Austrian prosecutors said on February 10 that they have investigated Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov for alleged torture and other abuses in Chechnya based on a criminal complaint filed in Austria by Umar Israilov, the former rebel-turned-Kadyrov-bodyguard who was shot to death in Vienna on January 13. Israilov was murdered four days after the New York Times told Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s office that it was planning to run an article detailing Israilov’s accusations (North Caucasus Weekly, February 6; January 15, 23 and 30).
Gerhard Jarosch, a spokesman for the Vienna public prosecutor’s office, told the Associated Press (AP) that the Austrian investigation of Kadyrov was completed in October and that he expects the results to be released within the next few weeks, with a final decision on whether to indict Kadyrov or drop the case to “still pending.” However, the Moscow Times on February 12 quoted Jarosch in a telephone interview as saying that Kadyrov was unlikely to be charged and that Austrian courts “probably had no competence” in cases where “Chechens torture Chechens in Chechnya.”
AP reported that prosecutors did not tell the public that the Kadyrov investigation had been conducted until word emerged that the Vienna weekly Der Falter was preparing to publish an article about it on February 11. According to the news agency, Jarosch confirmed a claim made by Der Falter that Israilov’s lawyers wanted Kadyrov to be arrested while in Salzburg for a Euro 2008 soccer match.
According to the Moscow Times, Der Falter reported on February 11 that around the time of the request for Kadyrov’s arrest, Austrian police arrested a Chechen man who claimed he had been sent by Kadyrov to kill Israilov. The Moscow Times quoted Jarosch as saying that the case of the Chechen man was not pursued because Austrian prosecutors believed and still believe that they lack jurisdiction. In addition, the Moscow Times quoted both Jarosch and Timur Aliev, an adviser to Kadyrov, as saying that the Chechen president never made the trip to Austria.
Jarosch announced on February 9 that a third suspect arrested last month in connection with the Israilov murder had been released because the charges against him were no longer sufficient to allow his continued detention. According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), Jarosch added that the Chechen suspect, who was released February 6, would remain under investigation like two other suspects who were released January 30 shortly after their arrest. According to AFP, five other suspects in the Israilov murder case are still being held.
During a meeting on February 5 in Grozny with Ramzan Ampukaev, vice-president of the World Chechen Congress and aide to European Parliament member Bart Staes, Kadyrov said that “anti-Russian forces” are engaged in “subversive activities” aimed at discrediting Chechnya’s leaders. “The recent murder in Austria of Alikhan [Umar] Israilov is in the same category,” the Chechen government’s website, Chechnya.gov.ru, quoted Kadyrov as telling Ampukaev. “We all see the clumsy attempts to tie that murder to my name.”
Similarly, Kadyrov told Rossiiskaya Gazeta in an interview published on February 10 that the murders of Chechens in Europe were committed by the “enemies of Chechnya.”
Stanislav Belkovsky, director of the Moscow-based National Strategy Institute, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Russian Service on February 5 that the series of murders of Chechens in Moscow and abroad—he was presumably referring to the murders of former State Duma deputy Ruslan Yamadaev in Moscow last September and of former FSB special unit head Movladi Baisarov in the Russian capital in November 2006—were the result of a secret understanding between the Kremlin and Kadyrov.
“In the middle of the current decade a sort of pact was reached between the Kremlin and the Chechen elite as represented by the Kadyrov clan: Chechnya recognized itself formally as part of the Russian Federation, in return for which Kadyrov gets undivided control over the republic, where neither federal laws nor decisions of the federal authorities remain valid, as well as the right to destroy his enemies anywhere in the world,” Belkovsky said. “Today Kadyrov feels absolutely free not only in his own republic, but beyond its borders. And we have to ponder whether or not there was a Chechen trace in the murder of the lawyer Stanislav Markelov (North Caucasus Weekly, January 23) and several other crimes that might be formally not connected with Chechnya. The main bloody consequences still lie ahead.”
Novaya Gazeta military correspondent Vyacheslav Izmailov had a similar view of the recent series of murder. “The destruction of people who are in conflict with Ramzan Kadyrov, I think, received the go-ahead from certain Russian power structures,” he told RFE/RL’s Russian Service.
But Aleksei Mukhin, head of the Center for Political Information, said that the murders in Moscow and abroad have seriously harmed Kadyrov’s reputation and that tying them to the Chechen president is aimed at discrediting him. “Every murder is taken by Ramzan Kadyrov as a personal insult,” Mukhin told RFE/RL’s Russian Service. “And now to beat him, to abuse him in the press, is like beating a baby, because he is completely defenseless—any of his actions painfully rebounds not only on his administration, but on the Kremlin.”
Noting that some observers have also tried to link Kadyrov with the recent murder of former Grozny Deputy Mayor Gilani Shepiev, who was shot to death in Moscow under an apparent contract killing on February 5, RL’s Russian service asked Mukhin who might be trying to discredit Kadyrov.
Mukhin answered that Yamadaev, Baisarov and Shepiev were “too obvious” enemies of Kadyrov. “I don’t want to sink into conspiracy theories, to suspect some mythical Western special services or the arm of a world conspiracy, but it is obvious that these murders are image-forming, with political resonance, and reflect negatively on the reputation of both the regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov and on the image of the Russian leadership,” he said. “They suspiciously take place precisely at the start of … activities in Europe in which the Russian leadership is participating. And in that sense it is logical to assume that these murders are made to order [and] political in character.”