FSB

Boston: Leaks and Unanswered Questions

For reasons best known to themselves, the Russian security services are currently leaking a fairly large amount of information about the dead Boston marathon bomber suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. A Novaya Gazeta report published on April 27 gives data provided by Dagestan’s Center for Combating Extremism which flatly contradicts an earlier interior ministry statement that Tsarnaev only spent 3 or 4 days in the republic in 2012. The new information says that in April 2012

 aгенты силовиков неоднократно «фиксировали» его вместе с неким Махмудом Мансуром Нидалем

an 18-year old youth of Palestinian-Kumyk ethnicity whom they suspected of links with the Dagestani Islamic insurgency and of taking part in a terrorist attack on a police checkpoint in May 2012 (Nidal was killed during a special operation in Makhachkala on May 19 last year.)

Writing in EDM, Valery Dzutsev notes the NG report’s description of the treatment given to the 21 year-old Russian-Canadian Muslim convert William Plotnikov, who was detained and tortured by Russian/Dagestani security services in the town of Izerbash south of Makhachkala in 2010, provided them with a list of contacts, including Tsarnaev, and was killed by Dagestani police in July 2012:

The Russian security services admitted they extensively interrogated Plotnikov, a suspected radical who was a citizen of Canada and possibly of Russia. The authorities interrogated Plotnikov in 2010 despite the fact that they had practically no incriminatory information on him and thus eventually released him. At the same time, they followed up on Tsarnaev, who allegedly met and had meetings with Mahmud Mansur Nidal, a known radical, but did not even bother to question Tsarnaev, who was even more susceptible to being interrogated by the Russians since he apparently was applying for a Russian passport and did not have US citizenship.

Dzutsev continues:

The Russian media displayed an uncharacteristic attitude toward the suspected terrorists. On April 28, one of the country’s major TV channels, NTV, featured an interview with the mother of suspects, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, in which she again insisted that her sons had been “framed.” The substantive part of the interview revealed little that was new, but what was interesting was the very fact that she was featured on a major Russian TV channel (http://www.ntv.ru/peredacha/CT/m23400/o163397/).

This is not normally the way relatives of suspected terrorists are treated in Russia. On the one hand, Russian media are threatened by the law against “propagating terrorism,” and featuring a suspected terrorist’s mother would count as such an act. In addition, the relatives of suspected terrorists are often treated with suspicion, based on an implicit expectation that they could carry out an attack to avenge the killing of their relative. Zubeidat and Anzor Tsarnaev do not seem to have experienced any of these usual attitudes in Russia. If the Russian security services had prior information about Tamerlan’s attempt to join the North Caucasian insurgency, then they surely cannot trust his parents. Yet the Russian security services appear to be courting the parents instead of persecuting them. Zubeidat and Anzor Tsarnaev reportedly left Dagestan for Moscow. While in Dagestan, the police protected Anzor Tsarnaev from excessive contacts with journalists. This level of protection for someone whose sons are accused of terrorist activities, not only abroad, but also domestically, is highly unusual in Russia.

Update: Minding Russia has a complete translation of Irina Gordienko’s Novaya Gazeta article, with more background and discussion.

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Money, Guns, Islam and Football

Sam Knight (GQ), on Dagestan’s Anzhi Makhachkala Football Club:

When you land at Makhachkala airport, the baggage hall is decked out with posters of the team’s Russian and Dagestani players (and Eto’o). Huge posters line the highways and street corners: “Anji: New History”, “Anji: Territory of Peace”. Not subtle, really. Neither is the symbolism of the new 30,000-seat, “Anji- Arena”, built on the bones of an old stadium, and due to open in March – and rumoured to be staging a game at Russia’s 2018 World Cup – which is slap-bang next to the housing complex for the local FSB headquarters (the successor to the KGB). Then there is the academy, which ran trials for 2,000 Dagestani boys last autumn, and the new football pitches being built across Makhachkala, to give young men something to do.

Non-cooperation

Fiona Hill, director of the Center on the United States and Europe, and senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, on the limits of cooperation with Russia (MSNBC):

The Russian services still see the U.S. as the “main opponent”––a term often used by Vladimir Putin [the glavnyy protivnik in Russian]––that must be countered. This level of mutual mistrust is a significant barrier to the kind of operational information sharing that would be required in pursuing the Boston bombers Chechen connections and other potential cases.

The Hawks

In Jamestown’s North Caucasus Weekly, Mairbek Vatchagaev discusses Kabardino-Balkaria’s Black Hawks:

First, the man in a mask makes a statement in good Russian, without any accent characteristic of Kabardins or Balkars, monotonously reading his text as if he were a television announcer. Next, the Russian media, as if they were awaiting orders from above, begin a public relations campaign to energetically promote this paramilitary organization on all TV and radio channels and in the Russian press. Yet, for some reason, the Russian prosecutor-general’s office has not yet filed a criminal case against those who openly called for the murder of children of the militants’ relatives one and a half months after the statement was made.

Strange games

In the current issue of Yezhednevny zhurnal Alexander Podrabinek examines the current U.S.-Russia “spy swap” and detects a strong element of farce in the proceedings [my tr.]:

Why farce? Judge for yourself. The Russian spies who have been uncovered in the U.S. are the embodiment of amateurishness and mediocrity. And the FBI’s ten-year hunt for them can be taken about as seriously as the Russian spies themselves. The political prisoner Igor Sutyagin was not a political opponent of the regime and ended up in jail more or less by chance – simply because the FSB needed to demonstrate its success at least in something. Sutyagin bears no guilt, either political or espionage-related. He is a random victim of the Chekists’ ambitions and conscious manipulation. For his work with open sources he received 15 years in prison – quite a dramatic result of the farce performed by the FSB.

Sutyagin did not plead guilty at his trial. A large public campaign was organized in his defence, and Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience. Three years ago Sutyagin filed a petition for clemency, but a few days ago he signed a written statement expressing repentance for the crime he did not commit. This was the price of freedom. According to his relatives, he explained his repentance by saying that if he had not written the statement the exchange would not take place and he felt very sorry for the Russian spies arrested in the United States, who would have had to serve time in jail, as he had. A strange argument, I think, and a very weak position, especially given that the people who have defended him all these years were sincerely convinced of his innocence. While they are unlikely to change their minds about this now, they will probably be more cautious in such cases in future. At least where Russian political prisoners are concerned.

Podrabinek sees a further dimension of strangeness in recent events:

While it is hard to congratulate Igor Sutyagin on his release, we can at least be pleased that he is free. However, it is far from clear why he needs to leave Russia. In this voluntary/involuntary departure there are echoes of the spy exchanges of the Cold War. But today, if Sutyagin still has Russian citizenship (and no one can deprive him of that), then what is to stop him returning to Russia whether temporarily or for good, at any time?

Some kind of strange game is being played by the Russian secret services. One has the impression that they thought up the idea of the exchange in a bad state of hangover, without even trying to relate their plans to current legislation and real life. Perhaps in a similar condition they also prepared the Russian spies for their work abroad. Well, they’re ours, and that explains a lot.

See also: Igor Sutyagin

Versions – 3

– The propagandist Kavkaz Center website, thought by some observers to be a disinformation centre run with the help of Russia’s special services, has published a video of “Caucasus Emirate” leader Dokka Umarov claiming responsibility for the March 29 Moscow subway bombings. The video is evidently genuine.