In what appears to be an ongoing campaign by Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration against the Vostok Battalion of the GRU (Russian military intelligence), investigators with the republic’s law-enforcement bodies are looking into the battalion’s possible involvement in the murder of the Arsamakov brothers (Chechnya Weekly, April 17 and 24; May 1). Kavkazky Uzel on May 8 quoted a Chechen law-enforcement source as saying that investigators who are looking into the Vostok Battalion’s activities have information about the possible involvement of battalion members in the kidnapping and subsequent brutal murder of Yusup and Yunus Arsamakov and their driver, who disappeared in early February of 2007.
“Investigators have testimony from several former servicemen of the GRU’s spetsnaz battalion Vostok that sheds light on the fate of Yusup and Yunus Arsamakov, brothers of the Moscow Industrial Bank president Abubakar Arsamakov, and their driver Khamzat Magomadov, who disappeared last year on the territory of the republic’s Shatoi district,” a Chechen law-enforcement source told Kavkazky Uzel. “They [the ex-Vostok servicemen-CW] claim that the Arsamakovs and Magomadov were murdered by spetsnaz and that their bodies were taken out of Vedeno district and burned. That information is being checked.”
As Kavkazky Uzel reported, in addition to the disappearance and murder of the Arsamakov brothers and their driver, investigators this past week charged that Vostok Battalion members were involved in several other crimes. On May 7, the website quoted a Chechen law-enforcement source as saying that remains found the previous day on the outskirts of Gudermes were those of a Vostok serviceman who had been killed by other battalion members on suspicion of “treason.” The unnamed police officer said that there was strong reason to believe that the Vostok serviceman was killed by his fellow battalion members on suspicion that he had a hand in the death of Dzhabrail Yamadaev, a brother of the Vostok Battalion’s current commander, Sulim Yamadaev, who earlier headed the unit and then became Chechnya’s deputy military commandant before being killed in a bombing in the Chechen village of Dyshne-Vedeno in March 2003.
“Yesterday, the remains of a person were found during operational-reconnaissance activities on the outskirts of Gudermes around two kilometers from the grounds of the city hospital,” the source said. “The location of the remains was learned from a former serviceman with the battalion. According to available information, the deceased was Vakharsolt Zakaev, who several years ago was a contract serviceman in the unit of Dzhabrail Yamadaev and headed a platoon. Lt. [Dzhabrail] Yamadaev (he was posthumously awarded the rank of Hero of Russia) was killed in March 2003 in a private home in the village of Dyshne-Vedeno by an explosion caused a homemade bomb that had been placed under a couch. The spetsnaz had for a long time tried to figure out who was involved in that murder which, it is believed, was organized by Shamil Basaev. In 2004, Zakaev disappeared. According to available information, Vakharsolt Zakaev was killed on suspicion of having been involved in the death of Dzhabrail Yamadaev, since only a few specially trusted associates of the murdered [commander], one of whom was the platoon commander Zakaev, could have placed the bomb in the carefully guarded home.”
On May 4, a mass grave was discovered in Gudermes containing the remains of people whom Chechen authorities believe were victims of extra-judicial killings by the Vostok Battalion. According to one report, the mass grave included the remains of a young woman. Kavkazky Uzel on May 5 quoted a Chechen law-enforcement source as saying that the grave contained the remains of six people. On May 6, Kommersant quoted investigators as saying that they had been led to the mass grave site by a former member of the Vostok Battalion who was removed from the unit in the wake of the conflict between its commander, Sulim Yamadaev, and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov that erupted on April 14 following an armed confrontation between members of the unit and forces loyal to Kadyrov. Kommersant also reported that a total of seven bodies were in the mass grave and that the deceased were all males. The newspaper quoted Sulim Yamadaev’s brother, former State Duma deputy Ruslan Yamadaev, as saying in reaction to the latest allegations against the Vostok Battalion: “I am tired of commenting on all of this nonsense coming out of Chechnya. In actual fact, the whole republic knows where the real graveyards of victims of zachistki [security sweeps] and repression are located.”
In an interview broadcast by Ekho Moskvy radio on April 19, Sulim Yamadaev charged that 75 percent of the amnestied rebels who are working for the Chechen police force under Ramzan Kadyrov are still rebels and involved in murders and kidnapping in the republic (Chechnya Weekly, April 24). Kadyrov, for his part, has accused Vostok members of involvement in a number of murders and kidnappings, including the case of the Arsamakov brothers and the murder of the well-known Chechen singer Milana Balaeva and her mother.
Kavkazky Uzel on May 7 quoted an anonymous Chechen political scientist as saying that the latest accusations against the Vostok Battalion are part of the ongoing battle between Kadyrov and the Yamadaev brothers. “After Movladi Baisarov (former commander of the FSB’s Gorets special unit, who was killed in Moscow in November 2006 by officers of the Chechen MVD), got into a conflict with the president of the republic and ran off to Moscow, the same scenario played out,” the source said. “Baisarov—who, by the way, had the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Russian special services—was also accused of murdering civilians; graves were found where some of his victims were buried and he was put on the wanted list. He was then shot practically in the center of the Russian capital, supposedly for attempting to resist [arrest]. Something similar is being repeated with the Yamadaevs.”