The ongoing conflict between the pro-Moscow government and the Vostok battalion of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) intensified on August 6 when the Chechen authorities announced that the battalion’s commander, Sulim Yamadaev, has been put on the federal wanted list for various crimes, including an alleged murder. On August 7, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office confirmed that Yamadaev had been put on the federal wanted list for the 1998 murder of a Chechen businessman, Itar-Tass reported.
The Chechen authorities’ announcement that Sulim Yamadaev has been put on the federal wanted list came during a meeting between Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov on August 6. Alkhanov declared that information received the previous day from the investigations department of the Investigative Committee of the federal Prosecutor General’s Office’s directorate for Chechnya “testifies to the fact” that Sulim Yamadaev is now wanted by the federal authorities. According to Interfax, Alkhanov cited material “that is evidence of his participation in the kidnapping of people and other grave crimes.”
Kadyrov, for his part, said that Yamadaev “should be detained and prosecuted,” adding: “He is a criminal, and a criminal must incur a sentence [for his crimes]. It doesn’t matter what position or last name a person has, what services he has rendered or how many medals he has. The long and short of it is that he violated the law and was involved in grave crimes, as shown by irrefutable evidence.” Kadyrov also said that he has never called for the disbandment of the Vostok and Zapad battalions (the latter is also a Chechen-manned battalion operating under the command of Russia’s Defense Ministry), but that the members of those units should not suffer for the actions of “certain personalities.” In general, Kadyrov said, “the staff of the battalions is conscientiously fulfilling its military duty and the criminal actions of the [Vostok] battalion commander and a group of servicemen of the battalion have put a black mark on the entire Russian Defense Ministry.”
Kadyrov said that attention should also be given to Sulim Yamadaev’s brothers, who, he said, “may be to one degree or another closely linked to the criminal actions of their brother.” It should be noted Badrudi Yamadaev, who is Sulim Yamadaev’s younger brother and a Vostok battalion member, was placed on the federal wanted list earlier this year for alleged involvement in the disappearance of the brothers of Abubakar Arsamakov, owner of the Samson-K meat-processing plant in St. Petersburg and president of Moscow Industrial Bank. The brothers, who were kidnapped more than a year ago and have not been seen since, are believed to have been murdered (Chechnya Weekly, May 1).
Kommersant on August 7 quoted a source in the federal Investigative Committee’s investigation department for Chechnya as saying that the Gudermes inter-regional investigative department on May 4 of this year launched a criminal case against Sulim Yamadaev and a group of people whose identities have not yet been determined, in connection with the February 1998 kidnapping and subsequent murder Usman Batsaev, a 32-year-old inhabitant of the Gudermes district village of Dzhalka.
The newspaper quoted Usman Batsaev’s brothers, Ali and Umar, as saying that they had returned to Chechnya from Moscow in 1998 and decided to open a bakery, but that they had quickly attracted the attention of “bandits,” including rebel field commanders, who tried to extort protection payments from them. However, they were protected by a relative—Aidamir Abalaev, who was then Interior Minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichekria, the separatist government that was at the time in power in Grozny. Despite that apparent protection, on February 23, 1998, Usman Batsaev and a neighbor were abducted in their home village of Dzhalka by armed people traveling in three automobiles. The brothers said gunshots emanated from the car into which Usman was forced. The brothers also said they knew from the start that he had been kidnapped by Sulim Yamadaev and his brothers, who were at that time considered the de facto rulers of Chechnya’s Gudermes district. The Batsaev brothers and Aidamir Abalaev subsequently went to Sulim Yamadaev to win Usman’s release, and Yamadaev freed the other man who had been abducted and promised to release Usman the following day. But when the following day arrived, Yamadaev claimed that Usman had escaped, and Usman’s brothers were subsequently approached by middlemen promising to return Usman for $10,000. Another intermediary, however, told Usman’s brothers that he had been murdered.
According to Kommersant, representatives of the Yamadaevs and Batsaevs had another sit-down in April 2000, after the start of the second military campaign in Chechnya, with Viktor Kazantsev, the then commander of the Unified Group of Forces in the North Caucasus, playing the role of intermediary. Sulim Yamadaev reportedly brought one of his subordinates, Ilyas Takuev, to that meeting, telling the Batsaevs that Takuev had shot and killed Usman, that Takuev would show them where Usman was buried and that if they wanted revenge, they could take revenge on Takuev. Usman Batsaev’s decomposed body was indeed found near the Russian military base at Khankala outside Grozny, but Takuev, while admitting he had participated in abducting Usman Batsaev, claimed it was Sulim Yamadaev who murdered him.
The brothers said they could not take revenge on Yamadaev because “he has a whole unit of spetsnaz and a powerful structure like the GRU standing behind him, but we don’t even have weapons.” However, after the conflict between the Vostok battalion and Kadyrov and his forces erupted this past April, the brothers appealed to Chechen law-enforcement structures.
According to Kommersant, republican investigators were able to question practically everyone connected to Usman Batsaev’s murder (including Ilyas Takuev) except for Abalaev, who was killed by security forces in 2002, and Sulim Yamadaev—who, as the newspaper noted, was temporarily removed as Vostok battalion commander after its conflict with Kadyrov started in April and is currently living in Moscow. Kommersant quoted investigators as saying they have testimony from witnesses and other evidence that Sulim Yamadaev murdered Usman Batsaev, but that the case must be investigated by military investigators, not civilian investigators. However, according to the newspaper, military investigators have refused to get involved in the case on the grounds that in 1998, when the crime took place, Sulim Yamadaev was a rebel field commander, not a Russian army officer. Still, Kommersant reported that other criminal cases in which Sulim Yamadaev figured have already been transferred to military investigators. The Russian military, however, has not declared Yamadaev a fugitive from justice.
Kommersant quoted “acquaintances” of Sulim Yamadaev in the Russian Defense Ministry as saying that the new steps against him may be connected to the resignation of Aleksei Maslov as commander of Russia’s ground forces. According to the newspaper, Maslov, who may be named Russia’s chief military representative to NATO, personally oversaw the Vostok battalion. Maslov has been replaced by the former commander of the North Caucasus Military District, Vladimir Boldyrev, who also knows Yamadaev personally but, according to Kommersant, has apparently not had enough time to get up to speed on the situation in Chechnya. In any case, the newspaper reported, the Defense Ministry has had no reaction to the announcement that Sulim Yamadaev is now the object of a federal manhunt.
For his part, Ruslan Yamadaev, Sulim Yamadaev’s brother and a former State Duma deputy, told Kommersant: “He [Sulim] lives in Moscow, and the investigators know how to find him, and I don’t even want to comment on all this nonsense with the accusations.”