The brother of Ramzan Tsitsulayev, Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov's personal plenipotentiary in Ukraine, and two of Tsitsulayev's bodyguards have been remanded in pretrial detention in Moscow after a fistfight last week with plainclothes police officers who sought to apprehend Tsitsulayev in a sting operation on suspicion of involvement in an illegal cash-withdrawals racket. But the police officer in charge of the operation has resigned after being suspended from duty.
Tsitsulayev reportedly attracted suspicion through his apparent willingness to help an acquaintance, a businessman named Novikov, who had been arrested in connection with an attempt to extort 109 million rubles ($2.37 million) from a Chechen named Zakriyev. Tsitsulayev is said to have told Novikov's wife Maria he could arrange her husband's release in return for a payment of 500,000 euros ($619,534).
Novikova allegedly tipped off the police, who filmed a rendezvous on November 15 at which Novikova handed over to Tsitsulayev a first installment of 50,000 euros. Police arranged to apprehend him at a second meeting with Novikova four days later.
Tsitsulayev, however, tells a different story. The daily Kommersant quoted him as saying he was approached out of the blue by a woman named Maria Novikova who solicited his help in hiring a lawyer to represent her husband, who had been arrested on charges of extortion and kidnapping.
Tsitsulayev gave Novikova the advice she sought, but she insisted on meeting with him personally, and they agreed on a rendezvous at the restaurant of his Moscow hotel. When Novikova showed up carrying a large black parcel, which she tried to present to him, Tsitsulayev says, three men sitting at the next table tried to apprehend him, but were prevented from doing so by Tsitsulayev's brother and bodyguards.
Tsitsulayev managed to evade capture and flee to Chechnya; he has denied the charge of extortion and affirmed his readiness to "provide the necessary explanations" if formally summoned for questioning by the Investigative Committee.
It is conceivable, however, that no such summons will be forthcoming: Kadyrov, who has not yet commented publicly on the incident, may pressure the federal prosecutor's office to have the investigation dropped, especially in light of Tsitsulayev's reported role in negotiating the release by the Ukrainian authorities of Russian journalists Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko, who were apprehended in eastern Ukraine in May.
If, on the other hand, the charges against Tsitsulayev and his brother and bodyguards are not dropped, that would imply a major shift in the Kremlin's attitude to Kadyrov and, by extension, his entourage. Until now, Kadyrov's henchmen have been free to wreak havoc in Moscow with impunity, apparently in light of orders from the highest level not to touch them.
The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta chronicled last year how a group of Chechen policemen who were detained for having kidnapped and tortured a man in Moscow in 2011 to extort money from him were subsequently released, while the investigator who had worked on the case was fired. Federal Security Service (FSB) officers involved in the case threatened to go on strike in protest.
-- Liz Fuller