Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 39

What role did Arman Menkeev, a retired officer from a GRU spetsnaz commando unit, play in last year’s hostage episode at Moscow’s Dubrovka theater? Was the explosives expert a co-conspirator of the Chechen terrorists–or a double agent who helped lure them into a trap set by the Russian special services?

Menkeev was arrested about a month after the theater episode in connection with several terrorist attacks in Moscow, including the one at Dubrovka (see Chechnya Weekly, May 29). Curiously, however, it appears that he is not being formally charged in the criminal case against the surviving alleged conspirators. (One of those charged is Shamil Basaev, who has already claimed responsibility.) Menkeev’s name was not among those on the list released by the Moscow procuracy and reported by the website on October 22.

According to an article by Aleksandr Yelisov in the October 24 issue of Moskovsky komsomolets, “several sources” still consider Menkeev to be “one of the main suspects” in the Dubrovka atrocity. “The investigation suggests that it was precisely he who prepared…explosive devices and home-made grenades for Movsar Baraev’s group,” wrote Yelisov.

It is noteworthy that Menkeev was described as “loyal to the government” in an official memo written during his stay in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison–this, despite the fact that he is half-Chechen. (His mother was born in Kazakhstan during the period of Chechen exile in that republic; his father was a Kazakh.) Nevertheless, wrote Yelisov, “according to relatives and family acquaintances, Arman also remembered that within him flowed the blood of an unjustly suppressed people.”

On the other hand, fellow servicemen who fought in Chechnya alongside Menkeev in the mid-1990s told Yelisov that he served the Russian army loyally. He was even decorated for bravery.

In 1999 Menkeev retired from the spetsnaz, but only in the summer of 2002 did he and his wife receive an apartment in the city of Ryazan, south of Moscow. His monthly pension of 1,490 rubles (about US$50) would hardly have been enough to support the couple and their 11-year-old daughter. He was even registered with the local authorities, according to Yelisov, as “temporarily unemployed.” Yelisov suggested that the family’s financial distress may have pushed its head into joining the terrorists.

As a GRU spetsnaz commando, noted Yelisov, Menkeev belonged to one of Russia’s most elite military units, created during the Soviet years for the purpose of operations deep in NATO’s rear, such as disabling mobile missile launchers and assassinating enemy leaders. More recently, officers from this unit were suspected of having taken part in the 1994 murder of Moskovsky komsomolets reporter Dmitry Kholodov, author of groundbreaking investigative reports on financial scandals in the Defense Ministry. Yelisov undoubtedly had skills that would have made him attractive either as a bomb expert for the terrorists or as a double agent for the government.

“Will Major Menkeev explain,” asked Yelisov, “what pushed him to embrace the terrorists? Money? The call of blood? In addition to the description of him as ‘loyal to the government’ in his prison file, there is another phrase: ‘knows how to keep military and state secrets.'”