26 December 2016, 09:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of December 19-25

Crash of an aircraft of the Russian Ministry of Defence in Sochi; conviction of Varvara Karaulova; mass detentions of relatives of suspected militants, killed in Grozny, and statement on organization of attack on policemen by ISIL militants; agreement of Abkhaz authorities with the opposition, already in force regardingformation of the Central Election Commission; failed attempt of protesting miners from Gukovo to go to Moscow, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of December 19-25, 2016, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Russian MoD's aircraft crashed down near Sochi

Early in the morning on December 25, a Tu-154 aircraft owned by the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) took off from Sochi to Syria and disappeared from radar screens. Fragments of the body of the crashed aircraft were found 1.5 km off the Black Sea coast of Sochi at the depth of 50-70 meters. The Tu-154 had 92 people on board: 64 performers of the Alexandrov Ensemble, nine journalists, eight militaries, eight crew members, two civil servants and Elizaveta Glinka, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, also known as Doctor Liza.

In order to help relatives of the casualties of the crash in Sochi, an operative headquarters was set up in the city; also, they formed seven psychological and psychiatric teams. Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared December 26 to be the national mourning day for those who perished in the crash of the Tu-154.

Initially, a technical malfunction was declared as the priority version of the crash in Sochi. However, after the disaster, Sergey Bainetov, the head of the flight safety service of the Russian Armed Forces, said that the aircraft was technically sound. Experts also did not rule out structural deficiencies of the aircraft and an explosion on board as possible reasons of the crash. The experts, interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot", made particular emphasis on the possible filling the wrecked aircraft with low-quality fuel.

Varvara Karaulova sentenced to 4.5 years in prison

On December 22, the Moscow District Military Court found Alexandra Ivanova (Varvara Karaulova) guilty of an attempt to join the "Islamic State" (IS, earlier – the ISIL), a terrorist organization, banned in Russia by the court, and sentenced her to 4.5 years in a general-security colony. The advocates of Varvara Karaulova have treated the verdict as too severe and said that they had lodged a brief appeal complaint to the Russia’s Supreme Court. The state prosecutor, who asked the court to sentence Karaulova to five years in prison and a fine of 150,000 roubles, was satisfied with the verdict. The defendant herself refused to plead guilty; and in her last plea pronounced on December 21, she asked the court for leniency, stating that her mistake was made because of her love. Karaulova’s case files state that she was detained at the Turkish-Syrian border in a group of Russians, including natives from Chechnya and Dagestan, who were going to join the IS. At the trial, Karaulova confirmed that after returning to her homeland, she intended to once again go to Syria to join her lover.

IS militants claim responsible for attacking policemen in Grozny; relatives of alleged militants complain about mass detentions

On December 19, the "Islamic State" (IS) banned in Russia by the court and recognized as a terrorist organization, claimed responsibility for the attacks on policemen committed in Grozny on December 17. According to latest data, three persons perished in these attacks; one person was wounded; and another law enforcer later died from a fatal wound, received in the course of a counterterrorist operation (CTO) launched after the attacks. The young men, detained during the CTO, confessed of their involvement in the IS, said a source from Chechen power bodies.

The funerals of the perished policemen took place on December 19; nothing was reported about the funerals of the killed suspected militants. A source from Chechen law enforcement bodies said that their bodies would be given out to their relatives. Relatives of the killed suspected militants reported mass detentions of their family members undertaken on December 17 and 18. By December 19, only a small part of them were released; and on December 20, new detentions took place. However, according to detainees’ relatives, no accusations were presented to them by the police. Akhmed Gisaev, the head of the Norway-based Human Rights Analysis Centre, said in his comment on the law enforcers’ actions, that we see here the embodiment of the principle of collective responsibility, when people respond for deeds of their relatives. At night on December 25, the relatives of the young men killed in the CTO in Grozny were released, Akhmed Gisaev has reported.

It is noteworthy that on December 21, residents of the Chechen village of Prigorodnoe held a rally with the participation of the assistant of the head of Chechnya, representatives of the SAM (Spiritual Administration of Muslims) and the MIA (Ministry of Internal Affairs) and demanded to evict the family of Zelimkhan Bakharchiev, suspected of organizing attacks on Grozny on December 17 and 18, out of the republic. The rally could be organized by the authorities, in order to explain the later possible illegal actions against militants’ families by villagers’ indignation, the head of a local NGO has suggested.

The experts, interviewed by the "Caucasian Knot", believe that the recent attacks on policemen in Chechnya indicate the presence in the country of people, who may grow active for sabotage actions, and who are disgruntled with Chechen authorities.

Abkhazia: authorities sign agreement with opposition

On December 19, the authorities of Abkhazia signed an agreement with the opposition on the basis of the agreements reached during the people’s assembly, held by oppositional activists on December 15. Under this agreement, under the proposals of the Bloc of Oppositional Forces, the Abkhazia's President will appoint the Vice-Premier and present two candidates for the judges of the Constitutional Court; and will present, on the proposal of the opposition, to the Parliament the candidacy of the new Public Prosecutor General of Abkhazia, while the Parliament will choose four members of the Central Election Commission (CEC). The agreement also states that the opposition obliges "not to demand an early resignation of the incumbent President of Abkhazia." Following the agreement, on December 20, the National Assembly (Parliament) of the Republic elected four members of the CEC from the opposition, nominated by the Bloc of Oppositional Forces; on December 21, the new CEC was formed; and on December 23, Tamaz Gogiya was elected its chairman.

Miners-protesters from Gukovo not allowed leaving for Moscow to meet MPs

On December 19, about 150 miners, who demand the payment of their wage debts, gathered outside the office of the "Kingcoal" Company in Gukovo with the intention to go to Moscow to meet Valery Rashkin, a State Duma MP. Only by the evening of that day the police lifted the cordon of the company office, where miners had gathered. The shipping company refused to provide them with the promised buses for the trip. After that, miners decided, instead of sending a large delegation to Moscow, to send 10 their representatives; however, they managed to buy only three tickets. But even these three persons, according to protesters, were taken off the bus in Kamensk without any explanations. Also, miners reported threats to those who tried to leave Gukovo for Moscow. Against the background of these events, on December 21, the Governor of the Rostov Region Vasily Golubev stated that "the Regional Development Corporation" had resumed the payment of wage debts, and will pay 14 million roubles until the end of this year (the total debts make 300 million roubles). The protesting miners are dissatisfied with these promises, since they seek to sign an agreement with the authorities on complete payment of all wage debts, and to ensure the promptness and transparency of these payments.

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