Russian state television’s Channel One on the evening of April 22 broadcast a putative documentary film made by Kremlin correspondent Anton Vernitsky called “Plan ‘Kavkaz’” (The Caucasus Plan). The film purports to show how Turkey, the United States and Great Britain attempted at the start of the 1990s to divide Russia into small parts not controlled by the federal center. The film featured Berkan Merrikh Yashar, born Abubakar—a Turkish-born ethnic Chechen who claims to be a journalist who once worked for Radio Liberty in Munich and a politician with close connections to the Turkish leadership.
“At the age of 17 Abubakar was recruited by the CIA,” the film states. “That was how the then still-ordinary Chechen youth in 1967 received his pseudonym, which became his second name—Berkan Yashar. For nearly two decades Abubakar was systematically prepared for active measures in Chechnya.” According to the film, Yashar himself was convinced his actions could break up the Soviet Union and bring freedom to his people. In the film, Yashar describes meeting Shamil Basaev in Turkey in 1991 after the future separatist field commander and two compatriots hijacked a Russian passenger jet and diverted it to Ankara. He also describes a scheme for illegally transferring uncut Russian diamonds abroad through Grozny airport, a quarter of the proceeds of which allegedly went to Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudaev. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on April 23 that the film says Yashar also assisted in weapons-smuggling operations, and—with the help of Americans—flooded the market with counterfeit dollars.
RFE/RL reported that, according to the documentary, Yashar “signed a contract with the U.S. State Department” in the 1960s and briefly worked as an announcer at Radio Free Europe’s Munich headquarters, broadcasting so-called “propaganda in the Chechen language.” The radio station reported that neither of those claims could be independently verfied.
The film describes Yashar as a “grey cardinal” who was at the center of all significant operations to finance separatist rebels in the North Caucasus. Newsru.com reported on April 22 that one of the most “sensational” parts of the film is its claim that rebels took money that they made during Chechnya’s wars and invested it in developing diamond and gold mines in Africa that continue to bring them profits today.
Yashar states in the film that at the start of the 1990s he prepared a political platform for separating Chechnya from Russia and that there were several sources financing this project. He claims, among other things, that passports for the unrecognized Chechen Republic of Ichkeria were printed in France while “many tons” of Ichkerian banknotes, which resembled U.S. currency, were printed in Germany. Yashar says that Western special services did not really care about the independence of the peoples of Caucasus but were acting only in the interest of their “personal profit.” He also claims that Western special services tried to convince Muslim muftis in Russia—not only in Chechnya, but also in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan—to break away from Russia because of religious differences. He also refers to the self-exiled Russian tycoon and his former partner, the late Badri Patarkastishvili, stating that they were involved in questionable deals in the Caucasus.
Vernitsky claims in the documentary that “the Caucasus Plan” is still being carried out.
RFE/RL on April 23 quoted Medet Onlu, who represents the Chechen separatists in Turkey, as telling its North Caucasus Service that Yashar was an active supporter of the republic’s independence struggle in its early period but has since “established close, friendly ties with the Russians.”
Back in 1999, shortly before the State Duma elections held in December of that year, Anton Vernitsky produced segments for Channel One—then known as ORT— purporting to show that the liberal Yabloko party was backed by Russia’s gay community and that Yabloko’s leader, Grigory Yavlinsky, had gone to plastic surgeons for a facelift. The Izbrannoe.ru website noted on April 22 that President Vladimir Putin conferred the “For Services to the Fatherland” Degree III order on Vernitsky in 2006 “for a major contribution to the development of television and radio broadcasting.”
Newsru.com on April 23 quoted RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitsky as saying of “Plan ‘Kavkaz’” that while some of its details are “completely plausible,” it tries to use such details to prove “the absolutely mythical idea of the participation of certain special services and various countries in the dismemberment of Russia.” Babitsky said the documentary puts forward “a conspiracy theory rather typical of the Putin era” and, to do so, “uses a sledge-hammer that beats the viewer on the back of the head simply in order to say that America is blowing up Russia.”
Newsru.com reported on April 24 that the documentary “Plan ‘Kavkaz'” also alleged that one of Turkey’s largest construction companies, ENKA, financed the Chechen rebels in the 1990s. According to the website, the film featured parts of an interview with Sultan Kekhursaev, a current resident of Istanbul who described himself as a former “brigadier general of the army of Dzhokhar Dudaev.” Kekhursaev claimed that large Turkish companies working in Russia, including ENKA, financed the Chechen rebels’ seizure of Grozny in 1996 and provided the rebels with medical supplies and “anti-aircraft means.”
ENKA issued a statement on April 23 categorically denying the claims made about the company in the documentary. Turkey’s embassy in Moscow issued a statement on April 24 calling the claims made about Turkey in the documentary “baseless.”
Vernitsky’s documentary follows comments made by Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev earlier this month accusing unnamed foreign non-governmental organizations of helping international terrorists recruit members in Russia. Patrushev, who chairs that National Anti-Terrorist Committee, told a meeting of the committee on April 8 that in the Southern Federal District, which includes the North Caucasus, “the bandits and their accomplices are making efforts to indoctrinate youth and replenish their ranks” and that “emissaries of foreign terrorist and religious-extremist organizations” are trying to recruit members in other parts of Russia. “Individual foreign non-governmental organizations are providing them with a considerable degree of support,” Patrushev said.