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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: May 5, 2016

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Court Authorizes Arrest of Four Tajiks Suspected of Preparing Terrorist Attack on Upcoming Victory Day May 9

Preobrazhensky Court in Moscow authorized the arrest of a native of Tajikistan who was detained this past Monday May 2 in the southwest district of Moscow for possible involvement in preparation of a terrorist attack on the forthcoming Victory Day celebrations May 9, Interfax reported.

Aybek Saidov had been put in custody until July 3, according to the court press secretary, Aleksandra Savelyeva. Savelyeva said Saidov is accused of making an attempt on the life of a member of the law-enforcement agencies (Art. 217 of the Russian Criminal Code) and unlawful possession of a weapon (Art. 222).

Later today the Meshchansky Court press service announced that three more natives of Tajikistan, also accused of possible involvement in a terrorist attack, were also authorized to be taken into custody. Two Kalashnikovs were said to be found on the scene.

Forkhadzhon Muratov, Sirozhidin Ergashev and Anvarzhon Todzhboltayev are to be held until July 3 as well for unlawful possession of weapons.

Authorities are investigating "more than a dozen" detainees during the holiday period in Russia now for possible plans to attack the "Immortal Regiment," a popular mass parade on Red Square where people carry portraits of their loved ones who served or were killed in World War II.

Twelve migrants from Tajikistan were said to be rounded up in this police sweep who either had jobs as janitors or were unemployed. 

According to police sources, the suspect had active communications on social networks with their fellow Tajiks in Turkey and Syria. Information is being checked now about a supposed assignment sent them in Moscow to stage a terrorist attack on Victory Day, which is celebrated as the victory of the Allies in World War II, which is known as the Great Fatherland War in Russia.

Police say they have "reason to believe" that the weapons the Tajik suspects appeared to possess "came from Ukraine" and that they would "thoroughly" study all available materials to determine if terrorist activity in fact took place.

Interfax said it could not confirm this information regarding a possible plan for a terrorist attack.

That disclaimer from a state news agency that dutifully replays most official announcements indicates the case may be shaky.

Some of the migrants were released from custody or deported from Russia, Interfax reported this evening. 

A source told Interfax that on Monday, intelligence officers conducted a sweep to detain persons from Central Asia. One man who put up active resistance was wounded apparently in a gunfight and was hospitalized. The two Kalashnikovs were said to be found at this scene. Intelligence agents also reportedly found 7 TNT packets, a brick of plastique used to make bombs, a grenade-launcher, two grenades and the two Kalashnikovs.

The Federal Security Service's Center for Public Liaison said that citizens from Central Asian countries who had planned a series of terrorist attacks in Moscow during hte May holidays "on assignment from the leaders of international terrorist organizations active in Syria and Turkey"

Interfax said that the FSB "did not report the names and numbers of those detained and also other details of the special operation" -- another indicator of the possibly shakiness of the case.

Journalists, even state reporters, have good reason to be skeptical about such police sweeps of Central Asians or Caucasians that are short on details and long on claims.

A report April 25 from the site described another case of terrorists who were tried April 22 in the Moscow District Military Court for preparing a terrorist attack on the Kirgiziya movie theater in Moscow. Fourteen men and one woman were sentenced to terms of 11 to 13 years of imprisonment. Among them was Inyal Balakadashev, sentenced to 11 years of labor colony. says that in July 2013, Balakadashev, age 26 found a job as a sailor on the trawler Geroi Damanskogo (Heroes of Damansk) and worked at sea for six months. When in November, the ship returned to port, Balakadashev took leave and traveled to Dagestan to visit his parents. On the evening of November 26, 2013, he flew to Moscow's Domodedovo Airport and decided to visit his brother, Nurmagomed. No sooner had they managed to brew some tea when police broke in the door and arrested everyone in the communal apartment. In one of the apartment rooms (not the one in which Balakadashev's brother lived), police seized two RGD-5 grenades, two F-1 grenades and some hand-made grenades known as khattabki (after the Saudi-born Chechen independence fighter Khattab), a suicide belt and TNT. The next day, the state media said a terrorist band had been "liquidated" and a would-be suicide-bomber intercepted.

Normally, the FSB takes up cases like this involving terrorism. But says the FSB did not want to work on this case after seeing the results of a polygraph test of the detainees and the forensic analysis indicated that not a single one of those detained had anything to do with terrorism or the explosives found. Indeed, no fingerprints of the detainees were found on a single one of the explosives said to be taken from the apartment.

After the FSB declined it, the case was sent to the Investigative Committee where it went to Capt. Ivan Shcherbakov, a special cases investigator, who studied the case handed to him from the police thoroughly for eight months. He did not find anything that indicated a plan for a terrorist attack, and on September 23, 2014, Capt. Shcherbakov issued an order to close the criminal case. Then Aleksandr Kozlov, the deputy prosecutor of Moscow, confirmed this finding and issued a notice on the closing of the criminal case.

But on October 17, 2014, a deputy of the Investigative Directorate of the Interior Ministry cancelled Shcherbakov's order as "unlawful and unfounded" and once again charged all the defendants, on October 23, 2014.

The trial lasted seven months. Testimony came from police officers themselves, and certain "secret witnesses" who came from those already in pre-trial detention. One of them, "Witness Vasilyev" testified that Tekilov, one of the accused, told him in their jail cell that he had been in the "terrorist underground" for a long time and had taken part "in the terrorist attacks in Budyonnovsk and Pervomaysk." But the defendant was only six years old at the time of those attacks.

Despite obvious gaps in the case such as this one, all the defendants were found guilty, and a separate ruling was issued regarding Capt. Shcherbakov requiring that he be investigating for letting terrorists off the hook.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Security Council Secretary Accuses Refugees from Ukraine of 'Complicating Criminal Situation' in Russia

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary  of Russia's Security Council, has accused refugees from Ukraine of "aggravating the criminal situation" in the south of Russia, Novaya Gazeta reported, citing RIA Novosti.

While at a field meeting of the Security Council in Astrakhan, Patrushev spoke of the problems of the Southern Federal District, which encompasses Krasnodar, Astrakhan and other regions and notably Rostov Region bordering on Ukraine (translation by The Interpreter):

A growth in the conflict potential has been observed in connection with the growing migration load. The presence of almost 73,000 non-employed refugees from Ukraine complicates the criminal situation.

Patrushev also says that the number of terrorist-related crimes in the South Federal District more than doubled in 2015 compared to 2014, although this district no longer includes the North Caucasus republics of Chechnya, Dagestan and others noted for armed conflict with law-enforcers which were incorporated into the North Caucasus Federal District in 2010. Patrushev said most of the crimes were related to "incitement of hatred" and "participation in unlawful armed formations on the territory of  Syria." That would seem unrelated to Russians and Russian-speakers who fled from Ukraine. 

Even so, Patrushev said "effective resolution of these problems will enable the preservation of social stability in the region" and gave a figure that appears to be the number of refugees from Ukraine just in the Southern Federal District who do not have jobs.

Last November, the Federal Migration Service abolished a system of preferences for stays and work in Russia by citizens of Ukraine. New rules require that a citizen of Ukraine have proof of employment, permission for temporary stay or hard-to-get refugee status; most people from Ukraine can only stay 90 to 180 days. Refugees specifically from the Donbass get exceptions, says Novaya Gazeta although it is not clear how this is applied.

RIA Novosti said that "more than a million" people sought refuge in Russia or other parts of Ukraine from the war in the Donbass. According to the Federal Migration Service, "about 900,000 citizens of Ukraine" came to Russia, and plan to stay for a long time or "forever."

Curiously, Patrushev did not attempt to estimate the number of militants or Islamist sympathizers in this region. That may be due to the fact that officially, the Kremlin says that most of these people, encouraged to go to the war in Syria before the Sochi Olympics to get them out of the way, were killed there or prevented from returning -- although it seems unlikely this effort succeeded in dealing with the "2,700 fighters" claimed by the Kremlin (or whatever realistic number of them actually existed).

