Last weekend brought another indication that Russia and Qatar may be able to negotiate a settlement in their dispute over the alleged involvement of Russian intelligence operatives in the assassination of a Chechen extremist. The head of the Russian Security Council, Igor Ivanov, met with Qatar’s foreign minister, Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabir Al Thani, to discuss the crisis. A joint statement following their talks struck a surprisingly positive tone: “The Qatari courts will decide on the case of the two Russian defendants… The Russian side expressed respect for the Qatari justice system.” At their joint news conference Ivanov avoided questions about ticklish subjects — whether, for example, he had been allowed to meet with the two jailed Russian operatives. An April 18 report from Agence France-Presse spelled the names of the two Russians as “Anatoly Bilashkov” and “Vassily Pokchov.”
Meanwhile a retired KGB officer, Stanislav Lekarev, told Nezavisimaya gazeta in an interview published on April 13 that the two operatives were caught because the assassination in Qatar was poorly executed. He noted that previous killings in foreign countries by the GRU (Russian military intelligence) had been successfully disguised as natural deaths or car accidents.