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Offline mayya

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Dangerous times for Russian opposition
« on: March 02, 2015, 17:12:06 PM »
Putin critics who met a violent death :

2003 Serguei Iouchenko
2004 Paul Klebnikov
2006 Alexandre Litvinenko
2006 Anna Politkovskaya
2009 Stanislav Markelov
2009 Natalia Estemirova
2009 Serguei Magnitsky
2013 Boris Berezovsky
2015 Boris Nemtsov

Offline mayya

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Dangerous times for Russian opposition - Sergei Yushenkov
« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2015, 17:20:16 PM »
Friday, 18 April, 2003, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK

Russian MP's death sparks storm

Investigators say Yushenkov died from a single shot to the chest

Russian members of parliament have furiously accused the government of losing the battle against crime a day after the killing of leading liberal politician.

"It's painful, shameful and frightening to live in our country," said Alexander Gurov, a former police investigator who is now a member of parliament for the Yabloko Party.

Sergei Yushenkov, a co-chairman of the Liberal Russia party, was gunned down at the entrance of his Moscow apartment block on Thursday evening.

He was the ninth member of parliament to be shot dead in as many years.

1994: Andrei Aizderdzis, Valentin Martemyanov
1995: Sergei Skorochkin, Sergei Markidonov
1998: Lev Rokhlin, Galina Starovoitova
2001: Mikhail Sirota
2002: Vladimir Golovlev
2003: Sergei Yushenkov
Source: Izvestiya
None of the cases have been solved.

A Communist member of the lower house of parliament, Ivan Nikitchuk, said President Vladimir Putin should be called to account.

"Let him tell us who is ruling the country: bandits, the Mafia, or the president," he said.

No suspects

Yushenkov's murder, by a single shot to the chest, is seen by Russian politicians and journalists as a political assassination.

Unlike fellow Liberal Russia party chairman Vladimir Golovlev, who was shot dead in August, he appears to have had no business interests.

The leader of the Union of Right Forces, Boris Nemtsov, said: "Sergey was a man with a blameless reputation, a fact that even his political enemies acknowledged."

We must demand an honest answer from the authorities: What do you need today to fight crime, even street crime, even banditry, to say nothing of corruption and organised crime, to save people from hooligans?
Alexander Gurov

Investigators say they have no suspects so far.

One member of Liberal Russia, Yuly Rybakov, speculated in the Moscow Times newspaper that Yushenkov could have been killed for his attempts to show that the security services were guilty of a series of apartment-block bombings in 1999.

The bombings, officially blamed on Chechen warlords, helped to stimulate public enthusiasm for the return of Russian troops to the breakaway republic later that year.

Another co-chairman of the party, Viktor Pokhmelkin, was quoted by the Kommersant newspaper as saying that Yushenkov's most serious conflict now was with the Russian tycoon, Boris Berezovsky.

He added, however: "I would not dare to think that these disagreements could be a reason for murder. That would be monstrous."

Party split
Mr Berezovsky told Kommersant: "Whatever my disagreements with Sergei may have been, he is after all my comrade. I'm lost for words."

Yushenkov: A Russian idealist

Yushenkov was killed hours after Liberal Russia had been registered by the Justice Ministry, giving it the green light to run in December's parliamentary election.

The party was set up in 2002 with Mr Berezovsky's financial and political support - but he was expelled in the autumn for wooing the Communist Party.

Mr Berezovsky reportedly gained the support of some of the party's provincial branches, causing a split.

But it was the section of the party under Yushenkov's leadership that won official registration.
Western businesses in Moscow said the murder served as a reminder that while President Putin had brought a degree of stability to Russia he had failed in his attempt to establish a "dictatorship of law".

Offline mayya

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Dangerous times for Russian opposition - Alexandre Litvinenko
« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2015, 17:29:26 PM »
Alexander Litvinenko inquiry: six things we’ve learned so far

The inquiry into the killing of the Russian spy, held at the high court, has heard some extraordinary testimony

Who killed Alexander Litvinenko? We look back at the case
Luke Harding

Friday 30 January 2015 13.20 GMT
Last modified on Tuesday 3 February 201516.04 GMT

1 The men allegedly sent to kill Alexander Litvinenko were clueless assassins
There are two theories to explain why polonium was used to kill Litvinenko. The first says the Kremlin meant to send a demonstrative message. The message was for Boris Berezovsky, Litvinenko’s friend and President Vladimir Putin’s enemy.

 Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun speaking during an interview on Ekho Moskvy radio in Moscow in 2006. Photograph: Reuters

It said: wherever you are, we can get you. The polonium was a sort of lethal calling card (Polonium-210 is rare, expensive, and practically impossible to obtain – unless, of course, you own a nuclear reactor).

The second theory says that the polonium wasn’t meant to be discovered. Litvinenko would die in agony, but nobody would know why. The evidence laid out by this week’s public inquiry suggests the second theory is more plausible: whoever allegedly dispatched Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun to London assumed they’d never be caught. The two Russians knew their mission was to kill Litvinenko, according to this narrative, but seemingly had no idea what sort of poison they were carrying, or the fact it was highly radioactive.

This week the counsel to the inquiry, Robin Tam QC, painted a picture of two bungling assassins, who tried to murder Litvinenko not once but twice. Lugovoi and Kovtun first tried to poison Litvinenko on 16 October 2006, during a meeting at the private security company Erinys in Grosvenor Square, central London, he claimed. It’s not entirely clear what happened. But it looks as if a jug or glass containing polonium spilled all over the table. Nuclear experts later found huge amounts of contamination on a small area of the green baize tablecloth.

On that occasion Litvinenko was exposed to a tiny dose; he threw up that evening but survived.
The assassins allegedly tried again on 1 November. The three men met in the Pine bar of the Millennium hotel. Lugovoi had put the polonium in a teapot, the inquiry heard. Litvinenko sipped some of the tea “three or four times”. The tea was cold – he told police he didn’t like it. The dose he ingested was “far in excess of known survivability limits”. Later that evening, Litvinenko was vomiting again, the radiation was spreading through his body. He was dying.

Metropolitan Police’s 3D graphic showing polonium contamination on the green baize tablecloth in Grosvenor Square

2 The most extraordinary piece of new evidence involves a German waiter
Lugovoi and Kovtun have consistently denied they had anything to do with Litvinenko’s death.
But on Tuesday, Tam claimed a sensational piece of new evidence. Between 1996 and 2001 Kovtun lived in Germany, and worked as a waiter in an Italian restaurant in Hamburg. There, in the city’s picturesque habour overlooking the Elbe, Kovtun got friendly with another waiter – identified only as D2. He would see D2 whenever he went back to Germany.

On 28 October 2006, Kovtun flew to Hamburg from Moscow. This time he took polonium with him, Tam claimed. Kovtun stayed with his German ex-wife, and on the evening of 30 October met D2 in a restaurant. During a walk afterwards in a Hamburg amusement arcade, Kovtun confessed he was travelling to London to kill someone, the inquiry heard.

Two police officers carry a cardboard box, secured with tape marked radioactive from an apartment building in Hamburg-Ottensen. Photograph: Bodo Marks/Reuters

Tam said Kovtun described Litvinenko as “a traitor with blood on his hands who did deals with Chechnya”. Kovtun then asked D2 an extraordinary question: did he know a cook in London? Kovtun said he had “a very expensive poison and that he needed the cook to put the poison in Mr Litvinenko’s food and drink”. D2 thought his friend was “talking rubbish”. But he did know a cook who had worked with both of them at Il Porto, their Hamburg restaurant. He indirectly passed Kovtun the cook’s number, the court heard.

Early on 1 November, Kovtun flew from Hamburg to Gatwick; at 11.30am he used Lugovoi’s mobile to call the cook. The cook (identified only as C2) said he was busy and would ring back, said Tam. Four hours later, Lugovoi and Kovtun are said to have come up with another hastily improvised plan, allegedly slipping polonium into Litvinenko’s pot of tea. Litvinenko, meanwhile formed a dim view of Kovtun, whom he hardly knew. He described him as a “very unpleasant type”, telling police: “I think he’s either an alcoholic or a drug addict.” He quoted Kovtun as saying that his ex-wife came from a wealthy German family, with Kovtun adding: “I am interested in money and money alone in this life. Nothing else.”

3 The Metropolitan police have done an impressive job

An officer blocks traffic as a police van takes up a position outside the Millennium hotel in Grosvenor Square in London. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

The Met has been the focus of much public criticism but its investigation into Litvinenko’s murder was painstaking and exemplary. Around 100 detectives were involved, together with 100 uniformed officers.

To begin with they had little to go on – a dying Russian who spoke poor English; a baffling plot involving visitors from Moscow; and a swirl of disparate crime scenes. Two detectives, Brent Hyatt and Chris Hoar, from the Met’s specialist crime unit, interviewed Litvinenko in his intensive care bed.

The transcript of their conversations (pdf), revealed this week, shows the pair gradually piecing together the clues. Litvinenko went under the name of Edwin Redwald Carter. The officers addressed him rather quaintly as Edwin.

The inquiry transcript.Click here to readThey asked whether he had received death threats. And whom did he meet before falling ill. Litvinenko told them, yes, that within months of escaping to Britain in 2000 the ominous threats began.

In May 2001, he got a call from a former colleague, Major Andrei Porkin. Porkin was a subordinate of Litvinenko’s in Russia’s FSB spy agency. He allegedly told Litvinenko bluntly that if he failed to return to Russia “you will either be brought back in a body bag, or pushed in front of a train”.

In London, spies based at the Russian embassy followed him; in 2003 one of them, Victor Kirov, tried to barge into Litvinenko’s home in Muswell Hill, north London (Kirov later warned him to stop criticising Putin). Litvinenko gives a vivid account of his meetings with Lugovoi and Kovtun. He describes drinking tea in the Millennium hotel bar. The teapot was already on the table; Lugovoi asked the waiter to bring Litvinenko a clean cup; Lugovoi didn’t drink anything himself.

Litvinenko had a sharp eye for detail: Lugovoi was wearing a flashy Swiss gold watch, worth $50,000 (£33,000), and cardigan bought in Harrods. The police interviews took place on 19 and 20 November 2006, at UCL hospital; by 23 November, Litivenko was dead. They are a kind of unique witness statement taken from a ghost – a ghost who explictly blames Putin for his murder.

4 The Met has a crack 3D modelling team
The murder of Litvinenko was an unprecedented event. It was the first ever case of poisoning in the UK involving alpha radiation, rarer than gamma radiation, and much harder to detect. In the weeks that followed, the inquiry heard, the police found a trail of polonium left by Lugovoi and Kovtun across London.

Detectives visited the pair’s hotel rooms, the Pine bar, the Erinys boardroom. They tracked down a Mercedes car used by Lugovoi. Everywhere they found polonium. This aspect of the police investigation was called Operation Avocet. Nuclear forensic experts took a series of alpha radiation readings. Next the Met’s computer-aided modelling bureau produced striking 3D images and models of the key crime scenes. These graphics were colour-coded green, yellow, red and purple; purple represented the highest level of contamination, showing levels of 10,000 radiation counts per second and above. Litvinenko’s teapot, for example, has a lurid purple spout and a large purple section in the middle.

The room where Lugovoi stayed in the Sheraton hotel, room 848, yielded some extraordinary readings (Lugovoi checked in there during his second of three trips to London, between 25-28 October, 2006). High levels of alpha radiation were discovered on the wall, floor and toilet seat of the room’s bathroom; and on the telephone book. But the readings from the bin in the bathroom were off the scale; the bin is purple.

It looks as if Lugovoi may have thrown one large dose of polonium in the bin. Why? We don’t know. The Met also pieced together thousands of records of calls made by all of the main players in the case between June and November 2006. These call logs confirm Litvinenko’s contacts with Lugovoi, who on one occasion together with his wife visited Litvinenko’s London home.

5 British spies use Waterstones book store as a meeting place

Not much is known about Litvinenko’s secret role working for British intelligence. Litvinenko wasn’t a double agent: he had no contact with MI6 while he was in Russia. The British special intelligence service recruited him as an informant in 2003, two years after he fled to London.
MI6 put Litvinenko on its payroll, gave him an encrypted phone and assigned him a minder, “Martin”. In return, Litvinenko passed on useful information about senior Kremlin figures and their links with Russian organised crime. He knew about Russian mafia activities in Spain, his specialism as an FSB officer. MI6 introduced him to the Spanish intelligence service and in 2006 he travelled to Madrid.

Owen has said that he won’t examine whether MI6 could have done more to protect their source. Nor will the government make public its own secret files on the case, including MI6’s assessment of whether Litvinenko may have been at risk. Owen can review this secret evidence and use it in his findings.

Buried in this week’s transcripts, however, are a couple of tantalising details. The day before he was poisoned – 31 October – Litvinenko met Martin. The venue was the basement cafe of Waterstones book shop in Piccadilly Circus, the time 4pm. The two arranged the rendezvous by phone. Martin ordered coffee, while Litivinenko drank hot chocolate. The Russian also ate three small French pastries. We don’t know what they talked about. Litvinenko last spoke to his handler on 19 November, in the presence of police, while critically ill in his hospital bed. Their conversation hasn’t been released. Did Martin realise the danger Litvinenko was in? Should he have done? The government won’t tell us.

Ben Emmerson QC Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian6 Ben Emmerson QC has annoyed Vladimir Putin

Ben Emmerson, the lawyer acting for Litvinenko’s widow, Marina (pictured left), is a wordsmith. In his opening remarks to the public inquiry, he described Putin as a “common criminal dressed up as a head of state”. He suggested Litvinenko may have been murdered for exposing links between Putin and Russia’s biggest organised crime syndicate, which is active in Spain. Emmerson further alleged that under Putin Russia had become “a mafia state”.

Back in Moscow, Lugovoi has dismissed the inquiry as a “judicial farce”. Kremlin officials haven’t reacted formally yet but when they do, are likely to paint the court hearings as western propaganda. In public, officials are insouciant. In private, Emmerson’s remarks appear to have touched a nerve. On Wednesday, the day after Emmerson’s speech, Moscow sent a pair ofTupolev-95 “bear” bombers over the Channel. RAF Typhoon jets were scrambled to intercept them as they flew along the south coast. The Russian bombers had their transponders turned off, a provocative move that poses a danger to civilian flights. On Thursday the Foreign Office summoned Russia’s ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, to complain.

The public inquiry will last 10 weeks. There may be further drama to come.

Luke Harding is the author of Mafia State: How One Reporter Became an Enemy of the Brutal New Russia, published by Guardian Faber

Metropolitan Police’s 3D graphic showing polonium contamination in the teapot. From green

(low) to purple (high)

Putin ordered Alexander Litvinenko murder, inquiry into death told

Read more

Metropolitan Police’s 3D graphic showing polonium contamination of the table and chair

Offline mayya

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Re: Dangerous times for Russian opposition - Anna Politkovskaya
« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2015, 18:11:11 PM »
Who really did kill Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya?

The conviction of five men for the contract-killing of the Kremlin critic has not revealed who ordered the hit

Friday 13 June 2014
The sentencing of five men at a Moscow court this week for the murder of Anna Politkovskaya means that, as far as the Russian authorities are concerned, after almost eight years this repeatedly bungled case is finally closed.

For almost everyone else – from her family, to the family of the men convicted, to supporters of the redoubtable investigative journalist around the world, it does not mean this at all.
Four of the convicted men come from the same Chechen family. Rustam Makhmudov received a life sentence for firing the shots that killed Politkovskaya, as she entered the lift at her block of flats on 7 October, 2006.

His uncle, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, was also jailed for life for organising the murder. The three others, of whom two were Makhmudov’s brothers and one a former police officer, were given sentences of between 12 and 20 years.

Whether justice has been done, however, is another matter. Even if members of the Makhmudov clan committed the killing – which is by no means certain, as two of the brothers were acquitted in 2009, before being sent back for retrial by Russia’s Supreme Court – they were pawns in a much bigger game.

The judge, Pavel Melyokhin, was clear that this was a contract killing, with $150,000 paid by “a person unknown”. Nor was he in any doubt about the political motivation. Politkovskaya, he said, was killed for her work “exposing human rights violations, embezzlement and abuse of power”.

Politkovskaya, who was a reporter for the independent Novaya Gazeta, was a virulent critic of President Putin. She had campaigned fearlessly against Russia’s conduct of the war in Chechnya, earning the wrath of pro-Russian Chechen leaders and of the Kremlin alike. Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor at the paper, described her killers as “thugs” and said neither the organisers of the crime, nor the killers, knew who they were killing, or why.

Politkovskaya’s son, Ilya, said: “We will never consider the case closed unless the person or persons who ordered her killed are found and tried .”

There was as much discontent on the part of the Makhmudov family. The father of the convicted brothers claimed his sons had been “set up” and their lawyer said he would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Outside Russia, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe welcomed the sentences, but agreed that the case would not be closed until “those who ordered this horrific murder are identified and convicted”.

The organisation’s media rights advocate, Dunja Mijatovic, said the case was a reminder that “impunity for crimes against journalists is still commonplace in several countries”.

As indeed it is. The moment news broke of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder, suspicions of culpability raced off in two different directions. The most obvious led to the Kremlin, if not to President Putin himself; that 7 October is his birthday fuelled speculation about someone perhaps offering a macabre present. The other led to Chechnya and enemies Politkovskaya might have made among the entwined political, business and clan interests there.

In a bizarre episode at the journalists’ Frontline Club in London a year after Politkovskaya’s death, the exiled Russian interior ministry officer, Alexander Litvinenko, publicly named Putin as the killer – a charge that appears to have been part of his own personal vendetta. But apart from that, all efforts to trace the chain of responsibility have failed. That includes an investigation by Novaya Gazeta.
Putin denied any Kremlin involvement, saying at the time – in a statement that sounded crass, but was not completely wrong – that her death was “more damaging to the current authorities, both in Russia and the Chechen Republic, than her activities”.

Her murder, whoever ordered it, reflected extremely badly on the Kremlin which had fostered a climate where such killings could happen.

In retrospect, Politkovskaya’s death may have brought some change. The international outcry kept the case in the public eye, which is one reason it was not dropped. There have been fewer attacks on journalists in Russia since – though this could also reflect fear of following where Politkovskaya led. And the judge’s recognition both of her qualities as a journalist and of the fact that politics lay behind her death marks progress.

But it is hard to agree with the prosecutor who described the convictions as “the highest achievement of the judicial system”. If they were, what does this say about the rest?

Offline mayya

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Dangerous times for Russian opposition - Anastasia Baburova
« Reply #4 on: March 02, 2015, 18:14:15 PM »
Anastasia Baburova
Anastasia Baburova, a Russian journalist, died on January 19th, aged 25

Feb 5th 2009 | From the print edition
IT IS still not clear why Anastasia Baburova was shot in the head. Was she a target—along with Stanislav Markelov, a human-rights lawyer who was shot seconds earlier? Was she an accidental victim, in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or did she try to grab and disarm the killer after he shot her companion?

Both Mr Markelov and Ms Baburova were killed in broad daylight in the centre of Moscow. The next day, a party of Russian nationalists brought champagne to the murder scene to celebrate the “elimination” of their enemies. Her death was part of a continuing battle between fascists and anti-fascists in Russia, which is seldom so plainly revealed to the outside world.

Jumping an assassin was part of her nature. At any sign of violence or racism her nerves and muscles instantly responded, hitting out, resisting what was physically intolerable. “It is hard to look in the eyes of a Korean student who has just been hit on the head by two under-age jerks…giving ‘Heil Hitler' salutes”, she wrote in her blog after seeing yet another neo-Nazi attack in Moscow. It was the same blog in which she enthused about roller-blading for the first time: at night, fast, without a helmet.
The fact that she worked at Novaya Gazeta was no coincidence. “Where else?” she asked her colleagues, rhetorically. She was the fourth journalist Novaya Gazeta had lost in the past eight years. But Russia's most critical newspaper, co-founded by Mikhail Gorbachev, the architect of perestroika, was the natural place for her to be.

Stretching towards the sun
She was born in 1983, just before perestroika opened up the country. Like the best of her generation (alas, few and untypical) she grew up fearless, thriving on freedom and fresh air. Ms Baburova considered herself a citizen of the world; she had more in common with rebellious youths in Europe than with office workers in her own country. She spoke fluent English and learnt Chinese; yet she had little chance to go abroad, to London or anywhere else. Instead, she travelled through books. At 15 her restlessness was compressed in a poem called “Coffee Cup”:

Wake up in the morning
Stretch your arms towards the sun
Say something in Chinese
And go to Paris…

Every minute, somewhere in the world there is morning
Somewhere, people stretch their arms towards the sun
They speak new languages, fly from Cairo to Warsaw
They smile and drink coffee together.

