The murder of Galina Starovoitova, a State Duma deputy and co-chairman of the Democratic Russia movement, has sent shockwaves throughout Russia’s establishment and further destabilized the country’s political atmosphere.
Starovoitova and one of her aides, Ruslan Linkov, were shot Friday night in the hallway of Starovoitova’s apartment building in St. Petersburg, after flying into Russia’s northern capital from Moscow. Starovoitova, who was shot three times in the head, died at the scene. Linkov, who was also shot in the head but managed to phone the local offices of a Russian news agency before losing consciousness, remained in critical condition after more than five hours of surgery. Doctors said today that while his condition remains critical, it has stabilized and his life is not, for the moment, in danger. Linkov regained consciousness today (November 23) and is giving testimony. The hospital where Linkov is convalescing is being heavily guarded (Russian agencies, November 22-23). The killers–police believe there were two, a man and a woman–left two weapons at the scene of the crime: an Argan-2000 machine-pistol, reportedly made in the United States and used by NATO special forces, and a Beretta. Police sources said a small number of the Argan-2000s had been recently smuggled into Russia. One of Starovoitova’s close associates, State Duma Deputy Yuly Rybakov, said he believed the weapons came in from the former Yugoslavia (Russian agencies, November 21-22).
Few observers doubted that the shooting was a well-planned “hit.” Professional contract killers in Russia generally leave the weapons at the scene of the crime (to end any possible trail of evidence). Additionally, the newspaper “Segodnya” reported today that only three people knew of Starovoitova’s exact travel plans–two of her aides and the head of the Leningrad Oblast branch of Democratic Russia–but that she had purchased her air ticket to St. Petersburg through the State Duma’s apparatus (Segodnya, November 23). Late Friday (November 20), immediately after news of the assassination, President Boris Yeltsin ordered the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Prosecutor General’s Office to take “urgent measures” to solve the murder. A criminal case was initially launched on the charge of terrorism, but that charge was later changed to murdering a public official, which can result in a death sentence. Kremlin press secretary Dmitri Yakushkin said Sunday (November 22) that Yeltsin was taking full responsibility for the situation surrounding the murder and would do everything to solve the case. Yeltsin, however, was hospitalized Sunday with pneumonia. A visibly angry Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov expressed “outrage” at the killing, and said it was “time to do away with this banditry without delay” (Russian agencies, November 20-22).
WHY WAS GALINA STAROVOITOVA MURDERED?