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Putin critics keep turning up dead

By Other views Washington Post
Published March 11, 2007


Another Russian journalist critical of the government of Vladimir Putin has died under mysterious circumstances. Ivan Safronov, a 51-year-old military specialist, had just returned to his apartment building after shopping for oranges on March 2 when he fell from the window of a fourth-floor stairwell. Authorities quickly labeled his death a suicide, only to be contradicted by Safronov's colleagues at the newspaper Kommersant, who said that he had no reason to take his own life - but that he had been preparing a story disclosing plans by Russia to sell advanced missiles and fighter jets to Iran and Syria.

Normally it would be unwarranted to speculate that Putin's security services might have had something to do with the journalist's death - or, for that matter, with the shooting of Russian specialist Paul Joyal outside his Maryland home March 1. But the instances of violence against journalists in Putin's Russia and of the brutal elimination of his critics both at home and abroad have become so common that it's impossible to explain them all as coincidences. Since the Russian president took office in 2000, 13 journalists have died in contract-style murders, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which ranks Russia as the third most deadly country in the world for reporters.

Safronov's death was preceded by the slaying in October of Anna Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of the war in Chechnya who was gunned down in her apartment building. The exiled Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko was investigating Politkovskaya's death when he died of poisoning in December.

These events have coincided with a new effort by the Bush administration to reach out to Putin, following the diatribe he delivered at a conference last month. Some blame Putin's ugly mood on the United States, which is said not to have done enough to ease Russian resentment over such initiatives as NATO expansion and missile defense. Perhaps so; but, then, what explains why so many Russian critics of Putin are dying?

[Last modified March 11, 2007, 01:27:30]

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