The Parallax Brief


Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

Another Good Guy Slain: Why don’t Russians Care?

Yesterday, Stanislav Markelov, a human rights activist and lawyer for a Chechen woman who was murdered by a Russian Army colonel, was shot dead in broad daylight on a busy street in the center of Moscow.

Markelov, 34, represented the family of Kheda Kungayeva, an 18 year old Chechen who in 2000 was snatched from her house and taken to the tent of Yuri Budanov, a colonel in the Russian Army, where she was strangled to death and, according to some reports, raped.

Budanov was acquitted in a 2002 trail, when the court concluded that brain injuries he sustained during the second Chechnya war meant he was not criminally responsible for his actions (but apparently still well enough to be a colonel in the Russian Army).

However, the Russian Supreme Court overturned the decision in 2003. Budanov argued that he thought Kungayeva was a sniper, and killed her in a fit of rage; and has since claimed that the Supreme Court decision was an effort to appease the Chechen leadership (because, obviously, a fit of rage is a perfectly reasonable excuse for extra-judicial killing). Budanov has become, according to the Moscow Times, “a rallying figure for Russian nationalists.”

Last week Budanov was released from prison 18 months early for good behaviour, sparking outrage among Chechen officials and Kungayeva’s family. Markelov, who prosecuted the original case, had called Kungayeva’s father Visa and, according to Russia Today, said he was receiving death threats:

“He told me Thursday night, he said ‘Visa, I’m getting threats.’ What kind of threats, I asked him. ‘If I don’t drop this case, I’ll get killed.’ Who are these threats from, I asked. ‘I’m getting anonymous text messages,’ he answered. Right away, I said to him that maybe I should get a new lawyer, and he said ‘No, I’m going to persevere.’”

Yesterday, Tuesday January 20, Markelov held a press conference in the International Press Center in central Moscow to condemn the decision. Shortly after, while walking in the street with a female freelance journalist, Anastasia Baburova, a man in a green ski mask walked up behind him and shot him dead with a silenced pistol. Baburova tried to pursue the gunman, but was shot in the head herself and later died of her injuries.

This killing is an outrage. It was brazen act committed in an almost cocksure manner. It was in the middle of central Moscow, in broad daylight, right in front of potentially thousands of witnesses. After the shooting, the assassin ran into Krapotkinskaya metro station, which like all Moscow Metro stations has a heavy police presence and is dripping with CCTV cameras.

Imagine if something like this had happened on Oxford Street in London. There would be fury. It would make all the main news shows on television. Newspapers would rage. People would be appalled. It would be the topic of conversation at every office ever watercooler and pub across the land. Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, and Gordon Brown would likely get onto the streets and decry the killers. Action would be demanded. Independent investigations would be arranged. Heads would roll. Hell, if the police or security services thought foreigners were involved, diplomatic relations might even be threatened.

But in Russia, a whimper. When one braoches the subject, the response is not outrage but a melancholic shrug of the shoulders, as if to say, “ahh, that’s Russia.” Politicians ignore it. The story is buried on the middle pages in the main press.

I simply don’t understand this reaction. This isn’t the killing of a businessman who had got involved with the wrong guys, or had threatened a business deal. This is a lawyer who defended the family of a girl who was brutally killed by a man who believes “I got angry” and “I got her confused for someone else” is a defense.

It’s as if the whole country has an On The Waterfront style case of the D and Ds. The silence is deafening. So why don’t Russians care? I would love to know.

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