This Time It Was Political

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State Duma Deputy Mikhail Grishankov has been all over the airwaves the past few days. Grishankov, who is deputy chairman of the Duma's security committee, has been telling everyone with a microphone what he thinks about the Eduard Limonov verdict and the murder of Sergei Yushenkov.

Grishankov, a lieutenant colonel in the FSB, applauded the Limonov verdict -- as a major success in the FSB's battle with political extremism. He then dismissed the possibility that Yushenkov's murder was politically motivated. According to Grishankov, no one dies in Russia for their political views. Money is always the real issue.

This can be seen as Grishankov's revenge for Yushenkov's contention that the FSB might have had a hand in the 1999 apartment block bombings that rocked Russia.

Nor is this the first time that Grishankov has insisted that so-called political murders are in fact all about money. He said much the same when another deputy, Vladimir Golovlyov, was gunned down in August 2002.

In 80 percent to 90 percent of the murders of Russian politicians, Grishankov is more or less right. They really are killed over money. Were Grishankov himself to be murdered (God forbid), it would never occur to anyone that he had been killed for his support of President Vladimir Putin or his class hatred of Limonov. The investigators would focus instead on the corporate battles in the Chelyabinsk region that pitted Grishankov, who did all he could to help one side, against Golovlyov, who weighed in on the other.

Yushenkov may have been co-chairman of the Liberal Russia party, as was Golovlyov. He was also a Duma deputy, like both Golovlyov and Grishankov. But he never had anything to do with business, or privatization, or cutting deals for lobbyists. He took no part in the financial affairs of his own party, and rebuffed calls to get involved by saying: "I can't count all that well." The party's finances were handled by Golovlyov, whose math was excellent. After his death, you could say that no one handled Liberal Russia's finances -- or everyone except Yushenkov.

Yushenkov had no enemies from business or privatization deals gone bad, but he did have political enemies: fascists, corrupt generals and agents in the security services with connections to organized crime. On Feb. 22, 1995, an interview with Alexei Vedenkin, the "official representative" of the Russian National Unity party, was aired on the Rossia channel. Vedenkin expressed his readiness personally to assassinate Yushenkov (and Sergei Kovalyov). Vedenkin was jailed shortly thereafter, but was almost immediately released under the sweeping amnesty timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of victory in World War II.

Also in 1995, then-Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, infuriated by Yushenkov's and Kovalyov's criticism of the Russian army's actions in Chechnya, called Yushenkov a dirt bag on live television. (He called Kovalyov a traitor.) Yushenkov replied that being insulted by a commander like "Pasha Mercedes" was like receiving a badge of honor.

Journalist Dmitry Kholodov, whose articles were the source of the nickname "Pasha Mercedes," died when a bomb was delivered to his office. A group of paratroop officers close to Grachev was arrested in the Kholodov case. The group was led by Pavel Popovskikh, head of military intelligence in the airborne forces and co-author of a secret manual for army intelligence special forces on how to survive by eating lizards in the forest, torture prisoners and build bombs, among other things. Popovskikh was suspected of forming a "death squad" that eliminated Grachev's enemies "without his knowledge."

Vedenkin is just a loud-mouthed swindler, of course, and most people don't think he's capable of pulling off anything serious.

Popovskikh and his comrades recanted the statements they had made during the investigation, and they were acquitted of Kholodov's murder in the summer of 2002 because the prosecution, as usual, had conducted a sloppy investigation and had nothing to go on but the suspects' own statements.

Yushenkov was capable of evoking strong reactions from his political opponents, although most respected him and many were even on friendly terms because they knew that Yushenkov did not mix politics and business.

Political murders occur not only because of something -- an "unpatriotic" position on the Chechen war, criticism of corruption and lack of professionalism in the military top brass, sticking to the possibility that the security services were involved in the 1999 bombings -- but also to achieve a particular end.

Yushenkov was not killed in order to destroy Liberal Russia's chances in the parliamentary elections. The party is weak and little known. Yushenkov himself stood a good chance of returning to the Duma from his single-mandate district, and Yabloko had already pledged its support. But he was no shoo-in.

It can't be ruled out that the goal was to hang the murder on Boris Berezovsky, although Yushenkov had recently traveled to London to see the exiled oligarch, and the two had parted on relatively good terms. Or on Limonov's supporters, although they only "shoot" with eggs and tomatoes.

In any case, in order to please Berezovsky's powerful enemies in the Kremlin, investigators seem to have decided that the murder was most likely related to Liberal Russia's financial connections.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, president of the Panorama think tank, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.