Assassination Attempt on Kadyrov Revealed As He Sparks New Scandal with Call to Execute Drug Addicts

October 3, 2016
Islam Kadyrov, chief of the presidential administration of Ramzan Kadyrov, appearing on Chechen TV with both arms in casts, sparking rumors that he may have been tortured when his relative was found to be involved in a coup plot against Ramzan. Screen grab via Novaya Gazeta

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.

The previous issue is here.

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Trial of Chechen Suspects in Murder of Opposition Leader Boris Nemtsov Resumes in Closed Military Court

Today, October 3, the trial of five Chechens suspected of the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtso re-opened. It has previously been postponed when officials had trouble empaneling a jury; lawyers for the defendants said that jurors took excuses not to serve, but that it was typical for such high-profile cases.
Ultimately 12 jurors were selected out of 84 candidates, and 8 additional people were called to serve as substitutes. The trial is taking place in a closed military court because the main defendants were officers in the Chechen Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops at the time of the murder.

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.

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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“.

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The public is not allowed in the courtroom, but media has been allowed to take some pictures of the defendants and apparently hear the opening statements. 
The five defendants are Zaur Dadayev, deputy commander of the Sever [North] Battalion; his relatives, the brothers Anzor and Shadid Gubashev, and their friends Temirlan Eskerkhanov and Khamzat Bakhayev who also served in the battalion. A sixth man, Beslan Shavanov died from a grenade explosion when police came to search him, and a seventh is still at large — Ruslan Mukhutdinov, another former Sever Battalion member and the personal driver of Ruslan Geremeyev, the commander of Sever.
The defendants have declared that they are not guilty, and that their testimony was given under torture. The prosecutor, Mariya Semenenko recited the official version of the murder: that Mukhatdinov promised the defendants a payment of 15 million rubles for the murder (currently $240,832, less than the value at the time of the contract).
Preparation for the murder began back in the fall of 2014 when the defendants began to gather information about Nemtsov from the Internet and put his home under surveillance, said the prosectuor. For this purpose, they used “burner phones,” or as the prosecutor stated, “battle horns” as they were nicknamed, along with a white ZAZ Chance automobile used as a getaway. Mukhutdinov’s car, a Mercedes ML with the license plate “007” was also used. Mukhutdinov also rented the apartment on Veyernaya Street in Moscow where the defendants hid out.
The prosecutor said that on February 27, 2015, Beslan Shavanov and Anzor Gubashev stalked Nemtsov and his companion, the Ukrainian model Anna Duritskaya. They saw them through the large window of the Bosco Cafe on Red Square, and then phoned Zaur Dadayev. Shavanov and Gubashev then tracked the couple across the Bolshoi Moskvoretskoy Bridge near the Kremlin, where Dadayev arrived to shoot Nemtsov in the back. He was pronounced dead on the scene by medics.
The prosecutor said Dadayev then jumped into the ZAZ Chance, driven by Gubashev, in which Shavanov was also riding, then the group abandoned the car and proceeded to the Veyernaya Street apartment by various cabs. Some of the defendants then left for Chechnya, but Eskherkhanov remained in the apartment and Bakhaev went to live in the village of Kozino where they had also rented a house.
The defendants said briefly that they were pleading not guilty; Shadid Gubashev added that they did not possess sufficient skills to track someone on the Internet. Eskherkhanov’s lawyer Anna Byurcheyeva as well as Shadid’s lawyer Magomed Khadisov were confident that they would get their clients released. Bakhayev’s lawyer said there were inconsistencies in the prosecution’s version of events:
“It was said that Mukhutdinov was the contractor. But he is only the driver of a battalion commander, and Dadayev is the deputy commander. How can a driver be the contractor for a deputy commander?”

Zhanna Nemtsova, the daughter of Boris, said that she believed an “unsolved murder had been sent to trial.”, 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.

The story gets more twisted here — and represents yet another attempt by Russian authorities to pin the murder of Nemtsov on the Ukrainian government, which seems counter-intuitive, given that Nemtsov opposed the war in Ukraine and had good relations with Ukrainian politicians and public figures.

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.

View full page →

Oct 03, 2016 21:35 (GMT)

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

View full page →

Oct 03, 2016 21:35 (GMT)

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Assassination Attempt on Kadyrov Revealed As He Sparks New Scandal with Call to Execute Drug Addicts
Early this past summer, Chechen law-enforcers prevented an assassination attempt on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Novaya Gazeta and Slon report.
The would-be assassins have been arrested, and while their names were not given, it was reported that they are young people from the Benoy teyp, or Chechen clan, the same teyp as Kadyrov.
Meanwhile, Kadyrov is embroiled in a new scandal after calling openly for drug addicts to be executed without trial.

Translation: ‘Execute! Kadyrov proposes that the law-enforces of Chechnya kill drug addicts.”

On September 27, Grozny TV broadcast on the 7:00 pm news a meeting between Kadyrov, law-enforcers, officials and clergy regarding the sharp rise in both road accidents and drug addiction since the ban on the sale of alcohol in Chechnya. Kadyrov compared drivers under the influence of drugs with “suicide bombers with a bomb on their belts.” Kadyrov noted a policy to take away not only the licenses but the cars of those caught DWI; cars were also confiscated from those who couldn’t pay their gas bills. While Kadyrov did not give a figure for the number of illegal drug users in Chechnya, he said police had “caught 700 people” in two days of raids .

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!”

By the time of the 10:00 pm news broadcast, Kadyrov’s outburst was cut, but by that time, it was too late as it had been spread through social media.

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  

Yelena Milashina, a veteran reporter on Chechnya for Novaya Gazeta who was expelled from the North Caucasus republic for her work, has written a long study of recent events just coming to light in the Chechen Republic.
Chechen investigators say there was a “conspiracy” to murder Kadyrov last summer involving “several dozen people” who lived in the Nozhay-Yurt, Gudermes, and Kurchalo regions of Chechnya. Information has been carefully concealed but was “typical of all real assassination attempts on Kadyrov” and was “the largest attempt in the history of Ramzan Kadyrov’s rule,” said sources.
When the arrests began to take place, locals realized they weren’t related to raids against Salafis, and didn’t involve militants, who had basically been wiped out. Gradually the news leaked out that young, privileged and connected people in the Benoy teyp who planned a coup against Kadyrov.
The plan involved laying explosives in Kadyrov’s residence in Benoy, his home district which he visited this summer. “A whole arsenal of the most modern, serious weapons” were confiscated from the conspirators,” said a law-enforcer involved in the detention. The plan was reportedly betrayed by Valid Kadyrov, a cousin of the head of administration, Islam Kadyrov, a relative of Ruslan Kadyrov.

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. 

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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.

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Alvi Karimov, press secretary for Kadyrov, has denied the reports of an assassination attempt, saying “they do not correspond to reality, from beginning to end,” Slon reported, citing Interfax.

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.

Her conclusions are based on a table of security force losses published by Memorial Human Rights Society in a report in June, Counter-Terror in the North Caucasus: The View from Human Rights Advocates on the first six months of 2016 (see pages 6 and 7). For example, 724 police were killed in Chechnya in 2006; this figure was reduced to 17 in 2015. Overall, the number of terrorist attacks in the region have fallen.
But the successes have come at the cost of the imposition of a reign of state terror and the silencing of all forms of dissent and human rights activity as both Memorial and Human Rights Watch have reported.

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? 

As the “war on terror” began to have results and the Chechen villages were rebuilt, albeit poorly, Moscow planners began to think it was time for a new policy to deal with the volatile republic. When opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was killed and the suspects were found to be Chechens related to powerful figures close to Kadyrov, there was more scrutiny of his brutal practices. Milashina says that Ramzan was clearly feeling stress in February, before he was appointed as acting head of Chechnya, when he made a statement covered in an NTV interview, “My time has passed.”

But then a campaign worthy of the Stalin era was launched in which ordinary Chechens as well as prominent leaders chimed into say “Don’t abandon us, dear father.” Kadyrov staged his “million-Muslim march” to put pressure on the Kremlin. On March 25, Kadyrov got the appointment of acting leader until the elections, but with a reprimand from Putin about “observing Russian law in all spheres of our life, and I want to emphasize, all spheres of our life” — a hint that not only should Russian law prevail over sharia law but over Kadyrov’s own lawlessness in such policies as burning down the homes of relatives of terrorists.

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.

These talks regarding the judges, like other interactions reinforced the realization that federal law simply doesn’t apply in Chechnya; if Kadyrov were to allow independence of the judiciary, it would undermine his regime. He also can’t turn in any known criminal suspects such as Delimkhanov or Ruslan Germeyev, wanted in connection with Nemtsov’s murder, because that would also undermine his rule. As Milashina writes:
“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.”
For Kadyrov, Milashina explains, criticism of his policies is worse than terrorism, because in criticizing him, protesters cite the Russian Constitution or the rule of law, such as it is, which is at least more just than his own rule. This accounts for his heavy suppression of media and human rights activity and the criticism even of ordinary people. As one person interviewed by Human Rights Watch said, in a comment that became the title of their recent report, they feel as if they are “walking through a mine field” and have to watch everything they say and do.

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.

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As Kadyrov’s “gas war” came during Ramadan, people grew even more angry and began to complain more to Chechen officials on Instagram and other social media. The protests reached such a peak that Kadyrov stopped his “gas war” and then blamed the gas companies for the cut-offs. But he added insult to injury by widely publicizing the lavish wedding of his nephew, the first hafiz, or person who has memorized the Koran. According to Novaya Gazeta, the motorcade of luxury sedans stretching 11 kilometers alone would have cost a billion rubles ($16 million).

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