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:
– NATO Got Nothing From Conceding To Russia In the Past, Why Should It Cave To The Kremlin Now?
– Who is Hacking the Russian Opposition and State Media Officials — and How?
– Does it Matter if the Russian Opposition Stays United?
Vladimir Putin noted that Erdogan’s message had created the prerequisites for turning the crisis page in bilateral relations and beginning the process of renewing joint work on international and regional issues, as well as developing the entire complex of Russian-Turkish relations. In that context, the hope was expressed that the judicial investigation regarding the citizen of Turkey accused in the death of the Russian pilot would be objective in nature.
Putin said he would give orders to resume cooperation on trade, economic and other issues and would remove restrictions on travel to Turkey by Russian tourists. But he urged Turkey to put further security measures in place for Russian citizens.
There is also an agreement for Russia to build a nuclear power station for Turkey.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Aleksandrov objected that he was a freelancer and not on the staff of Meduza, police threatened to confiscate his equipment and notes already gathered and that “the court would figure it out later.”
In lieu of facing a trial immediately, police told Aleksandrov he could sign a statement regarding an administrative violation, and suggested he leave the country. Aleksandrov chose that option, and will have to appear in court on July 6 in the village of Pryazhka. He is likely to face a 1,000 ruble ($15) fine. Orekhanov was also asked to make a written explanation of their meeting.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Akhmed Chatayev, the Chechen native suspected of involvement in the Istanbul Airport attack, has long been known to Russian authorities as we reported earlier.
Kommersant, the Russian business daily, ran a report on Akhmed Chatayev in August 2015 when two natives of the North Caucasus were detained and gave testimony against him.
Kommersant’s report on Chatayev’s background last year came after two suspects in custody gave testimony against him.
Akhmed Chatayev, known as Odnorukiy [“One-Armed”] for the loss of his arm, perhaps during a firefight with Georgian security forces in 2012, was said at that time by Russian law-enforcers to be the “main recruiter of Russians” from the North Caucasus for ISIS. He reportedly commanded a large unit of militants in Syria, the Yarmouk Battalion.
All of these points are taken from the testimony of two people Russia has in custody which are the single source of the claims, a pattern often found in Russia in other terrorism cases.
The narrative is especially vague on how it came about that a Chechen who was on the radar of Russian authorities and even arrested in the second Chechen war could then escape custody in Russia with his life — and what is more, go abroad. All of this raises the issue of whether he was recruited as an informer or agent.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
13 persons have reportedly been detained by Turkish officials in connection with the Istanbul airport bombing. According to the Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak, Akhmed Chatayev, a well-known terrorist, is among them. Citing Turkish intelligence, Yeni Safak said Chatayev was a native of Dagestan, RIA Novosti reported.
Caucasian Knot, the regional independent news service covering events in the Caucasus, has published two posts related to the terrorist attack in Istanbul in which Chechens are suspected of having been involved. At least 42 people were killed and 239 injured in the attack.
The Instanbul Bombers
The Turkish news outlet Hurriyet identified one of the Istanbul airport bombers as Osman Vadimov of Chechnya. But the Turkish newspaper Milliyet refuted that information citing a source among investigators who says all three suicide bombers were citizens of Tajikistan.
Caucasian Knot second post reports that sources in both Turkey and Russia have said Osman Vadinov is a native of Dagestan, not Chechnya.
Turkish police have made mass detentions of natives of the North Caucasus in the aftermath of the blasts at the Istanbul airport. According to Sasha Kulayev, head of the East and Central Europe Department of the International Federation of Human Rights, in an interview with Caucasian Knot, natives of the North Caucasus, particularly Chechens, have begun to be associated in the public mind with Islamist radicalization and terrorism, and therefore they are regularly accused of terrorist attacks. After the explosion March 22 in Brussels, the press named Dagestan native Marat Yunusov as among those involved but this information was never confirmed.
TASS has cited a statement by State Department spokesman Mark Toner June 29 saying there was no confirmation of the information that ISIS was involved in the airport attach. The attack could be related to the date, the second anniversary of ISIS’ announcement of the founding of the caliphate.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Today there is a flurry of news out of Turkey. The Turkish government has announced that the three terrorists who were responsible for this week’s terrible attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk airport were Russian, Uzbek and Kyrgyz nationals.
