| JRL Home | JRL Simple/Mobile | RSS | Newswire | Archives | JRL Newsletter | Support | About
Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

A Blow to the Head
The Loud Public and Media Outcry at the Brutal Attack on a Kommersant Journalist May Be Encouraging, but It Doesn't Mean There Is Hope for a Successful Investigation

Oleg Kashin

A disturbing 90-second video clip depicting Saturday's brutal assault on Oleg Kashin, a prolific but controversial Russian journalist, has contributed to such public outcry in Russia that the country's president himself has ordered a swift investigation into the beating. It is widely believed that Kashin was attacked for his highly-regarded, hardnosed reporting, but similar cases have seldom spurred action from Russia's top political brass. Still, a mere 50 hours later a second journalist, Anatoly Adamchuk, was attacked in the Moscow Region and his friends link the attack with his reporting on the Khimki Forest, which many suggest was also the pretext for the assault on Kashin.

CCTV footage shot at night from the courtyard of Oleg Kashin's apartment block, and published by the ever-conniving LifeNews, depicts two tall men ambushing a third man walking home and pummeling him on the ground for a minute and a half. In the murky light all that can be discerned is the pixilated shape of one assailant holding down and kicking Kashin, while the other steps around apparently bludgeoning specific parts of his body. Left on the ground, Kashin attempts to stand up, only to crumple back down.

He was found at 12:40 a.m. on Saturday morning. He had sustained a fractured skull and jaw, broken fingers and had both shins broken as well. The assailants took nothing from him, and no weapon has so far been found. Thirty-year-old Kashin remains in a serious condition, although doctors are ruling out brain damage after he passed through a second, successful operation today.

Citing Kashin's friends and those close to him, Mikhail Melnikov, an expert at the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, a Moscow-based media watchdog, expressed hope that Kashin may be able to return to work.

Writing today, news daily Kommersant, where Kashin worked for six years off-and-on, notes that LifeNews' video clip of the assault leaves little room for doubt that the attack was premeditated, and the smashed fingers overwhelmingly indicate that the assault was linked with his work. Kashin was a down-to-earth and sometimes coarse journalist, who inevitably stepped on toes during his highly-esteemed reporting on youth groups, including the pro-Kremlin Nashi and the Young Guard of United Russia.

The finger of blame has generally been pointed in three directions.

Over the summer Kashin enraged pro-Kremlin youth groups when he published an interview with an anonymous member of an antifascist group, who has led rallies in defense of the Khimki Forest, which has been cleared in order to build a long-touted but controversial road from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Ecologists and activists have long linked the shady project with high-level corruption and protested its construction.

This summer Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appeared to have laid discussion of the road to rest when he said the decision to proceed had already been taken regardless. Nonetheless, at the height of the smog this summer, the issue flared up once again and Medvedev unexpectedly placed a moratorium on the road. But the Young Guard, the pro-Kremlin youth wing of United Russia, the ruling party which Putin co-founded and now chairs, blacklisted Kashin in an August post on their Web site, entitled "Journalist-traitors must be punished," and condemned Kashin for his "scandalous interview" with "one of the Khimki thugs."

The Young Guard is now vigorously denying involvement and staunchly condemning the attack on Kashin: "The Young Guard is seriously disturbed by the barbaric attack on the journalist Kashin," a new note in red now reads at the top of the August post. "There is civilized political struggle, and there are cold criminal acts. There are artistic images and then there is life. We ask everyone to remember that."

Some speculate that the attack on Kashin could well have been inspired by the animosity toward him from the belligerently patriotic youth group. This may have been further fuelled by the fervor of the recent "Day of National Unity." The four-day holiday seemed to stoke growing nationalism last week, if the scale of the "Russian March" on a rainy Thursday in Moscow was anything to judge by.

