Deputy Russian Interior Minister Colonel-General Arkady Yedelev claimed on June 1 that the organizers of the October 2005 rebel raid on Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, were in contact with Western special services. “There is information that the organizers of the attempted armed revolt in Nalchik in 2005 had contacts with special services in the West about destabilizing the situation in the republic,” Interfax quoted Yedelev as telling journalists in Nalchik. He also said his ministry has information that the organizers of the Nalchik attack were in Kabardino-Balkaria until recently. “These are leaders who have people promoting their radical ideas of crime and banditry,” Yedelev said. “Until they lay down their arms and are captured, we will have no peace.” Yedelev said that efforts to find and detain the organizers of the Nalchik attack are ongoing and are a main task for Kabardino-Balkaria’s Interior Ministry and police. The Nalchik raid left at least 136 people dead, many of whom were law-enforcement officers.
Yedelev also claimed that there is strong evidence that Aleksandr Litvinenko, the former Federal Security Service (FSB) agent who died of polonium-210 poisoning in London last year, visited Chechnya to eliminate witnesses linking Boris Berezovsky, the London-based self-exiled Russian tycoon, to the late Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basaev. “We have reliable information about Litvinenko’s visits to the Chechen Republic via Georgia,” RIA Novosti quoted Yedelev as saying during his Nalchik press conference. “He was there to eliminate evidence of Berezovsky’s involvement in funding illegal armed groups there, and Basaev’s contacts.” Yedelev said this information was obtained during investigations of the rebel incursion from Chechnya into Dagestan in 1999 and of the terrorist attacks in Moscow, Stavropol Krai, Volgodonsk and Buinaksk (Dagestan). “We have found witnesses who testified that the several million rubles Berezovsky had given to Basaev, purportedly to have a factory repaired, were spent on weapons,” Yedelev said. According to Yedelev, Litvinenko subsequently came to Chechnya “with instructions from Berezovsky” to eliminate the witnesses, but “failed to do this.”
Yedelev’s claims echoed those made during a joint press conference held in Moscow on May 31 by Andrei Lugovoi, the former KGB officer whom British authorities have officially accused of poisoning Litvinenko, and former KGB officer Dmitry Kovtun, who together with Lugovoi met with Litvinenko in London before the latter’s death. According to Interfax, during the press conference Kovtun claimed that Litvinenko had “clearly hinted that he had a direct link to the dramatic events that occurred in Nalchik several years ago and killed about 75 Russian law-enforcement officers.” Kommersant on June 1 quoted Kovtun at the press conference, claiming that “Litvinenko said that he decided all sorts of matters in the Caucasus” and had been to Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge several times. Lugovoi, for his part, claimed that “Litvinenko was in Istanbul at the behest of [London-based Chechen separatist official] Akhmed Zakaev, where he met with several representatives of Chechen rebel groups,” adding that “Litvinenko was also in Nalchik.” Lugovoi also alleged that Berezovsky was most likely the perpetrator of Litvinenko’s poisoning, which, Lugovoi claimed, was carried out under the “control” or at the “connivance” of Britain’s MI6.
Berezovsky, for his part, denied all of the claims made by Yedelev, Lugovoi and Kovtun, stating in remarks quoted by Kommersant on June 2 that such claims were aimed at the Russian domestic audience and dismissed in the West. Berezovsky did not deny that he transferred $2 million to Basaev, but said he did so in 1998, when he was deputy secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council, Aslan Maskhadov was the recognized president of Chechnya and Basaev was Maskhadov’s acting prime minister. While the funds were supposed to have been used to rebuild a factory in Chechnya, they may have simply been stolen and used to buy weapons, Berezovsky said. As for Litvinenko’s putative journey to Chechnya to eliminate witnesses, Berezovsky told Kommersant: “If Sasha [Litvinenko] traveled from London to the Caucasus, he did not inform me of it…How could Sasha, even via Georgia, have gotten by the Russian border guards and special services and ended up in Chechnya or other Russian regions!”
Ahmed Zakaev, told Kommersant that Litvinenko was not in Istanbul, the Pankisi Gorge or Nalchik “on my orders or for any other reason” and that “Mr. Lugovoi could not professionally fulfill the task of liquidating Alexander Litvinenko; he left a trail, and now he and the people who ordered this crime are attempting to bluff their way out.” Zakaev added: “At first the Russian special services explained the polonium-210 by saying that Litvinenko was supposedly acting on my behest to arm Chechen rebels with a dirty bomb.”