The announcement comes in the wake of anti-terrorism raids made in two cities across Turkey, resulting in the arrest of 13 suspects. The Washington Post reports:
Counterterrorism units raided 16 addresses in Istanbul and launched operations in the coastal city of Izmir, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.
Three of those arrested in Istanbul are foreign nationals, according to the report. Another nine suspects were detained in Izmir for providing logistical support to the Islamic State, but it was unclear if they are directly tied to the attack.
Turkish police conduct raids on suspected Islamic State hideouts after deadly airport attack
Turkish police launched raids Thursday against suspected Islamic State hideouts in Istanbul and the coastal city of Izmir after officials blamed the jihadist group for a triple suicide bombing that killed 42 people at Ataturk Airport, state-run Anadolu news agency reported Counterterrorism units detained nine people in Izmir suspected of providing logistical support to the Islamic State, the agency reported.
The Telegraph reports that one of the suicide bombers was named Osman Vadinov, who reportedly crossed into Turkey in 2015 from al-Raqqah province, ISIS’s stronghold in Syria. That report also provides additional details about the anti-terror raids:
The raids unfolded simultaneously in the working-class neighbourhoods of Konak, Bucak, Karabaglar and Bornova neighborhoods of Istanbul.
Police say they found three hunting rifles and documents relating to the Islamic State group.
The suspects were reportedly in contact with Isil militants in Syria and were engaged in “activities that were in line with the organisation’s aims and interests,” including providing financial sources, recruits and logistical support.
[An official] did not reveal the nationalities of the foreign suspects, but said it was “probable” that at least one of the Ataturk airport bombers was a foreign national.
Reuters provides a very interesting detail — according to a Turkish pro-government newspaper, the mastermind of this attack may have been a man who is already on various terrorism watch lists:
The pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper said the Russian bomber was from Dagestan, which borders Chechnya, where Moscow has led two wars against separatists and religious militants since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Yeni Safak said the organizer of the attack was suspected to be a man called Akhmed Chatayev, of Chechen origin. Chatayev is identified on a United Nations sanctions list as a leader in Islamic State responsible for training Russian-speaking militants, and as wanted by Russian authorities.
What Reuters does not mention, however, is that Chatayev, who is already on the US sanctions list, has already been tried — and acquitted — for terrorism in Georgia. In 2012, a group of militants engaged in battle with Georgian counter-terrorism forces in Lopota Gorge. Chatayev was arrested, tried, but was found innocent and was released. He later resurfaced in Syria in 2015. Here is an excerpt from an RFE/RL report from last year:
Chatayev, who before his arrest had lived with his family in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, was put on trial in Tbilisi on charges of illegal weapons possession and of purchasing and carrying an explosive device. Chatayev pleaded innocent. His lawyers argued that Chatayev had gone to the Lopota Gorge in order to take part in negotiations that never took place.
The Tbilisi city court declared Chatayev innocent in January 2013 after releasing him on bail in December 2012, after which the Russian national said that he planned to fly back to Austria.
Whether Chatayev went to Austria or not is unclear, but a recent video uploaded to YouTube and shared on February 20 shows a man who appears to be Chatayev and who is named as such, in Syria. The text accompanying the video says that Chatayev is the commander of the Yarmouk Battalion, a Chechen faction in the Islamic State group. It is not known how long Chatayev has been in Syria, but he has not appeared in previous videos shared by Russian-speaking Islamic State militants.
Russian Citizen Linked To Lopota Gorge Incident Now Heads IS Battalion In Syria
A Russian citizen arrested and acquitted by a court in Georgia in connection with the so-called Lopota Gorge incident of 2012 has apparently surfaced in Syria as the commander of a Russian-speaking Islamic State battalion. Akhmed Chatayev, also referred to as Akhmed al-Shishani, is an ethnic Chechen who was previously granted refugee status in Austria.
So far we have not seen any evidence that Chatayev is involved in the Istanbul airport attack, but the Yeni Safak newspaper is often a place where official Turkish government leaks first appear in the press, so this angle is certainly one to watch.
— James Miller