20 years under Putin: a timeline

At the end of February, Novaya Gazeta published its investigation of the murder of Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of the Russian opposition, who was shot dead in the center of Moscow a year ago. Since Russian authorities are refusing to even question certain Chechen leaders who might be behind this assassination, we think it’s important that the details of this case, as well as the names of the likely perpetrators, are known in the West.


Zaur Dadayev suspected of being involved in the murder of politician Boris Nemtsov appears at Moscow's Basmanny District Court. Photo: Mikhail Pochuyev / TASS


Note: The translation of Novaya Gazeta’s article was first published by The Interpreter (translated by Catherine Fitzpatrick).


Boris Nemtsov was murdered on February 27, 2015, on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge, 300 steps from the Kremlin. By March 2, Vladimir Putin already had a report on who had assassinated him.

Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) made the report: the perpetrators were a group of Chechen soldiers from the Russian Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops, in the Sever [North] Battalion under the direction, according to preliminary information, of Ruslan Geremeyev, the deputy commander. 

On March 5, Zaur Dadayev, the brothers Anzor and Shadid Gubashev, Tamerlan Eskerkhanov, and Khamzat Bakhayev were all arrested. Beslan Shavanov was killed when police came to detain him. [He either was killed when he threw a grenade at police or committed suicide.The Interpreter]

Three of these detainees were officers of Chechen law enforcement agencies. Dadayev and Shavanov were from the Sever Battalion; Eskerkhanov was a former officer of the Shelkovsky District Police Department, headed by Vakha Geremeyev, a relative of Ruslan Geremeyev, and Adam Delimkhanov, who is a deputy of the State Duma. Bakhayev was not listed as working anywhere officially, nor was Gubashev’s younger brother.

The speed with which the crime was solved was evidently stimulated by two factors: the president’s question—“Who dared?”—and the activation of the agent’s network in the Chechen Republic’s leadership, whose behavior, which often had a deadly outcome, had disastrously annoyed Moscow’s law enforcement. Judging from everything, Boris Nemtsov’s murder was the last straw for them—it has never been the case that the Interior Ministry, the FSB, the Investigative Committee, the Federal Narcotics Control Service, and the Prosecutor General—eternally warring among themselves—have been united in a concerted surge. And it’s understandable why: repeatedly, criminal cases that had been opened for serious offenses by Chechen law enforcers had reached the stage of presenting charges but were never prosecuted, and the suspects in them would turn up at home with “a pledge not to leave town,” or, actually, in the Donbass.


Why They Didn’t Hide the Clues

On the whole, the perpetrators, who will soon come before a jury, did not make much effort to hide; evidently, they believed that because they had carried out “the Motherland’s mission,” they would not be prosecuted. Nobody picked up the bullet casings from the crime scene. No one hid from the surveillance cameras. Even the car—a ZAZ—was washed before the murder but not afterward, which enabled DNA to be discovered in it, [as well as] traces of gunpowder gases and a “non-wiped” dashboard camera. And in the apartment rented by the suspects, Sim cards that nobody even intended to throw out [were found].

The citizens arrested, from all indications, were so shocked by the very fact of their detention that they immediately gave confessions admitting to everything on videotape. In these videos, no black eyes are visible or champagne bottles sticking out of their behinds (which the suspects, when they thought better of it, began to speak about later). Moreover, these initial confessions were confirmed during the course of a special investigative measure called “on-site inspection of the testimonies”; citizens Dadayev and Co. actively and in detail described where they were standing, where they were walking, how they stalked [Nemtsov], and how they killed [him]. In sum, in the possession of the Investigative Committee there are confessions from Zaur Dadayev, Anzor Gubashev, and Tamerlan Eskerkhanov, which, when other lawyers appeared, the interrogated suspects began to refute. In fact, the reliability of the initial and subsequent interrogations will be evaluated by the jury; for us for now, it is sufficient that they exist.


What Were Officers from Chechnya Doing at the President Hotel?

The question emerges: What were officers of the Interior Troops, who should be serving in a completely different region of Russia, doing in Moscow? The answer has been obvious for more than ten years now. Chechnya is the only subject of the Russian Federation whose leadership is allowed to maintain in the capital a group of their own law enforcers whose duties formally include the security of high-ranking officials who travel there for various reasons. Taking into account that the head of Chechnya himself, Ramzan Kadyrov, does not come to Moscow very often, there’s an additional reason for puzzlement: Why were these people there, decked out with Stechkin pistols and supplied with service IDs that, among other things, forbid the checking of their automobiles? 

