LIVE UPDATES: Early this past summer, Chechen law-enforcers prevented an assassination attempt on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said to involve his own clan, Novaya Gazeta reports.
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.
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Recent Analysis and Translations:
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– RBC Publishes Report Sourced in FSB and Military on Wagner Private Military Contractor with 2,500 Fighters in Syria
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Solo picketers stood outside the courtroom with protest signs — solo, because that is the only form of protest allowed without a permit. Ilya Yashin, Nemtsov’s friend and close associate in the opposition, held a sign saying “Kadyrov to Interrogation, Case to Further Investigation,” referencing the fact that investigators have never questioned Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov despite his relationship to Ruslan Geremeyev, commander of the Sever Battalion of the Internal Troops.
Another protester held a sign saying “Name the Contractors of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov,” a reference to the fact that the people contracted to execute the murder have been apprehended, but not the person who contracted it — or masterminds higher-up. RBC titled its coverage of the session today “A Trial Without Contractors“.
Zhanna Nemtsova, the daughter of Boris, said that she believed an “unsolved murder had been sent to trial.”
Rosbalt.ru, which has leaked stories from the investigation throughout the last year, reported September 30 that the defendants were planning to state that only Beslan Shavanov (who is now conveniently dead) wanted to kill Nemtsov, and the rest did not know of his plans.
According to a “source familiar with the situation,” Anzor Gubashev claims that Beslan Shavanov asked him to “drive around Moscow” and said he “needed to find a certain person.” Shavanov then told him that he had been dismissed from the Chechen Internal Troops and had trouble finding a position in Chechen. He then decided to sign up as a mercenary with a division of Chechens fighting on the side of Kiev in the Donbass.
But after their arrival in Ukraine, Beslan said they were detained by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) who coerced him into signing a pledge that he would serve as an SBU agent, and ordered him to “find a certain person” in Moscow. The SBU then allegedly “kept a friend of Beslan’s as a hostage” while he performed his “mission.”
On February 27, Beslan went to look for that “certain person.” Gubashev said they went to the ice skating rink near GUM, the department store on Red Square, but then he lost Shuvanov and decided to go to his parked car, the ZAZ Chance.
At about 23:00 he got a call on his mobile phone to come to the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge. He said he saw a man fall down on the bridge just as he arrived, then picked up Shuvanov — only later learning that the man murdered was Nemtsov. He therefore plans to plead not guilty as he merely drove the perpetrator without knowing the circumstances.
Dadayev’s planned defense, according to the source, is to say that he spoke to Shavanov on the phone several times and asked him to come to Moscow, but Shavanov said he was too busy. Suddenly he arrived in Moscow, but Dadayev said he only saw him once at the apartment on Veyernaya. Shadid Gubashev says he plants to state that he only met Shavanov at the airport when he was asked to pick him up and take him to the apartment on Veyernaya, and never saw him again.
The photo of Nemtsov’s dead body under the Kremlin’s wall broadcast around the world seemed emblematic of the Russia opposition’s defeat in challenging the regime of President Vladimir Putin; Nemtsov was killed on the eve of a large opposition march to protest the war in Ukraine and economic hardships.
Even so, tens of thousands of people came to his funeral and opposition figures continue to express their belief that behind the Chechen perpetrators stands Kremlin security chiefs and even Putin himself. Friends of Nemtsov released a report he was working on at the time of his death showing evidence of Russia’s direct involvement in the war in Ukraine and the cover-up of the Russia-backed separatists’ shoot-down of MH17. They continue to maintain an impromptu memorial for Nemtsov on the bridge where he was killed, although both police and ultraright activists keep removing the flowers, candles and photos.
Why The World Should Care About The Assassination Of Boris Nemtsov
When opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, the charismatic former deputy prime minister and exposer of Kremlin corruption in the Olympic Games, was assassinated last year, President Vladimir Putin was widely misreported as taking "personal control" of the investigation.
How Boris Nemtsov Was Murdered: Novaya Gazeta's Investigation
"tenders" for hit jobs in Russia Aleksei Venediktov Anna Politkovskaya Anzor Gubashev Beslan Shavanov Boris Nemtsov Chechen suspects in Nemtsov murder Ilya Yashin Kseniya Sobchak Mikhail Khodorkovsky Novaya Gazeta Ramzan Kadyrov Ramzat Bakhayev Ruslan Geremeyev Ruslan Mukhutdinov Shagid Gubashev Tamerlan Eskerkhanov United Arab Emirates Zaur Dadayev
Translation: ‘Execute! Kadyrov proposes that the law-enforces of Chechnya kill drug addicts.”
At the end of the meeting, Kadyrov, who has increasingly grown incensed throughout the meeting, said (translation by The Interpreter):
“Those who disturb the peace in the Chechen Republic must be shot, damn it. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a law or not…Shoot them! Do you understand? Assalamu alaykum and there’s no problem! That’s what the law is!”
Novaya Gazeta asked whether Putin and Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, as well as Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee, and Yury Chaika, Prosecutor General, would be reacting to Kadyrov’s statements.
