Monday, October 8, 2007

Is it Safe to Say? No, it isn't...

The trend in Russian politics towards absolutism again might be relatively easy to see, but something that doesn't make its way too far out of Moscow (and for good reason) is the strange deaths of several individuals critical of the government. Some ex-officials and many journalists reporting from Russia or investigatingng the Russian government have died under questionable circumstances, their murders either never solved or never even investigated seriously by law enforcement agencies. Though we can't draw any kind of definitive conclusions from the evidence, the disproportionately high amount of fatalities of dissident writers and journalists - especially in a modernized nation not involved in an international war - makes for interesting conversation, at least.

One of the most prominent cases is the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former government official involved with domestic security. After leaving his post, he became an active critic of the Putin administration - exposing secret information he was privy to during his time as a chief official in the government, which seemed to implicate government involvement in a number of 'less than honorable' dealings, including the assassination of a prominent businessman and the use of bombings to legitimatize the use of force in Chechnya. A political refugee living in the United Kingdom, Litvinenko fell seriously ill after meeting with a former KGB agent. Litvinenko died of his mysterious illness shortly after, which was later discovered to be a case of polonium poisoning - a highly unusual way of dying (polonium, especially the isotope that killed Litvinenko, is both rare and extremely radioactive, and no cases of acute
Polonium poisoning have ever been recorded in either the US or the UK, where Litvinenko died.) In addition, the primary source of polonium-210 - across the entire world - is Russian nuclear reactors. This highly mysterious case remains unsolved, though the UK has a prime suspect - the ex-KGB agent Litvinenko met with earlier the day he fell ill. Officials in the UK have tried - and failed - to have the suspect extradited from Russia (Russian authorities claim
extradition is illegal under the Russian constitution.)

Russia is feared by journalists in the international community, for good reason - 47 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992, with 17 dying since 2000. The Committee to Protect Journalists claimed that 'at least 13 [of the murders] bear the marks of contracted hits', indicating serious foul play. The most visible journalist critical of Russia to die of late is most certainly Anna Politkovskaya, murdered in October of 2006 in her apartment building in Moscow. Celebrated for her work towards human rights and her reports from wartorn Chechnya, Politkovskaya's death provoked international outrage and a call to find who was behind the murder. Litvinenko openly claimed Putin's administration was responsible (a month later, he was dead of polonium poisoning). Though investigation has been ongoing in the case, no suspects have been prosecuted and the crime remains, currently, unsolved.

The list of prominent journalists murdered, with little to no investigation following, is a long one, one that provokes a question- why so many, and in Russia? Why is there so little interest among
Russian officials to solve these murders? Though there are many questions, there are no real answers. Putin himself dismisses claims that his administration is responsible for the murders, claiming it would be much more damaging to kill a journalist than to allow them to continue to write their dissident pieces.

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