Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov says the Tsarnaev brothers were framed by the FBI.
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.
Russia This Week:
– 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
– With Cash and Conspiracy Theories, Russian Orthodox Philanthropist Malofeyev is Useful to the Kremlin
– Alexey Navalny On the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
– Theories about Possible Perpetrators of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
– Novaya Gazeta Releases Sensational Kremlin Memo
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Russian millionaire Alexander Perepilichnyy was found dead in his home in the UK in 2012. He fled Russia in 2009 and became a whistleblower, revealing information about how a company called Hermitage Capital Management was used by members of the Russian police and various tax officials to steal $220 million in Russian tax money.
Hermitage’s CEO William Browder was expelled from Russia. Hermitage’s accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, was thrown in prison after he was accused of the fraud he himself helped exposed. Magnitsky complained of severe stomach pains while in prison but was not given medical attention. He died, and his family says he was beaten — and effectively murdered — by his captors.
Perepilichnyy’s death has always remained suspicious, but new evidence suggests that he may have been poisoned. The Independent reports:
At a pre-inquest hearing it emerged that fresh testing by a leading poisons expert has revealed the presence of a chemical in a sample of the stomach contents of Mr Perepilichnyy which is strongly associated with a lethal plant toxin known to be used by Russian contract killers.
Lawyers for police acknowledged in a hearing at Surrey Coroner’s Court in Woking that the presence of the chemical “ion” was a “cause for very serious concern”.
Further tests are now being urgently carried out to establish whether the chemical “calling card” in the stomach contents can be used to show that Mr Perepilichnyy must have swallowed a deadly plant poison shortly before his death.
The court heard that the substance was extremely rare in nature and could only be derived naturally from five sources – all of them forms of the poisonous plant Gelsemium, otherwise known as “heartbreak grass” and a known tool of assassins from Russia and China, where the most toxic version of the shrub – Gelsemium elegans – grows on remote hillsides.
Hermitage CEO William Browder previously described the importance of documents provided to him by Perepilichny . BBC reports:
There has also been no action taken against the main group of people accused of carrying out the fraud itself, which is why Mr Browder claims the documents provided by Alexander Perepilichny were so important in pushing forward his investigation.
He says the documents allegedly show how some of those he has accused of the fraud transferred around €7 million (£6.2m) to bank accounts in Switzerland and used part of the money to buy luxury properties.
“We [already] had all the evidence to probably indict and convict 60 people inside Russia,” says Mr Browder.
“But the Russian police and Russian authorities covered up the entire system. So we were looking for evidence to do something outside of Russia.
“What Perepilichny provided us with was absolutely lock-tight documentary evidence which allowed for assets to be frozen and a major international money-laundering investigation to be launched by the Swiss police and the Swiss prosecutor.”
— James Miller
The Russian independent media and social media networks were filled with discussions of what appeared to be a coerced wedding of a 17-year-old Chechen girl to a 57-year-old village chief of police this week.
As we reported last week, the story sparked enormous controversy as first the wedding was denied, then Russian officials seemed to indicative their disapproval of underage marriages, then in the end Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov gave the union his blessing and the marriage went head.
Under Russian law, a person must be 18 years of age to marry, but 16- and 17-year-old minors may obtain permission to marry from local officials. The age differs from region to region and is 17 in Chechnya.
Many commentators asked why the parents of Luisa Goylabiyeva, the bride, known as Khedi, gave their consent and their was concern that the family was under pressure from authorities after Khedi’s girlfriends wrote appeals to Novaya Gazeta to draw attention to her plight. Nazhud Guchigov was reportedly married before and it was not clear if he had obtained a divorce.
Many people posted a picture from the wedding of the downcast Chechen bride, who looked exactly like the woman in a famous Russian 19th painting by the Russian artist Vasily Pukirev titled Unequal Marriage.
Translation: There is nothing new under the moon.
The story was emblematic for many of the sense that Chechnya runs under its own laws and doesn’t heed the central authorities, as the Daily Beast‘s Anna Nemtsova reported.
Pavel Astakhov, the children’s rights ombudsman made multiple and contradictory sentences and in the end refused to condemn the marriage and said it was a private affair.
Kadyrov posted a clip of himself on Instagram dancing the Lezginka, the traditional Chechen dance. In this clip, he looks very plump, which is unusual given that he constantly works out and posts pictures of himself at the gym looking very fit. It may be that he is wearing a bullet-proof vest at this public event.
The YouTube account Grozny posted an unofficial video of the wedding that shows that Kadyrov’s chief of staff, Magomed Daudov, who is known as “Lord,” took the bride by the hand and brought her to the table to register the marriage.
Another video showed that he led her out of the marriage bureau.
