09 March 2011, 23:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of February 28 to March 6

In Vladikavkaz, bank employees staged a multi-million heist, but their "triumph" was not long; in the Krasnodar Territory, ecological actions turned into arrests; election campaigns in Southern Russia reach the homestretch; Medvedev, Aliev and Sargsyan once again tried to decide the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh, but so far agreed only on prisoners' exchange, - look these and other events in the review of the week of February 28-March 6, 2011, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".


One of the most resonant last week's events in the Caucasus was the robbery of the Vladikavkaz Branch of the "Bank of Moscow", located in the capital of North Ossetia, which, as it turned out later, had been planned and committed by employees of the bank themselves.

On February 28, at 8 p.m., the on duty unit of the UVD (Interior Department) of Vladikavkaz received a call from the director of the branch saying that two armed criminals in masks had robbed the bank.

An investigatory-operative group, heads of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and power agents went to the venue. It was established that the criminals broke the window from the rear of the bank, broke into the cashier's office, and, after roping two women-employees of the bank, stole the money in the amount of 180 million roubles, more than 200,000 US dollars and 324,000 euros. Since the bank employees were inside the premises at that moment, the alarm system was off, while the securities were on duty at the entrance to the bank.

The version that the robbery was simulated appeared among the main one with investigators on the same day. It took them five days to find all the stolen money. The inquiry showed that the theft of 200 million roubles from the branch of the "Bank of Moscow" in Vladikavkaz was organized by the lawyers and economists, who had never been attracted before to any administrative or criminal responsibility.

Four persons were detained within the inquiry - two men and two women; almost 90 percent of the stolen money was confiscated from them. As far as the local MIA is informed, the stolen money was not intended to finance any illegal armed formations (IAFs). According to the Interior Minister of North Ossetia, the crime was committed out of selfish motives for personal enrichment.

Now, a series of operative-search operations is underway, aimed at establishing the circumstances of the robbery, while the detainees are checked for involvement in a number of other crimes committed in the territory of the republic. A criminal case was initiated on the fact of the robbery under Article 162 of the Criminal Code - "robbery".


The incident that took place on the Black Sea shore in the Krasnodar Territory on Sunday, February 27, last week received its logical continuation. On that day, ecologists, rights defenders and journalists from Moscow, Krasnodar, Gelendzhik, Tuapse and Sochi were detained by militiamen, when they held a picnic in the land of the forest fund, where they got by cutting down the fence, which was erected illegally, in their opinion. In total, 19 persons were detained. A couple of hours later all of them were released, except for Dmitry Shevchenko, Suren Gazaryan, Zufar Achilov and Evgeniy Vitishko. They were transported to the IVS (temporary detention facility) of Tuapse and accused of disobeying lawful demands of militiamen.

On February 28, the Tuapse Magistrate Court passed a guilty verdict to them for committing an administrative offence. On March 2, the cassation complaint lodged by the detainees' advocate was considered in Tuapse. The court upheld the first instance's decision - the 7-10-day custody of four activists, while reducing Zufar Achilov's term from 7 to 5 days. While in custody, Messrs Vitishko, Shevchenko, Achilov and Gazaryan went on hunger strike in protest against the verdict.

On March 2, actions in defence of the arrested ecologists were held by activists in Moscow, Krasnodar and Tuapse. In the former two cities the pickets passed peacefully, while pensioner Natalia Tsinko, who held a picket in support of convicted ecologists in the centre of Tuapse, was also detained. According to the UVD for the Tuapse District, "an administrative protocol under Article 20.2 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences was drawn up against the picketer."


Next Sunday, on March 13, Russia will hold the United Voting Day. Most regions of the North-Caucasian and Southern Federal Districts (NCFD and SFD) will hold elections to different levels of local self-governments.

One of the largest election campaigns is currently underway in Dagestan. On March 13, this republic will elect its parliament. According to the draw, the regional branch of the Party "Patriots of Russia" will be No. 1 in ballot papers, followed by "Spravedlivaya Rossiya" (A Just Russia), the CPRF (Communist Party of the Russian Federation), "Pravoe Delo" (Right Cause), LDPR (Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia); and the final No. 6 went to the "Edinaya Rossiya" (United Russia). According to the online poll conducted by the Dagestan weekly "Novoe Delo" (New Cause), 51.3 percent of Dagestanians would cast their votes for the CPRF, should the elections be held in the coming days.

On March 13, the United Voting Day will also take place in the Stavropol Territory, where people will elect deputies and heads of a number of municipal formations, in particular, in the Apanasenkov, Ipatov, Kirov, Neftekumsk and Novoselitskiy Districts, and in the cities of Stavropol, Nevinnomyssk, Zheleznovodsk, Kislovodsk and Pyatigorsk. Already in the course of the election campaign, serious complaints have appeared that may cause criminal proceedings.


The socio-political situation in Armenia continues heating up. On March 1, in Yerevan, in the territory adjacent to the Institute of Ancient Manuscripts - Matenadaran, a rally was organized by the non-parliamentary opposition. By different estimates it brought together from 10 to 50 thousand people and was also attended by members of the parliamentary opposition party named "Heritage". The rally adopted 15 points of demands to the authorities and fixed the deadline - March 15 - to fulfil them.

The demands include release of all political prisoners; setting up an independent international commission to study the circumstances of the clashes between protesters and the police on March 1, 2008, or resume the work of the fact-finding group; stop threats and terror by the police, aimed at preventing people's participation in rallies and lift the ban on rallies in Freedom Square. The protesters also demanded resignation of Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan; Deputy Prime Minister Armen Gevorkyan, Chief of Police Alik Sarkisyan, and Head of the National Security Service Gorik Akopyan.

Should the authorities fulfil most of the demands, the Armenian National Congress (ANC) promised to agree to start a dialogue with them, where there will be only one topic - early parliamentary and presidential elections.

On March 2, the opposition party named Armenian Nationwide Movement (ANM) submitted a notification to the Mayoralty of Yerevan about their intent to hold a mass public event in Freedom Square on March 17, and then - a march from this square along Mashtots Avenue, Amiryan Street, Republic Square, and Nalbandyan and Tumanyan Streets back to Freedom Square. However, the Mayoralty refused to sanction a rally in Freedom Square on March 17, as applied by the ANM; however, at the same time it accepted to notice the application on holding cultural events from March 15 to April 15 in the territory.


The next round of trilateral talks on Nagorno-Karabakh was held this week between the heads of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Three presidents met on 5 March in Sochi. According to the joint statement issued after the talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict of Medvedev, Sargsyan and Aliev, the Armenian and Azerbaijani parties agreed to complete exchange of prisoners.

Besides, the document notes that the parties intend to settle all the disputes by peaceful means and hold inquiry of possible incidents along the ceasefire line through the OSCE mediation.

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