After all, no one has ever heard of the spetsnaz from Yaroslavl Region, for example, having to guard its governor during the time he is in the capital. Yaroslavl is not mentioned randomly; within a day and a half after Nemtsov’s murder, the governor of this region, where Nemtsov had won election to the regional legislature, was speedily interrogated—he came himself at the first summons, and not to visit Moscow investigators, but to visit his own local ones. Kadyrov, on the other hand, despite his knowledge about the murder and the repeated appearance of the suspects on his Instagram account, has not been questioned to this day, despite the petitioning of the plaintiffs—Nemtsov’s family members.

Thus, these “officers of law enforcement agencies,” who were “providing security for high-ranking officials of the Chechen Republic” and were based at the President Hotel across from the Interior Ministry, managed by that time to have intimidated all the regular guests in their tight sweatpants and Olympic T-shirts, through which all types of weapons could be seen—from daggers to machine guns.

But only privileged officials of the Chechen power ministries stroll around the halls of this VIP hotel on the corner of Yakimanka Street. The tactical groups of Chechen law enforcers work in Moscow like guards—for several months, and then a change of shift. As a rule, they rent apartments on the outskirts of the city and hang out there in groups; their job consists of handling particularly delicate assignments—kidnappings, murders, and extortions. During their breaks from imposing constitutional order in Moscow, these highly recognized citizens hang out at the Prague Restaurant—now closed—ordering that hookers be sent in, who then would have to spend a long time in Moscow clinics getting various types of physical injuries treated.

The delicate assignments, as a rule, are discussed in the lobby bar at the Renaissance Slavyanskaya Hotel, at the Tatler restaurant at the Ukraina Hotel, and in other dramatic places to which the majors and captains of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops can indulge themselves in driving their “Merces” [slang for “Mercedes”—The Interpreter].

It was at these hangouts in September 2014 through February 2015 that the current suspects were repeatedly seen in the company of Ruslan Geremeyev, deputy commander of the Sever Battalion. Various people would come to see him carrying bags and then would leave him carrying the same bags—only noticeably lighter.

And as far as we have learned, one of those delicate assignments (not counting the murder of Boris Nemtsov) was performed successfully by fighters from Geremeyev’s tactical group: a top manager of Gazprom who had taken something above his pay grade was kidnapped from a plane that was standing on the runway of the airport in the business flight area at Vnukovo-3. He returned the money within 24 hours.

By the way, according to our sources in Chechnya, at one time Zaur Dadayev (the alleged killer of Nemtsov) headed the personal security apparatus of Deputy Adam Delimkhanov.


Preparation for the Murder

Two apartments were rented on Veyernaya Street in Moscow in September 2014. One was rented by Artur Geremeyev, a relative of Ruslan Geremeyev. The other was rented by Ruslan Mukhutdinov, Geremeyev’s driver and also an officer of the Sever Battalion (Khatayev, another Interior Ministry officer who does not yet figure in the case, was also seen in that apartment.) Dadayev and Co. made this apartment rented by Ruslan Mukhutdinov their base and began to work on the tender given them.

What was the tender in this context? When there is an undesirable subject whose existence ruins the life of the “right people,” the word goes out among the tactical battle groups: such-and-such a person for such-and-such a price. Whoever is first to complete the assignment gets the money.

In August 2014, a tender was announced for four names: Boris Nemtsov, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Alexey Venediktov, and Kseniya Sobchak. The list was surprising for Chechnya, since the Republic had no financial or political beefs with these people. Regardless, the price was made known: 15 million rubles ($196,713).

After the mishap on Bolshoi Moskvoretsky (the killer was arrested), the tender was withdrawn, but how long that will continue is an open question.

Boris Nemtsov was an unpleasant subject for the killers. First, he had an irregular lifestyle—he would go back and forth between his office and home, and would hole up in his apartment for several days at a time or travel abroad or to Yaroslavl, where he worked as a deputy, and finally, he would travel by metro. So the search for local intelligence on the “subject” took time—time that was more pleasantly spent in Moscow bars.

