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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Plugging a Hole in the Dam

Democracy in Russia last week suffered yet another loss. State Duma Deputy Vladimir Golovlyov, a former member of the Union of Right Forces and more recently co-chairman of Boris Berezovsky's Liberal Russia party, was shot dead near his home in Mitino.

"This sends a signal to the political elite of this country," Berezovsky said of the killing. "If you stray beyond the red flags that mark the boundaries set out for the opposition, we're going to open fire."

It's true. You couldn't call this killing anything but political.

In November 2001, the Duma partially stripped Golovlyov of his immunity from prosecution in connection with a criminal investigation into his activities as head of the State Property Fund's office in the Chelyabinsk region in the early 1990s. At that time Golovlyov created a fund to turn state-owned enterprises into joint stock companies, then required all significant businesses in the region to transfer 10 percent of the stock belonging to their employees to the fund. Golovlyov then quietly turned the fund into his personal joint stock company and sold its stock on the side. Investigators estimate the market value of shares stolen from a single company, the Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works, at 22 billion rubles ($700 million).

Golovlyov's activities were nothing unusual for a bureaucrat and Duma deputy in those days. You almost wonder what all the fuss is about.

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But Golovlyov was unlucky. His former cohorts in Chelyabinsk have since risen to the very top of the political ladder: Pyotr Sumin became governor of the region, Viktor Khristenko became deputy prime minister and Alexander Pochinok, labor minister. The Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works itself soon became the object of a heated battle that pitted the steel mill's current general director, Viktor Rashnikov, and his protectors -- Sumin, Khristenko and Pochinok -- against the aggressive Urals Mining and Metals Company, which has laid claim to a contested 30 percent share of the mill's stock.

It's obvious that the criminal case against Golovlyov didn't just happen. Russian law enforcement doesn't spontaneously leap into action. When it does get moving, it seems to target opponents of the Urals Mining and Metals Company just a little too often to be a coincidence.

It's patently obvious that Golovlyov couldn't have created his fund without a little help from his friends, and that he had fallen well behind his Chelyabinsk colleagues in furthering his career. His fellow Duma deputies put this down to Golovlyov's extremely thin skin, not to mention his fondness for blackmail. They say that even when he was under investigation, Golovlyov asked Anatoly Chubais to give him the Chelyabinsk regional power plant. Chubais, of course, refused. Golovlyov then walked out of his office and announced that Chubais had been his partner in the fund -- pure nonsense, to say the least, since the fund was strictly a local affair.

The criminal case against Golovlyov struck at the enemy's weakest link. Driven into a corner, Golovlyov began to squirm. He announced in open session at the Duma that he "could name names." Given that he had tried to blackmail Chubais, it's not hard to imagine what sort of threats he made to his real partners.

The case against Golovlyov was scheduled for submission to the courts in September. His testimony could have had the same effect as breaching a dam. The ensuing flood would likely have swept away not only high-ranking officials and the Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works, but also Golovlyov's accomplices, lesser officials who saw the writing on the wall and knew that they were next to be sacrificed. The chain reaction would have been something to see. Golovlyov's death has put a stop to it.

So Berezovsky is right: The killing of deputy Vladimir Golovlyov was undeniably political. The killing of a person expected to offer incriminating testimony against a deputy prime minister, a minister and a governor could not be otherwise.

Yulia Latynina is a journalist with ORT.