The Moscow Times reports:
When defector Alexander Litvinenko, a former security services officer who heaped invective on the Kremlin from exile in Britain, died of polonium poisoning in London in 2006, Russian prosecutors quickly opened a criminal probe into his death and sent investigators to London.
In the 10 days since the March 28 assassination in Dubai of Chechen strongman Sulim Yamadayev, a decorated Russian war hero who helped Russia crush the Georgian military last year, Russian authorities have barely acknowledged his death. An Investigative Committee spokesman said Tuesday that a criminal probe had not been opened in connection with Yamadayev’s murder and would not say whether such a case would be opened in the future.
Spokespeople for the Kremlin and the Defense Ministry, to which Yamadayev directly reported, declined comment Tuesday. Neither Kremlin nor Defense Ministry officials had made public statements about the crime as of Tuesday evening.
In fact, the only extensive comments from officials are coming from Chechnya, where Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov in recent days has repeated accusations that Yamadayev, his erstwhile rival, was a criminal involved in murders and kidnappings, appearing to tacitly imply that Yamadayev deserved his fate.
Political analysts say federal officials’ deafening silence on the murder of Yamadayev, a recipient of the Hero of Russia Order — one of the highest state awards — is part of an informal deal that the Kremlin has cut with Kadyrov, giving him free reign in all matters concerning Chechnya in exchange for loyalty and suppressing insurgency in the republic, political analysts say.
Dubai police have accused Kadyrov’s first cousin, State Duma Deputy Adam Delimkhanov, of ordering Yamadayev’s murder and have threatened to place him on Interpol’s wanted list.
Delimkhanov, whom Russian media has linked to the killing of another Kadyrov foe, Movladi Baisarov, has called the accusations a “provocation” and threatened to sue Dubai police for defamation. Kadyrov has also defended Delimkhanov, calling him his “right-hand man” and “a brother.”
The few cursory statements coming from Russian officials about Yamadayev’s death have been prompted primarily by probing reporters.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko told a March news conference that the ministry had asked authorities in the United Arab Emirates for information about the crime but that it had received no response.
On Tuesday, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, whose United Russia faction counts Delimkhanov as its member in the lower house of parliament, declined to comment on a reporter’s question about Delimkhanov’s purported involvement in the murder, RIA-Novosti reported.
Only an unidentified official at the Prosecutor General’s Office, which opened the Litvinenko inquiry, has been quoted in the media about the Yamadayev murder, telling state-run news agencies Sunday that Russia would not extradite Delimkhanov to Dubai.
“The Kremlin’s deal with Ramzan [Kadyrov] was effectively unlimited powers in exchange for loyalty,” said Tatyana Stanovaya, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies. “And even after this murder, Kadyrov still remains within the limits of this agreement. Thus, the Kremlin should also keep up its end of the bargain.”
Kadyrov has denied that he was involved in Yamadayev’s murder.
Kadyrov, who like Yamadayev was a former rebel, was handpicked by the Kremlin as the Chechen president in 2007. He proceeded to sideline other Chechen strongmen loyal to Moscow who might challenge his authority in the republic and could be seen by the Kremlin as a viable alternative to his rule.
Several of these potential rivals subsequently left Chechnya, including Yamadayev and his brother, Ruslan Yamadayev, who was assassinated in central Moscow in September.
“In Russia, it is not laws but rather informal agreements that define the Kremlin’s relations to regional bosses, and Ramzan has the most loosely controlled deal of all,” said Dmitry Oreshkin, an analyst with the Mercator think tank.
Kadyrov determines which prominent Chechens can remain in the republic and which Chechen separatists living in exile can return home to lead a normal life, often leaving federal officials to scramble for legal justifications of his actions and statements, Oreshkin said.
In the meantime, Russia’s political leadership is waiting until Dubai authorities disclose what evidence they have against Kadyrov’s ally before formulating an official reaction, political analysts say.
Dubai police chief Dhahi Khalfan Tamim said Tuesday that he has “strong evidence” implicating Delimkhanov in the murder.
If Kadyrov “was not convinced by the evidence gathered by Dubai police” against Delimkhanov and believes that the accusations are “unreasonable, we suggest the involvement of an international team of investigators to view the evidence gathered by Dubai police,” Tamim said in a statement posted on the Dubai police web site.
Should Dubai police indeed have solid evidence, Russian officials would look “silly” defending Kadyrov and Delimkhanov, Stanovaya of the Center for Political Technologies said.
But the case against Delimkhanov is weak, Russian officials would be better off staying silent and not giving the investigation additional publicity by stepping into the fray, Stanovaya said.
It appears, however, that Moscow may be taking subtle steps to restrain Kadyrov in his push for absolute power in Chechnya. Three days after Yamadayev’s death, the Security Council refused to formally end counterterrorist operations in the republic.
The decision followed public statements by Kadyrov days earlier in which he described the lifting of the operations as a done deal.
A federal decision to end counterterrorism operations in Chechnya would mean pulling 20,000 federal troops out of the republic and disbanding military units manned by ethnic Chechens that report to the Defense Ministry in Moscow.
“Kadyrov makes no secret that he respects only sheer force,” Oreshkin said. “These military units in Chechnya are therefore the Kremlin’s biggest asset to secure Kadyrov’s loyalty.”
The Kremlin also has room to maneuver in the Yamadayev case because Yamadayev employed heavy-handed tactics in Chechnya and was involved in violent business disputes between Chechens, Stanovaya said. Because Yamadayev made so many enemies, Russian officials can avoid references to Kadyrov when commenting on the case and hint that Yamadayev was the victim of a revenge killing, she said.
There is also a small chance that Russian officials remain mum because they do not want to charge into a hidden game played by the intelligence services of Russia and the Gulf state, said Alexei Mukhin, an analyst with the Center for Political Information.
After all, Russian consular officials maintain that they have seen no proof that Yamadayev is dead, and as of Tuesday, Yamadayev’s brother, Isa Yamadayev, was still insisting that his brother was alive and being protected as a witness by the secret services of the United Arab Emirates, Interfax reported.