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Russia's only war criminal Yury Budanov assassinated in Moscow

Yury Budanov served six years in prison for war crimes in Chechnya before his parole in 2009. His assassination could be a revenge attack or an attempt to stir ethnic strife.

By Correspondent / June 10, 2011

Russian police officers patrol in Manezh Square, near the Kremlin in Moscow, Friday, June 10. A disgraced Russian army colonel, Yuri Budanov, convicted of murdering a Chechen teenage girl was gunned down in a brazen, contract-style killing in downtown Moscow Friday.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

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Moscow

Russia's only convicted war criminal, former army Col. Yury Budanov, was fatally shot in downtown Moscow Friday in what police called a contract killing, possibly motivated by vengeance on the part of Chechens or a "provocation" aiming to stir up ethnic strife in Moscow.

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The former artillery officer, who had asked for police protection after receiving threats but had been refused, was shot several times by a gunman who escaped by car with an accomplice, police said.

Most Russians appear to have forgotten about Budanov, whose case caused a bitter split in Russian society after he was arrested a decade ago and charged with kidnapping, raping, and murdering an 18-year-old Chechen girl, Elza Kungayeva, near the Chechen village of Tangi-Chu, where he was stationed during the second Chechen war.

His trial, which infuriated even pro-Moscow Chechens, saw the withdrawal of rape charges by the prosecution and included testimony by top Russian generals who insisted Budanov was an "honorable Russian officer."

"This case had a huge impact on Russian society, because it was the first time a high-ranking Russian officer was put on trial for a very odious crime," says Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow.

"Before that the Russian military had carte blanche to do whatever they wanted in Chechnya, and human rights considerations didn't matter. His arrest was a signal that might be changing, and so the military brass tried to derail the trial," he says.

Public opinion polls at the time showed that over half of Russians believed Budanov was innocent and should be released and restored to his former military rank. The trial ended with Budanov being found "not guilty" by reason of temporary insanity, a verdict that was subsequently overturned by Russia's Supreme Court.

His second trial ended in a 10-year prison sentence, of which he served six years before being released on parole in 2009.

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