Simon Tisdall: Dmitry Medvedev's promise to uphold the rule of law sounds hollow when so many assassins remain at large

Dmitry Medvedev's promise to uphold the rule of law sounds hollow when so many assassins remain at large

The James Bond-like assassination of a prominent Chechen exile in Dubai has refocused attention on the oppressive regime of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed president of Chechnya in Russia's unruly Caucasus region. It has also reinforced doubts about the ability of Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president, to fulfil his pledge to uphold the rule of law and strengthen the judicial system after what he has called the "legal nihilism" of the Putin years.

Sulim Yamadayev, who had challenged Kadyrov's control of Chechnya's security forces, was shot dead on 28 March by a man with a golden gun wearing black gloves, police said. The Russian-made Makarov pistol was later found discarded nearby. After two men, a Tajik and Iranian, were arrested and four other suspects fled to Russia, Dubai police chief Lt Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim accused Kadyrov's close associate and first cousin, Adam Delimkhanov, of masterminding the hit.

Delimkhanov, a former Chechen deputy prime minister who is now a member of Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia parliamentary faction, denies involvement. "The Dubai police chief's statements... aim to destabilise Chechen society. The police have failed to hold a professional investigation," he said. Delimkhanov said he was ready to co-operate with police inquiries but would defend himself against slander.

Kadyrov was less circumspect, suggesting Yamadayev deserved to die. "I must say that Adam Delimkhanov is my close associate, a friend, a brother, or even my right hand. I take any statements concerning him personally," Kadyrov said.

Kadyrov claimed that Yamadayev had tried to assassinate him, at one point by poisoning a lake, and was involved in the 2004 assassination of his father, Akhmad Kadyrov, then Chechnya's president. "We did all we could to bring Sulim Yamadayev, who was involved in a series of killings, kidnappings and other severe crimes, to trial in Russia," he said.

By some counts, Yamadayev was the fifth Chechen living abroad to be killed in the past six months. In January, another former Kadyrov associate, Umar Israilov, was gunned down in Vienna. He had accused Kadyrov and Delimkhanov of torturing him and beating him with a shovel. Others have died closer to home. In September, Ruslan Yamadayev, Sulim Yamadayev's brother, was shot dead near the Kremlin. Russian media have also linked Delimkhanov to the violent death of another Kadyrov foe, the former Chechen warlord and FSB commander Movladi Baisarov. The FSB is the successor organisation to the KGB.

Analysts quoted by the Moscow Times say Kadyrov has struck a Faustian pact with the Kremlin where Putin, his close ally, still holds sway despite Medvedev's presidency. In return for suppressing the pro-independence rebellion that racked Chechnya in the 1990s (and in which he played a leading role), Moscow has given Kadyrov a largely free rein to do as he likes, they said. Kadyrov in turn has demanded unswerving loyalty from rivals on pain of exile or worse.

Despite comparisons between the Dubai murder and the polonium radiation killing in London in 2006 of the Kremlin critic, Alexander Litvinenko, no Russian criminal investigation has been opened into the Yamadayev slaying. Neither the Kremlin nor the Russian defence ministry, for which Yamadayev reportedly worked, has commented publicly.

"The Kremlin's deal with Kadyrov was effectively unlimited powers in exchange for loyalty," analyst Tatyana Stanovaya told the Moscow Times. "Even after this murder, Kadyrov still remains within the limits of this agreement."

The likelihood that those who ordered the latest killings will not be made to answer for their crimes is part of a wider problem concerning judicial independence, political manipulation, and intolerance of dissent that bedevils Russian civil society, commentators say. The prosecution of four men accused of killing Anna Politkovskaya, the renowned investigative journalist and arch-critic of Kadyrov and Putin, collapsed recently amid a widespread conviction that those responsible were not in the dock.

Nor has progress been reported in apprehending the killer of Stanislav Markelov, a noted human rights lawyer, and a Novaya Gazeta journalist, Anastasia Baburova, who were shot dead on a Moscow street in January – and this despite Medvedev taking a personal interest in the case. Britain's extradition request for former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi, wanted in connection with the Litvinenko murder, meanwhile remains blocked.

Controlling homicidal Chechen warlords would be difficult for any government. But for Russia's leaders, the bigger issue is their perceived acceptance, even encouragement, of violence as a legitimate political tool and their collective, ongoing failure to protect the right to dissent.


Simon Tisdall

The GuardianTramp

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