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:
– Is âNovorossiyaâ Really Dead?
– 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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Kadyrov posted a video clip to his Instagram account showing himself running through rough terrain with a machine gun and then shooting it off in a circle of camouflaged vans.
In a message posted to Instagram with the clip, Kadyrov wrote (translation by The Interpreter):
Soon on the screens of your television sets and movie theaters you will see a film ‘WHO DOES NOT UNDERSTAND WILL GET IT.’
This is an extremely topical picture, in which after extended negotiations, I agreed to play the role of the main hero. Some scenes have already been filmed. The director is the author of famous Hollywood films. Also appearing in the film are world-famous first-class stars. The authors are confident that the film will have enormous success.
Stanislav Belkovsky said in a statement published by Open Russia that the video and the message appear to be a threat:
“There is no doubt that the video clip filmed today on assignment from Ramzan Kadyrov is a collection of indirect threats to all creators of the film The Family.”
Clearly, there is no Hollywood film at all; this entire video clip means essentially one thing: whoever hasn’t understood that it is better not to mess with me, Ramzan — will soon understand.”
Kadyrov has not mentioned the making of this film before, so it appears his message is in response to the appearance of The Family.
Kadyrov doesn’t reveal the director’s name, and there may not be any real film in the works at all.
But one possible “famous Hollywood director” is Steven Seagal, an American actor, film director and screenwriter notorious for his ardent support of President Vladimir Putin. Seagal visited Kadyrov last year and was photographed with him and Adam Delimkhanov, a prominent Chechen senator who is a relative of Kadyrov’s.
Yesterday, Kadyrov posted yet another picture of himself with Putin, and announced that he had been given yet another award by the Russian president, the Order of Honor — a clear indication that despite rumors of clashes between Kadyrov and federal law-enforcers, Putin is backing him.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Ministry of Justice has added the Dynasty Foundation, founded by Dmitry Zimin, to its list of foreign agents. Zimin had earlier reported that he was ceasing the fund’s work as he didn’t see any ablity to continue operating in the current climate in Russia.
Vedomosti first reported the possible inclusion in the list on May 8. The foundation originally was planning to provide proof to the Justice Ministry that no foreign entities were funding the Dynasty Foundation, but that funds were coming from Zimin’s accounts in foreign banks.
Zimin is the founder and now honorary president of Vympelkom, the telecommunications company which created Beeline mobile phones, with headquarters in Amsterdam. Vympelkom operates in Russia, Italy, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Algeria, Bangladesh and Pakistan and serves some 740 million customers.
Zimin’s Dynasty Foundation had sponsored scientific, educational and advocacy projects. Recently, the Foundation announced the winners of a competition to sponsor young biologists.
Scientists at the Russian Academy of Science and the Society of Science Workers came to the defense of Dynasty when it was declared a “foreign agent.”
The Ministry of Justice has now entered a total of 65 organizations into the list of “foreign agents.” It has now noted for some in the list that while they were once included, now they are removed — which has the effect of keeping the stigma attached to them.
The Center for Socio-Political and General Research, the League of Women Voters of St. Petersburg, and the Jewish Regional Chapter of the All-Russian Municipal Academy, all of which ceased their activity.
While Golos, the election monitoring organization, supposedly obtained a favorable court ruling to remove its status after the intervention of human rights ombudsperson Yelena Pamfilov, in fact it remains in the list (see 11-20).
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Today Open Russia, the movement founded by businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is releasing The Family, a film about Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
The film has English-language sub-titles.
The struggle between Moscow center and the strongman of Chechnya
has been much in the news, even before the murder of Boris Nemtsov, for which five Chechens related to Kadyrov’s personal army, have been arrested.
Nemtsov was among the first independent Russian bloggers first to call attention
to Kadyrov’s 30,000-strong army in the Chechen Interior Ministry which
answer to him, and not federal authorities. Some of these fighters have
taken the side of the Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine and have
been killed in the war.
Now, the chief suspect in Nemtsov’s
murder is Zaur Dadayev, a former member of the elite Sever Battalion
which was commanded by Alibek Demlikhanov until a recent transfer.
Demlikhanov is a member of a prominent Chechen family related to Kadyrov
and associated with past hits on his enemies; another relative of his,
Ruslan Geremeyev, was said to organize Dadayev and the other suspects in
Nemtsov’s murder and has reportedly fled Chechya for the UAE.
In the last year, there have been a string of incidents
highlighting Kadyrov’s refusal to submit to Kremlin control — and
repeated indulgences of his defiance, which has prompted Open Russia’s film.
In December, after 11 terrorists were killed in an attack on the
Press Building in Grozny and at least 14 policemen killed in a
firefight, Kadyrov ordered the homes of the relatives of the terrorists
to be razed to the ground.
TV Rain talk-show host and magazine editor Kseniya Sobchak
challenged Putin at his year-end press conference, asking him why he
tolerated such illegal acts. Putin conceded that such retribution was
unlawful, but asked for understanding of Kadyrov, who himself lost a
relative in the gunfight.
