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Analysis & Opinion
07.07.09 Missing A Friend
Comment by Andrei Zolotov-Jr.

As the world watched U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow, intended to start a new page in U.S.-Russian relations, just several blocks away from the Kremlin, in the Christ the Savior Cathedral, a memorial service commemorated on Thursday Paul Klebnikov – a U.S. journalist of Russian descent who was shot in Moscow five years ago.

Paul was brought up as part of the Russian ?migr? community of those who had left Russia following the Revolution and Civil War and nourished ideals of returning to serve Russia once Communism was defeated. He did his Ph.D. dissertation at the London School of Economics on Pyotr Stolypin’s economic reform – a sort of classical liberal model combined with a strong state, which he believed could eventually be useful in Russia once again. When the actual reforms took place he was on the one hand enthusiastic, while on the other hand dismayed with many of the realities of the new Russia. As a Forbes magazine reporter he investigated the corrupt crony capitalism of the 1990s and became a strong critic of the oligarchic system which came to dominate the Russian economy and public life.

Some of Klebnikov’s views – a combination of economic liberalism and social conservatism based on Christian
values, of American idealism and traditional Russian patriotism – strongly resonated with the ideas which were prominent during Vladimir Putin’s first term as president. A strong believer in the power of the free press, Klebnikov became the founding editor of Forbes’ Russian edition.

On June 9, 2004 he was shot outside his office, becoming just another name in the long list of journalists who have been killed in Russia in ostensibly peaceful times. Although the exact motive for his murder was never fully established, the likeliest interpretation pointed to Khozh-Ahmet Nukhaev – a Chechen warlord and ideologist for an Islamic world order who was the subject of Klebnikov’s last book – “Conversation With a Barbarian.” Two years later, two suspects of Chechen origin went on trial in Moscow accused of involvement in the murder. But on May 5, 2006 they were acquitted in what appeared to be a case of jury intimidation.

On many occasions the Klebnikov family, the U.S. government and international public organizations have offered help in the investigation and appealed to the Russian authorities to keep the investigation high on the priority list. According to Klebnikov family members, the Prosecutor’s Office worked honestly and thoroughly on the case. But the result was the same as in most cases of murders of journalists: the case is unsolved, nobody is punished, fellow journalists are intimidated, the press gets weaker, the country’s international reputation suffers.

Much has been said around the current Russian-U.S. summit about one of the fundamental problems in relations between the two countries - a lack of stakeholders in a good relationship against the background of many who benefit politically from our tensions. If Paul was alive today, we would have one more active and honest proponent of a partnership between the two great nations.

Paul had many critical words to say about American policies toward Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. But as a man of two cultures, he viewed partnership and cooperation between Russia and the United States as something absolutely natural.

Much has been said in recent years – as well as these days during Obama’s visit – about the erosion of independent media in Russia contributing to the deterioration of democracy and spread of corruption, which damage both Russia’s development and its integration with the West. The kind of responsible, but independent and fearless journalism that Paul practiced and promoted perhaps would not have reversed the general global decline of quality journalism. But it would have helped the fragile institution of a free media to take perhaps an inch deeper root in this country.
In the meantime, high-profile murders continue to dominate the Russian news, continue to intimidate honest people in this country and damage its image abroad. How many billions of dollars of foreign investment did Russia miss out on as a result? How many truths remain untold? How many corrupt officials and thieves disguised as businessmen revel in their power?

For all these years, despite many pronouncements to the contrary, the Russian government has refused to acknowledge and repeatedly declined American offers to help with the case. But this week the Russian Prosecutor’s Office formally requested help from the U.S. Justice Department in solving the case. Members of Klebnikov family say that move really does change things – in terms of long-term policy, as well as this particular case.

But the failure of the Russian law enforcement system to solve Paul’s murder – even with the highest possible encouragement from both Russian and U.S. officials – is also telling about how dysfunctional the Russian state system continues to be. How can people without such connections and fame hope for justice, if even such high-profile cases remain unsolved and their perpetrators unpunished?

It is hard to say how many people constitute an active minority capable of reversing historical trends. But Paul was clearly one of them. He would have had a lot of work to do today.
The source
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