Yevgeniya Albats, the editor of New Times, has commented that the spectacle of this marriage, which has held the Russian public riveted for weeks, seems to be both emblematic of the failure of the central authorities to achieve the rule of law in Chechnya and also a distraction from issues like the lack of progress on the Nemtsov murder investigation as we reported last week (translation by The Interpreter):
I sincerely do not understand why everyone is so agitated regarding the wedding of a 17-year-old girl and the head of a district police precinct in Chechnya. That the laws of the Russian Federation don’t operate in Chechnya? And where do they operate? That the girl was given away in marriage as a second wife, without taking much interest in her own wishes? I’m afraid that there are numerous such stories in the national enclaves. Thankfully she’s not 13, but at least a little older. That Chechnya is a Sultanate, whree there is one law – the law of the sultan to punish and pardon? That’s also yesterday’s news. Or is this a plant, in order to forgot quickly about Geremeyev, the quarrel between Kadyrov and the federal law-enforcers and the investigation of the murder of Boris Nemtsov?
Ruslan Geremeyev, a member of the Sever Battalion of Chechen Interior Troops has been reported as a suspected organizer of the murder of Boris Nemtsov; he refused to be questioned by the Investigative Committee and is believed to have left Chechnya.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
This morning, May 18, there was a brief anti-war demonstration for 20 minutes in front of the checkpoint of the former Togliatti Military Academy, now the 3rd Brigade of the GRU [Russian military’s Main Intelligence Directorate], BBC Russian Service reports.
About 9 people came up to the checkpoint and began shouting anti-war slogans and trying to unfurl posters. The activists demanded that Russian forces be withdrawn from Ukraine.
Police arrived quickly and broke up the action, although they made no arrests. The demonstrators declined to give their names to the press.
The action appears to have been motivated by a broadcast by Ukrainian television in which POWs said to be captured by Ukrainian forces were from the 3rd GRU spetsnaz brigade. Their commander is reported to be Yevgeny Yerofeyev.
The soldiers, who were drafted into the army then later made contracted fighters said during interrogations that they were from this brigade. Ukrainian military officials held up a Vintorez, a type rifle only given to GRU units.
The Russian Defense Ministry and 3rd Brigade had no comment.
Journalists in Togliatti told the BBC that they have had been given an unofficial warning by the government not to cover the issue of the Togliatti POWs.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Victoria Nuland, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, is in Moscow to meet with high-ranking members of the Russian government, and for the second time in a week the Kremlin is hailing the State Department’s actions as signs of improving ties between the United States and Russia. RFE/RL reports:
The State Department has said Nuland would be in Moscow on May 17-18 to discuss with senior government officials next steps in the implementation of a cease-fire deal in eastern Ukraine.
The visit comes after Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week.
Asked on May 18 if the visit was a sign of improving ties, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists, “Yes, when President Putin was meeting with Minister Lavrov and Secretary of State Kerry… it was mentioned that a closer dialogue … was needed.”
Nuland held separate talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and veteran human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alekseyeva on May 18.
It’s not clear whether senior levels of the U.S. State Department are trying to send this message to Russia, however. Kerry’s visit was timed to miss the May 9 Victory Day celebration which commemorated the defeat of the Nazis in World War II — a decision Russia said was a snub. And yet, Kerry’s trip made headlines anyway, and because of his comments condemning hypothetical Ukrainian military action, Kerry raised the prospect of a growing gap between the United States and Ukraine.
On the other hand, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, and NATO Supreme Commander and U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove have sent clear messages through the media that they believe that the Russian-backed separatists are belligerent and don’t want peace, and that Russia is preparing yet another wave of invasion into Ukraine:
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has made a pronouncement on his Instagram account regarding the sentencing of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a Chechen immigrant to the United States, to the death penalty for the bombing of the Boston Marathon in April 2013.
He implies that Dzhokhar and his brother, Tamerlan, killed in a gunfight with police in Massachusetts after a manhunt were innocent and were framed by the FBI in a “false flag” operation.
His position is at odds with a robust condemnation he made of the Tsarnaevs not long after the bombing, and later denunciation of the brothers as “not Chechens.”
The Interpreter has translated his Instagram message:
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is sentenced to the death penalty…This news does not surprise anyone. The American special services [intelligence agencies] who are accused of complicity in the Boston tragedy, need a victim. Tsarnaev was brought as a sacrifice to them. Yes, I am for a tought fight against terrorism. Any person who premeditates evil should be neutralized. But I don’t like when under the guise of fighting terrorism, a spectacle is played out. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed under very strange circumstances. Ibragim Todashev was shot to death during an interrogation. Only Dzhokhar is behind bars. He was hastily charged with three dozen articles. and the jury unanimously delivered a verdict. The brothers came to the USA at a young age. They studied well, were involved in sports, composed music, the older one was married and had a child. An ideal biography for a candiate for governor. Who made them terrorists? Who taught them how to make bombs so sophisticatedly, to plan a terrorist act and not allow leaks of information? Who so stobbornly did not want to notice the preparation?
