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Russian journalist's beating signals looming Medvedev-Putin battle

Saturday's brutal beating of Oleg Kashin highlights not only a withering of press freedom in Russia but also a broader effort to silence dissent ahead of 2012 elections.

By Correspondent / November 8, 2010

Vladimir Kashin, father of Oleg Kashin, a leading journalist who was beaten into a coma, walks in front of a hospital in Moscow Nov. 8.

Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

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Moscow

Russian journalists are demanding the Kremlin take urgent action after yet another member of the country's beleaguered independent press corps, Kommersant reporter Oleg Kashin, was brutally beaten outside his Moscow apartment Saturday morning.

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While Russian journalists have faced a string of attacks, including a number of prominent murders in recent years, some analysts suggest that the attack on Mr. Kashin may represent more than just another case of an independent Russian journalist getting savaged in the line of work.

Many other recent signals, including a bizarre public battle leading up to the sacking of longtime Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, suggest that a subterranean power struggle between Russia's political titans may be gathering momentum ahead of 2012 presidential elections. The Kremlin inner circle must soon choose whether to back incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev or his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as the establishment candidate for presidential elections in 2012, and diverse interests appear to be lining up behind each.

Mr. Medvedev has hinted at the need for democratization and economic liberalization to bring Russia into the 21st century, while Mr. Putin – who says little on the subject – appears linked to forces who favor continuation of the authoritarian system of "managed democracy" and state-led economics that he built during his eight-year presidency that ended in 2008.

"The fight that's shaping up is between those who want to continue the old model in which Russia's economy is dominated by resource extraction, and those who want to move to a high-tech based information society," says Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "A lot of political and economic interests are vested in the old model, but some groups are interested in real change – and they are pinning their hopes on Medvedev."

Medvedev vows (via Twitter): The criminals shall be punished

Kashin, an outspoken reporter and blogger, suffered serious head injuries, a broken leg, and a smashed hand after two men approached him near his home with an iron bar concealed in a bouquet of flowers. He remained in critical condition, in a coma, on Monday. A graphic CCTV video of the attack has become one of the most widely visited sites on Russia's still unfettered Internet.

Kommersant editor Mikhail Mikhailin told journalists Monday that the broken fingers send a clear message: "Apparently, those who did this do not like what he says and writes," he said.

More than 200 journalists have signed an online appeal to President Medvedev, asking him to take steps to end what some are calling a war on journalists.

"By demanding the protection of reporters, what we are talking about is not only our own trade," the appeal says. "One must also protect the rights of our readers. The rights of reporters to fulfill their obligation in a normal fashion and not have to fear for their lives [is the only guarantee] of the public's rights to speak and be heard."

Medvedev reacted to the Kashin assault by writing in his public Twitter account: "I have ordered the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Interior Ministry to take the journalist Kashin’s attempted murder case under special control. The criminals should be found and punished."

'Things are getting worse by the month'

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