The New Great Game Round-Up: April 21, 2015

Nemtsov Murder Investigation Hits Brick Wall in Chechnya, Double Standards for Georgian Mercenaries Fighting Abroad & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin held his 13th annual question and answer marathon session, Moscow police raided the office of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's "Open Russia" organization. The search came as no real surprise. After all, the Russian authorities have every reason to keep a close eye on dubious activities of the disgraced oligarch, who is the West's dream candidate for replacing Putin. Khodorkovsky claimed that the real reason for the raid was Open Russia's planned documentary about the role of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in the current government system. Although Khodorkovsky's words should always be taken with a grain of salt, his statement makes sense. Kadyrov's place in the current system is a hot topic, especially in light of the assassination of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. As discussed in the latest episode of Porkins Great Game, there have been some indications that elements in the Russian security apparatus are trying to pin the Nemtsov killing on Kadyrov and his men. Recent developments confirm this assumption:

Zaur Dadaev: investigators demand to testify against Ruslan Geremeev Shamsudin Tsakaev, an advocate of Zaur Dadaev, a defendant in the case of Boris Nemtsov's murder, requests investigators to re-interrogate his client. According to the advocate, Zaur Dadaev told him that the investigators forced him to testify against his colleague Ruslan Geremeev, the "RBC" reports. Initially, Zaur Dadaev has promised to show how Boris Nemtsov was murdered; however, the investigative experiment has failed, the "Rosbalt" reports. Zaur Dadaev claims that after his detention in Ingushetia on March 5, he gave a confession. After that, he was brought by plane to Moscow, where the investigators forced him to testify against Ruslan Geremeev. According to him, the text given to him by the investigators in Moscow mentioned a man with the name "Rusik": a person, who allegedly provided a pistol and a car to commit the crime, the "RBC" reports today. "There is no such person with the name Rusik. He is a mythical character invented by those who tortured me. I would never speak of Geremeev as 'Rusik', since for me, he is senior in rank and age," Zaur Dadaev told Shamsudin Tsakaev as quoted by the "RBC".

Nemtsov Murder Investigation Hits Brick Wall in Chechnya

Zaur Dadaev, the main suspect in the killing, has retracted his confession, saying that he was tortured and that he only agreed to sign the interrogation protocol in exchange for the release of a friend and colleague, who was detained along with him in Ingushetia. Dadaev is willing to undergo a lie detector test to prove his innocence and his new lawyer announced that he is changing his alibi. But regardless of whether or not Dadaev was involved in the killing, it has become clear that investigators are trying hard to implicate Ruslan Geremeev in the Nemtsov assassination. This is significant because Geremeev has close family links to State Duma Deputy Adam Delimkhanov, Kadyrov's cousin and designated successor. By implicating Geremeev in the killing, they are putting pressure on both Delimkhanov and Kadyrov. Geremeev is not a minor figure who can be sacrificed as easily as Dadaev. There have been conflicting reports about whether or not investigators were able to question Geremeev after he moved from Moscow to the heavily guarded Chechen village of Dzhalka but if Rosbalt is to be believed, Geremeev has now left Chechnya and presumably also Russia:

Geremeyev, Reported 'Organizer' of Nemtsov Murder, Said to Leave Russia Ruslan Geremeyev, the officer in the Sever Battalion who was reportedly the organizer of the Nemtsov murder, has left his native town of Dzhalka, Rosbalt.ru reports. A source says he has likely left Russia. Last week, investigators from the Investigative Committee who traveled to Chechnya were unable to gain access to Geremeyev. Says Rosbalt: 

Dzhalka is the native town of Adam Delimkhanov, a senator in the Federation Council and Alimbek Delimkhanov, the commander of the Sever Battalion. The police blockade of the village is removed, the guards have disappeared from the house where Geremeyev was supposedly located. He is no longer in Dzhalka, and there is no information that he has gone to another town.

Opposition leader Ilya Yashin, a close associate and ally of Nemtsov, alleged that Geremeev has moved to Dubai. Coincidentally, Kadyrov and Adam Delimkhanov just spent more than a week with Chechnya’s leading bureaucrats, top religious and security figures and their families in Dubai, where Kadyrov's private horse, Candy Boy, raced in the Dubai World Cup. The Chechen leader apparently deemed it best to stay out of public attention while the Nemtsov murder investigation was inching closer to Chechnya. Perhaps he also used the time to arrange Geremeev's escape. Meanwhile, the Russian authorities face a tough decision. Chasing Geremeev is like opening a can of worms. When Putin was asked during the Q&A session why investigators didn't get access to Geremeev, he evaded the question. There is no alternative to the current system in Chechnya and nobody wants to create unnecessary problems given that the situation in the North Caucasus could deteriorate again at any time:

IS militants may appear in Caucasus, Central Asia, Europe — Iran’s defense minister Countries supporting the Islamic State (IS) extremist organization may soon send militants to Central Asia, to the Caucasus and Europe, Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan said on Thursday at the 4th Moscow Conference on International Security. Western countries are trying to compensate for their military defeats by using the potential of terrorist groups, he noted. "Today, I must say with enormous regret that the countries that support IS and other terrorist groups conduct special training and logistical planning in order to send militants to Central Asia, to the Caucasus, to India. Western China and Europe in the future," Dehghan said.

Many jihadists from the Caucasus have joined ISIS and other terrorist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq. According to Russia's presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, more than 1,500 ISIS fighters are from the North Caucasus. That explains why the situation in Chechnya and the surrounding republics has been relatively calm in recent years but Russian officials never grow tired of warning that these battle-tested jihadists could return home. Although ISIS fighters have not kept their word to "liberate" Chechnya and the Caucasus, ISIS has expanded to the North Caucasus with more and more militant leaders in the region pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, much to the dismay of the Caucasus Emirate (IK). In recent months, several Chechen and Daghestani commanders have retracted their oath of obedience to IK leader Aliaskhab Kebekov, also known as Ali Abu Muhammad al Dagestani. And in light of latest successful anti-terror operation in Dagestan, the continued existence of the Imarat Kavkaz is in question - now more than ever:

Russian troops kill leader of Islamic Caucasus Emirate Russian security forces killed Ali Abu Muhammad al Dagestani, the emir of the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Caucasus Emirate, during a special operations raid in the Russian Republic of Dagestan today. Since taking command of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate (ICE) in 2014, Dagestani has supported al Qaeda and opposed the establishment of the rival Islamic State. Dagestani was killed by Russian troops after he and other jihadists were surrounded in a home in the town of Buynaksk, according to VDagestan, the official media branch of Vilayat Dagestan, an ICE “province.” VDagestan’s Arabic Twitter feed posted a photograph of the slain emir. Later, the photograph and a report of his death was posted on VDagestan’s official Arabic website. According to the website, Shamil Bulakhani, a “brother” and the emir of Dagestan’s Ontsokol district was also killed.

Double Standards for Georgian Mercenaries Fighting Abroad

Kebekov had thrown his weight behind U.S./NATO puppet Ayman al-Zawahiri and the al-Nusra Front. Following his killing, ISIS should be able to increase its influence among jihadists in Russia's North Caucasus. There is only one problem: insurgents in the North Caucasus have a short life expectancy. That is probably why many jihadists prefer to travel to Syria. Not only many Russian jihadists have made their way from the Caucasus to Syria. Georgia's Pankisi Gorge has also contributed some fighters, including the famous Abu Omar al-Shishani. The Georgian government and its NATO partners have long used the Pankisi Gorge as a base for "Chechen rebels" in the fight against Russia and it has been an ideal recruiting ground for the various terrorist gangs fighting in Syria. But as more and more young men from the region join ISIS, Tbilisi is coming under increasing pressure to take action:

Georgia toughens anti-terror legislation to include recruitment for IS Georgia is to make it a crime to be a member of a terrorist organization or take part in a paramilitary group in another country. The law was drafted after calls for the government to do more to stop the flow of youth joining the war in Syria. Not only participation in paramilitary groups abroad will be punishable, but also making propaganda for them or work to recruit new fighters.

The departure of two Pankisi high-schoolers for Syria was the straw that broke the camel's back. According to parents and Pankisi residents, border guards, airport officials, Wahhabis in Pankisi and the government all have to take a share of the blame. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili tried to shift the blame on the previous government by claiming that 100 people left the Pankisi Gorge for Syria before his administration took over in late 2012 and only few people afterwards. Pankisi residents beg to differ. Blaming former President Mikheil Saakashvili usually works but this time Garibashvili won't get off the hook that easily. Tbilisi has demonstrated time and again that Georgian mercenaries fighting abroad don't have to fear prosecution. Although this might change for Georgian jihadists in Syria and Iraq, it is important to note that Georgian mercenaries in Ukraine have nothing to worry about:

Saakashvili Greets Suspected Georgian Mercenaries Fighting in Ukraine The former Georgian President turned Ukrainian Presidential aide met a group of former Georgian soldiers involved in the fighting in eastern Ukraine; Mikhail Saakashvili praised them for their faithfulness to the "allied country," presented the soldiers with Easter gifts, and then prayed with them in the Kiev Church of the Nativity of Christ "for the victory of Ukraine in the war with Russia," according to the Russian daily Kommersant. Taking part in the Sunday meeting were about thirty suspected Georgian mercenaries from the Azov and Donbass battalions, as well as a group of instructors from the Patriot training center. They included Gigi Kalandadze, former Chief of Staff of the Georgian armed forces, who, along with the others, allegedly freely resigned from the Georgian army in order to fight in Ukraine, according to Saakashvili.

Saakashvili is completely in his element. It clearly bothers him that people in his home country argue that he his a greater enemy to Georgia than Putin. In Ukraine, Saakashvili is finally being appreciated and he can do what he does best - provoking a war with Russia and praying for victory. Dozens of Georgians have joined him and Kiev's forces need all the help they can get. A few days ago, another Georgian mercenary, Giorgi Janelidze, "died in Ukraine in an anti-terrorist operation," as Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Davit Jalaghania put it. Considering that Janelidze was fighting for the infamous neo-Nazi battalion "Azov," some people will probably take issue with Jalaghania's version of events but the Deputy Foreign Minister emphasized that Janelidze's "heroism will be given appropriate honors" in Georgia. Tbilisi is now cooperating with Kiev to return the body. If it were not for Kiev's preference for Saakashvili-era officials, relations between Georgia und Ukraine would be rosy:

Interpol Drops ‘Red Notice’ for Ex-Justice Minister Adeishvili Interpol has withdrawn ‘red notice’ for Georgia’s ex-justice minister Zurab Adeishvili, who is wanted by Tbilisi for number of criminal charges, which his allies say are politically motivated. The Georgian prosecutor’s office said that in its notification Interpol cited “granting of a refugee status to Adeishvili by one of the countries” as the reason behind its decision to revoke red notice against Georgia’s ex-justice minister; prosecutor’s office said it does not know which country it was. At the time when the red notice was issued against Adeishvili, he was supposedly in Hungary, where he reportedly already had an asylum. Recently he has been informally advising Ukrainian authorities on reforms, according to his close allies and former Georgian officials now working in the Ukrainian government.

150 Tons of "Diplomatic Mail" Cause a Stir in Kyrgyzstan

Georgia's hunt for Saakashvili-era officials abroad has not been particularly successful so far because they are still enjoying Western support. To make matters worse, Saakashvili is free to plot his return and organize Maidan-style protests in Tbilisi. Given the fact that his allies have made it clear that they will take revenge for the persecution if they get the chance, the current Georgian government has every reason to be on guard. The putsch in Kiev has reminded governments in the Caucasus and Central Asia that they could fall victim to similar events at any time. This applies especially to countries in Russia's sphere of influence, such as Kyrgyzstan. The specter of a Kyrgyz Maidan has haunted Bishkek since last year, when the suspicious activities of the U.S. State Department's TechCamp project and the subsequent visit of George Soros raised a few eyebrows. Lately, Kyrgyz and Russian media went into frenzy over the delivery of 150 tons of "diplomatic mail" to the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek:

US Sends Mysterious 150 Tons of 'Diplomatic Mail' to Embassy in Kyrgyzstan Washington has remained tight-lipped on a report by the Kyrgyz newspaper Delo No. that a mysterious Ukrainian aircraft delivered 150 tons of cargo with the status of "diplomatic mail" to the US Embassy in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek late last month. According to the newspaper, the cargo was delivered during two separate flights by the AN-124 transport jet of the Ukrainian air carrier Antonov Avialinii. The flights took place between March 28 and March 30, and each time the plane was en route from the UAE capital Abu Dhabi to the Manas international airport. The newspaper recalled that in November 2013, the US Embassy in Kiev also received "diplomatic cargos" that were delivered by US Air Force transport aircraft.

Delo No. suggested that the plane might have been carrying cash which is intended for paying protesters, as was the case in Ukraine, where 60 million dollars in small bills emerged at Kiev's Maidan Square during the anti-government protests in late 2013 according to former Ukrainian spy chief Oleksandr Yakymenko. But the Kyrgyz paper pointed out that it is unlikely that the containers contained only dollar bills because they were too heavy. Other possible explanations put forward by Delo No. included "espionage equipment for the enormous basements of the new U.S. embassy building in Bishkek" and weapons. The latter theory was also endorsed by a source in Kyrgyzstan's security services. The source mentioned in this regard the U.S. arms cache, which was discovered in 2008 in a residential area close to the U.S. Embassy. At first, the U.S. Embassy Bishkek refused to comment on the 150 tons of unknown cargo before coming up with a somewhat plausible explanation:

US Embassy in Kyrgyzstan did decide to comment on delivery of “mysterious cargo” from UAE The US Embassy in Kyrgyzstan did decide to comment to 24.kg news agency on the delivery of "mysterious cargo" from the UAE. As the press service of the US diplomatic mission in Kyrgyzstan said, "it was usual ship with materials for a new embassy." It confirmed that this wasn't the first such diplomatic mail. "Cargo doesn't come on schedule but as needed," the Embassy added.

Embassy spokesman John Brown told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that they are building a new building because the number of embassy officials is increasing due to the "expansion of cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and the U.S." Which expansion of cooperation he was referring to is not clear. It is more likely that the number of embassy officials is increasing because the Americans are trying to compensate for the loss of Manas Air Base or because color revolution expert Richard Miles is planning his next coup. Miles was recalled from retirement to serve as interim chief of mission in Bishkek. This aroused suspicions understandably enough. It remains to be seen whether the mysterious cargo was just building materials for the new embassy building or part of an evil plot to topple the government but it is safe to say that the Americans' activities in Kyrgyzstan are under high scrutiny:

Young Patriots of Kyrgyzstan urge law enforcement agencies to ban activities of Human rights watch Young Patriots of Kyrgyzstan urge the law enforcement agencies to ban the activities of Human rights watch. They stated it today at a press conference. According to Emil Turumbekov, they "won't allow events such as the Ukraine to happen." "We are afraid of such organizations that can quickly mobilize. We demand to expel the head of the Organization Mira Ritman out of the KR and bring for responsibility for interference in the internal affairs of our country," he said.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst

Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

                                                       

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