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 Investigative Committee plans to interrogate Ruslan Geremeyev, a former officer of the Sever Battalion, in the case of the murder of Boris Nemtsov. Zaur Dadayev, the main suspect in the case currently, was the deputy of this battalion under the Chechen Interior Ministry troops ruled by Ramzan Kadyrov.
– 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?
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According to popular consumer-advice and tech magazines, Kaspersky Lab creates some of the best-reviewed security software on the market. That’s been confusing to some who study Russia, since the company was started by it’s CEO Eugene Kaspersky, a former KGB officer, and is headquartered in Russia, a country known both for its prolific hackers and its espionage activities. A Bloomberg article, published today, notes that in 2012 the company began to lose or let go many of its Western senior managers and began to hire people with close ties to Russia’s intelligence or security apparatus.
In 2012, however, Kaspersky Lab abruptly changed course. Since then, high-level managers have left or been fired, their jobs often filled by people with closer ties to Russia’s military or intelligence services. Some of these people actively aid criminal investigations by the FSB, the KGB’s successor, using data from some of the 400 million customers who rely on Kaspersky Lab’s software, say six current and former employees who declined to discuss the matter publicly because they feared reprisals. This closeness starts at the top: Unless Kaspersky is traveling, he rarely misses a weekly banya (sauna) night with a group of about 5 to 10 that usually includes Russian intelligence officials. Kaspersky says in an interview that the group saunas are purely social: “When I go to banya, they’re friends.”
Chief Legal Officer Igor Chekunov, who regularly joins Kaspersky’s banya nights, is the point man for the company’s work with the Russian government, three of the insiders say. Since 2013 he has managed a team of 10 specialists who study data from customers who have been hacked and provide technical support to the FSB and other Russian agencies. The team can access data directly from any of the company’s systems. While Kaspersky Lab’s managing director for North America, Christopher Doggett, says its data are anonymous, two people familiar with the technology say it can be altered to gather identifying information from individual computers and has been used to aid the FSB in investigations. Chekunov had no biography on the company website prior to a query from Bloomberg Businessweek. Spokeswoman Sarah Kitsos says he served as a policeman after working in the KGB’s border patrol.
The article also mentions that while Kaspersky has released reports on alleged electronic espionage programs run by the U.S., U.K, and Israel, ” the company hasn’t pursued alleged Russian operations with the same vigor.”
This is hardly the first time Kaspersky has come under scrutiny for his ties to the Kremlin. In 2012, Noah Shachtman wrote an article in Wired, stating “Russia’s Top Cyber Sleuth Foils US Spies, Helps Kremlin Pals.” Shachtman warned that Kaspersky’s software collects information from users in much the same way as Western competitors like Symantec or McAfee, except that in Russia the law requires companies to cooperate with the FSB, the descendant from Kaspersky’s KGB, and an organization with which Kaspersky is openly friendly:
According to federal law number 40-FZ (.pdf), the FSB can not only compel any telecommunications business to install “extra hardware and software” to assist it in its operations, the agency can assign its own officers to work at a business. “Rule number one of successful companies here is good relations with the siloviki,” says one prominent member of Russia’s technology sector.
Kaspersky says the FSB has never made a request to tamper with his software, nor has it tried to install its agents in his company. But that doesn’t mean Kaspersky and the security agency operate at arm’s length. Quite the opposite: “A substantial part of his company is intimately involved with the FSB,” the tech insider says. While the Russian government has used currency restrictions to cripple a firm’s international business in the past, Kaspersky faces no such interference. “They give him carte blanche for his overseas operations, because he’s among the so-called good companies.”
Furthermore, Kasperksy founded the anti-hacker group Global Research and Expert Analysis Team, or GREAT, which is responsible for, among other things, finding and destroying a piece of software called FLAME, part of the Stuxnet virus designed by the U.S. government to shut down Iran’s nuclear program.
Shachtman notes that Symantec, an American company, also designed their product to combat this software after it was discovered, but there’s no evidence that Kaspersky has actively pursued malware designed by the Russian government.
— James Miller
Russia is slapping further personal sanctions on a list of Western people known as “Russophobes,” RT.com reported.
Izvestiya reports that the latest list has about 60 people from the US, including Deputy National Security Adviser Caroline Atkinson, presidential advisers Daniel Pfeiffer and Benjamin Rhodes, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Robert Menendez and Senators John McCain, Daniel Coats and Mary Landrieu.
Says Izvestiya (translation by The Interpreter):
It is not ruled out that in the future, the lists will be expanded. As a source close to the presidential administration reported to Izvestiya, several meetings have been held in the government and the presidential administration devoted to sanctions. Their results was an instruction by the Foreign Ministry to embassies in countries that have imposed sanctions against Russia to draw up a list of citizens conducting active anti-Russian policy and who also have property in Russia.
“We are not demonstrating a particular desire to play these banning games with the West. But if they continue to keep active on sanctions, we will put into motion new blacklists which the diplomatic missions have prepared,” said the high-placed source.
Alexei Pushkin, head of the State Duma’s committee on international affairs, himself in the US sanctions list, said
“Today the sanctions list of the West and Russia are comparable. We also have included (as has been done regarding Russians) an entire list of politicians and legislators. They will now feel what it’s like themselves.“
Interestingly, Russia has not barred Western businessman — a point RT.com didn’t mention in its article. Izvestiya quotes Pushkov as follows:
“I believe that the time has not come to include Western businessmen in the blacklists. This is a practice because businessmen are involved in business and as a rule don’t have responsibility for the actions of their countries. If they want to invest and work in Russia, and create new jobs, then they shouldn’t face hurdles in this.”
