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Who Wanted To Kill Sulim Yamadayev, And Why?

Sulim Yamadayev (left) and Ramzan Kadyrov in 2006
Sulim Yamadayev (left) and Ramzan Kadyrov in 2006
The uncertainty over whether or not Sulim Yamadayev, former commander of the controversial Vostok (East) battalion, survived the March 28 attempt to kill him in Dubai continues.

While the local authorities and the Russian consul in Dubai have gone on record as saying that Yamadayev died in hospital several days ago and his body has been handed over to his family for burial, the Russian dailies "Vremya novostei" and "Gazeta" on March 31 quoted Sulim's brother Isa as saying the previous day that Sulim survived the shootings.

Both papers adduced as circumstantial evidence that Sulim Yamadayev is still alive the fact that the gates of his home in Gudermes remain closed; were he dead, the gates would have been opened to enable mourners to express their condolences to his relatives, assuming that any were brave enough to risk incurring the wrath of Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov by doing so publicly.

The Vostok battalion was until last summer the sole Chechen armed unit that did not profess unswerving loyalty to Kadyrov. Established in 2003, Vostok and its Zapad (West) counterpart were affiliated with the Russian Defense Ministry's 42nd Motorized Rifle Division that is permanently stationed in Chechnya. At the same time, they were directly subordinate to Russian military intelligence (GRU).

Like the Kadyrov family, the Yamadayev brothers fought during the 1994-96 war in the ranks of the Chechen resistance commanded by Aslan Maskhadov, but distanced themselves from Maskhadov in the summer of 1999 after renegade field commander Shamil Basayev launched the first of his incursions into neighboring Daghestan. In contrast to Zapad, the Vostok battalion, like the police and security forces loyal to Kadyrov, was manned primarily by former resistance fighters who took advantage of successive amnesties to lay down their arms.

Vostok swiftly acquired a reputation for brutality and lawlessness, not least as a result of its alleged involvement in a punitive raid in May 2005 on the Avar-populated village of Borozdinovskaya in northeastern Chechnya in which several homes were burned and 11 men detained; they have never been found. Yamadayev denied that Vostok servicemen played any part in the raid, and the Russian Defense Ministry rejected villagers' claims for compensation.

The simmering animosity between Kadyrov and Sulim Yamadayev came to a head one year ago, in mid-April 2008, when Vostok personnel under the command of the youngest of the Yamadayev brothers, Badrudi, failed to yield the right of way to Kadyrov's motorcade and engaged in a shoot-out with members of Kadyrov's personal guard in which two men were killed.

Kadyrov retaliated by demanding the disbanding of Vostok and accusing the Yamadayev brothers of various crimes, including the murder of Chechen businessmen Yunus and Yusup Arsamakov. Vostok personnel were subject to intense pressure, and many resigned to join the pro-Kadyrov Chechen police.

On August 1, an arrest warrant was issued for Sulim Yamadayev in connection with that murder, but the Russian Defense Ministry continued nonetheless to back him, and declined to disband Vostok, which fought in the five-day Russian-Georgian war in South Ossetia in August 2008.

Sulim Yamadayev was demobilized in late August. Then on September 24, the eldest Yamadayev brother, Ruslan, a former State Duma deputy, was shot dead in Moscow in an apparent contract killing.

Visiting Grozny in early November, General Vladimir Moltenskoi, a former commander of Russian forces in Chechnya during the second war and now deputy commander in chief of the Russian land forces, assured Kadyrov that both Vostok and Zapad would be downsized to around 150 men and subsumed into the 42nd Motor Rifle Division, and that they would no longer report to the GRU. In an interview published in "Novaya gazeta" in late November, Sulim Yamadayev said that some of his former superiors within the GRU had tried to intercede on behalf of Vostok, but had been told "not to interfere." It was shortly after that interview that Sulim Yamadayev and his family left Russia.

The Dubai police have apprehended and identified four men with Russian names in connection with the attack on Yamadayev. But that does not necessarily mean that whoever commissioned the intended murder was Russian, especially in light of Kadyrov's pathological tendencies, his hatred for the entire Yamadayev clan, and the seemingly limitless financial resources at his disposal. Some commentators have suggested that the murder may have been planned in Moscow, either as a deliberate attempt to embarrass Kadyrov, or to prevent Yamadayev going public with information detrimental to Kadyrov. But in either case, it is unlikely that the hit man would have botched the job.

The possibility that someone influential in Tbilisi sought to kill two birds with one stone -- to punish Yamadayev for his role in the South Ossetia fighting, and to embarrass both the Russian leadership and its stooge Kadyrov -- is simply too far-fetched.

The website on April 1 quoted military analyst Anatoly Tsyganok as attributing the attempted killing of Yamadayev to a blood feud -- but according to Chechen tradition, responsibility for such a revenge killing lies with the family of the initial victim, which would preclude the involvement of hired Russian killers.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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