- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2009




The double murder in Russia of two prominent young human-rights advocates is a remorseless reminder that the Cold War may be over, but brutality has not been abolished. Near the Kremlin on a sunny day on a public street, activist attorney Stanislav Markelov was murdered. Journalist Anastasia Baburova was killed as well while trying to aid him. The hit man was a practiced pro, his pistol equipped with a silencer.

Mr. Markelov strongly publicly resisted the early release from prison of Col. Yuri Budanov, sentenced to 10 years for strangling a woman during the war in Chechnya. Col. Budanov claims she was a partisan sniper, but the court rejected his defense. Granting him freedom has stoked controversy.

Miss Baburova worked for Novaya Gazeta, an opposition newspaper. Journalist Anna Politkovskaya of that paper was very prominent in investigation of human-rights abuses in Chechnya. She was murdered in 2006. Four men are on trial on charges related to that crime, but none is accused of actually carrying out the killing.

In a dramatic interview with Voice of America after the latest killings, Novaya Gazeta representative Nadezhda Prosenkova stated those working at the paper literally risk their lives simply by endeavoring to do their jobs.

Violence against journalists has been growing. Last November, reporter Mikhail Beketov was badly beaten in a Moscow suburb and he lingers in a coma, skull fragments driven into his brain. Before being taken out by thugs, he engaged in sustained investigation and exposure of negligence by local officials. Similar reports escalate across Russia.

These latest killings reconfirm in bloody manner Russia’s reputation for ruthless repression, especially of the media. While print journalists have been gunned down, the Kremlin arguably has been more systematically repressive regarding television, which has been brought back under direct state censorship.

At the same time, the murders of Miss Baburova and Mr. Markelov have generated widespread public concern. While Col. Budanov is regarded as a hero in some quarters, the killings of the young activists have resulted in notable commemorations and vigils, along with some street demonstrations, by people who believe in the rule of law.

This provides an important test of the new Obama administration. Senior American officials should openly condemn this brutal Russian repression. Public attention can mitigate such practices, especially since the rule of law continues to live, if fitfully, in the former Soviet Union, and grows elsewhere. Long after the Cold War, Voice of America still has an important mission; coverage of this case should be sustained.

Also, Russia desperately needs capital investment. Relative economic prosperity of recent years has been a direct function of very high oil prices, which greatly benefited that country along with other major petroleum and natural gas exporters. The current sharp slump in oil prices provides great leverage. The Obama administration has a timely opportunity to tie U.S. aid and investment to human rights progress.

Finally, during the height of the Cold War the Dwight Eisenhower administration wisely promoted artistic, scientific and wider cultural/educational exchanges with the Soviet Union. A more open society is more likely to oppose the killer and the thug. Mr. Obama should indicate he’s like Ike.

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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