Why Was Stanislav Markelov Killed?

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Journalist Olga Malysh explores the theories surrounding the murders of human rights attorney Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova.  Asking “How many more deaths like this are still to come?” Malysh also touches on the significance of the murders for civil society in Russia.  The article first ran on the Kasparov.ru online newspaper on January 21st 2009.  Markelov was buried in Moscow on Friday.

There are few like him left

Olga Malysh

“Take care of yourself, ok?” Masha, a young nazbol hugged me, looking in my eyes.  That day some of the people who gathered at Prechistenka, the place where Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova died, said similar words to each other.  This pointless phrase had a new meaning in the context of the three deaths that happened on “black” Monday, the previous day.  It finally became clear that anyone with any visibility in the civil society [community] could be killed: an attorney, a journalist, an activist.  And one can only guess at who will be next.

It becomes especially frightening if one looks at the ranks of that same “civil society” – a few thousand people in all, who often know each other.

Guessing at why Stanislav Markelov was killed is pointless and fruitless.  He was involved in a multitude of high-profile cases.  He could have had enemies from practically every one of them.  Stanislav was a lawyer for the Kungayeva family, which means he was connected with the scandalous case of [Yury] Budanov.  In his time, Markelov represented the interests of the Chechen family in the case of Sergei Lapin (radio call sign “Cadet”), who was accused of torturing Grozny resident Zelimkhan Murdalov.  He was the attorney for Anna Politkovskaya, the victims in Blagoveshchensk (Rus), and “Nord-Ost”.  He fought for the right of amnesty for a Chechen resident, Musikhanov, who refused to serve under [Chechen President Ramzan] Kadyrov.  One can’t list everything.

Recently, Markelov had spoken as a lawyer for Mikhail Beketov, the editor-in-chief of the Khimkinskaya Pravda newspaper who was all but killed in the fall of last year.  Incidentally, they were friends.  The deceased lawyer wasn’t afraid of directly implicating the Khimki city administration in the attack on the journalist.  They say Stanislav was even conducting his own investigation.

Another critical detail – Markelov defended many activists in the Antifa [anti-fascist] movement.   Specifically, he took part in the murder cases of 19-year-old Alexander Ryukhin, teenager and skateboard enthusiast Stas Korepanov, and ecologist and anti-fascist Ilya Borodaenko by right wing [nationalist] radicals.  He was the attorney for the family of anti-fascist Alexei Krylov, and represented Alexei Olesinov, the Moscow leader of Antifa accused of hooliganism, in court.

This gives the anti-fascists and human rights activists grounds to assume that neo-nazis were involved in Markelov’s murder.  Stanislav himself said sometime that his name was on the list of “enemies” on certain right-wing radical websites.  In personal discussions, he called himself an adherent of the Antifa movement.  And the anti-fascists assert that journalist Anastasia Baburova was one of them as well.  “The perpetration of a crime, when two active anti-fascists are murdered in central Moscow in broad daylight leaves no doubt.  The murderers are neo-nazis!” the antifa write in their LiveJournal community.

Novaya Gazeta columnist Yulia Latynina leans to the theory that right wing radicals, connected with Budanov, killed Markelov.  “This is a case where everything is immediately clear,” she told me, reminding me that “fascists” had already attacked Stanislav for his part in the case against the former colonel.  “Budanov’s heroism consisted in that he raped a young Chechen girl, and the heroism of Markelov and Baburova’s killer in that he shot at defenseless people in the back of the head,” Yulia added.

Evidently, the law enforcement agencies are considering this as one of the main theories.  The leader of the [ultra-nationalist] Slavonic Union, Dmitri Demushkin, has already been called in for questioning to the Investigative committee.  He asserts that he will not likely be able to share any useful information with investigations.  Although that being said, he doesn’t hide that he always supported Budanov.  “Several years ago, I carried a poster with ‘Freedom to colonel Budanov’ to a May 9th [demonstration].  This has backfired for me,” he laments.

Demushkin thinks that someone among Budanov’s admirers organized the murder.  “If this was nationalists, then they were patriotically inclined.  People like colonel Kvachkov‘s defenders,” he says.  The leader of the Slavonic Union explains his certainty by the fact that the murder was too professional and as result uncharacteristic of skinheads.  “A hatred of their enemies is nurtured into skinheads, these people attack, inflict 30-40 knife wounds.  This isn’t the case when they keep guard for days, and then kill in cold blood and calmly ride away on the metro,” he says.

Demushkin doesn’t exclude the possibility that the killer didn’t shoot at Anastasia Baburova by chance, but that he knew the journalist by sight as an active member of Antifa.  Possibly, this sealed her fate.  “In certain circles, Anastasia was disliked,” Demushkin explains, “she was part of many actions, including forceful ones.”

Perhaps Budanov’s name is most often raised in relation to the attorney’s murder.  Many people with completely different political views and convictions are inclined to connect Markelov’s involvement in the former colonel’s case with his death on Prechistenka.  And there are many reasons for this.  First of all, Markelov himself on numerous occasions expressed fear that the former colonel’s not-quite sane fanatics, who to this day continue to threaten the Kungayev family, would become active on Budanov’s release on parole.  Secondly, at the press-conference, about an hour before the murder, the attorney announced that he had appealed the actions of the Dimitrovgrask city court judge, who didn’t accept his appeal of Budanov’s parole and released him.

Thirdly, immediately after what happened, the young Chechen Elza Kungayeva’s father told journalists that Markelov had been threatened with violence if he didn’t step down from the process and didn’t stop working in the family’s defense.  The human rights ombudsman in Chechnya, Nurdi Nukhazhiyev insisted on this version as well.  “With this execution, former colonel Budanov’s adherents marked the release of their idol,” he said in an interview with Kommersant.

At the same time, opponents of the “Budanov version” among journalists and bloggers are calling it overly evident, and hence unlikely.  As always happens in such cases, the version about the involvement of the secret services in the murder of a famous attorney also lingers in the air, with [the secret services] working out a cunning multi-step combination.  But it also has its right to exist.  In part, the statement by the For Human Rights movement says, that what happened could be a provocation of “those forces, who want to scare the society, and justify the introduction of new, strict police powers.”

The version about a raging fascist underground makes many people uneasy: indeed, official “anti-fascist human rights activists” like Alexander Brod and Nikolai Svanidze reacted to it a little too quickly.  In tough times of crisis and instability, they will most certainly call on everyone to rally against the “fascist plague,” forgetting about their daily bread for a while.  If such rhetoric continues to be actively sown in the future, the version about the secret services won’t seem quite so conspiratorial.

All the more so since many have rushed to say the murder was meant to set an example.  Indeed, it happened in the city center, just a kilometer from the Kremlin, in a fairly lively place.  This gives reason enough for former FSB officer and political prisoner Mikhail Trepashkin to say that the murder was done by a professional.  In his opinion, a specially trained person shot at Markelov, not an amateur.  “I don’t exclude that this wasn’t his first time shooting [a gun],” Trepashkin says.  The former FSB investigator also adds that the law enforcement agencies should have no problems in solving the crime, because “there are a mass of trails.”  If only the desire was there.

In addition, Trepashkin says the fact that the crime happened in the center doesn’t necessarily indicate that it was “meant to set an example.”  It is possible that the killer preferred not to spy on his victim near his home, as often happens, since the neighbors may have noticed a strange person and could  identify him later.

As for the weapon that fired the shot, according to the investigation’s latest data, it was a Makarov pistol.  It is not so simple to get one.  As is known, it is banned from free sale in our country.  The type of weapon in question is only available to certain agencies, which according to Trepashkin’s statement then trade on black market.  The highest military ranks are directly involved in this business, and as result the [black market] “stall” is still thriving.  As the former FSB employee notes, weapons were supplied from state munitions depots into Chechnya in precisely this manner in 1995.  “That is how weapons get in the hands of killers,” Trepashkin sums up.

How the killer got the pistol, is of course, important for those investigating what happened, but secondary to understanding why it happened.  Since they could have beaten the renowned attorney to death, like Yury Chervochkin and nazbol Anton Stradymov.  Or they could have poisoned him, like Yury Shchekochikhin and Alexander Litvinenko.

“They’ll kill him.  There are few like him left,” one of my friends said around a month ago, after he heard about Markelov on television.  I didn’t agree then.  I couldn’t have imagined that something could happen to a cheerful and joyful person like Stanislav.  So many dangerous cases behind him, and then suddenly he’s killed.

It happened.

Markelov differed from many of his colleagues in that he didn’t take political cases for the hell of it, for the publicity.  If he defended someone, then it was in earnest, with an intent to win.  And it’s hard just to call him a lawyer.  Human rights defender is more fitting.  And he did everything with a smile, jokingly.  In the same way, he never paid any mind to the threats against him.

On New Year’s, Stanislav sent me a congratulations.  I didn’t understand right away who it was from.  I didn’t recognize the phone number… And now I don’t believe in omens anymore.

How many more deaths like this are still to come?  And how many more people must die for our country’s people to wake up?

translation by theotherrussia.org