Russian business figures have been put in Western sanction lists because they are state capitalists, supporting the state for their own gain as well as for mutually-reinforcing political reasons, as in the construction of the Sochi Olympics and now in the occupied Crimean peninsula. Some sanctioned figures such as Konstantin Malofeyev have been directly linked to Russian-backed militants fighting in southeastern Ukraine.
Bogdan Brusevich, a Polish senator was barred from Russia in early March and Sandra Kalniete, a member of the European Parliament, was denied entry to attend the funeral of Boris Nemtsov on March 4.
The Western sanctions against Russians are in retaliation for bans on travel and property ownership against a list of top Russian officials around President Vladimir Putin and others said to be responsible for the war in Ukraine, as well as their companies, including the Rotenberg brothers, Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft and Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Chechnya. Recently entertainer Joseph Kobzon was added because he openly supported the Russian-backed militants and traveled to the Donbass to perform and speak out on their cause.
Izvestiya reiterated a list of seven countries believed prepared to break away from the rest of the Western bloc and drop sanctions against Russia: Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia, although these countries have not taken action.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
GM has announced that it will stop selling the Opel and most Chevrolet vehicles in the Russian market by the end of the year, the Detroit News reported.
While it will not leave Russia, GM’s plant in St. Petersburg will fall idle, and at least 1,000 people will lose their jobs if not more — up to 1,300 at the plant and another 300 in an office in Moscow.
Sales fell by about 28% last year, although only a few years ago, Russia was seen an an “emerging market” and GM had sold 123,000 cars there.
But in September 2014, in yet another indication of Russian economic troubles before the war and Western sanctions, even before the latest ruble crash this year, GM reduced production from two shifts to one in the St. Petersburg plant and cut 500 jobs.
GM said it will “focus on the premium market in Russia and will still sell Cadillac and U.S.-built Chevy models such as the Camaro, Corvette and Tahoe,” said the Detroit News.
Several other automobile manufacturers are also leaving Russia due to the collapse of the ruble and the sharp fall in sales.
Gazeta.ru has a gallery of all the models that will no longer be for sale in Russia.
– Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Investigative Committee is planning to interrogate Ruslan Geremeyev, a former officer of the Sever [North] Battalion in Chechnya, in the case of the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Kommersant and RBC.ru reported.
In the last week, there have been repeated rumors that Ruslan Geremeyev,
a cousin of suspects 6 suspects currently in jail for the murder, has been under heavy armed guard in Grozny.
Kommersant, a business daily, has published a number of the main leaks in the case and has been rewarded by having selective articles reprinted on the web site of the Investigative Committee itself.
The leaks have tracked the official line from the Investigative Committee from the very beginning on February 28, the day after the murder: that devout Chechen Muslims, angered at the solidarity for the murdered journalists of Charlie Hebdo by terrorists in Paris, planned and executed the assassination of Boris Nemtsov.
Nemtsov’s colleagues, friends and family do not buy any of this and have made a number of statements indicating that they believe it is a distraction from finding the real killers as well as their motives. We have excerpted some of Nemtsov’s few Facebook posts on the subject of Charlie Hebdo and don’t find it convincing, either.
Here is what The Interpreter reported on March 17 about Geremeyev’s background and his relationship to the powerful Delimkhanov family, also related to the suspects:
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 [Adam] 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 7th suspect who died
after throwing a grenade when police knocked on his door.
While some press claimed police had 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 is locked.
Yet another twist has been added to the story now with today’s Kommersant article (translation by The Interpreter):
acquaintances of Tamerlan Eskerkhanov recounted, when he lived in the
apartment on Veyernaya Street in Moscow, where he rested after his
night job, armed people burst in, and Eskerkhanov at first thought
they had come to kill him. The problem is that after he resigned from
law-enforcement, Eskerkhanov worked privately as a bodyguard for a
certain businessman. Not long before
his detention, his boss got into a serious conflict with some
competitors, therefore they did not rule out that the settling of scores
When he learned that it wasn’t bandits who had come after
him, but FSB officers, and the questions emerged in connection with the
murder of Mr. Nemtsov, Temerlan sighed in relief, certain that after an
interrogation he would be released. And learning that they were to
question him only as a witness, he agreed to an open conversation
without a lawyer.
Meanwhile, Eskerkhanov was
unable to keep that status; according to the charges against him, he and other accomplices to the crime followed Mr. Nemtsov,
and furthermore, “looked for means to commit the crime.” According to
Kommersant, this is a question of bullets which experts say were
collected, so to say, “by scrounging through their pockets.” All the
ammunition turned out to be manufactured at different times by different
Ivan Gerasimov, lawyer for Dadayev
said that he is checking out his client’s claim of an alibi at the
time of the murder. He also said that he had not heard of Ruslan
Geremeyev had anything to do with the case. Eskerkhanov’s lawyer said
the same thing. They said that the testimony the clients gave before
their lawyers were present is not admissable in court.
As we’ve noted before, merely invoking a familial connection isn’t enough to establish guilt in a case, even if that family member has a history of involvement in other murder cases. The evidence has to be presented for making the claim, and a motive established. At this point, if the case is not purely a contract murder commissioned by shadowy forces around Putin or other high officials determined to eliminate critics, then the connection to Chechnya and Kadyrov’s men becomes harder to explain as a more convoluted theory of “discrediting Putin” or “a power struggle between the FSB and Kadyrov.”
– Catherine A. Fitzpatrick