On March 12 the pro-Kremlin website Utro.ru published a surprisingly balanced discussion of an article appearing that same day in the Times of London about Russia’s alleged involvement in last month’s assassination of Zelimkhan Yandarbiev in Qatar. The British newspaper reported that, according to unnamed diplomatic sources in the Persian Gulf sheikhdom, the Russian intelligence operatives now under arrest for the murder have admitted that it was indeed they who killed the extremist Chechen leader. The sources also claim that the Russians used a diplomatic pouch to bring into Qatar the bomb that exploded Yandarbiev’s car.
“Commentators suggest that the Times account about sending in the bomb by diplomatic mail is hardly credible,” wrote Utro.ru. “But if it is indeed true, then Moscow’s actions will receive sharp censure from the international community. It is not so much the mere fact of the murder that will arouse discontent, as the use of diplomatic channels for transporting a bomb. Russia will now undoubtedly be accused of fighting terrorism with terrorist methods, and her continuing calls for joint action against international terrorism will be received with skepticism.”
In the meantime, according to a March 12 report on Radio Liberty, the Gulf Cooperation Council, which unites the various Arab states of the Persian Gulf, has expressed its support of Qatar in its dispute with Russia. The foreign ministers of the Gulf states called the Yandarbiev assassination “a criminal act which violates religious, moral, and human values.” Especially worrisome from Russia’s standpoint is that Qatar recently adopted a tough anti-terrorist law making a wider range of crimes subject to the death penalty. It remains unclear how Qatar will deal with the fact that this law was enacted after the two Russian spies were arrested and that it would therefore not apply to them under western principles that exclude “ex post facto” convictions and sentences.
Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky said that Yandarbiev had little political weight in the Chechen community but might have been an attractive target to the Russians because of his likely role in helping finance the separatist guerrillas. “I think he had to have had some connection to the financing of the Chechen resistance,” Babitsky said, “because he remained the most prominent figure of the armed Chechen underground in the Arab world. At the beginning of the second war, he had been openly collecting resources. And he managed to get quite substantial amounts that he sent to Chechnya.”