#BalticBrief: Chechen Officials Respond to Baltic Magnitsky Acts

Russian media responds to “Magnitsky list” of Lithuania and Latvia

(Source: RIA Novosti)

On February 22, Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkevics announced that 49 people were banned from entering Latvia, based on the so called “Magnitsky Act” Latvian parliament passed on February 8.

The Latvian version of the act came into force less than three months after a similar act was passed by the Lithuanian parliament on November 16, 2017 — as @DFRLab has reported before — and over a year after Estonia passed its own Magnitsky act in December 2016.

Now all Baltic states passed acts to prevent foreigners connected to large-scale money laundering, corruption, or human rights abuses from entering their respective countries. The name of the act comes in commemoration of a Russian lawyer and auditor, Sergey Magnitsky, who died while in police custody in Moscow after investigating a tax fraud scheme allegedly used by Russia’s Ministry of Interior and Kremlin officials.

Russian media did not let this gesture go unnoticed.

The media response

Though both Lithuania and Latvia forbid 49 Russian nationals from entering the country, Russian language media mostly focused on one individual — Ramzan Kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic. Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, was also mentioned frequently in relation to the “Magnitsky list” of Latvia and Lithuania.

The first time Lithuania released its “Magnitsky list” on January 15, Kadyrov’s Press Secretary Alvi Karimov gave a comment to Russian state-funded news agency RIA Novosti.

Translated from Russian: “Kadyrov’s press secretary reacted to Lithuania’s “Magnitsky List”. (Source: RIA Novosti)

The comment read:

I will upset the Lithuanian authorities, who for a long time cherished the dream of Ramzan Kadyrov’s visit to this country. Lithuania has never been and is not included in the list of countries that interest him at least out of a mere curiosity.

[..]

This decision of Lithuania is an empty dummy that does not deserve the attention of Ramzan Kadyrov and even a minute of his time to be spent on a reading.

[..]

If the authors of this document were concerned about human rights in the Chechen Republic, they would receive comprehensive information indicating that the situation in Chechnya is better than anywhere else in the world, and even more so than in Lithuania.

[..]

I am surprised to what a Pug is sometimes capable of to please an elephant [a metaphor form a Russian story about an elephant and a Pug]. Any reasonable person understands that this is a miserable gesture towards the U.S.

[..]

It is not a secret that Lithuania is carrying out an anti-Russian policy, for a long time, including against Kadyrov.

According to a Google search, there were at least 106 media outlets that used the press secretary’s comment to RIA Novosti verbatim.

(Source: Google search)

Getting intense

Kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic, made headlines also after Latvia released its “Magnitsky list” in February.

On February 25, RIA Novasti reported about Kadyrov to be banned from entering Latvia, as well.

Translated from Russian: “Kadyrov does not plan to visit Latvia in the next 30 years” (Source: RIA Novosti)

The article quoted Kadyrov’s press secretary. He said:

The head of Chechnya, as far as I know, did not apply to the Latvian embassy for a visa, and there is no such trip for the next 30 years. Actions of the Latvian politicians remind us of playing in a sandbox.

[..]

Kadyrov has friendly invitations to visit dozens of countries around the world.

[..]

Latvian politicians are ready to do anything, just to have the right to a squeaky voice in the choir, conducted by the U.S. and some Western countries.

[..]

It’s a shame for the people of Latvia, among whom are thousands of highly educated, intelligent and wise people. We do not intend to adapt to the leadership of Latvia, we build relations on the basis of friendship, good-neighborliness and do not intend to ban citizens of Latvia visiting Chechnya while traveling to Russia.

[..]

Russia and Latvia have been and will be close friends, with warm relations. When the Latvian people need help, the Russian people will be the first to give hand.

This time, a Google search identified at least 44 media outlets that used the Karimov’s quote to RIA Novosti verbatim.

(Source: Google)

Russian media outlet TASS also received exclusive comment about Kadyrov’s ban from entering Latvia. On February 25, TASS reached out to the Minister of the Chechen Republic on National Policy, External Relations, Press and Information Dzhambulat Umarov.

Umarov said:

I will not be sarcastic, I will say calmly: of course, this prohibition does not matter for the head of Chechnya. He does not care about the next surge of emotions of the Latvian authorities to please colleagues from NATO. Of what significance this (ban on entry) can be for the Chechen Republic, whose head prefers to stay with its people in the region and deal with its problems? We regret the attitude of the Republic of Latvia. It’s a pity, a beautiful country, a good capital.

In this case, Google search engine identified at least 20 websites that used Usamov’s comment verbatim.

(Source: Google)

Karimov and Umarov were not the only ones to express themselves on the topic of Baltic Magnitsky lists. On February 26, Kadyrov himself published sarcastic posts on his Telegram channel and VKontakte (VK) page.

Left (Source: Telegram/Kadyrov_95); Right (Source: VK/Ramzan Kadyrov).

He posted:

Dear friends! I really need your help. And you can help me with valuable advice.

I’m interested in entering Latvia bypassing the cordons. The thing is a visit to Latvia was the purpose of all my life. I dreamed of a trip to Riga, day and night, at work and at home. And now, when I managed to get two or three days off, the Latvian parliament informs me that I am not allowed to enter.

I was very upset, and I do not find myself a place. And riding a horse did not calm my nerves, and training is not fun, and music does not distract from the thought that I cannot go to my beloved Latvia. And then I thought, whatever works for a child not to cry. Well, if Latvia announced sanctions for us, we, as people raised by other traditions and values, invite all Latvians to visit Chechnya.

I know that the Latvian parliament, was not guided by the interests of the Latvian people when deciding on sanctions, but wanted to please the elephant. What else remains for the Pug to do?

In his posts, he used the same reference to the story about an elephant and a Pug that his press secretary used when commenting on Lithuanian ban.

@DFRLab identified at least 32 Russian media outlets that used Kadyrov’s Telegram post and at least six media outlets that used his post on VK.

(Source: @DFRLab via Google search)

Conclusion

When Lithuania published its list, Kadyrov’s Press Secretary Alvi Karimov was the only to provide a public comment to Russian media. Whereas with the Latvian ban, three Chechen officials provided comment. The comments were made more than two weeks after the list was first published on Latvian web on February 8, 2018 and three days after Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkevics announced the ban on Twitter.

The fact that the Head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov was banned from entering Latvia and Lithuania, triggered responses. The response were then presented and spread across the Russian-language web. This was in spite of Chechen officials who claimed Kadyrov had no interest in the Baltic states.


Nika Aleksejeva is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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