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Monday, March 12, 2007

IBD on the Putin Killings

Investor's Business Daily had the following brilliant observations on the Joyal shooting:

We don't know if last week's shooting of a U.S. analyst was a Russian hit job, but we know critics are being picked off as President Vladimir Putin cleans house ahead of a transition. He is going to go too far.

Thirteen journalists have been killed in mysterious circumstances since Putin took power, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The shooting of U.S. analyst and TV commentator Paul Joyal, less than a week after he criticized the Kremlin on Dateline NBC, looks like a street crime, but as high-ranking retired KGB general Oleg Kalugin told the Financial Times, Russian government involvement should not be ruled out.

Face-on shootings in entryways have been done lately against two other Americans who blasted the Kremlin — journalists Paul Klebnikov of Forbes and Anna Politovskaya of Novaya Gazeta.

Other deaths, from highrise windows, seem to occur a lot to Kremlin critics. Over the weekend in Moscow, Ivan Safronov, 51, a Kommersant journalist accused of writing unflattering stories about Russian space failures fell from a fifth story window to his death.

If it was an unnatural death, it is within the Kremlin repertoire of eliminating critics. In 1948, Soviet agents hurled Czechoslovakian foreign minister Jan Masaryk out of a ministry window, an act that that Czech police in 2004 confirmed as murder.

Then there are poisonings. The sudden death two weeks ago of another Dateline NBC commentator, Daniel McGrory, 54, of the Times of London, is suspicious. It followed the poisoning of ex-KGB man Alexander Litvinenko, who died last year in London; the 2004 poisoning of Ukraine's now-president, Viktor Yushchenko, and the umbrella-tip poisoning of Bulgaria's Georgy Markov in the 1980s, also in London.

Why so many deaths of Kremlin critics, and so recently, is puzzling to some. After all, the U.S. is trying to avoid a Cold War with Russia, and Europe has been extremely generous diplomatically.

It's true Putin came out of the KGB and these events seem to be KGB-linked. But the more likely reason is domestic politics. Putin is preparing a political transition in the next year and a half, and is running what are believed to be two puppet candidates to succeed him.

Critics think he seeks to create an atmosphere of terror to stifle all opposition so that the Kremlin can transition without any questioning. It's significant that over the weekend an opposition rally was attacked by Putin's security henchmen in St. Petersburg.

Journalists and pundits like Joyal are easy targets for two reasons: Their words can be far-reaching, and as a broad group they annoy everyone — leaving them without a political constituency.

These recent attacks on Kremlin critics seem too systemic to be coincidental. Already they're drawing attention because of the number. Normal nations do not conduct business this way; pariah states do. And eventually, the West is going to have to act because already they are going too far.

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