I do not believe that the Tsarnaevs committed this terrorist act without the knowledge of the USA intelligence agencies, if they did commit it. If the USA and Europe really want to fight terrorism, why do they produce terrorists in the Middle East? Why does Movladi Udugov, who calls for terror, live prosperously, why were Akhmed Zakayev and also Akhmad Umarov encouraged, who organized the events of December in Grozny? For the USA, England and other countries they are heroes. Yes, I admit that it is fashionable to yes the USA, but I am not used to it and will not become used to it. Who can give a guarantee that if Tsarnaev is sent to execution, tomorrow his innocence will not be discovered? That often happens in the USA. He was 9 years old, when he came to the USA. But America, in which he believed, made him a terrorist.
Interestingly, Kadyrov has changed his attitude toward the Tsarnaev case compared to what he said after the bombings in 2013.
According to a Facebook post by Russian blogger Oleg Kashin, Alan Cullison, the Moscow correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, told him this story (translated by The Interpreter):
For me, the strangest moment in the story of this terrorist attack was right after the Boston police announced the involvement of two Chechens. I decided to call Ramzan. I was given his personal telephone, and I immediately called it. Ramzan took the receiver himself. I said approximately the following to him: “Ramzan, this is Alan Cullison, I’m the Moscow correspondent for the American newspaper the Wall Street Journal. It’s just been become known that Chechens bombed the Boston Marathon. Can you comment?” A pause hung on the line, and I waited for an answer. Suddenly, he began laughing. He laughed wildly. Not just to the point of tears, but I think to the point he couldn’t breathe. I laughed nervously, too. I think his laughter lasted 15 seconds. After he pulled himself together, he said: “And you think that I bombed the Boston Marathon because I couldn’t get an American visa?” Then he said that it was not Chechens who blew up the Marathon because those people from Chechnya who live in America are no longer Chechen.
According to an article in Forbes in 2013 which cited RIA Novosti, Kadyrov harshly condemned the Tsarnaevs at the time:
“The Tsarnaev brothers committed a crime and got what they deserved.
I’ve studied information about these brothers and I’m convinced that
they were members of terrorist groups. I refer to them as shaitans,” he
said, referring to an Islamic word for Satan or an evil spirit.
Ibragim Todashev is the son of Abdul-Baki Todashev, who works in the Grozny mayor’s office and is an acquaintance of Kadyrov’s.
In his Instagram post, Kadyrov reiterates a theme recently common to speeches by President Vladimir Putin and his own statements to the effect that the US is supposedly responsible for terrorism for supporting forces in opposition to Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria, who is backed by Russia both politically and with more than $1 billion in armaments.
A frequent claim of Putin’s and Kadyrov’s is that the US supported Chechen terrrorists to undermine Russia, although there is no evidence of this. Usually what they mean with this claim is the recognition by the West of Aslan Maskhadov and other officials elected as the government of Chechnya in 1997. Maskhadov was later assassinated by Russian forces.
Akhmed Zakayev was foreign minister in Maskhadov’s government and later a former deputy prime minister and prime minister in the unrecognized Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. He went into exile in 2002, and was later accused by the Russian government of the Dubrovka Theater terrorist attack and attempts were made to extradite him, although he was granted political asylum in the UK. At one point in September 2008, Kadyrov said he wanted Zakayev to return, calling him “a valuable artist who would be welcome to return to help revive Chechnya’s cultural heritage.”
Akhmad Umarov is the brother of Doku Umarov who was leader of the terrorist group Caucasus Emirate until his assassination in September 2013. Akhmad Umarov was identified by Kadyrov as the perpetrator of the terrorist attack on the Press Building in Grozny on December 4 in which at least 14 police and 11 terrorists were killed. Akhmad Umarov had earlier reportedly turned himself into Kadyrov during an amnesty offer in 2006, then disappeared shortly thereafter, and apparently fled from Chechnya. Last year he was reported to have been appointed as a representative of the Province of Chechnya abroad by the Caucasus Emirate.
Kadyrov’s reference to not getting an American visa is indication of his status on the non-published part of the Magnitsky List which sanctions persons related to the torture and death of Sergei Magnitsy and also other figures accused of mass human rights violations. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bi-partisan body that advises the US government on religious rights, has stated in its annual report that it has recommended that Ramzan Kadyrov be placed on the list of those sanctioned under the Magnitsky List, which includes an unpublished section, and that reportedly Kadyrov has been included.
Dzhokhar and his brother Tamerlan were born of a Chechen father and an Avar mother (an ethnic group of Dagestan). Dzhokar was born in Kyrgyzstan, where the family had fled after World War II. The family moved to Dagestan in 2001, then from there went to the US where they received refugee status. The summer before the bombing, Tamerlan spent time in Dagestan where he reportedly met with some jihadists killed soon after by Russian law-enforcement, and also made a side trip to Chechnya to see relatives.
Kadyrov’s claim that Tamerlan was “governor” material and the brothers led an exemplary life is at odds with an extensive profile by the Boston Globe and numerous press accounts that describe them both as poor students and troubled youths who took drugs and dropped out of sports.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick