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FSB officer convicted of ‘grievous bodily harm’ for stabbing man to death in Kabardino-Balkaria

24 June 2019
A still from surveillance footage of the killing.

A former FSB officer has been sentenced to nine years in a strict regime penal colony for ‘causing grievous bodily harm’ after stabbing a man to death in the Russian Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria.

Pavel Sterlyagov, a major in the Federal Security Service (FSB), was sentenced for ‘intentionally causing grievous bodily harm’ on 19 June by the North Caucasus Military District Court in Rostov-on-Don.

The court’s press service told OC Media that Sterlyagov was not deprived of his military rank.

According to Caucasian Knot, prosecutors argued that Sterlyagov was guilty of intentionally attempting to kill both Makitov and his acquaintance, Alim Baydayev, and of hooliganism, during a fight in the village of Terskol in April 2018. The court ruled that he had no intention to commit murder and was not guilty of hooliganism.

Prosecutor’s had demanded Sterlyagov be given 10 years imprisonment and deprived of his military rank and awards.

Victoria Shevelev, the lawyer for Alim Baydayev, stated that pressure was exerted on the jury and promised to appeal the verdict.

A fight over a lift

Khusei Makitov, a resident of Kabardino-Balkaria, was stabbed to death during a fight in the village of Terskol in April 2018.

Caucasian Knot cited local residents as saying that the fight broke out between two local residents, Makitov and Baydayev, and two FSB agents 35-year-old Major Pavel Sterlyagov and 37-year-old Major Aleksey Sinyak, after the former refused to give a lift to the two security officials.

According to witness testimony, both officers were drunk.

Sinyak was only considered a witness in the case, and Baydayev submitted a statement to the Investigation Committee that he had no complaints about against him.

He told Russian news site Mediazona that he wrote this statement on his own initiative and that no one exerted any pressure on him.

Surveillance cameras recorded only the end of the fight in which both Sterlyagov and Sinyak are fighting Makitov, with Sterlyagov repeatedly striking at Makitov with a knife. Makitov then falls to the floor and his two attackers flee the scene.

In court, Sterlyagov said that after the killing, he and Sinyak returned to the base in the village of Tegenekli.

Sterlyagov and Sinyak were staying in Tegenekli as part of a special task force exercise from the FSB of Balashikha, a town near Moscow. They were sent with purpose-made documents with fictitious names, according to which they were military servicemen.

‘To refrain from protest actions’

One resident of the nearby village of Elbrus, where Makitov lived, told OC Media that if Sterlyagov and Sinyak had not left immediately after the killing, ‘the case could have reached mass clashes between them and the local youth’.

In April 2018, Makitov’s cousin, Zaurbek Makitov, posted a video message on YouTube addressed to his fellow villagers asking them to refrain from protesting.

‘We do not want anyone to take advantage of our tragedy for their own personal purposes’, said Makitov in the video.

Magomed Sogayev, the head of Elbrus, told OC Media that in the last 11 years only two high-profile incidents had taken place in the Elbrus region — a massive fight between local fans and fans of the Spartak Moscow football club in April 2008 and the murder of Makitov.

Sogayev, at the request of Makitov’s family, also made a video message in April 2018 to residents of Elbrus in which he asked them to ‘refrain from rash actions’ and informed them of progress in the investigation.

On 12 April 2018, over 100 people gathered at a protest in the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, Nalchik, including residents of Elbrus and social activists.

Speaking at the gathering, the leader of the Council of Elders of the Balkar People, Ismail Sabanchiyev, told the audience that the organisation was monitoring the progress of the investigation.

The head of the administration of the Head of Kabardino-Balkaria, Mukhamed Kodzokov, and the Secretary of the Security Council of the republic, Kazbek Tatuyev, met with protest leaders.

They notified activists that the investigation was being overseen by the presidential administration of Russia, it's representative in the North Caucasus Federal District, and the head of Kabardino-Balkaria.

‘Military solidarity’

Khakim Kuchmezov,  the chair of the Kabardino-Balkarian branch of liberal opposition party Yabloko, told OC Media that ‘those who have been given a lot of power have to be more responsible’. He said this was not evident in Sterlyagov’s sentence.

Kazimir Shugayev, a member of the Kabardino-Balkarian Lawyer Association, told OC Media that he considered the verdict fair. According to him, the maximum term of punishment for causing grievous bodily harm is 15 years in prison.

‘However, the majority of those accused actually receive 7–9 years of imprisonment in strict regime colonies. So, according to the established practice, Sterlyagov received the maximum’, he said.

Lawyer Zamir Kaziyev told OC Media that when cases were considered by a military court, the sentences are usually quite lenient.

‘Practically anyone who has been involved in military actions, and Sterlyagov participated in special operations in Syria — these are people with a post-war syndrome, that is, they are not quite mentally adequate’, he said.

‘They were in situations where human life depreciates for a long time. Military judges know this and give time off based on it. As for the information on the preservation of all ranks and awards for Sterlyagov, here I cannot comment on anything. Perhaps this is a consequence of solidarity. The judges, too, are in the military’.

The Elbrus District authorities declined to comment on the verdict, telling OC Media ‘this is not the responsibility of the district authorities’.

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