The Kremlin makes the news

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The papers reported on two events this week: one in Moscow, the other in London. They were in the miscellaneous news columns; where else would the papers put a shooting and a poisoning? Both cases concerned Federal Security Service (FSB) officers, and both mentioned Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist who was murdered in Moscow last month.

The Gazeta newspaper said: “The six-month confrontation in Chechnya between Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov and Gorets (Highlander) detachment commander Movladi Baisarov has spilled over into the streets of Moscow. As a result of a joint operation by the Chechen and Moscow Directorates for Countering Organized Crime, Baisarov has been killed.”

So far, there are two versions of events: one from the police officers who tried to arrest Baisarov, and the other from accidental witnesses.

Early in the evening on Saturday, November 18, Baisarov hailed a private taxi on Sheryemetyevo Street and was driven to Lenin Prospect, where he had a meeting scheduled. According to the official version of events, as reported by Novaya Gazeta, police operatives surrounded the car outside an apartment building at 30 Lenin Prospect and tried to drag Baisarov out of the car. He responded with fierce resistance, and even attempted to throw a home-made explosive device at the officers. They returned fire, and he was shot dead. Sappers later defused the explosive device, and Baisarov’s pockets were found to contain a Stechkin gun and a Glok-19 pistol.

The unofficial version of events, as reported by Kommersant, looks like this: “Getting out of the car, Movladi Baisarov immediately walked towards a group of Chechens standing nearby. Recognizing Baisarov, the Chechens shouted something at him, then drew Stechkin pistol-machine guns and opened fire. As soon as they stopped shooting, the killers drove off, heading away from central Moscow.” Meanwhile, at the other end of Lenin Prospect, personnel from the Moscow municipal Directorate for Countering Organized Crime (UBOP) and a squad of special assignment (spetsnaz) police observed the shooting, and hurried over to the body. Soon afterwards, the Chechens returned to the scene.

As Vremya Novostei reports, the circumstances of the special operation on Lenin Prospect are so strange that “almost immediately, the prosecutor’s office for Moscow’s Southern district opened a criminal case under two articles of the Crime Code: murder and unlawful possession of firearms.”

Even more strange, according to Vremya Novostei, was the list of participants in the controversial operation. Sultan Rashayev, deputy commander of a Southern federal district police regiment belonging to the Interior Ministry of Chechnya, was responsible for seven of the 11 shots fired at Baisarov. However, six other people involved in the operation were not ordinary UBOP personnel at all.

A Moscow police source told Vremya Novostei: “Apti Alaudinov, head of the Chechen UBOP, and his deputy Rasul Akhmiyev were present on Lenin Prospect that evening. Also among those present was Akhmed Yasayev, deputy interior minister of Chechnya. From the federal side the event was covered by Said Akhmayev, deputy head of the third department at the UBOP of the Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate. Only the sixth member of the group was an ordinary police operative. All of them were armed, and their weapons included Stechkin guns, which the prosecutors did not confiscate.” Moreover, it turned out that participants in this operation weren’t really questioned at all; the senior Chechen police officers returned to Chechnya the next day.

How did it all start? According to Kommersant, Baisarov was a field commander when Aslan Maskhadov held power in Chechnya. But when the counter-terrorist operation began, Baisarov developed a close relationship with Akhmad Kadyrov, then the chief mufti of Chechnya, and Baisarov’s men became Akhmad Kadyrov’s bodyguards.

After Akhmad Kadyrov’s death, Baisarov’s men became the Highlander detachment, reporting to the FSB operations coordination directorate for the North Caucasus. Kommersant says: “This detachment, based in the village of Pobedinskoye, was mostly engaged in covert operations: abducting and killing people. In Chechnya, it was known as the death squad.”

When Ramzan Kadyrov decided to disband the Highlander detachment, Baisarov refused to follow Kadyrov’s orders – and Baisarov’s men barricaded themselves within their base in Pobedinskoye.

“Since May 2006, Baisarov’s detachment has had the status of an illegal armed formation,” says Vremya Novostei. The confrontation lasted six months. Vremya Novostei reports: “Cut off from the outside world, taking up a defensive position on the territory of a former technical college, the Highlander men received assistance in the form of medications and provisions from the local FSB directorate.”

Gazeta maintains that “over the past six months, the former Highlander commander became something akin to a symbol for everyone who isn’t happy with Ramzan Kadyrov’s brutal methods.”

The need to fight this “renegade” may have been why the Chechen Prosecutor’s Office re-opened a criminal case initially launched in 2004. According to Vremya Novostei, Baisarov was accused of killing ten members of the Musayev family.

Shakhrani Baisarov, Movladi Baisarov’s brother, was killed by a car-bomb in the village of Pobedinskoye in October 2003. Investigators maintain that Baisarov destroyed the Musayev family in revenge, since one member of that family was believed responsible for his brother’s death.

