| The murder of the editor of Forbes Russia Paul Klebnikov
is inseparable from the relationship between the state and businesses,
where the state is either a participant or a means of redistribution of
However, in order to effectively grasp the lesson of his death it is
important to understand what kind of activities Paul Klebnikov was actually
involved in. Of all the materials published by Forbes Russia since its
launch in April this year, the list of Russia’s 100 wealthiest people
proved most scandalous and attracted most public attention, as well as
being the most important feature of the magazine. How was that list compiled?
It is self-evident that it has no solid factual foundation. Any Russian
businessman wants to conceal any data on his wealth, holdings and assets.
This is a question of life and death for most of them. That is why the
Forbes list clearly could not have been based on credible information.
At the same time hardly anyone doubts that the ’inaccurate’
list presented by Klebnikov is, on the whole, credible. Furthermore, it
is a hundred times more credible than any official statements made and
evidence gained from those mentioned in the list.
Paul Klebnikov worked in a field where access is out of the question
for his Russian colleagues. In the form of journalistic investigations
he presented to the outer world unofficial data on the relationship between
major Russian businesses and the authorities, on the actual procedures
in accordance with which property is re-distributed and big money is made
in the country. In other words, he was breaking taboos.
Apart from Mr. Klebnikov, no one in Russia was involved in such investigations.
Mr. Klebnikov had two effective remedies that Russian authors of investigative
journalism lack: he was a US citizen and had the support of the powerful
Forbes magazine that could protect its writers in court, which is particularly
important to turn any scandal into an international affair.
For instance, Klebnikov’s list of Russia’s wealthiest people
includes the Moscow mayor’s spouse Yelena Baturina. Of course, Moscow
business circles have long been abuzz with talk of the so-called ’Moscow
family’, though no information on the issue ever leaked into the
media before, as the parties involved applied every effort to prevent
Klebnikov proved his readiness to violate the taboo in other spheres
as well. In one of his recent interviews he openly spoke of the close
personal ties between President Putin and the tycoon Roman Abramovich,
something that is highly undesirable for the Kremlin today.
Naturally, with everyone well aware that there is little difference
between the so-called tax optimization schemes practiced in Yukos and
Sibneft and that namely Sibneft leads the way in applying them, and the
fact that this does not in any way tell on the well-being of that company,
the Kremlin propaganda behind the Yukos affair no longer sounds so convincing.
In fact, the entire affair acquires an absolutely different meaning.
According to some reports, Klebnikov recently expressed a special interest
in the situation in Alfa-Group, which is strongly believed to be the next
sphere of re-distribution between the so-called ’old oligarchs’,
who made their wealth in the 1990s, and the Kremlin-St. Petersburg faction
of the so-called power wielders who rose to prominence following Putin’s
arrival in power in 2000. Unlike his Russian colleagues, Klebnikov could
afford to probe such rumors and put the results of his investigation in
For Russian editions even attempting to mention the existence of that
St. Petersburg group could prove fatal. It is enough to recall that an
absolutely independent and impartial Russian court imposed a $1million
fine on popular spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky for his attempt to publicly
announce its existence in the form of an analytical report.
Since Klebnikov’s illustrious book “Godfather of the Kremlin:
Boris Berezovsky and the Looting of Russia” was published the authorities
have succeeded in turning “the oligarchic pyramid” upside
down. But the relations between the authorities and businesses are still
not governed by law but by arbitrariness.
And since both the authorities and business in Russia still shun publicity
and their relations are anything but transparent any data that appears
in the media, in spite of all the efforts to conceal it, becomes a question
of life and death.
And Paul Klebnikov’s murder, if it is never solved, will remain
a signal to all: No Unauthorized Access!
Freedom of Speech and Media Law in Russia