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The Moscow Times, July 13, 2004

A Victim of the Rule of Lawlessness

The murder of Forbes Russia editor Paul Klebnikov last Friday should serve as a wake-up call to all those who believe, as he did, that Russia has changed.

When the magazine was launched in April, Klebnikov wrote that its arrival in Russia was "one sign that Russian business has reached a new, more civilized stage of development."

Well, he was wrong, and it should not have taken the murder of a respected American journalist to drive this point home.

Perhaps we have become too used to the idea that businessmen need bodyguards, and that those who step on the toes of business interests, be they government officials or journalists, are occasionally gunned down in the streets.

When Vladimir Putin came to power in March 2000 he promised to establish not just the rule of law but the dictatorship of the law.

In a piece written for these pages a year later, Klebnikov urged Putin to establish the rule of law quickly, saying that only then could democracy and a free market evolve.

In retrospect, Klebnikov's words have new power:

"Yes, the laws on the Russian books are highly imperfect, but that does not mean that the law shouldn't be enforced at all. The Russian government could start with enforcing one of the simplest laws, the one against murder. Every year many top businessmen, government officials and civic leaders are assassinated. Yet, the police solve only a fraction of these contract killings. There simply is no political will to enforce the law."

Since then, little has changed. In October 2002, Magadan Governor Valentin Tsvetkov was shot dead on Novy Arbat. In April 2003, Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov was killed outside his home. That June, two top officials at Almaz-Antei, one of the biggest defense concerns, were shot to death. In April of this year, Georgy Tal, the former head of the Federal Bankruptcy Service, was murdered.

These are just some of the high-profile killings in Moscow alone, and even in such cases the killers are rarely brought to justice.

Klebnikov, in concluding his opinion piece, said that the West should judge Putin's administration by whether it was strengthening the rule of law, with bringing murderers to justice a fundamental part of this.

"Is the wave of gangsterism subsiding? Are small businesses flourishing? Are civic associations multiplying? These are the yardsticks by which we will be able to tell whether Russia is moving toward democracy," he wrote more than three years ago.

Klebnikov's own murder is a tragic confirmation of how little has been achieved and how much still needs to be done.


See also:

the original at

Freedom of Speech and Media Law in Russia

The Moscow Times, July 13, 2004

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