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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: January 12, 2017
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Kadyrov's Forces Kill 4 Islamist Militants and Arrest Dozens More; Caucasian Knot Journalists Attacked
5 years

Chechen police checking a car during an operation against suspected terrorists January 11, 2017. Screen grab from clip via @Kadyrov_95

A number of stories in Chechnya this week indicate that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is bringing further control over the Islamist insurgency remaining in the republic and cracking down on the independent press to prevent public criticism of his harsh methods. The sentencing of a one-time Kadyrov henchman also shows the limits of protection from loyalty to the strongman.

As we reported last month, Kadyrov has continued to face attacks from militants claimed to be tied to ISIS.

Kadyrov Announces 4 Suspected Islamist Fighters Killed, Dozens Arrested; 1 Escaped 

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported today, January 12, that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has said four Islamist militants were killed and dozens detained in a special operation to roll up the network of a relative of Isa Muskiyev, known as the "bloody emir" killed by Russian forces in 2006.

Kadyrov has been careful to show this latest clash not as an attack to which law-enforcers responded, as in past incidents, but an operation to round up suspected terrorists planned in advance.

On January 10, Kadyrov wrote on his Instagram page that he met with the local police department in the town of Kurchaloy, about 41 kilometers southeast of the capital of Grozny, thanking them for their service and fighting "those who don't want to live by the law." He added (translation by The Interpreter):

"Even so, I reminded them again that the time of large-scale operations has passed. International terrorists and their enablers are destroyed or brought to justice."

Now it was a time of "prophylactic work, maintenance of law and order and carefully planned operational work," he added.

He noted that Kurchaloy District had at one time been "the most complicated and dangerous to live in" due to the Muskiyev brothers' gang which had killed dozens of civilians, but at the price of "the best sons of the Chechen people," the gang had been destroyed.

The next day, it was in the Kurchaloy District that Kadyrov's men implemented what must have been a "carefully planned" but not "large-scale" operation. As Kadyrov described on his Instagram page, "particularly dangerous bandits who had joined a terrorist organization ingloriously ended their life's path."

He said that a close relative of Isa Muskiev's had received orders "from abroad" to begin actively creating a network of fighters. Kadyrov said that careful work "under conditions of heightened secrecy" enabled the exposure of this network, the identification of the leaders, the identities of the helpers and caches of ammunition, mines and explosives.

Kadyrov said his men fanned out and arrested dozens of suspected militants in several areas of Kurchaloy District. He said four were detained but one escaped due to the foggy weather; he is supposedly hemmed in by police now. Kadyrov said "one of our combat comrades" was killed in the operation, not specifying the type of troops that were used. There were no civilian casualties; the population supported the operation, he said.

Caucasian Knot, the regional news service, reported the names of those killed in nearby Tsotsi-Yurt in the clashes yesterday, citing police sources: Umar Osziyev, born in 1991 in Shali; Raybek Idrisov, born in 1988 in Shali;  Alikhan Kupchiev, born 1984 of Germenchuk in the Shali District; and Uzum-Khadji Madayev, born 1980 of Kurchalo. Madayev had previously served a sentence of 12.5 years in labor camp for "severe crimes," RIA Novosti reported.

Chechen police say the militants were connected to ISIS but evidence was not shown.

RosGvardiya, the new National Guard, reported today that two Russian soldiers were killed in Tsotsi-Yurt in the operation: Pvt. Khamzat Khashumov and Yefraytor Bekkha Khutayev. Khashumov, a sharpshooter, who was described by the National Guard as covering his commander with his own body when a militant took aim at him. Khutayev, a senior machine-gunner, died of his wounds in the hospital.

One militant is still at large.

Chechen Leadership Threatens Caucasian Knot Editor; Reporter Beaten in Rostov

Grigory Shvedov, editor-in-chief of Caucasian Knot, an independent regional news service for the south of Russia and the North and South Caucasus, was threatened by Magomed Daudov, the speaker of parliament and former chief of staff of Kadyrov, known by his call sign "Lord" from their days fighting in the resistance. The Committee to Protect Journalists took up his case.

Daudov, who has the name "Lord 095" on Instagram,  published a photo of a dog with its tongue tied in a knot with the words "How to Untangle the Caucasian Knot?" -- a clear reference to the publication's name. 

Lord_095 said:

"This is a very strange pup. He looks threatening but he's cowardly. A mutt, but impudent. Nick-named "Swede." Why 'Swede," I don't know, but obviously not a local mongrel. His mug is British but he babbles in Russian that even our "pugs" are put to shame...


It is high time to call a veterinarian with a pair of tongs to pull out the Swede's 'wisdom' teeth and to cut his tongue to standard size. Then look, he might even yelp something nice and informative."

This was a clear reference to Shvedov, whose name means "son of Swedes." As is often the case with such crude attacks, Magomed implied that Shvedov was paid to deliberately write criticism of Caucasians.

It's not clear what article, if any, led to Daudov's threat but colleagues agree that it is a serious one and meant to see if Moscow will do anything to protect journalism in the region, which has suffered some harsh attacks. Shvedov has appealed to the Investigative Committee to investigate the threat, saying it was not just against him alone but all journalists.

Caucasian Knot reporter Vladislav Ryazantsev, based in Rostov, was beaten on January 10 at 16:00 near the regional government building, while walking with his wife. He said a man came running up, grabbed him by the hand and said, "Let's go talk." Then four other unidentified men ran up, pushed his wife to the side, then threw him to the ground and began beating him and kicking his head and back. Some passers-by intervened and the assailants fled.

