Putin and Erdogan Discuss Withdrawal of Nusra Front from Aleppo; Belgium Summons Russian Envoy

October 19, 2016
President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan during Putin's recent trip to Turkey October 9-10, 2016 . Photo by Reuters

LIVE UPDATES: Putin and Erdogan discussed the withdrawal of the al-Nusra Front (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) from Aleppo; any refugee exodus could lead to a million people coming to Turkey.

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.

Recent Analysis and Translations:

Anna Politkovskaya’s Last Interview to the Regional Russian Press On Day of Her Murder
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– What Has Ramzan Kadyrov Been Up To? Quietly Cultivating Regional and Kremlin Officials, Now He Meets with Putin
– RBC Publishes Report Sourced in FSB and Military on Wagner Private Military Contractor with 2,500 Fighters in Syria


Aleksandr Bastrykin, Head of Investigative Committee, Still in Place and Boasting of Crime-Fighting Successes

Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee (IC), gave an interview today to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, boasting of his agency’s secret technology used to fight crime. 
Three weeks after Russian media claimed to have obtained a document confirming rumors that Bastrykin was to resign from his post after the elections, he is still in place and shows no signs of leaving.
On September 27, Novaya Gazeta published an article noting that the document about his departure, a print-out from the data-base of the presidential office, turned out to be fake. It was first reported by LegalReport, and Novaya Gazeta obtained a copy and published it as well. The document shows that a request for a resignation had indeed been submitted, and signed by Bastrykin.

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But Vladimir Markin, the former spokesman for the IC who himself had just resigned, disclaimed the report of Bastrykin’s dismissal. And journalists reasoned that the print-out may in fact have been from the file of Markin himself, with his own request that Bastrykin would have signed.
Novaya Gazeta believes “it was not accidental” that the document appeared, and is a sign that in light of prospective reforms, a “war of clans” has broken out in the silovoki or force ministries of intelligence, army, prosecutors, and police. 
Novaya Gazeta reported that it had received another document purporting to be a decree from President Vladimir Putin on the dismantling of the IC and transfer of its functions to the Interior Ministry. Reporters noticed some spelling errors in the text, and several sources within law-enforcement pronounced the document a fake.

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Attorney Vadim Klyugvant told Novaya Gazeta that the document was a fake as well, since a change in the code of criminal procedures, which defines the functions of each investigatory agency, could not be made by a presidential directive alone. Even in Russia, where presidential decrees decide many things, it would first have to be submitted to the State Duma as a draft law.
The appearance of the two fake documents in rapid succession indicate that not only Bastrykin but his agency must have enemies. The IC has weathered a major storm recently as the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main domestic intelligence agency, has arrested three top IC investigators for taking bribes to let off a mafia kingpin.
In September, Aleksandr Drymanov, head of the IC for Moscow; Denis Nikandrov, first deputy head of the Moscow IC, and Mikhail Maksimenko, head of internal security for the IC had their offices searched and were detained for their alleged connections to underworld leader Zakhar Kalashov, better known as “Shakro the Young.” 
Earlier this week officials announced that the files on Shakro’s gang had “gone missing” in 2015 when transferred from one department to another, RosBalt reported.
Bastrykin had already been waging a fight in the “clan wars” in April when he published a major ideological piece titled “Time to Place an Effective Barrier to the Information War” outlining his hard-line vision for the law in Russia, urging more powers for the police and a war against “pseudo-liberal values”.
While anything is possible — child ombudsman Pavel Astakhov was rumored to be dismissed for months before he finally did resign — it seems Bastrykin still remains in good standing with President Vladimir Putin and is not going anywhere.
In today’s interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Bastrykin talks about a “secret device” which he called “a forensic light source” that can detect blood from crime scenes not visible to the naked eye. As 7:40 na perrone points out, he is likely talking about an ultraviolet lamp.
Asked about criminals who wipe their cell phones and computers of digital files, Bastrykin said the IC had a device that could extract such erased files. The IC also has a device called Optik-2 that can reveal hidden video cameras as well as “geo-radars” that “can find metal and non-metal objects in various environments at a distance”; exolocators to find objects submerged in water; and devices that can detect heat spots as well as electronic devices and explosives detectors. Bastrykin also said the IC had special “pneumo-modules” that were able to sustain life in remote areas during major disasters including “technological disasters.”
Bastrykin mentioned that all the latest technology was particularly helpful in the department of  “cold cases” whose work is not publicized. He also cited the important role of video surveillance cameras in catching perpetrators, and mentioned a number of high-profile cases that the IC had solved, including the murder of Dmitry Soshnev, head of the Coca Cola plant in St. Petersburg.
But he didn’t mention the case of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, or the fact that investigators were unable to present footage from the surveillance cameras in the area to the court.
Igor Krasnov, deputy head of the IC who handled Nemtsov’s case initially, was summoned to give testimony in Nemtsov’s murder trial but failed to appear for the second day in a row today. Attorneys for the Nemtsov family as well as the defendants wanted to question Krasnov about the bullet casings found at the scene of the murder, on how they were packaged, the chain of custody of the evidence and why they were not sufficiently examined. The judge had ruled that Krasnov should be called as a witness.

The interview seems designed to portray Bastrykin at the helm of a modern agency with cutting-edge technology to fight crime, and provide positive press coverage after weeks of negative portrayals in the independent media.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Putin and Erdogan Discuss Withdrawal of Nusra Front from Aleppo; Belgian Foreign Ministry Summons Russian Ambassador

The ruble is trading at 62.46 to the dollar and 68.52 to the euro. Brent crude is selling for $52.37 per barrel.

The following headlines are from 7:40 na perrone, Daily Sabah, RBC, Navalny, Currentime TV, Russian Foreign Ministry, RNS, and Meduza.

What We’re Reading

– Russia Re-Emerges as a Great Power in the Middle East by Walter Russell Mead [English]

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick