Like many others, I was shocked when news agencies first announced last Wednesday that Sulim Yamadayev, the former commander of Chechnya’s Vostok Battalion, had been murdered in Moscow. After all, he fought brilliantly alongside Russian troops in South Ossetia during the recent war with Georgia. The Kremlin was indebted to him not only for his role in the victory, but also for saving Georgians. Yamadayev personally facilitated the evacuation of a Georgian enclave that had been trapped between Dzhava and Tskhinvali. Were it not for his intervention, the Georgians living in this area would have surely been killed.
So when I heard the news of his death, my first thought was, “How could this be? How could Moscow betray someone who had recently done so much for Russia?”
But two hours after the attack, we learned that it wasn’t Sulim Yamadayev who had been killed after all, but his older brother, Ruslan. That immediately made me wonder something else. Who had planted the rumor that Sulim was the victim? I don’t believe for a second that Interior Ministry officials couldn’t identify the body.
The Yamadayevs and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov are embroiled in a deadly feud. Before Ruslan’s death, several other enemies of Kadyrov were targeted in Moscow. For example, Chechen police officers from Grozny killed Chechen commander Movladi Baisarov in November 2006 as they were trying to arrest him in southwest Moscow.
Thus, it would seem logical to link Kadyrov to Ruslan Yamadayev’s death. But a few things don’t add up.
First, Ruslan was killed and not Sulim, the person who is a much greater military threat to Kadyrov. Now, Sulim will surely seek blood revenge against Kadyrov, whom he blames for his brother’s murder. Was it a case of mistaken identity? I don’t think so. It is highly unlikely that a professional assassin charged with gunning down a prominent figure just five minutes from the White House would kill the wrong target.
Another interesting twist is that Colonel General Sergei Kizyun, the former military commander in Chechnya who was sitting next to Ruslan in the car, was not killed in the attack, although he was seriously injured. Was it only a fluke that his life was spared?
In all likelihood, Moscow’s machinations, not Chechen feuds, were behind this brazen killing in the heart of the capital. I believe that the feud was deliberately encouraged by the Kremlin siloviki. Among other things, the siloviki leaked rumors that Ruslan Yamadayev might soon replace Kadyrov as the president of Chechnya.
It was clear that one of two things would happen. Either the siloviki who hate Kadyrov would go beyond rumor-mongering and kill one of the Yamadayevs, knowing that the surviving brother would exact his revenge on Kadyrov. Or Kadyrov, having decided that the risk of Chechnya’s destabilization from such rumors outweighed the risk of escalating a bloody feud, would have Ruslan removed from the picture.
Although it is still uncertain who shot Ruslan Yamadayev, it looks more like a Moscow hit than a Chechen feud. The killing was an example of the Kremlin’s animosity toward the Caucasus. This enmity made the rivalry between Kadyrov and the Yamadayevs inevitable.
The next victim in this blood feud will be either Sulim Yamadayev or Kadyrov.
Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.