Who is Behind the Murder of Natalia Estemirova?

Kadyrov and Putin at Mosque in Grozny (Alexey Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images)

by Roman Kupchinsky

After the July 15 murder of Natalia Estemirova, a Chechen human rights activist on a deserted rural road in the Russian region of Ingushetia, human rights organizations in Moscow began to point to Ramzen Kadyrov, the President of the Chechen region as the organizer of the crime.

The 32-year old Kadyrov reacted to these charges soon afterwards, telling the head of Russia’s Memorial Society, Oleg Orlov, where Estemirova worked, that he would take personal charge of the investigation and bitterly complained that he was offended that Memorial suspected him of complicity. “You are not a prosecutor or a judge therefore your claims about my guilt are not ethical, to put it mildly, and are insulting to me,” Kadyrov told Orlov.

After news of Estemirova’s murder was made public, the investigative committee of the Russian Procuracy became involved in the investigation and Russia’s chief investigator, Alexander Bastrykin, arrived in Ingushetia to head the investigation.

His first finding was that her kidnappers did not really intend to kill Estemirova, but were merely frightened by a sudden traffic jam on the isolated rural road and decided to kill her in order to escape. It is highly doubtful that any traffic jams have ever occurred in the past on this deserted road. Apparently the Russian cover-up had begun.

On July 16, barely a day after the murder, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev already seemed to posses vital information about the crime and stated in Munich during his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “As for the theories, I believe that those who committed this crime expected that the theories most primitive and unacceptable to the authorities would be put forward immediately,” meaning that any implication of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov in the murder of Estemirova was unfounded. How the President of Russia, a trained lawyer could have known this, is a matter for speculation.

Nonetheless Medvedev tried to pacify the West’s indignation by saying the right things. “Her professional activities are necessary for any normal state; she was doing very useful things. She was telling the truth, she has openly and sometimes maybe even harshly evaluated certain processes in the country and that is why defenders of human rights are so valuable even if they are uncomforting and unpleasant for the authorities.”

But the main question remains unanswered – did Kadyrov consult with his guru and protector in Moscow, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, about Estemirova’s fate before her murder?

“If it were not for Putin, Chechnya would not exist,” the 32-year-old Chechen leader said in an interview in the Rossiiskaya Gazeta government daily.

“He saved our people with his strong-willed decisions,” Kadyrov said. “I know this history – I personally participated in it. If it were not for Putin, we would not be here.”

Putin appointed Kadyrov president in 2007, after the assassination of his father in 2004, Since then he has managed to create a state within a state, a phenomenon that, not long ago, was inconceivable and to which Moscow prefers to turn a blind eye.

One example of Kadyrov’s alleged corruption, a fact most likely known to Putin who has always been understanding of such matters, is Kadyrov’s collection of expensive automobiles said to be worth over $1 million and a stable of horses.

Kadyrov could well be implicated in ordering the killing of Estemerova, but the real masterminds of the murder are those who made him President of Chechnya and who protect his brutal regime to this day.