Plot to Assassinate Kadyrov Involving His Own Clan
There are several versions of the story. According to one, Valid’s phone number was found on the cell phone of one of the terrorists shot dead in a clash at Checkpoint-138 on May 9 in Grozny. According to another, Valid stole Ramzan’s cell phone number from his cousin Islam, and handed it over to Yamadayev family, considered “blood enemies” of Kadyrov, with whom he has been feuding for decades.
Valid was said to be a relative of both the Kadyrov and Yamadayev familes who had pictures of both Kadyrov and Adam Delimkhanov, a member of the State Duma on his Instagram page. Valid’s Instagram account was deactivated on May 19 and Islam has not made any mention of his cousin on Instagram since.
Islam Kadyrov (L) and Valid Kadyrov (R). Photo from Islam’s Instagram account.
Conspirator Missing; Relative Shows Up with Broken Arms
“There are dark rumors about the fate of Valid himself,” says Novaya Gazeta. Questions have arisen about what Islam Kadyrov may have suffered as well, as he appeared in public with casts on both his arms, although he has held on to his position as chief of the administration.
Chechnya’s Militant Underground is Decimated
Milashina writes of three factors that have considerably decimated the militant movements in Chechnya and changed the political landscape in Chechnya: 1) the pre-Sochi Olympic games round-up of militants in 2012-2013; 2) the formation and eventual virtual destruction of the Caucasian Emirate, a terrorist group made up of some of the fighters of the two Chechen wars and new recruits; and 3) the war in Syria, which has attracted many fighters from the North Caucasus to their deaths. The Caucasian Emirate supported the idea of a “Caucasian caliphate” but not Chechen separatism, and therefore many Chechen fighters did not support ISIS, although both they and ISIS supporters have been killed or scattered.
Milashina notes the drop in the number of law-enforcers killed in three North Caucasus republics as one reflection of the sharp decrease in terrorist activity, as police were usually the targets: In Chechnya, the figures for 2016 were reduced by a factor of 40 since 2006; in Dagestan by a factor of 13 since their peak in 2010; and in Ingushetia, by a factor of 100 since their peak in 2009.
Moscow’s policy for the last decade with Chechnya was to fight the remnants of the separatist/terrorist underground and restore the infrastructure destroyed by the war, which involved pouring billions of rubles into Kadyrov’s coffers. This involved an amnesty for former fighters and reintroduction into civilian life and a dialogue among “moderate” Muslim leaders, mainly between Sufis and Salafists.
Time for a New Chechen Policy?
Kadyrov Fires Chechen Judges; Moscow Supreme Court Gives a Pass
On May 5, Kadyrov demanded the resignation of the top officials of the Chechen Supreme Court. At the time, BBC Russian Service and others reported that Magomed Karatayev announced that Kadyrov’s criticism was “justified” and apologized for “the gross violations of law” he and other judges had committed. Later it was discovered that he, his deputy Takhir Murdalova and two other judges were virtually detained and forced to write statements under pressure. Moscow left Kadyrov to his own devices, and Dmitry Peskov even said at the time that “this is not pressure on the court” and that the judge himself had “resigned of his own volition.”
A commission from Russia’s Supreme Court sent to examine the situation in the Chechen Supreme Court “found no violation,” although some judges wrote secret reports that some of their colleagues were beaten for “incorrect” decisions. In the end, Delimkhanov, the Chechen deputy was assigned to hold talks about the replacement of the dismissed judges with the Russian Supreme Court — a figure suspected of involvement in a number of contract murders; the Dubai police have named him as the mastermind behind the murder of Sulim Yamadayev and put him on the international wanted list. All that Moscow could do was reject some of the most odious Supreme Court candidates, such as Apti Alaudinov, deputy head of the Interior Ministry, known for using torture.
“The legal immunity which the center [Moscow] endowed the Chechen vassal [Kadyrov] turned out to be a time bomb. Because there is only one step from legal immunity to sovereignty. And we observe all the signs that this step was already taken. It sounds like a joke, but under guise of the battle with separatism(!) an absolutist regime has been built out in Chechnya, claiming secular as well as religious (spiritual) authority.”
The crackdown has also applied to business. Some Chechen refugees or their children who were raised in Europe returned to Chechnya and began to start businesses such as coffee shops, fitness centers and boutiques — and found themselves facing confiscatory taxes and raids. In recent years, as Kadyrov has cracked down on anyone who appears to be involved in unsanctioned religious activities, with some suspects suffering torture or disappearance, causing Chechens to flee to Europe again.
Kadyrov’s ‘Gas War’ on the Chechen People
In May, Kadyrov also began aggressive attempts to collect past-due gas bills, adding exorbitant fees, and threatening to turn off gas if the bills weren’t paid; 10,000 homes were said to have their gas shut off. A picture on social media became emblematic of people’s suffering — this photo shows a man’s jacket, studded with his medals for war valor and labor service in the Soviet and Russian eras, hanging from a sawed-off gas line.
For now, since his “re-election,” Kadyrov’s perch seems “safe,” especially given his assiduous efforts to curry favor in Moscow but the increasing brutality of his crackdowns seem to indicate that he feels more insecure than ever, facing enemies in Moscow as well as at home.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick