cooperate with the investigation, and ties between them and a prominent Chechen family associated with past crimes have been established, Russian media reports.
– 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.
The US company ExxonMobil is demanding that money overpaid for taxes on profits gained from implementing the Sakhalin-1 project be returned, Kommersant and RBC.ru reported. The amount may number in the “tens of billions of rubles” (the rate is currently at 61 rubles/$1) and is for taxes paid for six years. The Interpreter has a translation:
A new conflict may emerge in Russia with a major foreign investor. As Kommersant has learned, ExxonMobil is demanding that the percentage of taxation on the profit for the project Sakhalin-1 be lowered from 35% to 20%, and that tens of billions of overpaid rubles be returned. The question arose even six years ago, although until now, ExxonMobil, which received the status of a strategic partner of Rosneft in 2011, did not raise it acutely. But sanctions have brought cooperation to nil, and according to Kommersant, two months ago ExxonMobil began to harden its rhetoric sharply, threatening to file suit in the Stockholm Arbitrage Court. Lawyers consider ExxonMobil’s position justified, and Russian authorities are hoping for a compromise.
According to Kommersant’s sources, Rex Tillerson, president of ExxonMobil, is slated to meet with Anton Siluanov, finance minister, vice premier Arkady Dvorkovich and Igor Sechin, president of Rosneft. The main topic on the agenda will be Sakhalin-1 where ExxonMobil is the operator and owns 30%; the Japenese company Sodeco owns 30%; Rosneft owns 20% and the Indian ONGC owns 20%.
Sakhalin-1 is a project located at three gas and oil fields: Chayvo, Odoptu and Arkutun-Dagi in the northeast shelf of the island of Sakhalin. The potential yield is 307 million tons of oil and 485 billion cubic meters of gas. The project began to turn a profit in 2008 and began paying taxes of 35% in 2009.
Sources told Kommersant they thought ExxonMobil had a good chance of recovering its funds because “few would take Russia’s side now in international courts.”
– Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Russian authorities are threatening to brand the organizers of the Perm 36 GULAG museum as “foreign agents,” the Agency for Social Information (ASI) reported.
Last year, authorities in the city of Perm in the Ural mountains shut off water and electricity to the GULAG museum, devoted to the lives of the prisoners who had suffered there in the Soviet era.
By March, officials had taken over the buildings and turned them into a state museum celebrating the history of the prison system and its guards themselves.
The efforts of the Perm 36 Museum non-profit group, like those of Memorial Society and the Sakharov Foundation, were among the few surviving programs in the Putin reign to independently research and commemorate the victims of Stalin.
Now, as Stalin is making something of a comeback and the Kremlin wants to downplay the negative side of Soviet history as they re-constitute part of the USSR in the Eurasian Customs Union, the museum is in the way.
Translation: Interviewed Soviet dissident Soviet Kovalev today. He served 5 years in Perm-36.
Kovalev, who just celebrated his 85th birthday, is the last of the generation to remember the camps.
Translation: Perm-36. The only Soviet prison camp that has been preserved. Pivot of conflict between government and civil society organizations.
– Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Since rumors circulated during President Vladimir Putin’s 11-day absence that he could be facing a challenge to his power by figures more hardline than he, or even a coup, now news of the other top Kremlin officials is being studied carefully.
Today, an announcement came that Sergei Ivanov, Kremlin chief of staff was nominated to the board of Rostelkom, Russia’s leading long-distance telephone provider, Novaya Gazeta reported.
Ivanov was discussed as a possible “coup-plotting general” by Andrei Illarionov, former Kremlin advisor, according to some scenarios.
As Paul Goble wrote in a summary of the “generals’ plot,” Illarionov noticed that Ivanov had gone about “reinforcing his union with the Russian Orthodox Church or at a minimum, guaranteeing its neutrality” when he attended the ROC Encyclopedia board meeting March 11 — while Putin was missing.
Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov, far right, next to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Rus’ of the Russian Orthodox Church; next is Sergei Naryshkin, chairman of the State Duma, and Sergei Sobyanin, mayor of Moscow, at the board meeting of the Russian Orthodox Encyclopedia on March 11, 2015. Photo by patriarchia.ru
Presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov confirmed the news from TASS on the nomination of Sergei Ivanov, chief of the Kremlin administration, to the board of directors of Rosteklkom
Moreover, according to Peskov, Ivanov may chair the board of directors.
‘Thus, the government is demonstrating the significance that it gives to the topic of the further development [of the telecommunications sector], said Peskov, speaking of the possible appointment of Ivanov to the company’s executive body.
Earlier Vedomosti had cited a source that said Ivanov would be nominated for the board of directors.
The list of candidates is still being approved, other high-ranking officials may be put on it.
While the telecommunications industry is no doubt important — Rostelekom owns “the last mile” of Internet connection for 35 million households” — it may also be important to give Ivanov a big post (not seen as a conflict of interest even while he is in office) — unless this is his golden handshake.
It’s more likely his possible takeover of the board is a sign of increased power over a key industry which brings not only personal wealth but influence. But it may be that he is being installed to turn around the business – Rostelekom’s income fell by 16.6% last year; its net profits in 2014 were 29.5 billion rubles or $455.5 million.
Another interesting development, as we noted in a list of strange things in Moscow, is the settlement of a 4-year-long dispute with VTB bank by Konstantin Malofeyev, the Russian Orthodox philanthropist and CEO of Marshall Capital Partners who backs the “Novorossiya” cause.
According to a Kommersant source in an article titled “Loan Ceasefire,” Malofeyev got an undisclosed discount on the repayment of $225 million to VTB. The funds were once loaned to him to buy some dairy companies
A source familiar with the situation said Malofeyev paid cash, and not shares he owned in other companies to cover the debt. In 2007, a court had frozen 10% of Malofeyev’s shares in Rostelkom as collateral to force return of the debt. Malofeyev was able to convince a London court to rule in his favor and get the shares unfrozen, and then turned around and sued VTB for $600 million in lost income from the asset seizure.
Malofeyev had attempted to negotiate a deal in February of this year, whereby he would give VTB shares in his company S-TS Holding (formerly Infra Engineering) which has experience in building networks for Rostelekom. Since VTB became co-owner of Tele2, a cell operator which began a telecommunications construction project worth 125 billion rubles, the sides were able to see mutual advantage in an agreement, says Kommersant.
In April of last year, Eletrougli Lend received permission from the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service to purchase 100% of the shares of S-TS Holding and the main shares of its founding company Soyuz-Telefonstroi; subsequently a second approval was obtained to buy 49.9% of S-TS Holding, but then it decided not to make the purchase, says Kommersant.
It’s possible that was because VTB did not approve the shares since Soyuz-Telefonstroi was in a difficult financial situation. In June 2014, the company obtained a loan from Sberbank for 2 billion rubles using its shares as collateral. Two Kommersant sources familiar with the situation said that Soyuz-Telefonstroi then defaulted on its loan. In November 2014, in an interview with Vedomosti, Malofeyev said he was trying to restructure the debt to Sberbank. Then after Soyuz-Telefonstroi got the contract to build the Tele2 network, VTB ceased to need to buy the shares.
So what is the connection between Ivanov and Malofeyev? Well, this is what the Russian independent media has long been trying to get more information about.
Last year, Theinsider.ru published a piece on May 27, 2014 that said Malofeyev was behind Col. Igor Strelkov, who first took part in the Russian occupation of Crimea, then led the takeover of Donetsk and created the self-proclaimed. “Donetsk People’s Republic,” where he became defense minister until his removal last summer. Strelkov was said to be head of security at Marshall Capital; blogger Oleg Kashin found this was disputed but nonetheless had sources that conceded that Strelkov was tied to Aleksandr Boroday, who ran a PR firm under contract with Marshall.
The Interpreter has translated an excerpt of Theinsider.ru piece:
It is hard to imagine that Konstantin Malofeyev acted in Ukraine at his own risk without coordination with the presidential administration. To all appearances, this connection is indeed there, as Sergei Ivanov, Jr., the youngest son of Sergei Ivanov, Sr. who is chief of staff, works at Gazprombank and at one point bought shares in Rostelekom as has been reported in the interests of Marshal Capital and with the knowledge of Sergei Ivanov, Sr. According to The Insider’s information, Sergei Ivanov and Konstantin Malofeyev were also in touch along the “religious” line (including through their common acquaintance, Fr. Tikhon, Putin’s personal spirtual advisor.)
There is also one other line of connection between Malofeyev with Ivanov, Sr. – Prince Aleksandr Trubetskoy. At one time, the government bloc of which Ivanov is the patron nominated Trubetskoi to the post of chair of the board of directors of Svyazinvest (the largest shareholder of Rostelekom). Ivanov himself, in an interview with Kommersant, openly praised Trubetskoi.
The prince also confirms his own acquaintance with Malofeyev: “Relations were established with Malofeyev as well as [Communications and Mass Media] Minister Shchegolev, thanks to talks on the topic of the Russian Orthodox Church, recalls Trubetskoi to Vedomosti. “They are very close to Fr. Tikhon. And this played a certain role. Moreover, Konstantin Malofeyev, as a business, shared his thoughts with me about Svyazinvest, and I hope in the future will provide his recommendations. But the main thing — I know him as a true Russian Orthodox patriot.
The Kremlin administration may have wanted to keep a distance to the whole “Novorossiya” adventure by having Malofeyev run it and pay for it — and they had the criminal case hanging over his head with the debt to keep him in line.
Novaya Gazeta released a sensational document last month which purported to be a draft scenario for the takeover of both the Crimea and the Donbass two weeks before former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was even toppled. This document was said to be authored by a group close to the Kremlin in which Malofeyev took part, and was said to be brought to the Kremlin and approved.
Not long before the document was released, Malofeyev was rumored to have lost an appeal in court to stop a search of his home and office related to the debt case. Some observers theorized then that Malofeyev may be forced to take the rap for “Novorossiya”now that a ceasefire was under way with the Minsk-2 agreement, so that the government could distance itself from the militants they had previously backed — and the Russian ultranationalists and volunteers who fought along side them.
But now we see that Malofeyev isn’t in jail, his debt is paid off — and apparently at a discount — and he has a nice telecom contract. Ivanov is being placed on the board of Rostelecom. What could possibly go wrong?
There’s still no smoking gun that ties Ivanov to any of this, other than the fact that Putin conceded in a special feature made for state TV for the anniversary of the forced annexation of the Crimea that indeed GRU spetznaz were sent to “reinforce” existing lawful troops guarding Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea — something The Interpreter reported at the time.
And blogger Oleg Kashin has found admission from Malofeyev that he financially assisted Sergei Aksyonov, leader of the pro-separatist self-proclaimed “Autonomous Crimean Republic” who was prominently featured in the annexation celebration in the St. George Hall at the Kremlin last March. So that means the Kremlin administration likely knew about this if the army was involved and a businessman was involved close to the Kremlin.
More research is needed to make the case that Ivanov actually guided Malofeyev, and for that, the independent press in Russia will have to stay alive — they have faced constant threats of libel suits and closures and the proof may not come to light. At any event, from what we see now, those identified as “coup-plotters” are doing fine.
According to a report on Kremlin.ru today, Putin chaired a formal meeting on plans for the May 9 Victory Day celebrations, flanked by Ivanov on his right and Dmitry Rogozin, deputy prime minister in charge of defense on his left.
Screen grab of video at kremlin.ru by presidential press service.
– Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
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 Zaurbek Sadakhayev, the lawyer for the latest and fifth suspect, Khamzat (Khamzad) Bakhayev, said that as far as he
knew, the charges were unchanged because he had not received anything
from the investigation.
None of the suspects are cooperating any more with the investigation, RBC.ru reported today, and all have plead Art. 51 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees the right not to incriminate oneself.
Novaya Gazeta has made a list of 10 points about the Nemtsov murder case to help readers to keep up. We have a long list of strange things going on in Moscow with these same points.
Among the 10 are some new points of information:
was actually the Federal Corrections Service of Ingushetia that made
the arrest of Zaur Dadayev in Ingushetia. 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 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
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
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 6th suspect who died
after throwing a grenade when police knocked on his door.
According to some press, 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. Yet according to Novaya Gazeta, Ruslan
Geremeyev is now aid to be under heavy guard in Grozny.
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.
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.
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