Official patriotic slogans (“A resurgent Russia that is getting off its knees”) sounded false and alien to her. She was never on her knees, never humiliated by the Soviet collapse, even though she was born in Sebastopol—a Black Sea port redolent with past Russian glory—when it was part of the Soviet empire, and went to school there when it had become part of Ukraine. 

Instead of feeling inferior, she learnt martial arts. She managed to get into the Moscow Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), where the children of the Soviet elite traditionally prepare themselves for diplomatic careers—a miracle for a girl from Sebastopol, without connections. Her exam results were so impressive that she was offered a place at Yale. But she decided she wanted to be a journalist, and walked out of the institute.

She could have made a career at Izvestia, and did a short stint there, but never fitted in at a newspaper which in recent years has exuded nationalism, conformism and cynicism. She got into trouble for showing her press card, and was arrested for filming police evicting residents from a building which they had claimed for themselves. Vladimir Mamontov, the editor of Izvestia, who never met Ms Baburova, dismissed her as the type of girl “who knows very little about real life, but vibrates at the sight of a social change. They are waiting for a revolution, and when there is none they get bored.”

Dmitry Muratov, the editor of Novaya Gazeta, knew her better. She reminded him of the young men who people Dostoevsky's novels, youths with a heightened sense of injustice and a longing to change the world. Though her family came from the Soviet intelligentsia, her roots went back further, to the 19th-century thinkers who invented the word. Unsurprisingly, Ms Baburova had a soft spot for anarchists. Mikhail Bakunin, for example, who believed that without inner freedom for the individual, society can be neither free nor fair.

She and her friends rightly identified fascism as the biggest and most pressing threat to her country. She swore to fight it. She sensed accurately the social kinship between Stalinism and fascism: the link between attempts to portray Stalin as a “successful manager”, and the current upsurge of nationalism. Unlike many young people in the generation before hers, she did not see a safe job as an ultimate measure of success.

In Turgenev's poem “The Threshold”, a young woman stands before a door. A voice asks whether she is prepared to endure cold, hunger, mockery, prison and death, all of which await her on the other side. She says “Yes” to everything, and steps over. “A fool,” cries a voice from behind her. “A saint,” suggests another.

Offline mayya

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Re: Dangerous times for Russian opposition - Stanislav Markelov
« Reply #5 on: March 02, 2015, 18:17:50 PM »
Human rights lawyer murdered in Moscow

• Victim worked for critics of Chechnya government
• Journalist who chased assassin also shot dead

 An investigator works near the body of slain lawyer Stanislav Markelov. Photograph: Mikhail Metzel/APLuke Harding in Moscow

Tuesday 20 January 2009 00.01 GMT
Last modified on Tuesday 20 January 200900.21 GMT
One of Russia's top human rights lawyers was assassinated in the centre of Moscow yesterday in a killing apparently linked to his work defending opponents of the pro-Kremlin government in Chechnya.

Stanislav Markelov, 34, was shot in the head by a man using a pistol with a silencer in the middle of the afternoon on a busy Moscow street. Markelov worked as a lawyer for Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper whose special correspondent Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in Moscow in 2006. The paper's co-owner Alexander Lebedev last night said Markelov had dealt with Politkovskaya's case.
Before escaping, his killer also shot Anastasia Barburova, a 25-year-old trainee journalist also employed by Novaya Gazeta. She had been walking with the lawyer to the metro when the killer, who wore military fatigues, opened fire. Barburova died last night in hospital.

Witnesses said she tried to chase the assassin, who turned and shot her in the head. Lebedev said the newspaper had grown concerned for the safety of its staff on Saturday after it published an article about Chechen execution squads roaming around Moscow. Several staff were put under protection, he added.

Markelov was one of Russia's most prominent human rights advocates. As well as his work for Novaya Gazeta, he represented the family of an 18-year-old Chechen woman who was murdered and raped in 2000 by a drunken Russian army colonel. The case was one of the most notorious to arise out of the Kremlin's two savage Chechen wars.

Col Yuri Budanov snatched Kheda Kungayeva from her father's house during a late-night raid in 2000, killed her inside his tent, and then ordered his subordinates to secretly bury the body. He was convicted of murder in 2003, despite claiming he had temporarily gone insane and had mistaken her for a sniper.

Budanov was released from prison last week, 18 months early. The case had prompted outrage in Chechnya, and news of his release sparked protests across the republic. Hours before he was murdered yesterday, Markelov had said he planned to appeal Budanov's release.

Human rights activists yesterday said they were appalled by Markelov's killing, which they compared to the murder of Politkovskaya. "We don't know who killed him. But we know he was killed for doing his job, without a shadow of a doubt," said Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch in Moscow. "He was one of those people prepared to risk his life for the cause. He was funny, outrageous and sometimes quite obnoxious. He was a colleague and friend. We travelled to Chechnya together. He was always telling jokes, including the most obscene ones. I can't believe he's gone."

She went on: "His murder is similar [in scale] to Politkovskaya's. He is the latest in a long line of strong critics of the state who have got killed. In each case the killers are never caught. We are just appalled that this has happened.'

The lawyer was murdered outside a historic palace in upmarket Prechistenka Street. Witnesses at the scene said there was no sound of gunshots. "It was 3pm. A passerby came in to call for an ambulance. She said a man and a woman were lying on the ground," Natalya Ivanova, who works in the chemist's opposite, said, adding: "The killing was outrageous. It was in broad daylight in a street full of people."

Russia's prosecutor general Yuri Chaika announced he was taking personal charge of the investigation.

The assassin was described as of Slavic appearance, 5ft 11in tall and wearing a baseball cap.
Relatives of the dead Chechen woman yesterday said Markelov had received threats before his assassination.

"He said: 'I am being sent text messages, people are calling. They are saying they will kill me unless I stop the Budanov affair,'" her father, Visa Kungayev, told Ekho Moskvy radio.
Last night sources suggested that the killers responsible for Poltikovskaya's murder may have been involved in yesterday's. Chechnya's president Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Russia's prime minister Vladimir Putin, has been accused of involvement in Politkovskaya's death, one of several such charges he denies.

As well as the Budanov case, Markelov represented the family of a Chechen man who vanished last August. Mokhmadsalakh Masaev was abducted in Chechnya several weeks after giving an interview to Novaya Gazeta, in which he said he had been kept and tortured in a prison in Kadyrov's home village for four months.

Another critic of Chechnya's president, 27-year-old Umar Israilov, was shot dead in Vienna last week. Israilov had filed a complaint to the European court of human rights in 2006, alleging that Kadyrov had personally tortured him.

According to last week's New York Times, another Chechen, Artur Kurmakayev, claimed Kadyrov had a death list of 300 Chechens living abroad.