It was announced that Movladi Baisarov was on the federal wanted list, but Kommersant sources say that his name never made it into the federal police search databases. Meanwhile, Baisarov himself went to Moscow, where he gave several media interviews, saying that he was being hunted because Ramzan Kadyrov is trying to get rid of any and all potential rivals.

Baisarov told Kommersant that he wasn’t hiding from anyone, and even hoped to return to Chechnya as deputy prime minister for security and law enforcement.

On November 15, according to Izvestia, the Interior Ministry of Chechnya announced that Baisarov’s besieged Highlander detachment had surrendered. Chechen President Alu Alkhanov gave the men security guarantees. Izvestia quotes Highlander deputy commander Khamzat Dudushev as saying: “We’d been wanting to surrender for a long time, and Ramzan Kadyrov’s personal meeting with us played a huge role in this. We came to trust him, and realized that we had been wrong. We never suspected that we were being used.”

According to Kommersant, active efforts to find Baisarov in Moscow began in mid-November. The Moscow UBOP set up an operation team for that purpose, and then some special units from Chechnya came to Moscow.

Over 50 Chechen police officers set out to arrest Baisarov, says Vremya Novostei: “The first operation squad, headed by Apti Alaudinov, left Chechnya on November 1 in five light vehicles. The following week, a further 23 armed police officers from Chechnya set out for Moscow. According to the special services, this second unit was allegedly headed by Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Adam Delmikhanov in person.”

“Everyone knew that Baisarov would soon be killed: the prosecutors, the police, the FSB, and even the victim himself,” says Novaya Gazeta. What’s more, according to this newspaper’s sources, there are close links between Baisarov’s death and the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Vyacheslav Izmailov, military observer for Novaya Gazeta, reports: “On October 21, two weeks after Politkovskaya was killed, a prominent Chechen politician visited our editor’s office: Bislan Gantamirov.” He told Novaya Gazeta staff the following story: “Several groups of personnel from Ramzan Kadyrov’s security forces are operating in Moscow, with the aim of killing Gantamirov himself and Movladi Baisarov – and one of these groups was responsible for killing Politkovskaya.” Gantamirov named several individuals from these groups. Thus, the editors of Novaya Gazeta, as well as the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office, have a record of those names.

Novaya Gazeta reports that soon after Politkovskaya’s murder, police officers from the Khamovnichesky district in Moscow detained two residents of Chechnya carrying police IDs. A search of their car produced a complete set of hitman weapons: handguns with silencers, and a Val automatic rifle (capable of penetrating an armored car).

On hearing the names of the detained Chechens, Gantamirov confirmed to Novaya Gazeta that “these particular individuals had been sent to Moscow as part of a group with the mission of eliminating myself, Politkovskaya, and Baisarov.”

However, according to Novaya Gazeta, those two policemen from Kadyrov’s force were released soon after being arrested.

Novaya Gazeta reports: “Movladi Baisarov was closely linked to some former senior FSB officers, carrying out sensitive assignments for them. Even though Baisarov was on the wanted list, the special services had him under constant surveillance of late, preventing Ramzan Kadyrov’s people from approaching him.”

Kommersant chief editor Kirill Rogov points out that the late Baisarov’s identity and professional activities were far too ambiguous. On the one hand, Baisarov was a lieutenant-colonel; on the other, he organized abductions and murders.

Rogov goes on to say: “Just try to work out who killed Baisarov: ‘accomplices of the authorities’ or their opponents. And which authorities? And if Baisarov himself killed anyone, did he do it as an FSB officer or as a field commander? Where does ‘the hand of the Kremlin’ end, and where does ‘the hand of the Kremlin’s enemies’ begin? And is the hand of the enemies of the Kremlin’s enemies the same as the hand of the Kremlin?”

In Rogov’s view, these considerations also apply to another criminal-political case which has made the headlines all over the world: the poisoning of former FSB lieutenant-colonel Alexander Litvinenko, in London.

Kommersant says: “A photograph of the bedridden political emigre has made the front pages of the world’s leading newspapers, which are inclined to believe the theory that the fugitive intelligence officer has paid the price for criticizing the Kremlin.”

Because this murder attempt is considered particularly important, Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist unit is investigating. Specialists from MI5 are also involved in the investigation. Washington hasn’t been left out either: the US Administration has requested the British government for information about the crime.

To all appearances, says Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the United States is taking an interest in this case because Anna Politkovskaya, whose murder Litvinenko was investigating, held American citizenship.

The Radio Liberty website reports: “Alexander Litvinenko became famous in 1998, after stating publicly that he’d been instructed to kill prominent businessman Boris Berezovsky. After being arrested twice on what he claimed were fabricated charges, Litvinenko fled Russia in 2000 together with his family and was granted political asylum in Britain. He became a British citizen this year.”

