Who Killed Stanislav Markelov? Let the Theories Begin!

Stanislav Markelov had a lot of enemies. In addition to representing the Kungayev family, his other clients included: Khimkinskaya Pravda editor Mikhail Beketov (he’s on the verge of death), Chechen Yana Neserkhoyeva, a Nord-Ost hostage accused of helping terrorists in 2002, Zelimkhan Murdalov, a kidnapped Grozny resident who was tortured to death by an OMON officer, and AntiFa activist Alexei Olesinov.  Representing these types of people will make you enemies of Russian nationalists, Chechens, local businessmen, police and security forces, and skinheads. There is also, of course, Colonel Yuri Budanov, whose release last week was opposed by Markelov.

That list of enemies makes for a long list of potential perpetrators. Logic dictates that Budanov is the chief suspect, but the colonel denies any involvement in the murder.  “Do you think that after several days of freedom I had a burning desire to do more time?” he told Komsomolskaya pravda in an interview. He called the murder a “provocation.”

Some suspect skinheads did the deed given that Markelov was attacked by five of them in 2004. Apparently he received several SMS threats from skins in the says before his murder.  But can we really expect skins to use a silencer?  Their methods tend to be a bit cruder.

Then, as always, there is the Chechen angle.  As it seems with most murders of high profile personalities in Russia, there is a conspiracy behind the conspiracy, where a Chechen or a deposed oligarch stands at the end of a complex nefarious web. Sometimes these are viewed as one of the same entity.  But this time it’s solely Chechens, according to Vladimir Karchevsky, the lawyer for the Markelov family. “Budanov is a smokescreen for the real murderer,” the jurist told Izvestiia. “The real murderer probably timed his crime to coincide with Budanov’s release – in order to deflect suspicions.” 

Izvestiia even suggested that Markelov might have known something about Anna Politkovskaya’s murderer. I’m sure that this is only the beginning of what kind of tales will be spun around this one.

While the list of potential killers is long, Markelov’s work also got him a lot of friends as memorials to his memory attest. Hundreds of people gathered at the site where Markelov and Anastatsia Baburova were slain on Monday. Even a Russian Orthodox priest stressed that Markelov and Buburova’s death fell on Epiphany.  Hopefully this will translate into a social epiphany on the dangers Russian lawyers and journalists face. Gatherings of AntiFa activists occured in St. Petersburg and Moscow to honor Markelov and Baburova.  Barburova’s writings focused on Russian neo-nazis and anti-fascism (Also see her Live Journal blog. OpenDemocracy.net has translated of some of her last blog entries.).  Thousands marched in Grozny to remember Markelov’s work on the behalf of the war torn republic Chechnya. Apparently, Markelov even has friends among Razman Kadyrov’s government.  Upon hearing of the jurist’s death, the Chechen hetman awarded him with a postumous medal to recognize “his merits to the Chechen Republic.” “Stanislav Markelov was held in special esteem in our republic,” Kadyrov said. “His name was a synonym for justice.”

In the end, the memory of Markelov and Barburova might be all people have. Justice in these cases is rarely forthcoming. Instead we have a kind of perpetual danse macabre between killers and their victims. As an editorial in Novaya gazeta reminds us, “The killers have no fear because they know they will not be punished. But neither are their victims  afraid, because when you defend others you cease to fear.”