Who killed Natalya Estemirova?
Colleagues of Ms. Estemirova say her murder Wednesday is part of a pattern that shows cost of a Kremlin pact with Chechnyan President Ramzan Kadyrov.
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"One after another, people whom Kadyrov regards as adversaries keep getting murdered in contract killings that are often conducted in an open and arrogant manner," says Masha Lipman, editor of the Pro et Contra journal published by the Carnegie Center in Moscow.Skip to next paragraph
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"This is the price Russia pays for entrusting Chechnya, and the task of maintaining order there, to Kadyrov," she says. "Kadyrov is absolute master of his territory. He rules as he sees fit, without regard for the Russian Constitution or law."
Track suits and pet tiger
Kadyrov, a flamboyant figure who wears a track suit – even on visits to the Kremlin – and keeps a pet tiger in his palatial villa, became de facto ruler of Chechnya after rebels working for the late Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev murdered his father, Akhmad Kadyrov, in a spectacular 2004 stadium bombing.
He was later eased into Chechnya's presidency by a Kremlin-orchestrated political process that critics say cast a veneer of democracy over the Kremlin policy of "Chechenization," turning over the job of defeating the republic's long-running separatist rebellion to local forces.
In a statement following Estemirova's murder, Kadyrov promised to take over the investigation personally. The pledge inspires no confidence among human rights workers.
"I think [the killing] was a demonstrative political execution, done in broad daylight by Chechnya's paramilitary forces," which answer only to Kadyrov, says Yevgeny Ikhlov, an expert with the Moscow-based Movement for Human Rights, a grass-roots group.
He adds that the manner of the crime emphasizes the Kremlin's powerlessness before the "Frankenstein monster" it has created in Chechnya.
"They might as well have dumped the corpse on Medvedev's doorstep, because it's a pure challenge to federal authorities," he says. "It says: 'We'll do as we please' inside Chechnya."
Russian experts say they expect Estemirova's murder to be added to a long list of similar unsolved crimes, including journalists like Politkovskaya and the American Paul Klebnikov (who also wrote about Chechnya), which have gone through years of legal processes without resolution.
Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev promised Thursday that everything possible would be done to solve what he called "a very complicated murder." But his deputy, Arkady Yevdelev, told journalists that the police would investigate causes other than Estemirova's "public activity," including the possibility that her murder was a "provocation" designed to discredit local authorities, or perhaps a "robbery" or even an unspecified matter connected with her "social life."
"I think this will end in a legal blind alley," says Vladimir Pribilovsky, director of Panorama, an independent Moscow think tank. "It's impossible to investigate anything in Chechnya. The only person who knows [the truth] is Ramzan Kadyrov."