The verdict in the “Tiergarten murder” led to diplomatic complications between Russia and Germany. Now it is a similar case. Do the judges also see Russian state terrorism here?

Exactly six months to the day after the verdict in the so-called “Tiergarten murder trial”, the trial for a very similar case begins this Wednesday (June 15, 10:00 a.m.) before the Munich Higher Regional Court:

On behalf of the Chechen government, the Russian Valid D. is said to have prepared the murder of a German-based opposition figure and critic of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is loyal to Putin.

“Charge of consenting to murder on behalf of the state,” writes the Attorney General in his statement. He also accuses him of preparing a serious act of violence that is dangerous to the state and of violating the weapons law.

The federal prosecutor assumes that “a member of the security apparatus of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov” commissioned the accused in the first half of 2020 to kill an opposition figure living in exile in Germany, who, together with his brother, advocated an independent Chechnya on social media . The aim of the planned act is said to have been “to silence the brother of the announced victim in particular”.

Expert Hess: “Tradition of Russian contract killings in Europe”

“In principle, the case is similar to the Tiergarten murder,” says Chechnya expert Miriam Katharina Hess from the German Society for Foreign Relations. “You can place him in the tradition of Russian contract killings in Europe.”

A Russian man was sentenced to life imprisonment in mid-December 2021 for the shooting of a Georgian in August 2019 in the Kleiner Tiergarten park in Berlin. The verdict spoke of “state terrorism”: According to the judges, the 56-year-old acted on behalf of Russian state authorities. Russia has denied such allegations. The verdict led to diplomatic upheavals between Germany and Russia. Both states expelled several diplomats from the other country.

“The Tiergarten murder set a precedent for the Chechen community because the courts there determined that it was Russian state terrorism.” The exciting question now is whether the Munich Higher Regional Court will make a similar decision in the new case and also establish the explicit connection to Russia, as the Berlin court did.

Prosecution only possible with Putin’s consent

“Of course you can’t say directly: It was Putin,” says Hess. However, since 2006 there has been a law stating that domestic terrorists (and opposition figures are considered as such in Russia) can only be pursued with the express consent of the Russian president. “The head of the Russian central government has to sign this – that is, Putin.” This results in evidence that could incriminate not only the Chechen president, but also the Russian one.

“The procedure is always the same,” says Hess: The target is always someone who is critical of the Russian government or the Kadyrov regime. And then this regime looks for “a randomly selected person from the civilian population” who has no obvious connection to the Russian state apparatus.

According to the prosecution, the man now accused is said to have promised to commit the crime. According to the information, he obtained a firearm with ammunition and a silencer, found out the address of the victim and in the summer of 2020 spied on his place of residence.

Target practice with another assassin

He was supposed to get help with his project from another potential assassin, whom he smuggled from Chechnya to Germany, according to the Attorney General, where the two are said to have carried out target practice with the murder weapon. According to the Attorney General, the man only pretended to accept the order for fear of consequences and never intended to commit the assassination. The accused was arrested before he could put his alleged plan into action. The prosecution did not say what role his alleged accomplice played in the arrest.

From the point of view of expert Hess, it is of great importance that cases like this one are not only politically condemned, but also legally processed – “because these contract killings in Europe are simply increasing”, at least since 2009, since Kadyrov was in power. “This judicial processing and determination of guilt” was important and the German judiciary was courageous with the Berlin judgment. “German case law is one of the most courageous and progressive.”

It is even possible that the Munich judges will be even clearer than the Berlin judges. Last year, the resilience of German-Russian relations still played a role. Things have changed since President Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine: “The question of resilience no longer arises.”