The people who had announced the tender began to put the heat on—that was the news that Chechen Interior Ministry officer Shavanov evidently brought [to Moscow] in late February. Therefore, it was decided to “execute” the mission in any event. One detail: four cars were used to trail Nemtsov, including a Mercedes with the license plate A007AR, in which Ruslan Geremeyev apparently traveled.


The Execution of the Murder

On February 27, at about 11:00 pm, the murders “staked out” Malaya Ordynka, the street where Nemtsov lived, and began to wait. Nemtsov wasn’t in sight—his car went to the supermarket, but its owner didn’t come out of the house. Then Nemtsov went to Ekho Moskvy at 20:00, where he delivered a broadcast. The “subject” then came out of the Ekho building at 21:45. He headed toward Red Square, and as it later became known, he and Anna Duritskaya had dinner at the Bosco Cafe, in the GUM building, near which Anzor Gubashev and Shavanov were lurking (this was visible from videotapes from surveillance cameras). Then they went back on foot toward Malaya Ordynka via Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge. This is where everything happened. Dadayev climbed the stairs to the bridge, shot Nemtsov in the back five times (not a single bullet was wasted in vain—years of training made itself known), didn’t try to kill the “subject’s” companion, got back in the ZAZ, which Anzor Gubashev was driving, and left.

There were two pistols: one was a backup if they were pursued, and the other, modified from a trauma pistol, was for the execution. The casings from the bullets were from different makers, and it was understandable why: the [perpetrators] had trained at homemade shooting ranges (which the Investigative Committee found in Moscow’s suburbs) and loaded the gun with bullets from different batches.

Furthermore, Gubashev and Shavanov left Moscow through Vnukovo Airport on February 28—video surveillance cameras indicate this. Dadayev and Geremeyev, who waited in the Odintsovsky District in a suburb of Moscow, were to fly out March 1. Mukhutdinov drove them to the airport. And it was he, the investigation surmises, who took the guns to Chechnya.

In order to preempt the hysterics of the suspects’ lawyers, Bakhayev, Eskerkhanov, and Shadid Gubashev have not been charged directly with involvement in the murder but only as accomplices, for covering up evidence, trailing Nemtsov, moving members of the group around in their cars, and frying potatoes for them.


Arrest and Aftermath

Furious at such impunity, the leadership of the law enforcement agents of Russia—who had gotten the word to seriously accelerate their efforts expressed in Putin’s question, “Who?”—unleashed special operations. A capture team made up of special subdivisions was sent to Chechnya and Ingushetia for the purpose of arresting the suspects.

But the suspects set themselves up by traveling to Ingushetia in search of drugs. Anzor Gubashev and Zaur Dadayev were caught red-handed by Federal Narcotics Control Service agents and were taken to a local police precinct before being “packed up” by spetsnaz from Moscow. At the same time, the other suspects were detained in the Odintsovo District in the suburbs of Moscow, where they had hidden out after the murder. Incidentally, another feature of the case is that the Gubashevs were relatives of Dadayev, which is a characteristic sign of “Chechen murders”—the practice of involving in the murder your own people, so that you can keep more of the bounty (as occurred, for example, in the case of Anna Politkovskaya).

The only slip-up that occurred was with Shavanov’s arrest. He had holed up in his Grozny apartment. One of the deputy ministers of the Chechen Interior Ministry (the name is known to the editors of Novaya Gazeta) passed through the police line guarded by federal troops, after which two explosions were heard, and it was announced to everyone that Shavanov had blown himself up on a grenade. 

Several days after the arrests in the Geremeyevs’ native village of Dzhalka, there was a gathering of high-ranking persons. Besides Ramzan Kadyrov, allegedly Adam Delimkhanov, the deputy of the State Duma; Alaudinov, the deputy minister of the Chechen Interior Ministry; Sen. Sulim Geremeyev; Shaa Turldayev, who is wanted for the murder of a Chechen opposition figure in Vienna; and other comrades—as well as, of course, Ruslan Geremeyev—took part in the meeting.

Fighters from the Sever Battalion surrounded Dzhalka, and only a few law enforcers who allegedly had a relationship with the Internal Troops and the Federal Protection Service (FSO) [which guards the Kremlin leadership and grounds—The Interpreter] were allowed to enter. Apparently, it was at this meeting that a framework agreement was reached about what to do next.