In 2000 Russian army colonel Yuri Budanov abducted and murdered 18-year-old Chechen Kheda Kungayeva. Budanov was jailed in 2003 after Russia's then president Vladimir Putin supported his prosecution in the face of opposition from army generals and nationalist groups. Budanov's early release last week prompted mass protests in Chechnya. Stanislav Markelov, the dead woman's lawyer, announced he was appealing against the decision to Russia's supreme court.

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Re: Dangerous times for Russian opposition - Natalia Estemirova
« Reply #6 on: March 02, 2015, 18:20:57 PM »
Who shot Natalia Estemirova?

In all probability, nobody will ever be brought to justice for the murder of yet another Russian human-rights campaigner

 Natalia Estemirova was abducted in Grozny and later found dead in Ingushetia Photograph: MEMORIAL / HO/EPA

Luke Harding
Thursday 23 July 2009 00.05 BSTLast modified on Wednesday 11 June 201414.40 BST

It should have been a brief trip. Last Wednesday, Natalia Estemirova, known to her friends as Natasha, left her flat in the Chechen capital, Grozny, and set off towards the bus stop. Usually, it took her 15-20 minutes to get to work – a bumpy ride in a shared No 55 mini-van, down an avenue of green tower blocks, past giant posters of Chechnya's warlord president Ramzan Kadyrov, and several of Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin.
On this occasion, she didn't make it. A hundred metres beyond the entrance of her 10th-floor flat – which overlooks a patch of grassy wasteland and a grove of shabby walnut trees – four gunmen were waiting. They grabbed Estemirova, bundled her into a white Russian-made Zhiguli car and drove off. A woman passer-by saw the abduction and heard her cry out.

It was 8.30am. Her kidnappers headed in the direction of Ingushetia, Chechnya's neighbouring republic. Probably, they took the M-29 highway, though there is also a grassy back-route looping along a hillside. The road is a scenic one: it cuts though a dark tunnel of poplar trees; on the roadside women sell melons from the backs of trucks. The kidnappers breezed through several checkpoints.

Two hours later, Estemirova was dead. The men stopped their vehicle soon after crossing into Ingushetia. Up ahead, a group of Islamist militants had ambushed a government car, opening fire. Estemirova's kidnappers may at this point have panicked. They marched her, hands tied, off the road. And then they shot her five times in the head and chest – leaving behind her money, passport and ID card.
This was no robbery. Instead, her friends believe it was something else: a vile, cowardly, meticulous, state-sponsored execution, apparently designed to send a chilling warning to the small, dwindling number of activists still working inChechnya, Russia's rogue republic. Last week, Estemirova's colleague Oleg Orlov certainly felt in no doubt as to who killed her.

Her death was both appalling and predictable. She was the latest human-rights campaigner of international renown to be gunned down in Putin's Russia. In October 2006 an assassin shot dead the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Estemirova's friend and close collaborator. 

Politkovskaya was a frequent guest at her modest Grozny flat. Another visitor to her flat was Stanislav Markelov, a 34-year-old lawyer with an impish sense of fun, who worked with Estemirova representing Chechen victims. In February he was gunned down in central Moscow, a short stroll away from the Kremlin. Killed with him was Anastasia Baburova, a freelance journalist for Novaya Gazeta newspaper. And then, last week, it was Estemirova's turn – the next obvious target.

Even now, her friends still find it hard to comprehend her murder. "She was an amazing and inspiring person with an obsessive and unstoppable desire for justice," her colleague Tanya Lokshina, from Human Rights Watch in Moscow, says. "She was nice and funny, always smiling, always well dressed despite her small salary, and somewhat coquettish."

Since 2000, Estemirova had been working in Grozny for the Russian human-rights organisation Memorial. According to Lokshina, she knew the risks she was running. "After Stas [Markelov] was murdered she flew to Moscow for the funeral. She and I sat up until late at night talking about the situation. We asked ourselves: 'Who is going to be next?' Natasha was next."

Estemirova wouldn't have been surprised by her own kidnapping and violent death, Lokshina says. A historian by training, her job as Memorial's leading Grozny-based activist was to document and publicise abuses carried out by Chechen law enforcement and security agencies, under Kadyrov's de facto control. By fixing, by recording, by naming, she sought to establish a higher truth in a region shattered by conflict and moral breakdown.

Every day a queue of women would turn up at her office, just off Grozny's main Putin Avenue. (After Kadyrov renamed the street last year in creepy homage to Russia's prime minister, Estemirova refused to even walk on it, her daughter Lana recalls.) There, they would tell their stories – of relatives shot by Kadyrov's troops, missing sons who popped out and never came back, of houses torched by masked gunmen in uniforms. Estemirova would immediately fire off a letter to the local prosecutor.

At a time when the world stopped listening to Chechnya's woes, Estemirova stayed on in Grozny. She continued to highlight extra-judicial killings, disappearances, torture and other crimes. She wrote reports for Memorial, and articles in Novaya Gazeta. She collaborated with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. She was an invaluable source of information for western journalists who – in the last few years – were visiting Chechnya with embarrassing infrequency.

Inevitably, this led to confrontation with Kadyrov, Chechnya's thuggish tsar. A former rebel turned loyalist, Kadyrov has pioneered his own Kremlin-approved mini-Stalinist regime in the Muslim republic – the scene of two Moscow wars from 1994 to 1996 and 1999 to 2004. So numerous are his portraits, driving through Chechnya feels a bit like travelling through a giant version of Kadyrov's family photo album.

Critics acknowledge that Kadyrov has presided over the republic's spectacular reconstruction, with much of war-smashed Grozny rebuilt. At the same time, he has made Chechnya into a lawless personal fiefdom. His violent tactics – dressed up as anti-terrorist operations – are used not just against the unknown number of Islamist insurgents still holed up in Chechnya's forests and mountains, but are also employed against the wider, terrified, innocent civilian population.
In the run-up to her murder, Estemirova received threats from senior aides of Kadyrov. In March 2008 Kadyrov summoned her to a meeting at which he expressed extreme dissatisfaction with her work and her opposition to his new edict forcing women to wear headscarves. According to Orlov, head of Memorial, Kadyrov told her: "Yes, my hands are up to the elbows in blood. And I am not ashamed of that. I will kill and kill bad people." Estemirova was unimpressed and she ticked him off.

"I know that she had threats. She didn't tell me about this but I knew it," Estemirova's 15-year-old daughter Lana says, speaking from her aunt's home outside Grozny, where relatives gathered last week to mourn Estemirova's murder. Next door, a group of women sit on the carpet, from time to time erupting into howling and sobbing; others serve up plates of lamb and watermelon.
The activist was buried last Thursday in the village cemetery. (Earlier, police broke up a funeral procession in the centre of Grozny by locals protesting at her murder. Some carried banners asking: "Who is next?") Her grave sits on a grassy hillside. It is a quiet spot. Her father is buried nearby; white butterflies flutter among the Islamic headstones; a light breeze blows.
Lana adds: "I never told her to leave her job. I knew it was important for all the people. She didn't live for herself. She didn't live for me. She lived for those who needed her help." 

According to Lana, she never travelled with bodyguards and paid scant attention to her personal safety. "Her only concern was for me. If I missed her call or had my phone on vibrate she would say: 'Are you crazy? It breaks my heart when you don't pick up.'"
After her encounter with Kadyrov, and following consultations with Memorial, Estemirova left Chechnya for several months and went to live in her home city of Yekaterinburg. She later returned to Grozny. Last summer she and Lana travelled to Oxford – a period her friends say was the happiest of her life. In Oxford she managed to escape the horrors of Chechnya. She studied English, did yoga and went for long walks in the university parks. One friend described her as "glowing".

For Lana it was a rare moment in which she had her mother to herself: "I loved Tate Modern. She loved the National Gallery. She didn't like my rock music. But we agreed on impressionism and classical music."

She adds: "Even now I can't believe this has happened to me. I didn't look at her when she was dead. It was only when I saw her body [at the funeral] that I realised I would be alone, and that I would never see her again in this life."

Friends tried to persuade Estemirova to extend her stay in the UK. She refused. She returned to Grozny in September 2008. "It was almost as if Natasha had a religious sort of a calling, even though she considered herself an atheist," Lokshina says. "After all the horrors she had seen in two wars she just could not imagine that God existed, because if he did he would never have allowed anything so cruel, violent or nightmarish."

Estemirova's husband died during the first Chechen war – at around the time she decided to abandon her job as a history teacher and to embark on a career as an activist and journalist. She lived with Lana in a small Grozny flat filled with books, her international prizes, and a fluffy cat, Vanessa. There were also two budgerigars. "If not for her daughter she was almost like a classic nun," Lokshina says.

In April the Kremlin cancelled its counter-terrorist regime in Chechnya. This was an important moment, marking a formal end to an on-off war against separatists and radicals of various Islamic tinges that had lasted for 15 years. In reality, however, the Kremlin is facing serious problems in nearby Ingushetia, the scene of daily attacks on government forces, and the epicentre of a pan-Islamist uprising spilling across the entire North Caucasus region.

The federal government in Moscow responded to this threat by giving Kadyrov enhanced powers over Chechnya and Ingushetia. According to Shakman Akbulatov, Estemirova's co-worker in Memorial's Grozny office, the cancellation saw a spike in human rights abuses over the last two-and-a-half months. Suddenly, Estemirova found herself deluged with new cases, as Kadyrov's forces abducted civilians – in some cases murdered them – and subsequently branded them as militants.

One case she investigated was that of Madina Yunusova, a 20-year-old woman whose husband was killed on 2 July in a special operation in the village of Staraya Sunzha, not far from Grozny. Officials claimed, implausibly, she had fired a Kalashnikov and was involved in a plot to kill Kadyrov. Yunusova was injured in the shoot-out but survived. She then died in mysterious circumstances in hospital.

What followed was a classic example of collective punishment. On 4 July, at 3am, men in camouflage fatigues arrived at Yunusova's parents' home in the town of Argun. According to neighbours, they set light to it, locking the family in a shed. Yesterday the house was deserted. Burned clothes lay in the garden, next to a plot of yellow dahlias. The Yunusovs had fled. Their flip-flops sat in the front porch, underneath a vine trellis; peering through a broken window you could make out a blackened bedroom and charred mattress.

Estemirova's colleagues are clear that her death was a punishment for her professional activities – and her desire to help people like the Yunusovs. "It was done to silence her," Akbulatov says, speaking in Memorial's office, a colour photo of Estemirova tacked to the wall. The office has now temporarily closed, while Memorial reviews its activities in Chechnya. "She was as brave a person as you can imagine. She knew it was very dangerous." What is unclear is why Estemirova's enemies chose last week to kill her.

Did her recent on-going investigations trigger alarm at the top of Chechnya's government? Or is there a link with president Dmitry Medvedev's statement on 14 July, the day before her murder, that federal forces should be involved in counter-terrorist operations in Chechnya and Ingushetia – an apparent rebuke to Kadyrov, whose own forces have masterminded operations? Could Russia's sinister FSB spy agency be involved?

Kadyrov's response was characteristically wheedling. Speaking hours afterwards, he denied involvement and described her murder as a "monstrous crime". Her death, he suggested, was an attempt to "discredit" Chechnya and Ingushetia and "trample its peoples in the mud". Human rights activists now fear that Kadyrov will shortly claim that the perpetrators of her murder have themselves been killed, precluding the need for further investigation.

In contrast to his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, who chose to ignore then downplay the death of Politkovskya, Medvedev reacted swiftly last week, amid international outrage. In a telegram to Memorial, he promised that Estemirova's death would be investigated "in a most careful manner". Depressingly, however, Medvedev also ruled out Kadyrov's guilt, describing this possibility as "primitive and unacceptable".

Human-rights campaigners are deeply sceptical that the investigation into her death will uncover the truth behind her killing. Nobody has been held to account in similar cases. The trial of four men accused of involvement in Politkovskya's murder was "a farce", Estemirova said at the time. All were acquitted and investigators have failed to identify the mastermind behind her murder. Kadyrov denied involvement, saying, "I don't kill women."

As for Estemirova, "There are very solid grounds to believe there was governmental involvement," Lokshina says. "Natasha publicised and documented human rights abuses perpetrated by Chechen law enforcement and security agencies. For them she was definitely an enemy. These are the ones who wanted her silenced. She really was the only Chechen activist to tackle these outrageous cases."

Lana, meanwhile, now wants to leave the country. First Anna, then Stas and then her mother – within three years all of them have been murdered, seemingly by the Russian state, or by dark forces connected with it. "I'll take my mother's books, a few of her dresses, and give the rest to poor local people." Next door, the howling begins again. "My tears are finished," she says •

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Re: Dangerous times for Russian opposition - Sergei Magnitsky
« Reply #7 on: March 02, 2015, 18:22:51 PM »
Sergei Magnitsky - the final insult: Russia continues to 'desecrate the memory' of the whistleblower lawyer

First he was imprisoned. There he died after being denied medical treatment. Then he was put on posthumous trial. Now the Russian lawyer who dared to expose a £140m fraud is accused of perpetrating the crime himself


Monday 13 January 2014
Russian investigators have opened a second posthumous criminal investigation into the whistleblower lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who exposed an alleged £140m fraud by Moscow tax officials, it was claimed.

Mr Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison in 2009 after suffering beatings and being deprived of medical treatment, became the first dead person to be put on trial in modern Russia when he was last year convicted of tax fraud in proceedings described by critics as evidence of “Sovietisation”. The Kremlin denied the prosecution was an act of revenge to distract attention from corrupt officials but supporters said a further criminal investigation has now come to light, this time accusing Mr Magnitsky of the massive theft which he had himself uncovered.

