07 March 2016, 09:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of February 29-March 6

Appointment of Vyacheslav Bitarov the acting head of North-Ossetia; debate in the Donetsk court in case against Nadezhda Savchenko; action in memory of the people killed during riots in Yerevan on March 1-2, 2008; failed rally in support of Ramzan Kadyrov in Grozny; unidentified criminals' attack on deputies of the Buynaksk City Council; mass poisoning of children of a kindergarten in a village in Kabardino-Balkaria, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of February 29-March 6, 2016, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Vyacheslav Bitarov appointed acting head of North-Ossetia

On February 29, in connection with the death of Tamerlan Aguzarov, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to appoint Vyacheslav Bitarov, the chairman of the republic's government, the acting head of North-Ossetia. During the meeting with the President, Vyacheslav Bitarov has announced his intention to focus on solving the economic problems in North-Ossetia. On March 1, Vyacheslav Bitarov signed a decree on the resignation of the republic's government in accordance with the Constitution of North Ossetia and announced no plans to make changes in the composition of the government.

On March 2, Vyacheslav Bitarov as the acting head of North Ossetia was introduced to the North-Ossetian Parliament by Sergey Melikov, the Russian presidential envoy to the North-Caucasian Federal District (NCFD). Vyacheslav Bitarov is to hold his new post until September 2016, when the leader of North Ossetia will be elected on a single day of voting. It should be noted that yet on February 24, local political analysts mentioned Vyacheslav Bitarov as the main candidate for the post of the leader of North-Ossetia, with members of the power block as his main competitors.

Donetsk Court completes debate in Nadezhda Savchenko's case

On March 2, the Donetsk City Court of the Rostov Region started the debate in the criminal case against Ukrainian aviator Nadezhda Savchenko, who, according to Russian investigators, was involved in adjustment of fire and in the shelling of June 17, 2014, near Lugansk, which killed two journalists of the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (known as VGTRK). Nadezhda Savchenko is also accused of illegal crossing the Russian border. However, she pleads not guilty. During the debate, public prosecutors stated that the Nadezhda Savchenko's guilt was "completely proven" and asked to sentence the defendant to 23 years of imprisonment in a common-security penal colony and a fine of 100,000 roubles. In her short speech during the debate, Nadezhda Savchenko has asked the Court "to pronounce the verdict within two weeks" and threatened that otherwise she will go on a "hunger strike".

At the request of the defence, the advocates were to deliver their speeches in the debate on March 3. On that day, the advocates stated that their client had an alibi and called on the Court to acquit the defendant on all charges. After the advocates' speeches, the Court decided to postpone the trial until March 9. On that day, the Court is supposed to listen to the final speech of the defendant and to announce the date of the pronouncement of the verdict. In response, Nadezhda Savchenko has said that she "declares a hunger strike." The advocates of the Ukrainian aviator have explained the Court's decision to postpone the trial by the desire of the Donetsk City Court to deprive the defendant of her right to the final speech. Earlier, the advocates have stated that Nadezhda Savchenko intends to make "an important political statement" in her final speech.

In Yerevan, opposition activists pay tribute to memory of people killed during riots on March 1-2, 2008

On March 1, in Armenia, members of six political forces, including the Armenian National Congress (ANC), the Front of National Salvation "New Armenia", the People's Party of Armenia, the "National Self-Determination" Party, the initiative "Armenia", and the "Civil Agreement" Party, attended the rally in Yerevan, held in memory of the people killed during the riots on March 1-2, 2008. Then, In Yerevan, after the dispersal of the opposition rally, held to express the disagreement with the outcome of the presidential election, officially won by Serzh Sargsyan, there were clashes between law enforcers and protesters. During two days, as a result of the clashes, 10 people were killed and more than 250 others were injured.

According to the organizers of the rally in Yerevan, it was attended by more than 2000 people. During the rally, the opposition activists called on the EU to impose sanctions against the Armenian authorities. According to the opposition, the sanctions should be introduced to ensure the punishment for the people guilty of the events of March 1-2, 2008. After the rally-march in Yerevan, people laid wreaths and flowers at the monument to revolutionary Myasnikyan. Policemen also laid flowers in memory of the victims killed during the clashes.

In Grozny, rally in support of Ramzan Kadyrov cancelled after announcement of his stay at post of Chechen leader

On February 28, in Grozny, participants of the "Civil Forum" delivered speeches and asked Ramzan Kadyrov to stay the leader of Chechnya and praised him for his faithfulness, patriotism, morality and leadership skills. After the "Civil Forum", there was information on the rally in support of Ramzan Kadyrov. Residents of Chechnya reported that the rally in support of the leader of Chechnya was scheduled for February 28, but was then postponed to March 6. The Chechen authorities denied the information and reported that they planned no action to be held on March 6. Ramzan Kadyrov himself has urged not to organize any actions in his support.

It should be noted that the Ramzan Kadyrov's second term as the leader of Chechnya expires on April 5, and he has repeatedly stated his willingness to leave the post. Meanwhile, according to sources close to the authorities, the question of Ramzan Kadyrov's appointment as the acting leader of Chechnya and his further victory at the direct election in the republic has already been resolved. This was reported by the "RBC" on March 2 with reference to at once three sources close to the Kremlin and the Chechen authorities. After the dissemination of this information, the Chechen authorities have refused carrying out a rally in support of Ramzan Kadyrov in Grozny on March 6. The "Caucasian Knot" was informed by employees of educational institutions of the republic that the rally was initially planned. Students were obliged to attend the rally, employees of educational institutions were instructed to prepare banners with slogans in support of Ramzan Kadyrov and his portraits, and public employees were obliged to prepare posters with requests to Ramzan Kadyrov to stay at the post of the leader of the republic.

According to Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya, the project director for Northern Caucasus of the International Crisis Group (ICG) and a member of the Board of the HRC "Memorial", the Russian authorities believe Ramzan Kadyrov is an indispensable person in the current model of relations with Chechnya. The expert believes that the Kremlin fears of losing control over the republic and thus maximizes the autonomy of the Chechen leader on adoption of radical solutions, and the position of Ramzan Kadyrov is strengthened by federal law enforcers and local tied by mutual responsibility.

In Buynaksk, deputies of City Council attacked by unidentified people

On March 4, Marat Djankhaev and Shamil Atashev, Deputies of the Buynaksk City Council from the "Party of Veterans of Russia", were brought to hospital after they were attacked in front of the city administration. This was reported by Marat Djankhaev himself. According to him, the attack involved people familiar to the deputies as supporters of Gusein Gamzatov, a member of the "Edinaya Rossiya" (United Russia), who resigned in January 2016, four months after the "Party of Veterans of Russia" won the elections held in Buynaksk in September 2015. Supporters of Gusein Gamzatov, who demanded to cancel the decision on his resignation, claimed that Marat Djankhaev and Shamil Atashev themselves provoked a fight and that the conflict arose from the misbehaviour of a deputies' friend with respect to a young woman. According to Marat Djankhaev, the police squad separated the participants of the fight and brought them to the police station, where the deputies filed a complaint demanding to initiate criminal proceedings against the people who had attacked them.

This is not the first attack in Buynaksk, when victims claim the incident was politically motivated. For example, yet on January 9, blogger Gadji Nurutdinov, a resident of Buynaksk, claimed being beaten by a group of people, including four deputies of the City Council. Gadji Nurutdinov is an active supporter of Gusein Gamzatov, and he demands to bring the deputies to responsibility for his beating. He claims that the investigators refuse to initiate criminal proceedings against the deputies.

It should be noted that on February 11, MP Yusup Bartykhanov was detained in Buynaksk. According to a court official, he is suspected of illegal purchase and possession of weapons and drugs. However, earlier, the "Chernovik" (Draft) has reported with reference to its sources on the dissemination in the city of the information that Yusup Bartykhanov had been detained because of the alleged preparation of an attempt on the life of Gusein Gamzatov. However, no official information on the subject has been reported yet.

Mass poisoning of children takes place in kindergarten in Kabardino-Balkarian village of Nartan

On March 2, thirty children got poisoned in the kindergarten "Psyne" of the village of Nartan of the Chegem District of Kabardino-Balkaria. Children from the kindergarten, designed for 244 seats, suffered from nausea, and some of them from vomiting. The children were brought to the infectious diseases hospital in Nalchik. Meanwhile, only one girl was hospitalized. After the examination, the rest of the children were diagnosed with "mild food poisoning" and sent home to be supervised by paediatricians. On March 3, the only hospitalized girl from the kindergarten was discharged from the hospital. An interdepartmental commission was set up to reveal the causes of poisoning. At the kindergarten, staff members of the "Rospotrebnadzor" (Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights) seized samples of water and food, consumed by the children, and took washings for bacteriological examination. The children also underwent examinations. The operation of the kindergarten "Psyne" was suspended.

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