Khlebnikov's murder: headache for authorities, oligarchs, special services

No one doubts that the recent murder of Paul Khlebnikov, US citizen and former editor-in-chief of Forbes Russia, was a contract killing. Yet no one has so far ventured any plausible version as to the commissioner. As an analyst has pointed out, what Khlebnikov was doing, looking into the pockets of hundreds of oligarchs, was like walking in a minefield. And he walked this field for several years and not only in Russia.

Nevertheless, the Russian version is dominant, as in the May issue of Forbes Russia Khlebnikov published the names of Russia's 100 richest business leaders. Many of them had been known before that and the article did not bring them any changes. But some were taken out of the shadow for the first time and, naturally, were not happy about it. "Discussion of personal fortune in this country means nothing but a higher blood pressure for me," one of them observed. It is easy to suppose that after Khlebnikov's murder many in Moscow experienced a higher blood pressure.

The reaction of international press to the news was controversial. The Wall Street Journal made a sad for Russians conclusion that they did not live in a normal country and urged world leaders to ask Putin whether the rule of law existed in Russia at all. Steve Forbes is of a different opinion and describes the murder as a gangster-style killing. Forbes even found words of condolences for Russia itself, saying that criminal capitalists had actually stolen multi-billion assets of this distressed country.

Khlebnikov, by the way, assessed the situation in Russia similarly. In an interview with Izvestia just a few hours before the killing the journalist seemed rather a supporter than an opponent of the incumbent president struggling against the legacy of the Yeltsin regime. "One of Putin's achievements is that many Russian tycoons have changed their behaviour for the better," Khlebnikov maintained. "They pay taxes carefully, invest in domestic projects and participate in charity." "They are afraid," the interviewer argued. "It's good they are afraid," Khlebnikov pointed out. "We can only welcome the principle of restoring the authority of the state over society and society's biggest players... Do you remember as he [Berezovsky] in 1996 began saying something like 'we rule everything, we have elected the president, it is natural'."

There has been no other contract killing in Moscow in recent years Russia is so eager to solve.

The authorities dream to do it not to give rise to accusations like those in The Wall Street Journal. Russian special services want to do it to stop reproaches of incompetence. Journalists are keen on it in order to prevent the genre of journalist investigation from becoming extinct in Russia.

Even oligarchs would like to see it solved not to remain under permanent suspicion.

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