For reasons that can only be guessed at, Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov has picked a new fight with Moscow.
His target is the federal Interior Ministry, whose Temporary Operative Grouping of Organs and Sub-Units (VOGOiP) deployed at the Khankala military base in Grozny reportedly provided assistance to police from Stavropol Krai who mounted an operation in the city on April 19, without informing the Chechen Interior Ministry.
That operation culminated in the fatal shooting of a man whom the Stavropol police said was wanted on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm (when and to whom is not clear). He was identified as Dzhambulat Dadayev, a resident of Chechnya; it is not clear whether he is related to Zaur Dadayev, the primary suspect in the February 27 murder of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.
Kadyrov has criticized the killing of Dadayev on multiple grounds. Meeting the following day with senior government and security personnel, he argued that the Stavropol police had "no legal grounds" for mounting the operation to apprehend him. He said the failure to warn the Chechen Interior Ministry in advance constituted "a serious violation."
He implied that the operation could have resulted in civilian casualties among tourists from elsewhere in the Russian Federation and fans who travelled to Grozny for a soccer match between the local team and Moscow Dynamo (which ended in a goalless draw), and that gunfire on the streets could have made a negative impression on visiting foreign business delegations (he did not specify where from).
Kadyrov subsequently claimed that the VOGOiP and the Stavropol police acted illegally by not giving the Chechen police advance notice of the operation, and warned that he had issued orders that in the event of a recurrence, the Chechen side will open fire on the federal units involved. At Kadyrov's insistence, the Chechen administration of the federal Investigative Committee has begun a probe of the circumstances of the shooting.
On April 22, three days after the incident, Colonel General Sergei Chenchik, head of the federal Interior Ministry's Main Administration for the North Caucasus Federal District, travelled to Grozny to meet with Kadyrov, who being only an Interior Ministry major general is, on paper, junior to him. Kadyrov was quoted as elaborating on his earlier complaints about the shooting of Dadayev. Specifically, he said the participants wore masks, which is illegal, and there was no official arrest warrant for Dadayev.
At the same time, Kadyrov made a point of praising Chenchik personally for "doing a great deal to ensure peace in the North Caucasus." He said Chenchik had assured him that he was personally monitoring a probe into the operation.
Also on April 22, Kadyrov's close associate, Chechen human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhadzhiyev, released a statement similarly describing the joint police operation as illegal. He claimed that Dadayev was gunned down in cold blood, even though, according to eyewitnesses, he was walking toward the police with his hands up. The police who shot him reportedly said that "he killed one of ours," without elaborating.
Nukhadzhiyev further said there was evidence that the Stavropol police had been bribed by unnamed figures in Daghestan with whom Dadayev was embroiled in a dispute. Like Kadyrov, Nukhadzhiyev said the actions of the Stavropol police were illegal, "if not criminal." They had also acted illegally, he continued, in co-opting the federal units based in Khankala.
To what extent Kadyrov's and Nukhadzhiyev's complaints are justified is debatable, however. The website Caucasian Knot quoted an unidentified VOGOiP representative as denying that the police who killed Dadayev violated the law in any way. That source said that Dadayev had committed "a serious crime" in Stavropol, he was located in Grozny, and police were deployed to intercept his car. He said Dadayev rammed a police car and then opened fire, and was killed by return fire. Opening a criminal investigation in those circumstances is, the source said, "absurd."
A Chechen police official told Caucasian Knot that technically, Kadyrov is justified in complaining that Stavropol police did not alert their Chechen colleagues, as internal regulations require them to do so. He acknowledged at the same time that that requirement is frequently disregarded, including by Chechen Interior Ministry personnel who have on numerous occasions launched similar operations in neighboring Ingushetia and Daghestan.
There have also been countless reports over the years of abductions of and reprisals against unarmed civilians by masked Chechen security personnel.
Meanwhile, the Russian daily Kommersant reported on April 23 that lawyers for Nemtsov's four children have formally requested that investigators question Kadyrov about the murder in light of what they termed Kadyrov's "long-standing conflict" with the slain opposition leader. It's conceivable that by playing up the imputed illegal police operation that culminated in Dadayev's death, Kadyrov hopes to divert public attention from the implications of that request.
-- Liz Fuller