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Ryazantsev was taken to the hospital and treated for a broken wrist and traumatic brain injury. He said the attackers didn't say anything or try to take any valuables. A criminal case has been opened by Rostov police on assault charges punishable by up to two years' imprisonment.

A group calling themselves "national socialists" took responsibility for the attack. A known nationalist Roman Zheleznov said in a post on his VKontakte page that the beating was "educational work" in revenge for his "public activity" because his work was "harmful." Ryazantsev believes the attack is most likely related to his journalistic work but could be connected to his past opposition activity as a member of the Left Bloc in Rostov. He added that the beating occurred after he publicized a number of threatening SMS texts on his phone.

Ryazantsev said he did not summon the police; they came on their own, and then later a police officer from a program called "Safe City" contacted him and visited him after he obtained a medical report.

The nationalist Zheleznov, a former member of Restrukt, was known by the nick-named "Zukhel" [brand-name of a modem], is famous for being the first person to be investigated under the Russian criminal code article banning mercenary activity. Zheleznov, who reportedly has two previous criminal convictions  was put on Russia's international wanted list and is allegedly also on Interpol's Red Notice list, although he does not show up on the public list (countries submitting cases are not required to publicize them). The Russian Investigative Committee said he fought with the Azov battalion, known to have ultra-right members. LifeNews reported in March 2015 that Zheleznov suffered a serious concussion while fighting with Azov near Shirokino. He is believed to still be in hiding in Ukraine.

Caucasian Knot is known as a balanced site that always asks the official position on every story and covers statements from police. So generally it is not attacked although its reporters have been silenced or arrested in the past. Caucasian Knot is known for going to the trouble to get statements from villagers during counter-terror operations, from relatives of captured or killed militants, and other ordinary people to convey opinion outside the official channels. This has been more or less tolerated but that time may be over.

Suspect in Murder of Vostok Commander Yamadayev, Abandoned by Kadyrov, Sentenced to 6 Years of Labor Colony on Another Assault Case 

Only the independent media noticed a curious development in a cold case involving the murder of Sulim (Suleiman) Yamadayev, a famous Chechen rebel commander in the first Chechen war who switched sides to support Russian forces in the second, as did Kadyrov and Daudov.

On January 9, the Lefortovo District Court in Moscow sentenced Zelimkhan Mazayev, suspected of the murder of Yamadayev, in another case of assault, to six years of labor colony, RosBalt and Grani reported.

According to prosecutors, on January 4, 2015, Mazayev and three others (Magomed Ibayev, Mayrbek Madayev and Rustam Nasayev) attacked two Muscovites, aged 29 and 43, on Melnikova Street near the center of Moscow, threatening them with pistols, and robbing them of their cash and ID. They escaped the scene in a car with fake license plates taped on. Three of the suspects were detained the same day

Mazayev was then arrested later, but it is not known when; the news of the case was published more than a month after the assault. The trial began in September 2016 without publicity.

Mazayev once served in the original Vostok [East] Battalion under Yamadayev, then commander, but then later transferred to a spetsnaz under under the control of Kadyrov. Mazayev's brother still serves in a Chechen police unit.

Mazayev is believed to have traveled to the United Arab Republic in 2009. It is believed that he shot Yamadayev on March 28, 2009 in Dubai in an underground parking garage at the building where Yamadayev lived, as part of a vendetta organized by Kadyrov. Forces loyal to Yamadayev had clashed with Kadyrov's forces in a turf war in 2008 in Gudermes in which at least 18 men were killed. Mazayev then reportedly returned to Russia and settled in Moscow, although UAR authorities put him on the international wanted list. 

His next misadventures are typical of Kadyrov's hit squad members deployed in Moscow, described by Novaya Gazeta in recounting the lives of the suspects in the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

In the fall of 2011, Mazayev accidentally left his Stechkin pistol at the Sheikh's Treasure restaurant on Mantulinskaya Street and waiters turned it into the police. He then came back and threatened the restaurant owner who then called the police. He insisted that he had a permit for the weapon but could not produce it. 

Then, in February 2012, Mazayev was brought to the Sklifosovsky Trauma Hospital in Moscow with a gunshot wound; he claimed that he accidentally shot himself with his own trauma pistol when he stood up too quickly at the Evropesky mall restaurant. But that time, he was able to show a permit.

Then in November 2012, he and an associate, Adlan Murtazaliyev, were stopped by traffic police while driving a Mercedes with a license plate containing the number "95," which stands for Chechnya, and which had the letters "KRA," which stands for "Kadyrov, Ramzan Akhmatovich" and are used by members of Kadyrov's "personal army" to show their loyalty. 

Police found a loaded Magnum revolver and a trauma pistol in a briefcase in the back seat. The pair were detained and an investigation opened, and a police source told RosBalt that the suspects had no weapons permits. But then Mazayev later produced a permit for the trauma pistol and Murtazaliyev took the rap for possession of the other weapons. Mazayev was then released, but Kadyrov was said to disassociate himself from him after this last incident.

In January 2013, his case was closed in Dubai reportedly "because he was forgiven under Sharia law." But by the end of 2016, he had no more "protection" from influential figures in Chechnya and could not evade his next arrest.


-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick