Russia accused of inserting extremists into Ukrainian groups; Georgia detains suspected IS members

Threatologist Eurasia: 25 May 2023


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This week's edition is a slightly abridged for practical reasons. Additional stories of interest may be included in next week's edition. The main stories now are:

  • Meduza accuses Russia of inserting extremists into Ukrainian groups
  • Georgia detains suspected IS members
Meduza accuses Russia of inserting extremists into Ukrainian groups

Meduza has published a lengthy investigation that accuses Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) of attempting to recruit former radical Islamists and insert them into Chechen and Crimean battalions fighting against Russia in Ukraine (1).


The article interviews a fighter, Astrakhan native Baurzhan Kultanov, who first travelled to Syria to join IS in 2014 but in under a year was looking to leave as a result of injury and disillusionment. The following is a highly abridged account of his story. Kultanov was detained by IS before buying passage to Istanbul, where he was again detained and deported to Russia. Russian courts gave him a significantly reduced sentence (four years four months) on terrorism charges in return for cooperating with the Russian security services. From prison, this cooperation included signing multiple confessions, appearing on TV, and “identifying” militants in photos. Upon his release in 2019, he continued to collaborate with the FSB, who prepared him for infiltration into “Chechen groups and Tatar battalions who want to fight for the Armed Forces of Ukraine.” Kultanov’s task was to collect intelligence on the composition and resources of the groups. In particular, the FSB was interested in information about Isa Akayev, the commander of the Crimea Islamic volunteer battalion — well before Russia officially opened an investigation into him. Kultanov was also asked to gather information on Turkish charitable organisation IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH İnsani Yardım Vakfı). Later, in 2021, Kultanov’s mission was changed again, with him tasked with travelling to Ukraine via Turkey, where he was supposed to collect information on Russian emigre communities. Kultanov has been in Turkey since 2022, and was also allegedly instructed to assassinate an Afghan and a Karachay living in the country. It doesn’t appear that he ever made it to Ukraine, and he didn’t carry out the assassinations; with regard to the former, he comes out of the article looking a bit less than competent, so it may be that the FSB decided not to send him. Turkish authorities detained Kultanov in April 2023 and took him to an immigration centre, where Meduza lost contact with him.


The article also recounts another case of a former Caucasus Emirate fighter by the name of Valid, who contacted researcher Vera Mironova asking for help joining Russian Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner and then defecting to Ukraine. Valid was supposedly unable to join Wagner, but was then approached by the FSB to work for them in Ukraine. Valid allegedly refused, but after that Mironova lost contact with him.


Meduza discussed a third case, that of a Dagestani by the name of Karim who fought with IS and Kultanov. Karim was also imprisoned in Russia and the target of alleged FSB recruitment. Karim left Russia to avoid the FSB’s efforts.


Trust has been a long-standing issue hindering collaboration among North Caucasian groups — precisely because of (fears of) infiltration by those recruited to the Russian security services.

Georgia detains suspected IS members

The State Security Service of Georgia reported on 17 May that it had arrested six citizens and one foreigner on suspicion of membership of IS (3).


According to the security service, it conducted counterterrorism operations simultaneously in four separate locations. It claimed the detained people “had been connected to one of the influential leaders of the terrorist organization ISIS and they had been planning various terrorist activities in several countries under the latter’s leadership.” 


The detained individuals are now being investigated under Articles 236 (relating to illegal storage of weapons) and 328 (membership of a terrorist organisation) of the Georgian Criminal Code. During the searches, electronic devices, extremist symbols, explosive materials and weapons were seized.


The foreign citizen has been detained in a Georgian Interior Ministry immigration sentence and, judging by the security service’s statement, likely faces deportation for prosecution in his home country.


Tbilisi City Court arrested the seven individuals on 18 May. Caucasian Knot reporting on the court decision identified one of the individuals as Oruj Mamedov, a native of Bolnisi and a priest detained in Rustavi. The foreigner citizen was identified as a citizen of Turkey (4).

Other stories of interest
  • BBC Russian Service examines small PMCs allegedly created by Gazprom and fighting in Ukraine (2).
  • The FSB reported on the detention of four suspected Hayat Tahrir ash-Sham supporters in Dagestan, Zabaykalskiy Kray, and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. The individuals are accused of transferring money to and promoting the group (5).
  • The Southern District Military Court has sentenced three Crimean Tatars to between 12 and 17 years in prison for membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir and plotting to seize power (6).
  • Andrey Medvedev, a former fighter with Wagner who fled to Norway, has said he wants to return to Russia and has appealed to the Russian embassy in the country for help doing so. Since his defection, Medvedev has had frequent problems with Scandinavian police (see Threatologist Eurasia 26 January, 2 March and 13 April), who will probably be glad to see the back of him (7).
  • Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry has reported on the return to the country of eight children and three women who were being held in camps in Syria. Overall, the ministry claims over 400 women and children have been returned form Syria and Iraq (8).
  • The FSB reported on the discovery of an extremist cell in a Krasnodar detention facility. It alleged that the cell was founded in 2020 and comprised eight suspected members of the banned Arestantskoye ugolovnoye edinstvo (Prisoners’ Criminal Unity)  (9).
  • The Dagestani branch of the FSB has identified a Dagestani resident suspected of recruiting two people from his village to join IS — but it’s not clear whether the person has been arrested or placed on the wanted list (10).
  • A Makhachkala resident has been sentenced to an unclear term for membership of the banned At-Takfir wal-Hijra group (11). A Stavropol Kray resident has received a nine-year prison term for membership of the same group (12).
  • Belgorod Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov has announced the imposition of a Counter-Terrorist Operation (KTO) in the region because of fears of diversionary activities by Ukrainian groups (13).
Source list

1. Meduza. 2023, 16 May. «Ты же и правда террорист. Просто скажи им, что Россию не любишь».

2. BBC Russian Service. 2023, 16 May. "Поток" под Бахмутом. Что известно о ЧВК, связанных с "Газпромом”.

3. State Security Service of Georgia. 2023, 17 May. Counterterrorism Center detained supporters of the terrorist organization - ISIS.

4. Caucasian Knot. 2023, 19 May. Суд в Тбилиси арестовал семерых обвиняемых в связях с ИГ.

5. Argumenty i Fakty Dagestan. 2023, 17 May. ФСБ задержала в Дагестане пособников террористической организации.

6. SOVA Center. 2023, 17 May. Суд вынес приговор троим крымчанам по четвертому бахчисарайскому делу «Хизб ут-Тахрир».

7. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 2023, 18 May. Сбежавший в Норвегию вагнеровец сообщил о желании вернуться в Россию.

8. Caucasian Knot. 2023, 19 May. 11 граждан Азербайджана возвращены на родину из Сирии.

9. Kavkaz Realii. 2023, 19 May. ФСБ заявила об экстремистской "ячейке" в изоляторе Краснодара.

10. Caucasian Knot. 2023, 22 May. Житель Дагестана заподозрен в вербовке односельчан в ИГ.

11. Caucasian Knot. 2023, 19 May. Махачкалинец осужден по делу об экстремистской организации.

12. Kavkaz Realii. 2023. 22 May. Жителю Ставрополья вынесли приговор за участие в "Ат-Такфир валь-Хиджра”.

13. Nastoyashcheye Vremya. 2023, 22 May. В Белгородской области ввели режим контртеррористической операции. Украина заявила, что к диверсантам в регионе не причастна.


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