Vienna, December 14 -- Andrei Soldatov, one of Moscow’s most respected commentators on the Russian security services, says that it is likely that the FSB is responsible for a series of murders, kidnappings, and disappearances of Chechen activists in Azerbaijan over the last several months.
Soldatov, who both leads the intelligence monitoring site Agentura.ru and writes for Moscow’s Novaya gazeta, argued yesterday that the recent murder of Imran Gaziyev, deputy head of the Chechen representation office in Baku, has all the earmarks of a Russian intelligence service hit (http://www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2007/95/19.html).
The gun used to kill Gaziyev, he pointed out, not only was of a type long employed by the FSB and the KGB before it, but it had a PSM Baikal silencer attached and was left at the scene to send a message to others as to just who was responsible for the hit, clear marks of a security service operation.
And while it may be “premature” to reach any final judgment about the FSB’s role in this case, “it must not be excluded that the FSB organized this murder as well as other attacks against Chechen activists and officials, not only in Azerbaijan but elsewhere in the Caucasus as well.
In addition to the obvious motive of the FSB and the forensic evidence which points to a professional operation, Soldatov argues that there are three other compelling reasons for assuming that the Russian security services were involved.
First, since June 2006, the Kremlin has authorized the FSB and other Russian special services to “liquidate” Chechen militants abroad, much as some other governments have done against their opponents in the past. And in both cases, these regimes have acted in the knowledge that they are unlikely to be held accountable for killing their own citizen
Second, Soldatov says, “sources in the FSB confirm that they have an agreement with the force structures of Azerbaijan about the activities of Russian special operation groups [there] and on an open corridor across the border” between the two countries through which these groups can pass.
Given that the Azerbaijani security services have closely tracked Chechens there for the past 15 years, it is unlikely that Baku would not have been able to prevent attacks against them by anyone -- except by the security services of a state like the Russian Federation.
And third, Soldatov concludes, these attacks on Chechen activists in Azerbaijan fully confirm to the informal rules that some other governments have developed for fighting so-called “dirty wars” against those of their political opponents that are prepared to use violence against them.
Citing the actions of Spain’s anti-Basque Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberation in the 1980s and the conclusions of Irish journalist Paddy Woodworth about the struggles between the British and the IRA, Soldatov says there are three such rules that security services normally follow and that the Russian services appear to have followed in Azerbaijan.
First of all, such serves typically hire others to do their work in order to maintain plausible deniability. Then, they organize these attacks not simply to eliminate specific opponents but to intimidate others who support them, whether fellow citizens or foreign governments.
And finally, Soldatov says, the intelligence services engaged in such activities often do not tell their nominal political masters what they are planning or have done, operating on the basis of the principle that politicians have “’no need to know’” and even welcome being kept in the dark.
Soldatov’s case, as he himself admits, is largely circumstantial. But it is certainly suggestive, and if it is true as seems likely, such FSB activities point to a dangerous development not only in the Kremlin’s dealings both with its own opponents but also in its relationship with foreign governments as well.