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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: May 18, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia's Investigative Committee Asked Gen. Zolotov to Probe Violations by Sever Battalion Linked to Nemtsov Murder Suspects
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Open Russia, the website of the movement by the same name founded by businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has published some interesting documents today, May 18, shedding light on the murder investigation of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and the Chechen policemen currently held as suspects.

Lawyers for Zhanna Nemtsova, the daughter of Nemtsov, obtained documents showing the role of Gen. Viktor Zolotov, who once served as President Vladimir Putin's personal bodyguard, in the investigation.

Zolotov has served as the head of the presidential security service; as deputy head of the Federal Protective Service charged with guarding the president and top officials in the Kremlin; as deputy interior minister and as commander of the Interior Ministry's Internal Troops. In April, he was put in charge of the new National Guard. In all these roles, Putin has relied on him to protect him not only from internal coups but external unrest that would destabilize his regime.

Nemtsova's attorneys filed a complaint about the Investigative Committee's unwillingness to interrogate Zolotov regarding his subordinates who are charged with the murder of Nemtsov. The attorneys learned from a statement sent to Zolotov by the Investigative Committee that Zaur Dadayev, currently held as a defendant in the murder case, and Ruslan Geremeyev, who is wanted by Russian authorities and is believed to have fled abroad or is in hiding in Russia, were described as officially on assignment outside of Chechnya and were carrying arms.

Dadayev was deputy head of the Sever [North Battalion]; Geremeyev, was head of the Sever Battalion, a unit within the Chechen branch of the Internal Troops, which was technically a subordinate of Zolotov's, although these forces have widely been seen as the "personal army" of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Zolotov has been in close contact with Kadyrov, has visited Chechnya number of times and has been received into Kadyrov's home. The Sever Battalion, like other such units, is now part of the National Guard.

Aside from Dadayev and Ruslan Geremeyev, his relative, ArturGeremeyev is related to the murder plot as he owned the apartment where the defendants hid out.

Another defendant, Timerlan Eskherkhanov, currently in pre-trial detention, was also a member of the Sever Battalion. A suspect named Beslan Shavanov was also a member; he blew himself up with a grenade when police came to arrest him in March 2015. Also highly relevant is the fact that Col. Alibek Delikmkhanov, now commander of military unit No. 4156 in Chechnya and the direct superior of the Sever Battalion commanders, is the brother of Adam Delimkhanov, a deputy in the State Duma and advisor to Kadyrov whom Kadyrov has named as his successor if he does not run for office again. Delimkhanov and his relatives have been implicated in other cases involving the "liquidation" of Kadyrov's enemies.

As the lawyers' complaint notes (and as Kadyrov's Instagram posts at the time confirm), Zolotov made a surprise inspection of the Chechen troops in August 2015 and met personally with Kadyrov at the time in Grozny.

On that grounds, the lawyers urged that Zolotov be interrogated about this unit and the suspects. They then received materials from the case which included a memorandum titled "Submission on the Removal of Reasons and Conditions Enabling the Commission of Crimes and Other Violation of the Law." The memo was prepared by Maj.Gen. N.B. Tutevich, the senior special cases investigator assigned to the Nemtsov case, addressed to Viktor Zolotov and dated January 27, 2016 when Zolotov was still first deputy interior minister and commander of the Internal Forces.

What the memo makes clear, says Open Russia, is that at the time of Nemtsov's murder, Dadayev and Geremeyev were officially on assignment outside of Chechnya, with Interior Ministry identification showing they were on active duty, and with service weapons. This is important, because at the time of the murder and long after, the Russian media instantly published a claim leaked from law-enforcement that Dadayev had in fact resigned from the Internal Troops and taken a 30-day leave owed to him, which, some argued, expired right before the murder.

This document refutes that claim by implying just the opposite -- the two men were on active duty -- but then implying this was some kind of mistake.

Tutevich writes that Dadayev hid in the apartment of his commander, Ruslan Geremeyev, on Veyernaya Street, after the murder. During a search on March 7, 2016, his ID pass from command was discovered, according to which from October 2, 2014, he was assigned to Ingushetia with his personal firearm. The command ID pass for Geremeyev was also found which said that from September 27, 2014, he was assigned with a personal weapon to Moscow. The passes were signed by Alibek Delimkhanov (the brother of Adam Delimkhanov, the State Duma member), the commander of unit no. 4156 under which Sever Battalion served.

The memo also notes that Dadayev was marked as returning from leave on February 28, 2015 -- one day after the murder on February 27, 2015 -- but in fact he was still in the capital, and flew to Grozny only on March 1.

No expiration dates are shown on these passes. Tutevich's memo says that the main command of the Internal Troops gave a statement to the Investigative Committee about the passes: they said that in fact Dadayev and Geremeyev were not sent on assignment, and that the passes discovered were in fact given to other other soldiers. That implied that they were forged, although that is not stated. 

Tutevich instead says more vaguely that the discovery of the passes could indicate a "negligent attitude to the performance of their duties by the staff service" of the Sever Battalion and personally Alibek Delimkhanov and also about "an intent to distort reality with the purpose of covering up the involvement of Dadayev in the murder of Nemtsov." Thus, he concedes either routine carelessness with passes being made without regard to who might use them and how, but also a possible cover-up.

He concludes with a request to Zolotov to "conduct an internal inspection and according to the results, bring those guilty to strict disciplinary account."

Nothing is known about any such inspection or if any guilty parties were found.

Authorities have announced that the suspects will be tried in military court. That suggests that they no longer claim that the defendants were off duty or even resigned from military service; this document indirectly indicates that they were on active duty, and if the passes claiming this were faked, or the defendants off moonlighting as contract murderers instead of doing their official jobs, Zolotov is expected to have to come up with an explanation for why and how.

There has been another setback in the investigation: there is no mention of any surveillance camera videotape from the bridge area where Nemtsov was murdered. 

Citing two sources, RBC reported that no tapes from the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge are included at all. RBC also said two eyewitness testimonies are also missing from the case.

The Moscow municipal TV (TVTs) camera used for weather reports was trained on the scene but at a distance across the street; this tape was leaked early on from the mayor's office and circulated widely on social media, and formed the basis for a lot of speculation about the murder. Why did the snowplow seem to stop and cover up the murder as it happened? Who were the other figures near Nemtsov on the bridge who were not his companion or the murderer? Who drove the getaway car? The tape was not of very good quality and the figures in it were barely visible.

At least three other surveillance cameras existed, say RBC's sources: one was on a lamp post just a few steps from the area where Nemtsov fell after being shot in the back, and would have been far more clear; two others were on lamp posts further down the bridge. (Commentators on the murder have also noted cameras mounted on the Kremlin buildings themselves, closer to the scene than the weather camera.)

This area is believed to be in a special "protection zone" covered by the Federal Protection Service, and no one found it credible that these cameras were all supposedly "out of order" the night of the murder, as claimed. But when Dmitry Gudkov, an opposition MP, filed an official parliamentary query to the FCO, the answer he go back said the area of the bridge was not in the protection zone.

That reply also noted, interestingly, that the Investigative Committee extracted "the videotapes from the external surveillance of the FSO from February 27 at 0:01 to February 28 at 20:00" (Nemtsov was killed close to midnight). So that's an indication that the Investigative Committee has tapes that it has not included in the case file, but it's not clear from which cameras, and where they were located.

Lawyers and supporters of Nemtsov believe that the surveillance tapes do exist and helped identify the murderer and his accomplices, but since they also showed the FSB agents following Nemtsov as a routine matter, and possibly others complicit in the murder, they are withheld from the case.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick