At first glance, Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov’s position in the republic’s hierarchy was strengthened significantly on November 18, when one of his most vocal opponents, former Gorets special forces unit leader Movladi Baisarov, was shot and killed in Moscow. It is possible, however, that the audacious elimination of a political rival on the streets of the Russian capital will come back to haunt Kadyrov.
Baisarov fought on the side of the separatists in 1999 but in 2000, went over to the federal side along with Akhmad Kadyrov, who became head of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration and named Baisarov the head of his security service. After the elder Kadyrov was assassinated in 2004, Baisarov and his men left the presidential security service, which was reorganized by Ramzan Kadyrov, and formed the Gorets unit, which was subordinated to the operational-coordination department of the Federal Security Service (FSB) for the North Caucasus. In February of this year, the Gorets unit was dissolved, and while its members were promised new jobs, they refused to join structures subordinated to Ramzan Kadyrov. Meanwhile, Baisarov began openly criticizing the Chechen prime minister, and security forces loyal to Kadyrov blockaded the Gorets unit personnel at their base in the village of Pobedinskoe.
In September, the Chechen prosecutor’s office announced that it had put Baisarov on its wanted list for his alleged involvement in the January 2004 kidnapping of a family – a man along with his wife, mother and two sisters – in Grozny’s Staropromyslovsky district. The family is believed to have been murdered. In October, Baisarov, who fled to Moscow but remained out in the open and gave interviews to journalists, denounced Kadyrov in an interview with the weekly Moskovskie novosti as a “khan” who had “Asiatic habits” and declared that Chechen President Alu Alkhanov was the republic’s legitimate leader. In late October, the Chechen government officially ordered the Gorets unit broken up and assigned its members to various Chechen Interior Ministry units. On November 14, 33 members of the unit laid down their arms, reportedly after receiving personal security guarantees from Kadyrov and Alkhanov (Chechnya Weekly, November 2, September 28, September 15 and August 17).
On November 14, the same day as the Gorets fighters’ reported surrender, Vremya novostei published an interview with Baisarov, in which he said that that a group of “Kadyrov confidants armed with grenade launchers” had been dispatched to Moscow with “verbal orders” that if they detained him or if he were transferred to them by federal authorities, they were to arrange for his “liquidation.” This was to take place, he said, “Somewhere between Rostov and Chechnya…during an escape attempt or some other way.”
According to the initial press reports by Interfax and other Russian media on November 18, Baisarov was killed during a “special operation” on Moscow’s Leningradsky Prospekt conducted by Chechen policemen and members of the Moscow anti-organized crime department (UBOP). A Moscow law-enforcement source told Interfax that the Chechen prosecutor’s office had put Baisarov on its wanted list for the murder of ten people as well as kidnappings. The source said that Moscow UBOP officers had managed to track down Baisarov and set an “ambush” for him. When he arrived at the address on Leningradsky Prospekt and the police tried to detain him, the source said, Baisarov put up “desperate resistance,” shooting and even trying to throw a grenade at them. Baisarov, said Interfax’s source, was killed by “return fire.”
Within days, however, a different picture began to emerge, at least in some media reports. “Almost immediately an unofficial version of the incident on Leninsky Prospekt appeared, according to which the Moscow police only gave legal cover to the Chechen fighters’ operation (employees of the regional departments of the Interior Ministry do not have the right to act on ‘somebody else’s’ territory without the notification of local colleagues),” Vremya novostei reported on November 20. “Indeed, some even said that the metropolitan spetsnaz arrived at Leninsky Prospekt only a half hour after the killing of Baisarov.” According to the newspaper, other policemen claimed that the Moscow police watched the operation from the Khram Drakona (Temple of the Dragon) Restaurant, which is located on the opposite side of Leninsky Prospekt from where Baisarov was confronted. And while, according to the official version, Baisarov shot at those trying to arrest him, Kommersant on November 20 quoted witnesses as saying that after arriving at the 30 Leninsky Prospekt address, apparently for a prearranged meeting, Baisarov got out of his car and approached a group of Chechens standing nearby, who, when they recognized him, “shouted at him and then fired on him with Stechkin submachine guns.”
In addition, Kommersant on November 21 quoted Andrei Potapov, a prosecutor for Grozny’s Staropromyslovsky district, as saying that Baisarov was wanted for questioning as a witness, not as a suspect, in connection with the Chechen family’s abduction and killing, and that the Chechen Interior Ministry had not put him on the federal wanted list until three days before his death. According to Kommersant, the officer who shot Baisarov was from the Interior Ministry’s extra-department guard service, “who, according to his job description, should not have been part of the operational group that came to Moscow from Chechnya.”
Kommersant reported on November 20 that documents were found on Baisarov identifying him as an FSB lieutenant colonel. The newspaper also wrote that “the liquidation of the commander” became possible after the FSB removed bodyguards who had been accompanying Baisarov around Moscow. Kommersant quoted people from his inner circle as saying that the week before his murder, Baisarov telephoned his former sponsors in the FSB, and, upon learning they could no longer protect him, tried to get a meeting with the Main Military Prosecutor’s Office so that he could give evidence “to prove his innocence and at the same time to tell about the murders and kidnappings organized by his political opponents.” One source told the newspaper: “The last contact he had with the special services was last Friday [November 17, the day before his murder], but they told him: ‘The program is closed. Don’t call anymore.’”
The FSB’s apparent behavior toward Baisarov is interesting, given that it reportedly opposes Ramzan Kadyrov’s ambitions and has been trying to clip his wings. In a piece posted November 20 on Ej.ru, the website of Yezhednevny zhurnal, Yulia Latynina gave one possible explanation for the special services’ treatment of Baisarov. “Movladi Baisarov probably sincerely hoped for the support of the siloviki, who were unhappy with Kadyrov,” she wrote. “And hoped in vain: he wasn’t a player; he was only a card on the green table. The situation was very simple. If Kadyrov could not get the better of Baisarov, everyone in Chechnya would regard this as weakness. [If Kadyrov could] get the better of him, they [the siloviki] could go to the Kremlin, to Putin, and say: Look what it has come to with the Chechens! They are bumping off people in Moscow! In Moscow, on Leninsky Prospekt!”
Indeed, many Russian politicians and other observers have reacted very negatively to the fact that forces loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov killed one of his opponents in the streets of Moscow. These are similar to the negative responses that followed Kadyrov’s hint that he was considering armed intervention to prevent anti-Chechen violence in the Russian region of Karelia and the negative reactions to the activities of Chechen security forces in the neighboring republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia (Chechnya Weekly, September 8 and June 1; January 19, 2005). Kommersant quoted some of these reactions in its November 21 issue. “It doesn’t matter to these people whether they are permitted or forbidden [from doing something],” Frants Klintsevich, deputy head of the pro-Kremlin United Russia’s faction in the State Duma, said in response to the reports that it was armed Chechens who had killed Baisarov. “For them there is no law. There is the resentment of a top official, who is showing who is boss. But not all Chechens behave this way; on the everyday level, they themselves suffer as a result of such [lawlessness].”
State Duma deputy Sergei Mitrokhin, who is a member of the liberal Yabloko party, told Kommersant: “I don’t understand how the Chechen OMON could act on the territory of Moscow – couldn’t the Moscow GUVD [or] FSB deal with it themselves? The suspicion arises that Kadyrov put out a contract on Baisarov and that the federal authorities gave permission for it to be carried out. The country’s leadership must be responsible for who in the country carries out operational activities, who is allowed to carry out the death penalty in Russia and who Ramzan will dispose of next.”
State Duma deputy Arkady Baskaev, a United Russia member who commanded the Moscow military district of the Interior Ministry from 1993-2000 and was a deputy commander of the federal forces in Chechnya, said the killing of Baisarov in Moscow smacked of a criminal razborka – or settling of scores. “And the prosecutor’s office needs to explain why this killing took place,” he told Kommersant. “It is too bad that in Moscow they don’t understand how dangerous it is to allow Kadyrov to carry out such actions.”
In an article posted on the Politcom.ru website on November 20, Ivan Yartsev wrote that the “main result of the murder of a personal enemy of Ramzan Kadyrov on one of Moscow’s busiest streets is that the city’s inhabitants once again felt as unprotected as they did during the bandit shoot-outs of the early ‘90s.”