Radio Liberty notes: “Litvinenko was well acquainted with Politkovskaya, who was poisoned on her way to Beslan to cover the school hostage siege.”

On November 1, after meeting with Italian lawyer Mario Scaramella at the Itsu sushi bar in London, Litvinenko started feeling unwell. He was hospitalized a few days later.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Professor Scaramella held a press conference in Rome, saying that he had nothing to do with the poisoning and pointing his finger at the Russian special services. Scaramella said that he had come to London after receiving “some alarming news about a conspiracy against Russians in Italy and Britain.” According to Scaramella, he had obtained a list of murder targets. Litvinenko’s name and Scaramella’s own name were on the list. “I asked him to check this information via his people in Russia. Litvinenko advised me not to worry about it,” said Scaramella. He also said that “we’re dealing with those who were involved in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya.”

On the same day as he met with Scaramella, Litvinenko also met with Andrei Lugovoi, former security chief at the ORT television network, and an unidentified person named Vladimir.

According to Kommersant, Lugovoi is declining to comment at present – but he has already contacted senior officials at the British Embassy in Moscow.

Meanwhile, says Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the exact nature of the poison used on Litvinenko remains uncertain. Doctors initially said it appeared to be radioactive thallium. On November 21, however, a senior doctor said that many of the symptoms are not consistent with thallium poisoning. Litvinenko’s condition remains serious but stable.

The Izvestia newspaper suggests that Boris Berezovsky may have had an interest in the Litvinenko poisoning and Politkovskaya’s murder: “In the light of the Litvinenko story, the theory that Politkovskaya’s killers should be sought abroad no longer seems so improbable. And the list of those who might have stood to benefit from Politkovskaya’s murder includes Berezovsky and others who have found protection from Russian courts in other countries.”

According to Izvestia, the death of a liberal journalist and the poisoning of an “enemy of the FSB” could later be used to justify rejecting Russia’s demands for Berezovsky’s extradition.

Commenting for Kommersant, Duma member Gennadi Gudkov says: “Politkovskaya, the special services, and all the rest – it’s like the garnish atop yet another common squabble within Berezovsky’s inner circle, with people fighting over his money.”

Another theory is expressed by Leonid Zamyatin, who served as Soviet ambassador to Britain between 1986 and 1992. In an interview with Kommersant, he says: “Most of Litvinenko’s testimony concerned Ukraine and Leonid Kuchma. This suggests that Litvinenko was considered an obstacle by Ukraine, not by Russia.”

In an interview with Kommersant, Litvinenko’s fellow emigre, Chechen separatist envoy Akhmed Zakayev, accused Russia of “making terrorism a state policy.” Zakayev said: “England has been attacked again. The events of November 1 were an act of terror against Western ways of thinking.”

Indeed, the British and American media are proposing plenty of theories about the Russian special services being involved in the Litvinenko poisoning. The Times quotes a source close to the Home Office as saying that the Litvinenko case could lead to the biggest diplomatic clash with Moscow since Putin came to power six years ago; this isn’t just another spy scandal, but an attempt to kill a foreign citizen abroad – and the method is known to be used by the Russians.

“We don’t comment on speculations of this nature, bordering on insanity,” said Vladislav Novikov, spokesman for the Russian Embassy in London, in an interview with the Interfax news agency. He noted that “this a matter for the police, who should investigate this situation.”

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) has also officially denied allegations that it was involved in poisoning Litvinenko. SVR spokesman Sergei Ivanov told Interfax: “It’s absolutely not in our interests to engage in such activities. Litvinenko is not the kind of person who could make it worthwhile to damage bilateral relations – there is no comparison between the geopolitical aspects and the individual aspects here.”

A BBC press review quotes The Guardian – despite the many uncertainties in the Litvinenko affair, one thing is clear: “There is a readiness in the West to believe the worst about Vladimir Putin’s government.” The Independent, in an editorial, also highlights the “deeply disturbing aspects of this case”: Russia’s leaders, or someone acting in their name, seem to be returning to old Soviet-style methods. The author maintains that those who pretend not to understand the warning signals being sent to them are risking their lives.

As Kommersant notes, “although the Kremlin has put so much effort into improving Russia’s image in the West, that image seems to be worse than ever. And the Litvinenko case shows that harsh criticism from the Western media is not the result of plotting by foreign politicians, but is based on a firmly-established stereotype in Western public opinion, which the Kremlin is unable to counter.”

“There are different kinds of political murders,” says Kirill Rogov in Kommersant. “Sometimes the victims are politicians – people who make important decision. But some murders are political in a different sense – their impact. In other words, they reflect and focus the established system of standards and morals within the current ruling elites, and any smouldering conflicts among the elites. And all the discussion of the relative benefits for each side in any particular killing only emphasizes that within this system, such benefits can be calculated and taken into account.

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