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‘A brave warrior and a true patriot’ What we know so far about the suspects in Nemtsov’s murder

Source: Meduza
Photo: Maksim Blinov / RIA Novosti / Scanpix

Nine days after the murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, five men were arrested in connection with the killing. Two have been charged with committing the murder, while the remaining three are suspected accomplices. The chief suspect in the murder is Zaur Dadayev, who served in Chechnya’s Interior Ministry troops, in the so-called Sever battalion, while the other men arrested are either his relatives or close friends. Almost no official information on the suspects has been released, and there are numerous conflicting reports about the case in the Russian media. Meduza examines what information is available so far about Nemtsov’s alleged murderers.

Who’s been implicated in the murder of Boris Nemtsov?

Five suspects are in custody in connection with Nemtsov’s case. The prime suspect is Zaur Dadayev. According to the news agency Interfax, Dadayev shot and killed Nemtsov on Moscow’s Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, located just minutes from the Kremlin, on the evening of February 27.

Lieutenant Zaur Dadayev served in Chechnya’s Interior Ministry troops, in the so-called Sever battalion, part of a regiment commanded by Alibek Delimhanov, a cousin of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Formally under the command of Russia’s Interior Ministry, the battalion is in fact a fighting force at the disposal of Chechnya’s authorities, says human rights activist Alexander Cherkasov.

According to Kadyrov, Dadayev was the battalion’s deputy commander, but he resigned from the Interior Ministry. Ingush Security Council Secretary Albert Barakhoev says Dadayev was a police official on active duty. Dadayev’s mother, meanwhile, says he participated in the operation against the militants who attacked Grozny in December 2014, and his brother, Ruslan, says he saw him as recently as March 5 in Ingushetia, where their parents live in Malgobek.

In comments to the media, Ruslan spoke of his relative as a current employee of the Interior Ministry, referring to him not as a soldier in a battalion, but as the deputy commander of an entire regiment—the one commanded by Alibek Delimkhanov, brother of Duma deputy Adam Delimkhanov. Kommersant newspaper, moreover, also seems to believe Dadayev was deputy commander of the whole regiment.

Kadyrov says Zaur Dadayev was awarded the Order of Courage, as well as medals "For Bravery" and "For Service to the Chechen Republic." Writing on Instagram, his favorite social media platform, Kadyrov called Dadayev “a true patriot of Russia” and a “brave warrior.”

The second defendant is a man named Anzor Gubashev. Dadayev’s brother confirmed that Gubashev is their distant relative. Gubashev lived in Moscow and worked as a security guard in a department store. He faces charges of murder and illegal possession of weapons, same as Zaur Dadayev.

Three suspects, whom prosecutors have yet to charge formally, were also arrested in connection with the case: Anzor Gubashev’s brother Shadid Gubashev (sometimes spelled Shagid or Shahid), who worked as a driver, Tamerlan Eskerkhanov, a former Chechen police officer, and Khamzat Bakhaev, a family man with many children, according to news agency RBC. According to TV station Rossiya 24, Shadid lived with Anzor in the village of Kozin, not far from Moscow. Reportedly, the brothers’ neighbors routinely complained about their “aggressive behavior.” Eskerkhanov and Bakhaev lived inside Moscow’s city limits.

According to the news site Rosbalt, which suddenly boasts surprising access to anonymous sources inside the Russian police, Dadayev had been acquainted with the other defendants for a long time. RBC says Zaur Dadayev and the Gubashev brothers all descend from "those Chechens," who lived in the Itum-Kale district of Chechnya and moved to the Malgobek district of Ingushetia in the 1970s.

Where were they arrested?

According to RBC, Zaur Dadayev was arrested in Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, on March 7. His brother, meanwhile, says Zaur was detained in Ingushetia. Eskerkhanov and the Gubashev brothers were also arrested in Ingushetia. Bakhaev was detained in Moscow.

Beslan Shavanov (Shivaev), another suspect in the case, allegedly blew himself up with a grenade, when police attempted to arrest him in Grozny on March 7. According to unofficial sources, Shavanov served in the same battalion with Zaur Dadayev and resigned shortly before his death. Ramzan Kadyrov said Shavanov was a "brave warrior," too.

How many people have been arrested in connection with the case?

Zaur Dadayev and Anzor Gubashev will stay in pretrial detention until at least April 28. The other three suspects will remain in police custody until at least May 7. Most likely, a court will extend these detention periods to accommodate a criminal trial.

Did any of the suspects admit their guilt?

Four of the suspects did not confess. The decision of Moscow’s Basmanny Court to arrest Zaur Dadayev was based in part on his confession, though the court emphasized that it has only the investigators’ records to substantiate this confession.

On March 10, now in jail in Moscow, Dadayev supposedly told human activists that he isn’t responsible for killing Nemtsov. He said he confessed to the crime to spare a former colleague from police harassment, and to ensure that he’d “make it to Moscow alive,” without meeting the same grisly fate as Beslan Shavanov. According to Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, which has recently published several stories challenging the official narrative about Nemtsov’s death, the other four suspects now behind bars all fear for their lives.

Was Nemtsov’s assassination ordered?

Initially, the murder investigation rested on five different theories. The first was the idea that someone wanted to "destabilize" the country by making Boris Nemtsov into a martyr. The second version said the killing was revenge for Nemtsov’s condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, when terrorists murdered members of a French satirical magazine in retaliation for cartoons mocking, among others, the Prophet Mohammed. A third version suggested that Nemtsov could have been killed by participants of the military conflict in Ukraine. The fourth theory, as put forth by the Investigative Committee, pointed to Nemtsov’s "commercial activities," although nothing is known about the politician’s business dealings. Finally, police did not rule out the possibility that Nemtsov could have been killed out of pure personal animosity. For example, the news agency LifeNews spread a story about his relationship with Ukrainian model Anna Duritskaya, who had allegedly become pregnant by Nemtsov and had an abortion at his demand.

Judging by media reports, only two possible versions remain. According to Rosbalt, the investigation is leaning toward the idea that Dadayev and Shavanov decided to kill Nemtsov because of his comments following the Charlie Hebdo attack. According to this theory, Dadayev and Shavanov resigned from their jobs in law enforcement, discussed religious topics, and finally decided to kill a public figure, who did not share their views about the cartoons of the Prophet.

Igor Grudnov, a Chechen Interior Ministry official, told reporters on March 10 that Zaur Dadayev resigned from police work at the end of February, promptly after returning from a month-long vacation, though some elements of this story don’t add up correctly. (Dadayev’s time off should have ended on February 25, though Grudnov says it lasted until February 28, the day after Nemtsov’s murder.) According to Rosbalt, this was the extent of the conspiracy, and no one higher up ordered the hit.

If you believe Moskovsky Komsomolets, however, this version does not hold water. MK wrote that the vehicle used by the alleged killers was photographed by traffic cameras near Nemtsov’s home in the autumn of 2014, long before the events at Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris.

According to Kommersant, the second working theory about Nemtsov’s murder is that he was killed as "a provocation" on the eve of an opposition protest planned for March 1. The newspaper says it would mean that someone with some authority ordered the assassination, if this information is confirmed.