21.01.2009 | Halya Coynash

Mounting Russian Terror


On 19 January Russian human rights lawyer, Stanislav Markelov, and Anastasia Baburova, yet another journalist from Anna Politkovskya’s newspaper “Novaya” became the latest victims of the new form of terror in Russia.

Stanislav Markelov was representing the family of Elsa Kungaeva, the 18-year-old Chechen girl murdered by Russian Army Colonel Yury Budanov in 2000. Budanov, who was the first and virtually only military officer to be charged over crimes in Chechnya, was finally, after a great many judicial scandals, sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, only to receive early conditional release this month. Markelov had appealed against the decision to release Budanov and was planning to take the case further.

He had also represented another courageous journalist and civic activist, Mikhail Beketov, who is still in a coma after a vicious attack on 13 November last year.

The list is very long since there still remain people determined to speak out, stubbornly continuing to fight for justice.

Only Stas Markelov was 34 years old, he had two very small children who now have no father.

Nastya Baburova was 25, had not even completed her journalism studies.

They, like Anna Politkovskaya, were silenced by a killer’s gun.  How many others will be silenced by fear, fear for their own lives and for those of their families?  Please think about where you would stand. 

Those who ordered and who carried out the murder of Anna Politkovskaya remain at large, as do those guilty of many similar crimes against Russian journalists, human rights defenders and civic activists. There have been calls for a thorough investigation into the killing of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova.  This is quite correct and to be wholeheartedly endorsed.

Only nobody expects them to find the killers.  A young Chechen refugee, Umar Israilov, was gunned down a week ago in Vienna.  There were equally correct calls for the Austrian authorities to investigate given the allegations the young man had made against the current Kremlin-supported President of the Chechen Republic.  However, if their investigations hit another dead end as did the British investigation into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, what then? 

How many more people need to die in Russia before others are fully terrified into meek submission?

How many more killings will the world tolerate on other countries’ territory?

20 January marked a very special day for the USA and the world. It was a day many of us who grew up knowing Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech never imagined we would live to see.

It is almost 20 years since the events which culminated in the freeing of Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet empire.  The latter also seemed impossible to dream of in our lifetime.  The world hailed the victory of democratic values in the new republics. Everybody knows that momentous change comes hard and we all knew that stumbling steps, not strides, were to be expected.

However what is happening in Russia, still ruled to a large extent by Vladimir Putin who openly called the breakdown of the USSR the greatest catastrophe of the twentieth century, is about the systematic destruction of the fragile buds of democracy, and in many aspects a return to methods not seen for decades.  We are seeing the State using aggression, terror and repression against its own people and against any whom it regards as its enemies.

All of this has been said before.  All of the impassioned appeals for public enquiries have also been made before, as have the outraged statements from the European Parliament, the US State Department and other international structures.

They remain words, and the world has had too many occasions to learn the bitter consequences of words spoken where deeds were required.

Russia remains a member of the G-8, supposedly an association of the leading democratic countries of the world.  The Russian Federation may have vital oil and gas which Europe needs, but it is at least as dependent on Europe, as the latter is on it.

It is not clear who ordered these killings, but unless real will is demonstrated to uncover the culprits and to protect others, then the Russian authorities are complicit in placing freedom of speech and the rule of law in very grave jeopardy. Russia’s international partners have levers, and should insist that all the unsolved murders and the mounting threat to fundamental rights and freedoms in Russia are firmly on the agenda of all negotiations on relations between Russia and the EU and of the next meeting of the G-8.   

How many more deaths are needed before effective pressure is brought to bear on those who can stop the terror and the lawless impunity?  Without real measures, then all, including international bodies, can hold their words, their messages of outrage, they have the acrid taste of betrayal.

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