Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 38

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced on October 3 that two guard platoons comprised of soldiers from the Vostok (East) and Zapad (West) battalions of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the General Staff of the Russian Army will guard Russian engineers who have been sent to Lebanon to repair bridges destroyed in Israel’s war against Hezbollah. “Those servicemen have rich experience which may be used effectively for guarding our engineering battalion,” MosNews quoted Ivanov as saying. The Vostok and Zapad battalions, which are part of the 42nd Motorized Rifle Division that is permanently deployed in Chechnya, are in charge of operations in the eastern and western parts of the republic, respectively. The Zapad battalion is led by Major Said-Magomed Kakiev, while the Vostok battalion is commanded by former rebel commander Sulim Yamadaev, who received the Hero of Russia award in 2004 (Chechnya Weekly, August 25, 2004).

As MosNews noted, in late August, Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel himself, suggested manning peacekeeping troops in Lebanon with fighters from the Vostok and Zapad battalions, but instead of joining international peacekeepers force in Lebanon, Russia has sent military engineers to restore the country’s road infrastructure. In an aid effort not under the United Nations, some 150 Russian non-combat troops landed at Beirut international airport earlier this week. The troops, which are operating independently of the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon that now has some 5,200 soldiers from around the world, attached Russian and Lebanese flags to their vehicles.

Kommersant wrote on October 5 that the deployment of the Chechen commandos to Lebanon was an attempt by the Russian government “to improve its image in the Arab world.” Yet it follows last month’s scandal in which a group of armed Chechens allegedly led by Vostok commander Sulim Yamadaev raided the Samson-K meat-processing plant in St. Petersburg, a subsidiary of Moscow Industrial Bank that has been has been involved in a property dispute with another company, Salolin. Samson-K’s general director, Khamzat Arsamakov, who is a distant relative of Moscow Industrial Bank president Abubakar Arsamakov, was hospitalized with serious injuries reportedly sustained during the September 15 raid on the plant and resigned from his post (Chechnya Weekly, September 21).

One of Russia’s veteran organized crime observers, Leonid Nikitinsky, wrote about the incident on the October 2 edition of Novaya gazeta. “The details are as follows: the Hero Of Russia [Yamadaev] arrived in St. Petersburg the day before, stopped off with an armed detachment (of up to 40 men) at the Nevsky Palace Hotel, where he consulted about something not with officials from Smolny [City Hall], but with Vladimir Kumarin, whom the media, for some reason, has called the leader of the Tambovskys [the Tambov organized crime group],” Nikitinsky wrote. On the footage from the Nevsky Palace’s video surveillance camera, Nikitinsky added, “He [Kumarin] can be seen embracing the head of the Chechen landing party and is easily recognized as the ‘person without an arm’” [Kumarin lost an arm in an assassination attempt].

Nikitinsky concluded that the purported Chechen raid in St. Petersburg raid showed that “the model of the state structure that we are shown on television as being the result of establishing peace in the country notably differs from reality.” There have been two “victors” in the Chechen conflict, he wrote: the members of federal law-enforcement bodies “who survived in battle, were not disarmed and got accustomed to using force to resolve all issues,” and the “amnestied Chechen [rebel] field commanders.” The former “puff up their cheeks, exact tribute and control everything in Russia except that which is the subject of ‘internal issues between the Chechens,’” Nikitinsky wrote. “So far, this suits the latter,” meaning the Chechens, he wrote, “but what might become [the object of their interest] tomorrow, no one knows.”

Nikitinksy said that while St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko expressed outrage over the September 15 raid at the Samson-K meat-processing plant and promised to do something about it, it is not clear what recourse she has. “What to do further—that’s the question,” he wrote. “To go and question the brigands in Gudermes? To ask Kadyrov to extradite Yamadaev from Chechnya, like [former Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny] Adamov from Switzerland?”

Yamadaev’s Vostok battalion has been implicated in the disappearance of 11 residents of the Chechen village of Borozdinovskaya in June 2005 (Chechnya Weekly, June 22, 2005).