Therefore, as a result, the maximum that the Moscow law enforcers could achieve in Chechnya was to interrogate the relatives of the suspects and gather general information about where they were born and where they were married.


After the Murder 

Under the guise of Ramzan Kadyrov’s stableman, Ruslan Geremeyev left for the United Arab Emirates via Kaspiysk. And although in March 2015 an order for his arrest and interrogation had been sent to Chechnya, the Chechen FSB agents and police officers found it hard to answer the question of where the suspect lived in Dzhalka. Mukhutdinov left for the UAE a bit later. 

Immediately after the interrogation of the alleged killer Zaur Dadayev, a video with everything he had said was given to Kadyrov by someone in the Investigative Committee, and after that he began to say that Dadayev was a “true patriot.” Two requests from the investigation—for bringing charges in absentia against Geremeyev and for Geremeyev’s placement on the wanted list—were not signed by Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee.

As a result, an indictment appeared according to which the organizer of the murder was Geremeyev’s driver, Ruslan Mukhutdinov, who had 15 million lying around and was declared wanted on that basis. All the suspects changed their confessions: now Shavanov, who was dead, had done the shooting and had cooked up the entire thing. He was beyond prosecution in the next world... As Mukhutdinov was in the Emirates, it was no accident, after all, that Kazbek Dukuzov, the alleged killer of Paul Khlebnikov, the editor of the Russian edition of Forbes, after serving a sentence in the UAE for theft quietly returned to Chechnya, despite all the ominous inquiries from the Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

As for the suspects, who got the “right” sort of lawyers, attempts to create an alibi came out awkwardly—detailed descriptions of the places where they had been in Moscow only connected these persons more and more to each other, forcing people to suppose that other, not entirely legal, matters were also connected with them.

Meanwhile, the Geremeyev family grew significantly in importance—even the female members. Ruslan’s sister, Kheda, who headed the district social welfare office, which saw rebellions by unhappy citizens who claimed that supposedly 70% of their paychecks were being seized, and Vakha Geremeyev, the head of the district office of the Interior Ministry, became the most important people in the district.


The Motives for the Murder

What the defense attorneys of the accused are trying to portray to the public does not withstand criticism. They say that supposedly the main motive [of the crime] is religious, since Nemtsov had made some comments that were unacceptable about the prophet and Allah after the Charlie Hebdo journalists were killed. This is a lie. First, according to the suspects’ confessions, they began to prepare the murder long before the January 2015 shooting of the French magazine’s employees, and second, in explaining their motives, the suspects indicated the following consistently: Nemtsov was an opposition member who was preparing “some kind of march”; second, he supported Ukraine; third, he was “supported by Obama”; and fourth, he had sworn at the leader of Russia. How, where, and which way all these actions took place, the suspects didn’t explain, apparently because they were most likely subjected to a propagandistic workover.

However, such confused explanations provide a basis for new questions. Who instilled such thoughts in these people? Who put out “on order” the tender with the names that did not correspond to the Chechen agenda? What is known to Gen. Viktor Zolotov, the former deputy head of the FSO, and the current commander of the Interior Ministry’s troops, whose subordinates allegedly went to the “meet-up” in Dzhalka, and who himself did not answer an inquiry from the Investigative Committee about their status?

Why did Russia’s FSO not provide the tapes from the video cameras, through which are visible Red Square and the walls of the Kremlin, and why does the investigation have to rely only on one video taken by the TV Center camera (the municipal cameras on the bridge turned out to be turned up toward the sky)? And finally, why did the head of the Investigative Committee not allow the questioning of Ruslan Geremeyev, deputy commander of the battalion of Russia’s Interior Troops? He, in fact, not only returned to Chechnya but is already speaking out regarding the murder of Boris Nemtsov, saying that Dadayev could not have committed it since he was with him all the time and was carrying out the assignment to guard the mythical high-ranking officials of the Chechen administration. So let him say that officially, especially since the only thing that Geremeyev says he doesn’t understand is the presence of Shavanov in Moscow (according to RosBalt’s information). That is, the general version of the suspects’ defense—the deceased Shavanov did the murder, and the person to order it was the unreachable driver Mukhutdinov—has found its visible confirmation.