It's not clear why Patrushev is focusing on "73,000 from Ukraine" in this message, which could suggest that some either aren't from the Donbass or have not sufficiently proven their loyalty to the Russian state. Regardless, any large population of unemployed people without roots will be seen by the government as a problem for stability. Yet Russia has added to that population by its continued sponsorship of the war in Ukraine, which has aggravated its economic crisis.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Aleksandr Rubtsov, NSN Editor, Radio Host Found Murdered in Home; Colleagues Say 'Not Related' to Work
Aleksandr Rubtsov, editor of National News Service (NSN) in Moscow, and a host of radio programs, was found murdered in his apartment by his mother, NSN reported.

Although Rubtsov was murdered May 3, the notice of his murder appeared only today, May 5. His mother, who had come to visit her son from their provincial home town of Kaluga for the national holidays, discovered his body on the evening of May 3. Rubtsov was said to be acquainted with the murderer, and the Moscow Criminal Investigation Department says they have a photo of the likely perpetrator. 

Rubtsov's colleagues at NSN write that their editor "died a torturous death." His body was found with multiple bruises indicating a beating, and deep stab wounds. In a notice on the NSN site, journalists wrote:

We don't know who did this. For sure, this is not related to his professional activity. For sure, this was an acquaintance that Sasha himself let into his apartment.

His apartment on Academika Pavlova Street was robbed.

While there are no public materials suggesting Rubtsov was gay, the implications that his death could be related to a lifestyle seems to be surfacing with coy comments that he was 35, a bachelor "and had no family" by Moskovsky Komsomolets and other news sites publishing the news of his death along with the information that last month, Dmitry Tsilikin, a St. Petersburg journalist who was gay was murdered as well (the suspect is an anti-gay neo-Nazi.) Masha Gessen, a Russian American journalist, has written about the way such deaths of LGBT people get covered in the Russian media.

In the comments on the news of Rubtsov's murder on Ekho Moskvy, some readers express horror at the increasingly crime-ridden Putin era, despite the perception that Putin ended a crime wave when he came to power in 2000. But one reader writes, "the latest gay to invite a student home for tea from a dating site"?

In fact Moskovsky Komsomolets said that the reason police concluded Rubtsov let the likely murderer into the apartment is that they found no signs of a break-in, which does not necessarily mean he knew the visitor.

In any event, the murder of a second journalist recently, seemingly unrelated to his work despite his status as a public figure, will cause some to speculate that more may be involved in the cases that ordinary crime.

Rubtsov was host to shows on Nashe Radio, Rock FM, Best FM and Radio JAZZ; his colleagues published his last show on April 29.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
New NATO Commander Scaparrotti Warns of Threat from 'Resurgent Russia'; Kremlin Scorns 'Loud, Political' Statement
Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti assumed command of NATO's Allied Command Operations  today May 4, taking over from Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove in a ceremony today at NATO headquarters. The speech was covered by the Pentagon:

NATO is facing a "resurgent Russia striving to project itself as a world power," Scaparrotti said. Other concerns for the alliance are terrorism, as well as a refugee crisis "being driven by instability in North Africa and the Middle East," he said.

"To address these challenges, we must continue to maintain and enhance our levels of readiness and our agility in the spirit of being able to fight tonight if deterrence fails," he said.

[NATO Secretary General Jens] Stoltenberg said NATO has entered a "new era of uncertainty," with serious and enduring challenges on its eastern and southern flanks. "NATO is ready and up to the challenge," the secretary general added.

NATO's web site itself did not focus on Scaparrotti's frank statement about Russia, but ran this quote about "hybrid threats" commonly associated with Russia:

"Today’s challenges have evolved and significantly differ from those of the past,” he said.  "Our alliance will need to counter hybrid threats, which can act with little or no warning, and also manifest themselves here ‘at home.”

