[Swiftwater Gazette] Understanding Russia - Saturday reading - a fake journalist
kroposki at att.net
Sat Jun 10 10:46:28 EDT 2017
RussianAssassin Masquerades as Reporter in Ukraine
KIEV,Ukraine — Ukrainians have long struggled with fake news fromRussia, but last week, they discovered something even more insidious:a fake journalist.
Theman was tall and dapper. He wore a dark suit and spoke with a Frenchaccent. When he met politicians in Kiev, he introduced himself asAlex Werner, a reporter with the French newspaper Le Monde.
“Hewas elegant, calm and confident,” recalled Amina Okuyeva, who is aminor celebrity in Ukraine because she served with her husband as avolunteer soldier in the war against separatists in the eastern partof the country. Mr. Werner had interviewed her several times.
Itwas midway through one of those purported interviews, in a terrifyingflash of gunpowder, that Mr. Werner’s true identity came to light:
Hewas, in fact, a Chechen assassin, the Ukrainian authorities now say.
Underthe guise of a journalist, the assassin, ArturDenisultanov-Kurmakayev, tried to murder Ms. Okuyeva and her husband,Adam Osmayev, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said.
Theplot went awry because Ms. Okuyeva was also armed, and the details ofthe attack and its aftermath are now shedding light on Kiev’s roleas a testing ground for what Ukrainian officials say are hybrid waractivities by Russia, including assassinations.
Theattack was the third high-profile killing or attempted killing inKiev that the Ukranian authorities have attributed to the Russiansecurity services, but the first in which the accused killerimpersonated a journalist.
Ina statement published June 3, Le Monde said it “wants to stressthat none of its journalists are in Ukraine at the moment and thatits staff does not include an Alex Werner. Le Monde firmly condemnsany impersonation of its journalists or of its title, for whateverpurpose.”
In2006, the Russian government legalized targeted killings abroad ofpeople posing terrorist threats, resuming a Soviet-era practice.
Butthe Kremlin has never acknowledged using the authority granted underthe law and has vehemently denied specific accusations, includingthose in Ukraine.
As“Mr. Werner,” Mr. Denisultanov-Kurmakayev had lived for more thana year in Kiev, mingling with politicians and anti-Russian activistsbefore the shooting on June 1.
ArturDenisultanov-Kurmakayev posed as a reporter from the French newspaper Le Monde but was in fact a Chechen assassin, according to theUkrainian authorities.
Thecover was good but not flawless, Ms. Okuyeva said in an interview,her first with a foreign news organization since the attemptedmurder. She was accompanied by two bodyguards who were on high alertthroughout the interview.
Oneindication that Mr. Denisultanov-Kurmakayev was not who he said hewas:
Healways carried a notebook but never bothered to write in it, Ms.Okuyeva said. He wore an expensive-looking suit, also a hint thatsomething may have been amiss.
Therewas nothing unusual in the request for an interview, however. “Thepress often asked for interviews,” Ms. Okuyeva said. “The medialoves to write about us.”
Ms.Okuyeva and Mr. Osmayev, both ethnic Chechens, are well known inUkraine. In2012, the Russian government accused Mr. Osmayev ofplotting to kill Vladimir V. Putin, who was then the prime minister.Mr. Osmayev was arrested in Ukraine, but his extradition to Russiawas blocked by the European Court of Human Rights.
Afterthe Ukrainian revolution in 2014, he was released, and he and hiswife joined a unit of ethnic Chechens fighting in the war in theeast, the Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion. Mr. Osmayev has been itscommander since 2015. Ms. Okuyeva served as a sniper, wearing acamouflaged head scarf at the front.
Gainingfame as enemies of Russia carried risks. The couple knew they weretargets. “Putin is personally interested in getting rid of us,”Ms. Okuyeva said.
Theputative Mr. Werner met three times with the couple in Kiev coffeeshops from May 20 until June 1, explaining that he planned anin-depth article.
Beforethe fourth meeting, Ms. Okuyeva said, he asked the couple to pick himup in their car and drive to the French Embassy, and he also said hehad a gift from his bosses at Le Monde.
“Therewere a lot of small, strange things, and my intuition told me not tomeet with him,” Ms. Okuyeva said, but she ignored the misgivings.
Asthey drove, Mr. Denisultanov-Kurmakayev asked the pair to stop thecar for an interview and to sit in the back to receive the gift,which he carried in a festive red cardboard box.
Asthe couple sat in the back seat of the car, Mr.Denisultanov-Kurmakayev said, “‘Now, here is your gift,’” Ms.Okuyeva said. He opened the box, pulled out a gun and opened fire onMr. Osmayev.
AdamOsmayev, left, speaking to reporters with his wife, Ms. Okuyeva,outside the hospital in Kiev where they were treated. Credit BrendanHoffman for The New York Times
Ashot hit Mr. Osmayev on the right side of his chest. But he was notimmediately incapacitated and struggled with the shooter for controlof the gun. Ms. Okuyeva, however, long fearful of assassinationattempts, was carrying a pistol under her coat, as well as a tube ofthe blood-clotting agent Celox in her purse. She shot Mr.Denisultanov-Kurmakayev four times as he and her husband fought. Bothwere gravely wounded but survived.
“Iwill always be thankful,” Mr. Osmayev said in an interview of hiswife’s quick draw. “Because of her reaction, we are both alivetoday.”
Thesurvival of the assassin could elevate the importance of the case,should investigators obtain his cooperation.
InMarch, a former Russian lawmaker who fled to Ukraine, Denis N.Voronenkov, wasgunned down on a sidewalk outside the Premier Palacehotel in Kiev. Mr. Voronenkov’s bodyguard shot and killed theattacker. Last year, a car bomb killed a journalist, Pavel Sheremet,on a central street of the capital, and no arrests were made.
Afterthe attack on Mr. Osmayev and Ms. Okuyeva, Ukraine’s InteriorMinistry and lawmakers blamed the Russian intelligence services.Ukraine’s SBU intelligence agency, however, has said there isinsufficient evidence to determine whether the killer pretending tobe a journalist was a Russian agent, but it has not ruled out thatpossibility.
“Forthe world community, what is important is we have proof Russia iscommitting terrorist acts in other countries,” said AntonGerashenko, a lawmaker. “His tongue may loosen to say who sent himhere and why,” he said of Mr. Denisultanov-Kurmakayev.
Whileit remains unclear whose bidding Mr. Denisultanov-Kurmakayev may havebeen doing, it was not the first time his name had arisen in similarcircumstances.
Inthe 1990s, Mr. Denisultanov-Kurmakayev was all but openly associatedwith a Chechen organized crime group operating in St. Petersburg, andhe once appeared on Russian TV to speak as a representative of theorganization.
In2008, the authorities in Austria questioned Mr.Denisultanov-Kurmakayev about his contacts with a Chechen asylumseeker and whistle-blower, Umar Israilov, who had testified to theEuropean Court of Human Rights against Ramzan A. Kadyrov, the Chechenleader. Mr. Israilov said Mr. Denisultanov-Kurmakayev was an envoy of Mr. Kadyrov sent to Austria to threaten his life.
Mr.Denisultanov-Kurmakayev said the Chechen leader had sent him toVienna to persuade Mr. Israilov to return to Chechnya and, failingthat, to murder him. He said that Mr. Kadyrov kept a list of 300enemies to be killed.
Mr.Denisultanov-Kurmakayev said he had declined to carry out theassassination and instead turned to the Austrian police forprotection against retribution for failing to fulfill the order. Twomonths later, Mr. Israilov was shot and killed by unknown gunmen on aVienna street.
Mr.Denisultanov-Kurmakayev said at the time, “I do not want to breakany laws, and I am not a murderer.”
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