| On July 10 Paul Klebnikov, the chief editor of the Russian
edition of Forbes magazine, was shot at point-blank range by a hired killer
in Moscow. Almost one year earlier, on July 3, 2003, another journalist,
Yuri Shchekochikhin, deputy editor of the Russian newspaper Novaya gazeta
and a member of State Duma, also tragically died in Moscow. The overwhelming
amount of indirect evidence suggests that his death was the result of poisoning,
using experimental lethal chemicals that are available only at top-secret
laboratories (See EDM, July 6).
However, the authorities refused to launch an investigation into Shchekochikhin's
death, instead officially sealing all materials related to this case.
As Novaya gazeta wrote on the anniversary of his death, "Throughout
his life Yuri Shchekochikhin revealed Russian government secrets that
were important to society, and the Russian government made his death a
secret." In the months before his death, Shchekochikhin was deep
into an investigation of the furniture-store chain Tri Kita (Three Whales),
which he revealed to be controlled by Russian security officials. High-ranking
Federal Security Service (FSB) generals used the chain to launder tens
of millions of dollars, and their activities extended to the now infamous
Bank of New York, which has been implicated in other schemes. Shchekochikhin's
death was not the first one related to the Three Whales network; there
have been a series of mysterious deaths and murders linked to the operation.
No official investigation followed Shchekochikhin's revelations. The only
reaction was the transfer of the godfather of the furniture mafia, General
Yuri Zaostrovtsev, from deputy head of the FSB responsible for economic
security, to deputy head of Vneshekonombank, which handles Russian foreign
Now, one year later, another investigative journalist has been slain.
Paul Klebnikov recently had been examining the nature of Russian oligarchic
capitalism and writing biographies of its most prominent members. Klebnikov's
acclaimed book, The Godfather of the Kremlin, is one of the most vivid
descriptions of the genesis of Russia's gangster-style capitalism during
the Yeltsin presidency. Klebnikov convincingly proved that Russian capitalism
is characterized by a complete merger of money with power and that the
super-rich oligarchs achieved their positions not due to their entrepreneurial
abilities, but because they were anointed by the ruling bureaucracy. In
contrast with Eastern Europe, he argued, Russia did not undergo a democratic
revolution in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Rather, the communist nomenklatura
deliberately deployed the Party's supreme political power to create enormous
personal wealth for its individual members and their allies. To paraphrase
Winston Churchill, "Never in the history of human conflicts have
so many been robbed of so much by so few."
Klebnikov launched the Russian edition of Forbes magazine with a sensational
debut issue featuring the "100 richest people in Russia." This
was actually a rather dry reiteration of the biographies of the owners
of Russia. However, it dealt a potentially fatal blow to the myth widely
held both in Russia and the West that Putin's reign has been characterized
by the Kremlin's struggle against Russian's oligarchic capitalism.
But what is portrayed as the struggle against the oligarchic capitalism
in reality is a struggle against two or three political opponents of Vladimir
Putin. On a wider scale, it is a process of replacing Yeltsin-era oligarchs
with representatives of the special services who are personally loyal
to the new regime. When Stalin eliminated prominent communist leaders
such as Trotsky and Zinoviev in 1937, it did not really change the nature
of the power of the nomenklatura. Similarly, Putin's expulsion of Boris
Berezovsky and Vladmir Gusinsky in 2000 did not alter the essence of the
oligarchy's power. New appointees, particularly from the Russian bureaucracy
and law-enforcement agencies, quickly stepped in to take the place of
the exiles. Hence, what is portrayed as the struggle against the oligarchy
is really a struggle between clans and factions within the oligarchy.
Who could have hated Paul Klebnikov enough to order his murder? It could
be anyone on his famous register of the richest people of Russia. Most
of the people listed rose to the heights of power and riches during the
Yeltsin era. While they once might even been proud to make the list, the
billionaires now find themselves targeted by the special services and
perhaps they panicked. They understand very well that the legendary first
issue of Russian Forbes has become a desktop reference in every prosecutor's
The billionaires who are closely aligned with the siloviki could not
forgive Klebnikov for exposing the myth of the dedicated and honest government
official with clean hands, a warm heart, and cool head, determined to
return to the people the treasures stolen by communism.
The popularity of Forbes' roll of the 100 richest people in Russia and
the fate of its creator confirm that Putinism is the highest and final
stage of gangster-style capitalism in Russia, wherein the reigning bureaucracy
is eliminating any remnants of democratic freedoms and is no longer even
pretending that it is concerned with the social problems that plague the
overwhelming majority of its people. More importantly, this powerful bureaucracy
is determined to mercilessly eliminate anyone who comes close to exposing
the secrets of its power.
Yuri Shchekochikhin and Paul Klebnikov were killed by the Russian "elite."
Anyone who openly talks of its crimes, regardless of whether they are
American or Russian, should understand that they could become the next
the original at
Freedom of Speech
and Media Law in Russia