The North Caucasus republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia has been buffeted by instability this week. Over three successive days, a group of several hundred distraught relatives and friends of seven people who disappeared earlier this month and are believed to have been murdered held demonstrations in Cherkessk, the republic’s capital. The protests culminated yesterday (October 21) with the demonstrators storming the republic’s government headquarters and bursting into the office of Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s president, Mustafa Batdyev. The president, depending on the report, either was not in his office at the time or escaped through a back door (Grani.ru, Newsru.com, October 21).
The seven people who disappeared on the night of October 10-11 were shareholders in the Kavkaztsement cement factory, one of the republic’s most profitable enterprises, and include a deputy in the republic’s legislature, Rasul Bogatyrev. According to their relatives, they disappeared near a dacha owned by the factory’s director, Ali Kaitov, who is a son-in-law of President Batdyev, and that automatic gunfire was heard in the area immediately after their disappearance. Police who subsequently searched the area found a Saiga semi-automatic combat shotgun, shell casings from an automatic weapon, and a cassette with footage from a surveillance camera. No bodies, however, were found (Moscow Times, October 22; Newsru.com, October 21).
Interfax reported on October 21 that three off-duty police officers working as security guards and two employees of a private security firm had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the crime. According to the news agency, the authorities are searching for another six suspects, including three active-duty republican Interior Ministry employees and Ali Kaitov. Nikolai Shepel, deputy prosecutor general for the Southern Federal District, said that investigators are now working on the assumption that the murders were the result of a “property conflict” among Kavkaztsement’s shareholders.
President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitry Kozak, arrived in Cherkessk late yesterday (October 21) and together with Batdyev met with the relatives of the missing Kavkaztsement shareholders. Kozak promised a “full-scale and comprehensive” investigation and asked them not to interfere with the probe or continue to hold demonstrations. “We all understand your grief; accept my sympathy,” Kozak said. “I promise that we will do everything to find the missing lads. I only fear that it will be their bodies” (Lenta.ru, October 22).
The relatives of the missing Kavkaztsement shareholders, meanwhile, wrote a letter to President Putin stating that considering the dacha near which their sons disappeared belonged to the son-in-law of the republic’s president, they were compelled to express “categorical distrust in both the law-enforcement organs and the organs of state power of Karachaevo-Cherkessia” in investigating this case. The relatives asked the Russian president to dispatch a team made up of investigators from the federal Prosecutor General’s Office, Federal Security Service, and Interior Ministry. “Otherwise we will be forced to appeal directly to the people and our relatives for help,” they wrote (Newsru.com, October 21). Kozak, it should be noted, told the relatives when he met with them that the Prosecutor General’s Office had taken over the investigation and that investigators from Moscow were already on the ground in the republic (Lenta.ru, October 22).
On October 18, with tensions already rising because of the disappearances, Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s deputy prime minister, Ansar Tebuyev, was murdered in a drive-by shooting in the republic’s capital. President Batdyev addressed the republic’s citizens about the murder, noting that Tebuyev had come under pressure from organized crime groups. The president also said that more than 200 people had been murdered and 500 had gone missing in the republic over the past few years. Some local officials believe Tebuyev may have been killed as a result of the ongoing turf wars between local crime groups, while others believe that local Islamic militants angered by Tebuyev’s calls to crack down on them may have been behind his murder (ISN Security Watch, October 18).
In August, Russia’s Interior Ministry brought additional troops from other parts of southern Russia into Karachaevo-Cherkessia as part of an effort to prevent terrorism in the republic. The previous month, President Batdyev had issued a decree establishing a “Frontier Zone” that includes Karachayevsk, a mountainous region mostly populated by the Karachai ethnic minority and known to be a stronghold of Islamic and separatist groups (see EDM, August 9). In June, insurgents connected to Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basaev conducted a large-scale armed raid nearby in Ingushetia.
Meanwhile, Boris Karnaukhov, the deputy chief of the Prosecutor General’s Office department for the North Caucasus, said that investigators are not linking the disappearance of the seven Kavkaztsement shareholders and the murder of Ansar Tebuyev. “The two criminal cases are being investigated separately,” Karnaukhov said (Itar-Tass, October 21).