22 February 2016, 09:00
Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of February 15-21
Death of head of North Ossetia Tamerlan Aguzarov; car explosion at GIBDD (traffic police) post in Dagestan by suicide bomber; approval of conviction of Azerbaijani rights defender Rasul Jafarov; termination of Savchenko's trial; issuance of permit to build bridge across the Kerch Strait; cancellation of judgement in the case of Kislovodsk Imam Kurman-Ali Baichorov, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of February 15-21, 2016, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".
Tamerlan Aguzarov, head of North Ossetia, dies
On February 19, the head of North Ossetia Tamerlan Aguzarov died in a Moscow clinic. He took a temporary leadership of the republic on June 5, 2015, when the then leader Taimuraz Mamsurov resigned after the expiry of his term of office. On September 13, 2015, most of the MPs voted for Aguzarov as the acting head of the republic. On the same day, his inauguration took place. Pneumonia is treated as the official reason of Tamerlan Aguzarov's death. He was buried on February 21 at the Alley of Fame in the city of Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia. That day was declared a day of mourning in North Ossetia, as well as in South Ossetia.
After the death of Aguzarov, the powers of the head of North Ossetia were entrusted to Vyacheslav Bitarov, the Chairman of the Government.
Suicide bomber blasts car near GIBDD post in Dagestan
On February 15, at the GIBDD (traffic police) post, located near the village of Djemikent in the Derbent District of Dagestan, a car was exploded. The Dagestani authorities have confirmed the death of two policemen and the suicide bomber; 18 other persons were wounded; although other sources reported about four casualties, including the suicide bomber. The responsibility for the explosion was claimed by the "Islamic State" (IS), a terrorist organization, banned in Russia. Initially, it was reported that the suicide bomber was pre-identified as Admir Talibov, a native of Dagestan and a student of the Astrakhan University. According to power agents, he was a supporter of the IS ideology. Later, however, a law enforcement source said that the blast was triggered by Magomedali Murliev, a 25-year-old native of the Suleiman-Stalsky District, who was a member of the criminal grouping "Yuzhnaya" (Southern).
On February 19, the head of Dagestan Ramazan Abdulatipov informed about detention of suspects of organizing the explosion; and on February 20, the spokesman of law enforcement bodies of the republic said that four suspects of involvement in the explosion had been detained. Two of them, according to a law enforcement source, were the 25-year-old Shakhbanov and the 24-year-old Gazliev. Also on February 20 it became known that one of the suspects was detained in Moscow, and another one managed to escape. According to the source, they had been preparing terror acts in Moscow.
Azerbaijani SC upholds guilty verdict to rights defender Rasul Jafarov
On February 16, the Supreme Court (SC) of Azerbaijan upheld the decision of the Baku Court of Appeal (BCA), according to which Rasul Jafarov, the coordinator of the campaign "Art for Democracy", will spend 6 years and 3 months in prison on charges of a number of economic crimes. At the BCA, Jafarov's defence tried to challenge the verdict of the Baku Court of Grave Crimes, passed on April 16, 2015. After the decision of the SC on Jafarov's case, his advocate has stated that they had passed all the judicial instances in Azerbaijan; and now the defence would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights ECtHR). According to the advocate, all the courts' decisions in respect of Jafarov are unfair and devoid of legal basis. Let us remind you that Rasul Jafarov was detained on August 2, 2014. He was acknowledged by the Amnesty International as "prisoner of conscience", and in December 2015, he was put on the list of political prisoners, compiled by civil society activists of Azerbaijan.
Judicial investigation in Savchenko's case completed
On February 17, at the Donetsk City Court of the Rostov Region, the defence of the Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko, who, according to Russian investigators, was correcting artillery fire, and was involved in the shelling on June 17, 2014, which killed two journalists of VGTRK (All-Russian TV and Radio Company), completed the presentation of its evidence. On the same day, the prosecutors presented additional proofs of Savchenko's guilt. After that, the judicial investigation was declared over; and the court appointed the debate on the merits of the case for March 2. According to Nikolai Polozov, an advocate for Savchenko, now, the defence is ready for the debate. According to his story, Nadezhda Savchenko's last plea is scheduled for March 3.
The trial of Savchenko is being held from September 22, 2015. She refuses to plead guilty. During the last week, the court re-questioned the prosecution's witness Dmitry Oslovskiy, who participated in detention of Savchenko; and Valerian Sementsov, an employee of the Shternberg State Astronomic Institute. The defence insisted on conducting a comprehensive astronomic examination of the videos of capturing Savchenko, but the court rejected the petition.
"Rosavtodor" issues permit for construction of bridge across Kerch Strait
On February 19, the "Rosavtodor" (Russian Federal Road Agency) reported that the General Directorate of State Examination gave a positive opinion on the project of the bridge across the Kerch Strait, and confirmed the correctness of its estimated cost, amounting to 211.852 billion roubles. On the same day, the "Rosavtodor" formally approved the project documentation and issued a permit for the construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait. The general contractor for designing and erecting the bridge intended to link the Krasnodar Territory Region and the Crimea is the Limited Liability Company (LLC) "Stroygazmontazh", owned by Arkady Rotenberg. The completion of the project is scheduled for June 30, 2019. The designed bridge comprises two parallel structures – for motor and railway traffic; its length will be 19 km. Back in December 2015, the "Rosavtodor" announced its readiness to begin the construction of the bridge in January 2016.
On February 15, the press service of the Federal Public Institution (FPI) "Taman Road Agency" reported about the decision to restrict navigation through the Kerch Strait during the erection of the bridge. However, according to representatives of the FPI, the construction will not prevent the navigation – the fairway may be closed for a short time, when the navigable arch will be installed between the bridge piers. During the peak periods of construction, up to 3500 workers per shift will be employed, says the LLC "Stroygazmontazh". Local residents believe that the large number of construction workers could lead to a shortage of drinking water in summer and illegal dumps.
Court sends case of Kislovodsk Imam Kurman-Ali Baichorov for retrial
On February 15, the Stavropol Territorial Court quashed, in the order of appeal, the verdict of the Predgorny District Court of the Stavropol Territory of 3.5 years of imprisonment to Kislovodsk Imam Kurman-Ali Baichorov, accused of drug dealing. The case has been sent for re-trial by the first-instance court; and it was decided to release the Imam on recognizance not to leave. On February, Baichorov left Colony No. 6. He noted that "he was satisfied with the decision of the appellate court and intends to continue fighting for his complete rehabilitation." Baichorov was detained on October 21, 2013; he refused to plead guilty, stating that the drugs were planted on him. Supporters of Baichorov associated his prosecution with his position on the construction of mosques in Kislovodsk. At the time of passing the decision by the Territorial Court, the Imam's advocates did not know the motivational part of the decision, but they treated the softening of the Baichorov's freedom restriction as a meaningful event.