Why Are Vladimir Putin’s Opponents Dying?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Why Are Vladimir Putin’s Opponents Dying?

That is the pull-no-punches subhead of an article in the last issue of The New Yorker. In the article, Michael Specter writes:
Since 1999, when Vladimir Putin, a career K.G.B. officer, was, in effect, anointed as President by Boris Yeltsin, thirteen journalists have been murdered in Russia. Nearly all the deaths took place in strange circumstances, and none of them have been successfully investigated or prosecuted.

... (for example) the investigative reporter Yuri Shchekochikhin ... died of what doctors described as an “allergic reaction.’’ Shchekochikhin, who became famous in the Gorbachev era with his reports on the rise of a new mafia, had been investigating allegations of tax evasion against people with links to the F.S.B., the post-Soviet K.G.B. Nobody ever explained what Shchekochikhin was allergic to, and his family is convinced that he was poisoned.

... The attacks have not been limited to journalists. In September of 2004, Viktor Yushchenko, a candidate for President of Ukraine who helped lead the Orange Revolution, and who was vigorously opposed by Putin, barely survived a poisoning.

... (Last year) Alexander Litvinenko, a little-known former K.G.B. agent who had been imprisoned by Putin and had then defected to England, fell gravely ill in London. ... Litvinenko had accused the Russian President of creating a pretext for the Second Chechen War in 1999 by blowing up buildings in Moscow and then blaming Chechen separatists for the attacks.

... “Reform of the K.G.B. never really happened,’’ Evgenia Albats, a professor of political science at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, said a few weeks ago ... "the secret services are now in full power.”

... Vladimir Putin’s relationship with democracy is not ambiguous: in December of 2004, he signed a bill that effectively eliminated the election by popular vote of Russia’s eighty-nine governors. The President now nominates them himself — and then waits for regional legislatures to confirm his choices (as they always do).

In another change that nobody protested and few people noticed, Putin also assumed the power to appoint the mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Last November, again at the President’s behest, the Duma abolished any requirement that a minimum number of voters must participate in order for an election to be valid.

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