Sobchak later received threats of a libel suit and death threats
and demonstrators outside her home; she was thrice threatened at
Nemtsov’s funeral and forced to go abroad temporarily.
Igor Kalyapin, an attorney who heads the Joint Mobil Group of human
rights advocates in Chechnya, protested Kadyrov’s retaliation against
the relatives and found his organization’s own office was torched.
When the Investigative Committee sent investigators to Chechnya to
interrogate Demlikhanov, the personal intervention of Kadyrov was
required for them to gain access, and they were never allowed to see
Geremeyev, who was supposedly being held under house arrest in his
native town, but who then escaped and is believed to have fled abroad.
After policemen from neighboring Stavropol Territory pursued a
Chechen suspect back to Chechnya and shot him dead, Kadyrov responded by
ordering his law-enforcers to shoot dead any police from other
republics who came into his republic without clearance. The Interior
Ministry in Moscow condemned the order, but no further action was taken. Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin closed a briefly-opened criminal investigation into abuse of office, substituting it with an low-profile internal inspection.
Kadyrov has been called Putin’s “vassal” and an avenue has been
named for Putin in the city of Grozny, but it is “hardly an Avenue of
Victory,” says Open Russia.
“We know there was the family of
Yeltsin, we know the friends of Putin, now we know the family of Putin,
and the son in that family is Ramzan,” says Khodorkovsky in a
description of the film on the Open Russia site.
As Open Russia reports (translation by The Interpreter):
The entire law-enforcement structure of Chechnya began
to be formed in 2002, even during the second military campaign. At that
time, self-defense militia began to come into the elite detachments —
the fighters of the Yamadayev brothers and the Mufti Akhmat Kadyrov.
Thus was formed the Zapad [West] Battalion (700 fighters), the Vostok
Battalion (700 fighters) and the presidential security service (more
than 2,000 fighters).
Another part of the Chechen
law-enforcers is made up of former separatists. The new pro-Kremlin
government in the person of Akhmat Kadyrov [Ramzan’s father] formed the
army out of his opponents: in exchange for loyalty, the fighters were
forgiven their war crimes. Thus was formed the Chechen Ministry of
Interior, a separate elite regiment of patrol guards of the Interior
Ministry service and the presidential security service of Chechnya. The
latter became the basis for Ramzan Kadyrov’s main battalions: Yug
[South] (700 fighters) and Sever [South] (600 fighters).
“Today, Ramzan Kadyrov has created the most effective law-enforcement structures in Russia,” says journalist Kseniya Sobchak.
of the most influential divisions of the Interior Ministry is the Oil
Regiment (2,400 fighters). It is these fighters who were assigned to
guard Tsentara, the native village of the Kadyrovs. The Chechen OMON or
riot police (300 fighters) are also under the personal control of
The numbers of troops the Chechen Interior
Ministry are constantly increasing. According to some information, from
the beginning of its existence, the number of fighters of the Ministry
quadrupled. And law-enforcement divisions that would not submit to the
control of Kadyrov were essentially destroyed. Thus, the Zapad and
Vostok battalions were disbanded back in 2008, after Kadyrov’s war with
the Yamadayev clan. The only influential Russian Federation division in
Chechnya, the 42nd Division (16,000 people) was destroyed by the Kremlin
as a result of military reform.
The exact number of
Ramzan Kadyrov’s army is not known. According to various figures, there
are up to 80,000 fighters in it. At the end of last year, Kadyrov gave a
speech at the stadium in Grozny, where 20,000 law-enforcers swore
eternal loyalty to him.
“Putin considers the three most
important achievements of his rule the pacification of the North
Caucasus, the overall political-economic stabilization in the country
and the annexation of the Crimea. And in that sense, Kadyrov is his
third achievement,” says Stanislav Belkovsky, political analyst.
While it is commonly-viewed that Kadyrov gets all his financial
support from state subsidies, the film describes a system of tributes
paid to his enforcers, such as forced contributions from teacher’s
salaries, and the role of the Akhmetov Foundation, which recently
purchased 16 Harley Davidsons for the Night Wolves, Putin’s favorite
motorcycle club. According to the film “every tenth resident of
Chechnya” is a member of these armed forces — who have to have
somewhere to go.
The film describes some of Kadyrov’s victims,
such as Satsita and Zargan Adyamirova, two sisters who ran a car wash in
the Chechen village of Geldagan, who disappeared and were found dead, their murderer reportedly one of Kadyrov’s men, as we reported last year in our translation of Bastrykin’s Humiliation, a Novaya Gazeta investigative
report on the failed efforts of federal authorities to try to rein in
Kadyrov’s abusive forces, suspected of numerous kidnappings, torture and
Khodorkovsky himself was threatened earlier this year personally by Kadyrov after Khodrokovsky made a call for solidarity with the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, who were murdered by terrorists in Paris in January.
(Note: The Interpreter is a project of the Institute for Modern Russia which is funded by Pavel Khodorkovsky, son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.)
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick