In a sign that relations between Turkey and Russia are warming at a rather brisk pace, Ankara set free two Russians arrested for assassinating Chechen commander Vahid Edelgiriev while Moscow repatriated two Crimean Tatar politicians lodged in a Russian jail.
According to reports, Edelgireyev was shot and stabbed by assassins using a white car on Nov. 1, 2015, in the Kayaşehir district of Istanbul. In response to the assassination, units from Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT), together with the police, carried out Operation “Kama” in April 2016, which culminated with the arrests of Smirnov, 55, and Anisimov, 52, over their suspected involvement in the murder, Hurriyet News reported Thursday.
According to the indictment prepared in February, the two Russian spies were part of a “lead unit” responsible for killing seven Chechens between 2000 and 2015.
The two suspects were accused of “attempting to obtain state secrets for political or military espionage purposes,” “helping in voluntary manslaughter” and “forgery of official documents” in the indictment, which also claimed that the Russians provided logistical and technical support to the hitmen, the news daily reported.
While the indictment revealed Russian links to fugitive hitmen, both spies denied the charges against them.
During a hearing of the case on Oct. 24, a significant development took place when the court received notices sent by Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office’s Terror and Organized Crime Bureau and Justice Ministry’s International Law and Foreign Relations.
The prosecutor subsequently demanded the release of Anisimov and Smirnov based on a recent change made to article 26 of MİT law, following the state of emergency decree.
According to the decree, published in the Official Gazette on Aug. 15, extraditions or exchanges between countries are permissible in cases concerning national security and the country’s interests if they are demanded by the foreign or justice ministries or the president.
Based on the amendment the Russian agents were released and extradited to Russia, which was followed by the release of jailed Crimean Tatar politicians Umerov and Chiygoz.
Last month, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his role in helping free the pair in a Twitter post.
Umerov, deputy head of the Crimean Tatars’ semi-official Mejlis legislature before it was suspended by Moscow, was sentenced by a Russian court to two years in jail for separatism.
Chiygoz, another Crimean Tatar leader, was sentenced at the same time to eight years for stirring up anti-Russian protests.