Outgoing commander Philip Breedlove was himself candid about the Russian threat. In an op-ed in the Washington Post where he took on critics of the rationale for NATO, he said:

Finally, if the naysayers still are not convinced of the criticality of this alliance, just look at the headlines. There is an arc of instability and aggression threatening our interests and our allies stretching from the Arctic, through Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and across North Africa. Only the most diehard isolationist could claim that this is not a direct threat to the United States and our interests. Our allies are on the front lines challenging Russian aggression, ungoverned and undergoverned spaces, and the world’s largest migrant crisis since WWII. Russia’s revanchist ambitions and illegal annexation of Crimea have led to the first attempt to change internationally recognized borders by force in Europe since the end of that conflict. Our allies are reacting and engaging. They have been essential in maintaining effective sanctions against the Russians and in ramping up exercises and assurance measures.

Breedlove also gave a long interview to the Wall Street Journal, where the state media news service RIA focused on his comment that Russia's fighting capacity  has grown since 2008 and Kommersant selected his characterization of Putin as "a voice of common-sense"

Overall, during his tenure Breedlove was known for raising the alarm about Russia's growing threat since launching war on Ukraine, and for calling out the fact of Russian tanks and troops in Ukraine.

Novaya Gazeta ran a headline about Scaparrotti's speech saying "New NATO Commander in Europe Calls for Preparation for Fight with Russia," linking to the Pentagon coverage of his speech:

"To address these challenges, we must continue to maintain and enhance our levels of readiness and our agility in the spirit of being able to fight tonight if deterrence fails," he said.

But the translation came out as follows with a certain added emphasis:

"to be in a state to enter battle even today if deterrence suffers failure."

NATO began major exercises in Estonia's annual "Spring Storm" on May 2 with 6,000 soldiers from 10 countries.

Aleksei Meshkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister reacted critically to Gen. Scaparrotti's statements, Novaya Gazeta reported citing RIA Novosti.

First you should investigate, then make loud statements. It is not the job of NATO military to make political statements.

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that a "resurgent Russia" is not a threat to anyone and Russia was prepared for "mutually-profitable cooperation taking into account the interests of all partners," RIA reported.

Earlier, RIA quoted military expert Konstantin Sokolov who said about the NATO appointment, "If a Russophobe is needed, there will be a Russophobe" and complained about NATO "approaching Russia's borders" and "building up its potential."

This a common objection that overlooks Russia's own aggressive behavior that led East Europeans to seek NATO membership in the first place and its continued provocations against its Baltic and Scandinavian neighbors, not to mention Russia's launch of the war against Ukraine and continued support of militants there, and its backing of Balshir al-Assad and escalation of the war in Syria.

Nevertheless Sokolov accused NATO instead of planning "some aggressive action," not only from the Baltics or Ukraine but Afghanistan. He added that the West was using "modern technology" to fight wars, noting that the Soviet Union "was destroyed without tanks and airplanes, and many things were achieved by the symbolic use of military forces" such as "Orange revolutions, the creation of extremist organizations and home-made armed forces."

In a remark that sounds a lot like what Russia does in southeastern Ukraine, Sokolov accused the West of using such armed proxies to sow chaos, attract people under slogans and get them to fight.

"No one notices who is behind them. That is the technology of modern war," he commented.

The Kremlin's complaints about NATO's aggression follow a long pattern established by decades of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union would invade Hungary or then-Czechoslovakia or Afghanistan, support martial law in Poland or later Alyaksandr Lukashenka's dictatorship in Belarus, take de facto control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, then annex the Crimea and support commandos taking over administrative buildings in the Donbass, but all the while complain that it was the West increasing its arsenals and behaving aggressively and threatening Russia, the largest country in the world. 

In this scenario, various "color" revolutions from the Orange Revolution in Ukraine or the Rose Revolution in Georgia or the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, all related to rebellions against regimes maintained in power by Russia in Russia's interests are seen as fomented and funded by the West, although the West's role in these indigenous movements is minor if not irrelevant.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick