Mountains of flowers covering fresh bloodstains have become a familiar sign of the times in Moscow. A memorial consisting of bouquets and burning candles was spontaneously erected by people on the place where lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova were murdered on January 19 just a dozen meters from the Kremlin.
A number of Russian news agencies posted on-line video footages depicting how the police officers and people dressed as street cleaners dispersed women who had gathered at the site of the murder and tore down from the walls posters and photos of the two victims with the same humiliating refrain: “This is not a graveyard!” As a result of this standoff with the women, the police apparently agreed to leave the flowers and photos where they were but took down all of the posters. These were homemade leaflets and one of them was a plain sheet of paper with a handwritten question: “Russia, aren’t you ashamed of your henchmen?” (http://kp.ru/daily/24230/430805/).
The Russian daily newspaper Kommersant wrote that the murder produced a popular response that is unusually strong for modern Russia (http://www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1105928&ThemesID=1026). Protest demonstrations took place simultaneously in several Russian cities. Several thousand Chechens demonstrated in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov posthumously awarded the murdered attorney with the Order “For Services to the Chechen Republic.”
The Russian authorities responded to the outpour of popular anger with methods that have become customary for the current regime. On January 20, police units dispersed a march in Moscow by more than 200 anti-fascist activists to honor the memory of Markelov and Baburova. Dozens of protesters were savagely beaten by OMON riot police and more than fifty were arrested and had to spend the night behind bars. Similar protest actions took place in other districts of Moscow and St. Petersburg (http://file-028.livejournal.com/friends?skip=60).
On January 21, the Communist faction in the State Duma offered to take control over the homicide investigation. It is noteworthy that the communists’ offer was supported by the representatives of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party (http://www.echo.msk.ru/news/567441-echo.html).
Investigators believe that the main target of this double murder was Markelov, while Baburova, a college senior at Moscow State University who was accompanying Markelov after the press conference, turned out to be an accidental victim of the assassin. It should be noted that Baburova was beginning her career as a journalist at the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Representatives of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, which is in charge of the investigation of this murder, has already stated that Markelov’s assassination could be related to his professional activities (http://www.rian.ru/trend/inquest_murder_lawyer_markelov_19012009/).
One of the main versions voiced almost immediately in the mass media was that the murder was connected to the case of Russian Colonel Yuri Budanov. Budanov’s name resurfaced in the investigation of Markelov’s murder for two reasons. First, the shooting of the lawyer followed the colonel’s early release from prison on January 15. Markelov, who had defended the interests of the family of the Chechen girl that Budanov murdered, publicly criticized the court’s decision and declared his intention to appeal the early release of Budanov to the European Court of Human Rights. He also told the press that he possessed additional facts of crimes committed by Budanov in Chechnya.
The second reason why the murder was immediately tied to the release of the colonel was because of threats that Markelov received several days before his murder. Amnesty International leaked to the press the text of the SMS message Markelov received on his mobile phone on January 14, five days before his death. It read as follows: “You, brainless animal … again sticking your nose into Budanov’s case??!! Idiot, you couldn’t find a calmer method of suicide??? Go quickly to the center of transplantology, and perhaps your innards will be useful there for somebody … at least you won’t die in vain then … and perhaps you will get some money … You really decided to improve this year by relieving us of your presence?” (http://www.izvestia.ru/investigation/article3124512/).
Budanov was initially sentenced to serve 10 years in prison because in March 2000—on his daughter’s birthday—after drinking vodka heavily, he abducted, raped and strangled Elza Kungaeva, an 18-year-old Chechen girl. In the course of the subsequent court proceedings, which lasted three years, Budanov became a principal figure in the Russian-Chechen standoff. On the one hand, Chechens, who suffered thousands of victims similar to Kungaeva and knew of only a few cases in which war criminals were actually punished, hoped that justice would prevail. On the other hand, for the camp of military patriots, including high-ranking officers as well as neo-fascists, Budanov became a Russian hero who had been punished unjustly for honestly serving his homeland. His supporters thought that avenging Budanov was the equivalent of restoring the honor of wearing Russia’s military uniform.
The famous Russian writer and journalist, Yulia Latynina, has convincingly tied Markelov’s assassination to Budanov’s release. She told the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda she was sure the murderers were “fascists” who “killed Markelov for Budanov,” adding that Markelov was “not just a human rights advocate with lawyer’s diploma” but was “also engaged in anti-fascist activities” (http://kp.ru/daily/24229/430211/).
In the meantime Yuri Budanov insisted he had absolutely nothing to do with the double murder. “Rough work … These prosecutors do not have a single chance to implicate me in connection to this incident,” the colonel said in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda (http://kp.ru/daily/24229/430211/).
Budanov also stated that he paid in full for killing Kungaeva and even expressed indignation at the killers of Markelov and Baburova for trying to drive a wedge into Russian-Chechen relations. Coming from Budanov, such statements sound cynical to say the least. It is worth recalling his threats directed against the Kungaev family’s attorney: “I will kill you as soon as I get out of prison, even if it’s ten years from now” (Chechnya Weekly, July 31, 2003).
Meanwhile, leaked details from the investigation indicate that there were no witnesses to the double murder and that there is not even an approximate visual sketch of the assassin, even though the shooting occurred in broad daylight during peak traffic hour at the center of Moscow and close to the entrance to a subway station bustling with people (http://www.echo.msk.ru/news/567441-echo.html).
The opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta featured several articles about the assassination of Markelov and Baburova. Both victims were connected to the newspaper, which has already lost four of its employees, including the famous journalist Anna Politkovskaya. The newspaper also published two interviews with the murdered attorney. One was recorded in 2002 and mostly dealt with the Budanov case, while the second was more recent and taken from Markelov by Baburova.
Baburvoa worked at Novaya Gazeta as a non-staff reporter for only three months. She studied journalism at Moscow State University and investigated the activities of fascist groups. In her blog on Live Journal (http://file-028.livejournal.com), she posted photos and comments from anti-fascist actions and protest demonstrations that she participated in. The on-line postings also included descriptions of incidents in which Baburova was arrested by police and beaten. Thus Baburova’s high level of social activism raises doubt over the presumed randomness of her killing.
In a November 19 posting about the arrest of a well-known anti-fascist leader in Moscow, Aleksei Osimov, Baburova mentioned that Markelov decided to represent Osimov, who was being accused by the authorities of hooliganism for carrying out public actions in Moscow.
Novaya Gazeta noted on January 21 that Markelov’s spectrum of activities was broad. The attorney often took cases that his colleagues considered either absolutely hopeless or extremely dangerous. Markelov worked with the opposition newspaper and cooperated with Anna Politkovskaya very closely. It was Markelov who led the cases that were launched on the basis of investigative materials discovered by Politkovskaya. According to Markelov’s close friend, Chechen human rights defender Natalia Estemirova, it was only because of the personal bravery of Markelov that war criminals were punished (http://www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2009/005/02.html).
However, thousands of assassins remain at large, Estemirova wrote in an article for Novaya Gazeta. In conclusion, she posed a question that is completely disadvantageous for the Kremlin: “Markelov’s murder is a declaration of war. Now the question is: whose side is the state on?”