Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 38

A mysterious arson attack caused minor damage last week to the home of Chechen diplomat Akhmed Zakaev, London representative of the underground Maskhadov government. The Reuters news service reported on October 16 that the Zakaev residence suffered minor fire damage. British police said they were keeping an “open mind” about who set the blaze. A spokesman for Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service—one of of the successor agencies to the Soviet-era KGB—denied that his agency was responsible.

According to RIA Novosti, a similar arson attempt took place simultaneously at the London apartment of Aleksandr Litvinenko, a former officer of the Federal Security Service (FSB), which is the successor agency to the domestic branch of the KGB. Like Zakaev, Litvinenko is a long-time critic of Russia’s policies in Chechnya.

Earlier this year a court in Qatar convicted two Russian intelligence agents of murdering Chechen extremist Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, then a resident of that Persian Gulf sheikhdom, by planting a bomb in his car. The two were officers were from the GRU, the intelligence arm of the Russian military.

The independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer observed in an October 11 commentary for the Moscow Times that “the SVR is not the only branch of Russia’s intelligence services operating abroad….The Kremlin never admitted it was behind the Qatar attack, but in Moscow the incident was hotly discussed within the intelligence community. A number of GRU officers, both active and retired, told me about the indignation within the service about the mishandled assassination and how the SVR botched its part of the job….GRU special forces were trained to assassinate Western leaders in the event of a war with NATO in Europe. The only aim of such an operation would have been to eliminate the target. Misleading investigators after the fact would not be a priority. My sources in the GRU insist that their job—the actual assassination—was done well, but that the SVR failed to evacuate the agents as planned.”