Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Who Will Watch The Watchers?

There is no obvious reason why the death of Dmitry Kholodov should have come as such a shock. He was, it seems, already the 12th journalist in the Commonwealth of Independent States to have been killed this year, and if one adds businessmen to that list -- let alone mafiosi -- it is as long as your arm.


Yet the murder of such a young and determined reporter, by all accounts one of the country's more honest and adventurous, ***has*** come as a terrible shock. It has touched the Russian media as no such killing has before.


Thousands of people turned out to pay tribute to Kholodov at his funeral Thursday, including some public figures such as Yegor Gaidar. The 27-year-old's portrait was published on the front page of every major national daily newspaper Thursday morning and each carried articles expressing outrage at his murder.


This was in part due to the style of the assassination: The cloak-and-dagger phone calls, the stashing of a briefcase in a train-station locker and then the sheer power of the explosion, which literally tore Kholodov apart in his own office. But there were also more political reasons for the outrage.


Whenever mafia killings have occurred, these have been treated in some sense as natural disasters -- horrifying but inevitable. If the mafia are viewed as wild animals, as they are, then what can rationally be offered as a means to control them? There is nothing to do but shrug and move on.


But the suspicions in Kholodov's case have fallen not on the mafia in shiny suits and brand-new dented Mercedes, but on an alleged military mafia.


According to the version of events that is being pushed by the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, where Kholodov worked, this is a uniformed mafia that also drives Mercedes and is just as ruthless as the men in shiny suits. The shocking part of this scenario is that these are supposed to be public officials. More than that, generals and other military officers are supposed to be the ultimate public servants. Yet not only are large parts of the army corrupt, but Moskovsky Komsomolets believes that when Kholodov pushed his investigation too far, he was murdered.


How much truth there is to this story is anybody's guess. But on one important point the newspaper editors are correct to be outraged.


Little or nothing is being done by the authorities to pursue rampant corruption in public office, including the army, not least because it is the authorities that are suspected of the greatest corruption. So who will watch the watchers in Russia if not the press? And if the press can be scared off or murdered with impunity when they get too close, then what hope is there for a just society?