What could be so threatening about two people who run an organization for children with war trauma? Apparently something because Zarema Sadulaeva and Alik Dzhabrailov, who were kidnapped in Grozny yesterday, were found dead outside the city. Their bodies were stuffed in their car trunk with gunshots to the head and chest.
The murders could be related to their human rights work, or somehow linked to Dzhabrailov’s past as a Chechen separatist. Either way both are targets in chaos that is Chechnya.
It looks like Dmitry Medvedev is going to get a lot of practice denouncing the murder of human rights workers and journalists. This is his third time this year. Unlike his predecessor, the Medvedev wasted no time speaking out about Sadulaeva and Dzhabrailov. He swiftly called out an APB, mobilizing the state Prosecutor, MVD, and FSB to investigate kidnappings in Chechnya. Now State Prosecutor Yuri Chaika is saying that he will take the case under his “personal control” and even meet with rights groups to “discuss the situation in Chechnya.” Dima can yell “calling all cars” all he wants. Chaika can step up to the plate and drink tea and chat about Chechnya with all the human rights workers all he wants. All of these are good, positive gestures. It would be worse if they ignored all this. But such acts are PR damage control. Plain and simple.
“This doesn’t look like the recent murder of Natalia Estemirova,” Vadim Rechalov writes in Moskovskii komsomolets. The Estemirova kidnapping occurred in the morning, on her way to work. Her body was dumped outside Chechnya. Sadulaeva’s and Dzhabrilov’s kidnappers were open and bold. Rechkalov continues:
Sadulaeva and Dzhabrilov’s five killers entered their office in broad daylight. They apparently talked with their victims. According to eyewitnesses, both human rights workers got into their gray Zhiguli voluntarily. After this, the kidnappers returned to the organization’s office to take Dzhabrailov’s mobile phone and car.
What is the reason for such details like the mobile phone? And if witnesses remember a grey colored car and the regional number 95, then why don’t they remember the rest of the numbers and the model of the automobile? If they saw the dress of the kidnappers, then why didn’t they make out their ethnicity? I know [Zhiguli models] six or seven come in grey. Probably it was make “nine.” Eyewitnesses say that the kidnappers were armed. Five armed people, two in plain clothes, three in camouflage without masks, in a grey #9 from region 95 arrived at the organization’s office and put a man and a woman in a car. Moreover, two of them remained because seven can’t fit in a Zhiguli. Those who stayed behind took Dzhabrailov’s phone and his car. All of this looks like the actions of Chechen security organs. Actions of the so-called Kadyrovtsy. There is no doubt that eyewitnesses saw and remember the license plate, but its unlikely that they will name anyone. Because [if they did] such witnesses would be dealt with the next day. In Moscow, its easy to guess who committed the murder–Kadyrov or Berezovsky. But in Chechnya everyone saw and knows who kidnapped and killed who. And choose to keep quiet.
Neither [Alexandr] Bastrykin, who has taken direct regular control over the investigation of this crime, cannot uncover anything, even if he interrogates the witnesses himself. They will say nothing to him because as Bastrykin arrived today, he will leave tomorrow. And the people still have to live here.
And this is exactly why Celestine Bohlen’s editorial in the NY Times has it so, so wrong. She writes, “The Mafia in Sicily thrives on omertà; Russia, on a state level, is tolerating something similar in Chechnya. There is no reason Western leaders should stay quiet about the reign of terror gripping the region, with the Kremlin’s implicit blessing.” But omertà is being practiced among ordinary Chechens too. Rechkalov continues: “The citizens of Chechnya, as before, are caught between two fires. On one side, there is the brutal authoritarian power of Ramzan Kadyrov, and on the other banditry, and its unimportant whether its political or criminal, because as it seems, not even a strong government can do anything about it.”
Namely, if Kadyrov doesn’t get them for speaking out, then someone else surely will. I seriously doubt ordinary citizens are going to risk themselves and their families for human rights workers. We should remember, those people have to live there. Bohlen, and myself for that matter, do not.
True, one can and should point the finger at the Kremlin, and at Putin in particular. Kadyrov is his boy. But at the same time bashing the Kremlin becomes counter productive at some point. After all, Moscow is knee deep in this mess too. Every wiggle to the right or left sucks it deeper into the Chechen nightmare. Be sure, the last thing Medvedev and Co. want are more killings that bring more international attention to a situation that is increasingly deteriorating. And sure Medvedev could and probably should remove Kadyrov. I’m sure Putin would somehow find a way to save face if his progeny did. But doing that would pose the very real and difficult question: who would replace Kadyrov? Would it be worth risking a possible civil war between competing clans? Sending in Russian troops? None of these sound appealing. In fact, they sound disastrous.
The way things appear, Kadyrov doesn’t even have control. Perhaps this is why he’s been making a concerted effort to convince Akhmed Zakaev to come back to Chechnya. I’m not one for conspiracy mongering, but there might be something to these killings being an attempt to undermine Kadyrov (and by extension Moscow). Granted, Kadyrov is no saint and he’s responsible for a lot of blood. But what does he seriously have to gain from having two people who work with disabled children murdered? Very little. As for someone else? Potentially a lot.
If Kadyrov didn’t order these murders, then someone else did. Most important, the audacity in which they were executed shows that the killers don’t give to shits about what Kadyrov (or the Kremlin) thinks about them. And that makes for a real explosive situation.