Last week a Kommersant reporter, Oleg Kashin (30), was attacked and severely beaten by two men near his rented apartment in the center of Moscow. The attack was filmed by surveillance cameras: Kashin was beaten with an iron bar disguised in a bouquet of flowers. Both of Kashin’s jaws were fractured, and he endured a broken leg, fractured skull, and other injuries. Kashin is in hospital in an artificially induced coma, as medics have performed a number of operations (Kommersant, November 10).
The attack caused outrage in the journalistic community in Moscow: there were public protests and a petition was circulated demanding that the Kremlin guarantee the culprits’ be found and punished. President, Dmitry Medvedev, expressed his confidence that the guilty will be arrested (Interfax, November 8). But many previous attacks on journalists and human rights advocates, like the slaying of the Novaya Gazeta reporter, Anna Politkovskaya, in October 2006, yielded no tangible results from investigations: lesser crime figures were acquitted in court, while those who ordered the attacks were never exposed. According to legal experts such crimes are prepared with precision by professionals, Russian citizens are too terrified to come forward to give evidence as witnesses and the people that order the attacks “are too important to be prosecuted” in today’s Russia (RIA Novosti, November 7). An independent investigation by Novaya Gazeta points at the pro-Kremlin authorities in Chechnya as being guilty of ordering the murder of Politkovskaya. Thousands of other citizens have been killed, tortured or disappeared in Chechnya, but the guilty are legally unaccountable because no investigator or judge can go against Medvedev and Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, who support the present Chechen leadership.
Investigators report that they have no clue as to who attacked Kashin, as apparently no witnesses saw anything. The surveillance cameras footage does not show the attackers faces. The case seems to be going nowhere (Interfax, November 8). According to the Chairman of the Russian Union of Journalists, Vsevolod Bogdanov, some 300 journalists were killed in Russia over the last 20 years and almost none of these crimes were solved (RIA Novosti, November 9).
Kashin boasted that the exact address of his apartment “is not known to anyone he does not know personally,” since it differs from his official registration address. According to Kashin, he kept his whereabouts secret due to security concerns (Kommersant-Vlast, October 19). On the night of the attack on November 6, at 12:20 am Kashin arrived home by taxi. Earlier in the evening Kashin visited a friend’s apartment, a café in the center of Moscow and purchased a mobile phone for his father. Kashin walked several steps to the locked entrance to the yard of his apartment block and then the hit squad attacked. Kashin’s apartment block has two entrances from two different streets and the attackers seem to have known where to carry out an ambush (Kommersant, November 8).
It is obvious that Kashin was followed by a professional surveillance team during his movements on November 5, and for at least a week before to establish his exact whereabouts, his pattern of movements, to pick a time, when he would be returning home alone, late at night, with no witnesses around. Kashin’s taxi seems to have been followed by a surveillance vehicle that gave the attackers operative information on what entrance to lay an ambush and that the field was clear for a hit. Most likely the same surveillance vehicle picked up the hit squad after the attack (RIA Novosti; www.lifenews.ru, November 9).
Football hooligans, skinheads and nationalistic extremist groups have been blamed for organizing the attack on Kashin (ITAR-TASS November 9). This is clearly nonsense, possibly deliberately spread by authorities: the highly professional surveillance and organization of the crime clearly implicate past or present police or security service personnel. The same pattern was part of the Politkovskaya killing, when a professional surveillance team followed her for more than a week –and she also lived in a discrete rented apartment. Last month the Federalnaya Sluzba Okhrani (FSO) –Federal Guarding Service (the Russian equivalent of the US Secret Service) denied Kashin accreditation to a meeting between Medvedev and selected rock musicians in a Moscow Rhythm & Blues Café. The FSO told Kommersant: Kashin was “blacklisted” for being detained by riot police in 2007 after taking part in an unauthorized opposition march. As a blacklisted person, Kashin was under constant special surveillance by Russian police and special services (Kommersant, October 13).
Human rights activists and opposition figures have linked the attack to the campaign around the Khimki forest, slated for partial destruction to make way for a government-backed St. Petersburg to Moscow toll highway. Kashin criticized local authorities over their handling of the issue and recently interviewed a member of a leftwing “antifascist” group, who was arrested and detained for several months for taking part in a protest against the Khimki forest destruction (Kommersant, October 21). The toll highway is financed by Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s old time judo buddy. Putin has publicly supported the highway amid growing protests. Last week another close friend of Putin from St. Petersburg, the president of the Russian railroad monopoly RzHD, Vladimir Yakunin, announced: “The orgy of protest over the [Khimki] road must end. All legal decisions have been made, contracts signed, but work is being blocked and money –lost” (Vedomosti, November 3).
Opposition figures have accused the Kremlin of being behind the attack on Kashin and have demanded the “immediate resignation” of first deputy chief of the presidential administration, Vladislav Surkov. Former Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, directly implicates Putin and Medvedev in the crime (Kommersant, November 10). The accusation may be true or not, however in Russia the Kremlin has been effectively silencing and terrorizing opponents with impunity which has been fully accepted by the international community. Without a cynical and greedy West, its political support, technologies and capital infusions, the repressive cliptocratic Putin/Medvedev regime could not have established itself or survived (Vedomosti, October 4). The US and EU have officially denounced the attack on Kashin; Medvedev has done the same –that is enough lip service. Next week, Medvedev will travel to a NATO summit in Lisbon to be warmly greeted as a vital friend and partner.