The death of the 37-year-old auditor opened a new rift between Moscow and Washington, which passed a “Magnitsky Act” banning nearly 20 Russian officials implicated in the lawyer’s death from the United States and threatening to add more senior figures to the list.

Bill Browder, the British-American financier who employed Mr Magnitsky and has since led the campaign to expose corruption in Russia, said that the lawyer had now been named as the ringleader of four suspects accused of masterminding the $230m (£140m) tax refund theft.

Campaigners said the investigation, disclosed in official papers obtained on behalf of the Magnitsky family, belied efforts by President Vladimir Putin to improve Russia’s international standing ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics by releasing prisoners including the former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot.

Mr Browder, who runs the London-based investment house Hermitage Capital, said: “If the Russian authorities are steadfastly prosecuting a dead man four years after they killed him, any talk about a Putin thaw from his well-publicised amnesty should be discarded as cynical trash. Everything one needs to know about the real state of justice in Russia can be seen in how Magnitsky’s killers have all gone free and the state continues to desecrate his memory and terrorise his family.”

An official at the heart of the case, Olga Stepanova, who was in charge of the Moscow tax office claimed by Mr Magnitsky to have been at the heart of the alleged fraud, was recently told she will not be prosecuted. Despite evidence of enrichment among officials and investigators linked to the case, no-one has faced charges relating to the lawyer’s death.

The Russian interior ministry carefully denied that the investigation, which appears to have been opened about a year ago but has only now come to light, was a “new” attempt to prosecute Mr Magnitsky, insisting it was not “common practice” in the country to try dead people.

A spokesman told the RIA Novosti news agency: “The information does not correspond to reality. The Interior Ministry’s investigative department... have not started new criminal cases against Magnitsky. There is no such practice in the Russian Federation as instigating criminal cases against dead people.”

The Magnitsky case has proved an international liability for Mr Putin ever since the tax lawyer first uncovered evidence that materials seized from Hermitage Capital’s Russian companies in 2007 were used by an organised crime cartel to take over the subsidiaries and then fraudulently claim the largest tax refund in Russian history.

Mr Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 by the same tax investigators he had accused of complicity in the fraud and held without trial for 11 months. He developed pancreatitis, gall stones and a linked condition for which he was supposed to undergo an operation that never took place. His death in November 2009 came days before the expiry of the 12-month limit on holding suspects without charge. On the eve of his death, he was left untreated in Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison after allegedly being severely beaten by staff.

In the first posthumous case against him, Mr Magnitsky was convicted along with Mr Browder to have evaded taxes owed by Hermitage Capital, resulting in a nine-year prison term in absentia for the financier, who has denied any wrongdoing, and a refusal by the Russian courts to rehabilitate the lawyer. Under Russian law, posthumous trials are banned unless the proceedings are brought by the relatives of the deceased with the aim of clearing his or her name.

The new case states that Mr Magnitsky had “organised by deceit” the tax refund and “stolen funds from the budget of the Russian Federation and of Moscow City”.

It came to light after Mr Magnitsky’s family filed a complaint to gain access to documents relating to his case which have been withheld by the Russian courts.

Mr Browder said Russian denials of the existence of the new criminal case were motivated by a desire to avoid damaging headlines in the weeks before the winter games in Sochi.

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Re: Dangerous times for Russian opposition - Boris Berezovsky
« Reply #8 on: March 02, 2015, 18:25:52 PM »
Boris Berezovsky inquest returns open verdict on death

Berkshire coroner says conflicting evidence meant he was unable to reach conclusion on how Russian oligarch died

 Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky was found dead at his home in Ascot, Berkshire, in March last year. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Ian Cobain

Thursday 27 March 2014 19.33 GMTLast modified on Tuesday 3 June 201409.30 BST

A coroner has recorded an open verdict on the death of Boris Berezovsky after hearing conflicting expert evidence about the way that the Russian oligarch was found hanged.

Police said they found no evidence of foul play during an extensive investigation and a pathologist who conducted a postmortem examination on the businessman's body said he could rule out murder.

But Professor Bern Brinkmann, a German forensic scientist retained by members of the businessman's family, said that his examination of autopsy photographs had led him to conclude that Berezovsky had not killed himself.

Brinkmann submitted a report to the inquest which included the suggestion that Berezovsky had been murdered by a number of assailants and then suspended by his scarf from the shower rail at his ex-wife's home in Ascot, Berkshire.

The Berkshire coroner Peter Bedford said he had heard "compelling evidence" to suggest that Berezovsky was capable of taking his own life, that the businessman had been deeply depressed and under enormous financial pressure. Bedford also dismissed parts of the scenario suggested by Brinkmann as "stretching credibility too far".

Nevertheless, he said that after hearing evidence from such an eminent witness, he was not able to conclude that Berezovsky had taken his own life and must record an open verdict.
The coroner indicated that had it not been for Brinkmann's evidence, he would have recorded a verdict that Berezovsky, 67, killed himself after plunging into a deep depression following a number of severe financial setbacks.

The most significant blow had been the loss of the high-stakes court battle with Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea football club owner, seven months before his death. "It is clear to me that it had a significant effect, both on his finances and ultimately on his mental health," the coroner said. Being obliged to become a guest at his ex-wife's home marked a major "fall from grace" for a man who had once been fabulously wealthy and wielded considerable political power.
Once considered to be Russia's second-richest man, Berezovsky believed he was facing an almost-penniless future after losing his London high court fight with Abramovich over the rightful ownership of the oil group Sibneft. He not only lost the $3bn (£1.8bn) damages claim, he was also left with an estimated £100m legal bill.

The inquest heard that he became deeply depressed and suicidal, asking his son Artem how he could choke himself to death and demanding of his bodyguard: "Should I jump or should I cut my vein?''

During a two-day hearing at Windsor, Bedford heard that painstaking inquiries by detectives and forensic scientists had unearthed no evidence of murder. Microscopic tests of the businessman's skin found no sign of any restraint or defence injuries, while toxicology tests found no trace of any poisons or unexpected substances in his blood or tissues.

Berezovsky was found with a length of his favourite black cashmere scarf around his neck, and a second length was tied around a shower rail above his head.

Forensic scientist Dr Simon Poole told the inquest at Windsor that detailed examination of the tissues of Berezovsky's neck found no sign that he had been throttled before the scarf was put in place, nor had any puncture marks been found on his body. He ruled out murder.

As a result of the assassination through polonium poisoning of Berezovsky's associate Alexander Litvinenko in London in November 2006, an examination of the area was carried out by government atomic weapons scientists, but no trace of radiation was found.

Other scientists conducted tests on the scarf and the knot used to tie it to the rail. The rail was found not to bend when a 100kg weight was raised on it.

However, Berezovsky's daughter by his first marriage, Elizaveta Berezovskaya, told the hearing that although she accepted that she had given a number of statements last year in which she said her father had spoken of suicide before his death, she was no longer certain that he had taken his own life.

