Chechen Commander Fired After Ossetia Tour

Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has dismissed former Vostok battalion leader Sulim Yamadayev, a powerful former Chechen rebel at odds with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, after he fought Georgian troops in South Ossetia, a source in the Chechen administration said Friday.

Serdyukov signed an order discharging Yamadayev, who had a federal warrant out for his arrest on murder charges but, in murky circumstances, ended up fighting with Russian troops in their defeat of Georgian forces over control of Tskhinvali, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue with the media.

The order was signed Thursday by Serdyukov, Interfax reported Friday, citing a military source stationed in the North Caucasus.

A Defense Ministry spokesman refused to comment on the issue Friday.

The dismissal is an enigmatic turn the recent fortunes of Yamadayev, a former Chechen rebel commander who, like Kadyrov, switched sides and fought for federal forces.

Tensions flared between the two on April 14, when a convoy of Vostok vehicles failed to yield to Kadyrov's motorcade, causing a crash and a scuffle in which at least two people were reportedly shot to death.

Kadyrov suspended Yamadayev from his duties in May and called on Chechen and military prosecutors to investigate whether troops from the Vostok battalion were linked to murders and kidnappings in the republic.

On Aug 7, the Investigative Committee announced that a federal arrest warrant on murder charges had been issued for Yamadayev, whose Vostok battalion answers directly to the Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate in Moscow.

Analysts believe that Kadyrov sidelined Yamadayev to consolidate his power in the republic by putting loyalists in charge of all of local police and of the defense and interior ministries' local commando units, which are manned primarily by ethnic Chechens.

"Yamadayev must be arrested and prosecuted," Kadyrov said after the arrest warrant was issued, Kommersant reported.

But while Yamadayev was ostensibly at large, national media outlets reported that he fought with Vostok battalion against Georgian forces after they attempted to retake South Ossetia on Aug. 8.

Asked by Gazeta whether he was aware that Yamadayev was in South Ossetia, an Investigative Committee official who refused to give his name said he had no such information.

"How did he cross the border?" the official said, Gazeta reported on Aug. 12.

In a swaggering interview published Friday by the web site Utro.ru, Yamadayev bragged that the Georgian soldiers ran away from his battalion "in their underwear."

The Chechen branch of the Investigative Committee announced Friday that Yamadayev's federal arrest warrant had been dropped because he was found in Moscow, RIA-Novosti reported. But it was unclear Friday whether he had been — or would be — arrested.

The criminal charges against Yamadayev announced by the committee earlier this month are punishable by up to life in prison.