The names Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova will be familiar to most people in Britain. The murders of the journalist and the human rights campaigner have become symbols of the repression of free speech in Russia and the perhaps wilful ineptitude of the organisations charged with bringing their killers to justice.
Less familiar to a western audience are the names of Andrei Kozlov and Eduard Chuvashov, but they too are victims of the same style of gangland assassination that silenced Politkovskaya and Estemirova.
Although neither Koslov nor Chuvashov were outspoken in their approach, both men were playing significant roles in the campaign to root out corruption and enforce the rule of law in Russia. That they would be lucky to make the “news in brief” sections of our supposedly independent news coverage begs some significant questions over our motives.
On 13th September 2006 Kozlov, first deputy chairman of Russia’s central bank, was leaving the stadium of Spartak football club where he had been playing soccer with other central bank employees. As he was getting into his car he was approached by two men. They fired a number of shots, mortally wounding Kozlov and killing his driver.
Kozlov was responsible for licensing commercial banks, and before the shooting he had revoked the licences of a number of companies, preventing them from operating in the country. In Russia, which boasts the third largest number of registered banks in the world behind only America and Germany, this was enough to get him killed.
This morning Chuvashov, a city court judge, was also gunned down as he left his apartment to go to work. A spokesperson from Moscow’s interior ministry said the murder appears to have been a contract killing related to the judge’s recent cases involving racist attacks by nationalist groups. These include the case of the “White Wolves,” a skinhead group who were convicted of 11 murders earlier this year.
What seems to be beyond doubt is that these men were murdered for doing jobs that brought them into contact with the country’s criminal underbelly. Grappling with an opaque banking system that has long been accused of helping to hide the proceeds of crime and challenging the rise of racial discrimination and violent nationalism in the courtroom may not be as romantic as campaigning journalism in Chechnya, but they are just as worthy of praise.
Nevertheless, while the death of Politkovskaya prompted international condemnation, with George W Bush and Tony Blair issuing a joint statement calling for “a thorough investigation into this terrible crime,” the response to Kozlov’s assassination was muted. I doubt the fate of Chuvashov will prompt much of a media storm either.
Presumably, the argument goes that these establishment figures were, after all, only doing their jobs–they are employees of a government that our media outlets have accused of human rights violations, electoral fraud and corruption at the highest levels. That their lives are at risk is a sign of the social problems caused by these abuses of power with which they are associated and, by proxy, implicated.
This point of view betrays both a lingering cultural prejudice and the stunning short-sightedness of the caricatured portrayal of Russia and its politics in the mainstream press. It also implies that the British public are incapable of formulating an understanding of the country that allows for complexity.
There are many aspects of Russian politics and the actions of the current Kremlin administration that are worthy of criticism, but political assassinations are a scourge that can surely be universally denounced. Today has seen the tragic murder of another person at the front line of the fight to bring justice and the rule of law to Russian citizens and I hope his passing will be marked.