Then there is the attack on journalist Mikhail Beketov, which happened almost exactly two years ago and bears frightening echoes of Kashin's. Beketov, the chief editor of the Khimki Truth local daily, was also brutally assaulted in an attack that left him brain-damaged and wheelchair bound. He was attacked by two men outside his house, after he reported concertedly on the shady Khimki Forest saga.

Seen within the pattern of attacks on journalists linked with Khimki, blame for Kashin's attack could well lie with the shady and powerful champions of the Moscow to St. Petersburg road. Indeed, only two days before Kashin found himself fighting for his life early Saturday morning, another Khimki activist, Konstantin Fetisov, was beaten up and now remains in a drug-induced coma after receiving blows to the head from a baseball bat.

The final suggestion offered by bloggers and mooted as a third possibility by today's front-page Kommersant story was that the trail could lead back to the governor of Pskov in western Russia, with whom Kashin had a well-known bust-up over his reporting.

But while public outcry picked up speed and speculation escalated, a third figure challenging the Khimki projet fell foul of an attack on Sunday night, no more than fifty hours after the attack on Kashin. Anatoly Adamchuk of Zhukovsky News, a local daily, was assaulted in Moscow's outskirts late last night and received concussion after taking blows to the head from two unidentified assailants who crept up behind him, Interfax quoted his colleague as saying today.

Adamchuk had reported on children who were detained for protesting against the clearing of the Khimki Forest. "All they took from Adamchuk was his flash card ­ that was it. This too was obviously an attack taken to put pressure on him for his work," said Melnikov.

Oleg Mitvol, who had a number of run-ins with pro-Kremlin youth groups before he was fired as prefect of Moscow's Northern Administrative District weeks ago, tweeted today: "Again they've beaten up a journalist in Moscow for defending Khimki, this time from Zhukovsky News."

The level of public outcry at Kashin's assault has been impressive and elicited a quick response from Russia's president, in stark contrast to the killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, whose murder attracted little more than nonchalance from then-President Vladimir Putin.

On a miserable, rainy Sunday in Moscow, over fifty journalists held an impromptu picket outside a police station on Petrovka in central Moscow, as Russia's journalistic community has tried to close ranks in revolt at the brutality of the attack. An appeal addressed to Medvedev demanding a thorough investigation, originally signed by over twenty of Russia's top editorial chiefs has already gathered well over 1500 signatures from journalists.

"The social reaction has been different this time. Immediately, people and journalists have begun reacting as a team," said Mikhail Melnikov. "People want real inquests to take place as a warning to these killings and attacks in general, not just about Khimki."

Medvedev has ordered Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to take "particular" control of the investigation. The originally inept investigatory team in the case has already been lambasted in the Russian press for callously asking Kashin's colleagues if he "had used his head" when reporting on difficult subjects after the example of "Beketov, the vegetable." A new team is now heading the investigation and Echo of Moscow radio station cite Kommersant editor-in-chief Mikhail Mikhailin as saying that they are now working "professionally" and have asked him particularly in-depth questions on Kashin. Medvedev himself spoke for several hours about the brutal attack and expressed the conviction that those responsible would be brought to justice.

There are many questions that remain unanswerable in Kashin's attack, even if the trail appears to lead to the shady Khimki Forest. But there are three givens in this investigation, one journalist wrote for the Trud newspaper. The first: the people who ordered the attack will never be found. Second: they acted deliberately, knowing that the brutal attack would resonate through the journalistic community. Third: the perpetrators of this brutal attack are close to those in the upper echelons of federal power, wrote the publication.

Asked about his hopes of a successful investigation, Melnikov was melancholic. "I'm not a big optimist. As any analyst will tell you, if a crime is well-planned and it is carried out like these two cases ­ that is in the middle of the night and there are no witnesses ­ then finding these people is practically impossible. Unfortunately, they're statistics."

Keyword Tags:

Russia, Media - Russia, Human Rights - Russia News - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

Bookmark and Share - Back to the Top -        


Bookmark and Share

- Back to the Top -        

  Follow Johnson's Russia List on Twitter Tweet