Berezovskya also suggested that the Russian government could have been behind his death. After claiming that a number of people would be interested in her father's death, Bedford asked who they might be. "I think we all know," she replied. "I don't think they liked what my father was saying. He was saying that [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin was a danger to the whole world and you can see that now."

Brinkmann said that marks on Berezovsky's neck were not consistent with strangulation through suspension. "The strangulation mark is completely different to the strangulation mark in hanging," he said.

Brinkmann suggested Berezovsky could have been strangled by an assailant in his bedroom.
The coroner stressed that Brinkmann was not independent and had not examined Berzovsky's body; nor could he accept his suggestion that the a number of assailants had struck – "without any reaction from Mr Berezovsky" – in an open area of the house, suspended the body in the bathroom, and then left without being noticed.

Nevertheless, after hearing the professor's evidence, he said he was unable to record a verdict that was beyond reasonable doubt, as the law requires.

Offline mayya

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Re: Dangerous times for Russian opposition - Boris Nemtsov
« Reply #9 on: March 02, 2015, 18:28:29 PM »
The not-so-simple murder of Boris Nemtsov

Vladimir Putin had little reason to have Boris Nemtsov killed, let alone at the Kremlin's doorstep.
02 Mar 2015 10:44 GMT
People hold Ukrainian and Russian national flags during a march to commemorate Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov [REUTERS] 

Alexander Nekrassov
Alexander Nekrassov is a former Kremlin and government adviser.

Here's a question for you to chew on: Why would Russian President Vladimir Putin, who enjoys a popularity rating of around 80 percent at the moment, want to get rid of a fading opposition politician, Boris Nemtsov, who hardly registers on the public radar?

And what would be the logic of having him assassinated less than half a mile away from the Kremlin walls? Wouldn't it be asking for trouble, considering that Russia's relations with the West are at their lowest point since the Cold War over the crisis in Ukraine?

Nevertheless, once the news of the fatal shooting of 55-year-old Nemtsov, late last Friday, came out of Moscow, all the usual suspects started pointing out that he was a "fierce critic" of Putin, implying that the Kremlin must have had something to do with it. Some were cunning enough to say that even if Putin did not order Nemtsov's murder, he had created "an atmosphere of hate and intolerance" in the country that indirectly resulted in the assassination of the "prominent opposition leader".
Inside Story - Russian opposition: Critics or traitors?
Gunned down
Nemtsov was gunned down on the Moskvoretsky Bridge, as he was walking with his companion, a model from Ukraine, Anna Duratskih, from an eatery in the GUM shopping centre across from the Kremlin.
As it has now been established, a man came out from the stairs leading to the embankment from the bridge, shot at Nemtsov six times from a Makarov pistol, hitting him four times in the back, and then jumped into a car which pulled up at the curb. Nemtsov, according to the witness who saw the whole thing, died practically instantly.

The Kremlin reacted quickly to the incident; 40 minutes later, its official spokesman said that Putin had been informed about the incident and ordered law enforcement agencies to create a special task force to investigate Nemtsov's murder. The line from the Kremlin was that it treated the incident as a "contract hit" and that it was intended as a provocation. It was later announced that Putin had sent his condolences to Nemtsov's mother and even promised her that everything would be done to find her son's killers.
Western leaders were also quick to respond to the killing, with US President Barack Obama leading the condemnation of Nemtsov's murder and calling for an investigation. This was odd in itself because the investigation had already started and the Russian media was giving blanket coverage to the story. Even more puzzling was the way stern-faced western ambassadors rushed the next day to lay flowers at the place Nemtsov was shot. This was not very tactful, since Nemtsov had regularly called for Putin's overthrow, and their paying homage implied that these western diplomats in Moscow supported that notion.

Investigators in Moscow are currently looking at several lines of inquiry, including a possible link to the Ukraine crisis and nationalistic elements there that could have organised the murder to "destabilise the situation in Russia". Other possibilities on the table include the so-called "Islamic extremist connection", a possible link to Nemtsov's strong stand on Charlie Hebdo and his criticism of Muslim extremism generally, his business interests and even a possible "jealous lover" version, involving a spurned boyfriend of Nemtsov's Ukrainian companion that night.

The problem with the coverage of Nemtsov's murder abroad is that very few people outside the tight circle of so-called 'Russian experts' know much about the man and his political career.
There are also inquiries into his conflicts as a member of parliament, from the Yaroslavl region, with the local authorities and businessmen. But as my sources in Moscow tell me, the Ukrainian link is given top priority at the moment.

Stir up trouble
Sunday's march in memory of Nemtsov passed quietly, despite fears that some people might be tempted to stir up trouble and provoke clashes with the police, with around 21,000 people taking part and not "tens of thousands" as reported by some media outlets. (The reason why official estimates are closer to the real numbers is because all demonstrators had to pass through metal detectors before joining the march and were registered by computers.)

And if you consider that some people came to express their specific grievances that had nothing to do with Nemtsov, like economic problems or even demanding to free the Ukrainian pilot Nadezha Savchenko, who is in prison in Russia on charges of accessory to murder of Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine, it is clear that the march was not solely centred on the dead politician.

The problem with the coverage of Nemtsov's murder abroad is that very few people outside the tight circle of so-called "Russian experts" know much about the man and his political career. But it is worthwhile remembering that his achievements were not so numerous and his so-called attempts to "root out corruption" rarely brought any results, if any at all.
Nemtsov's six-year governorship of the Nizhniy Novgorod region, from 1991 to 1997, did not produce anything spectacular and his presence in the Russian cabinet as deputy prime minister and later first deputy prime minister in 1997 and 1998 were not exactly outstanding, culminating in the government collapsing in August 1998 when Russia had defaulted on its domestic debts.
Nemtsov's career as an opposition politician was not without achievements but he never managed to build a substantial following and all his attempts to return to frontline politics failed. Since 2012, he was the cofounder and co-chairman of the Republican Party of Russia - People's Freedom Party, which had no representation in the State Duma, the Russian parliament.

I interviewed Nemtsov in London in 2005 for a Russian newspaper when he attended the Russian Economic Forum and we had had a long conversation about his plans for the future and the overall political situation in Russia.

My impression was that he did not have a coherent political programme that he could offer to Russian voters. By then, he was already a marginal politician, bitter at the world for not recognising his talents but basking in the adoration of the fairer sex.

He remained part of the liberal Moscow opposition and I got an impression that by then he reconciled himself with the fact that his role was that of a "charismatic troublemaker" who said things to shock rather than suggesting anything practical.

He was eloquent but without much substance, ambitious but without the intellect to back it. I even had a feeling then that if Putin would have offered him a job in his government, he might have agreed to be in the spotlight again. For he liked the trappings of power, which was obvious during his days as regional governor and deputy prime minister in the 1990s.

Nevertheless, any murder is always a heinous crime. But it is also deeply unfair to use the memory of the dead for political purposes. The hope is that the killers of Boris Nemtsov will be found and brought to justice.

Alexander Nekrassov is a former Kremlin and government adviser.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.