Karinna Moskalenko on why political murders remain unsolved

20 May 2021

Pictured: Karinna Moskalenko, lawyer, international lawyer, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Photo: Anna Artemyeva / Novaya Gazeta

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Радио Свобода]

17 May would have been the 75th birthday of one of the most prominent female politicians in Russia. But it didn’t happen. Galina Starovoitova, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, was shot dead when she was 52 years old. Throughout her political career, she fought against the secret services, corruption and inequality.

On a video link with the Radio Liberty studio is lawyer Karinna Moskalenko, who has several times represented the interests of the injured party in political murder cases.

Karinna Moskalenko: When people ask ‘Who is your hero?’ I’ve always answered that it’s Galina Starovoitova. I know of no one who equals her in intelligence, depth of understanding of many causes, width of reading, education; but most importantly in unique human qualities. I experienced her murder as a personal tragedy. I have never believed for a second a single one of the alleged motives for the killing that were thrown at us, especially the monetary motive. I did not doubt they were deceptions.

Considering all the subsequent events involving murders of political figures, journalists and opposition leaders, it can be confidently asserted that this murder was one of these terrible atrocities; one of the first, and the most important for those who tried to prevent a single opposition representative from achieving power. Of course, this was a well-planned, doubly disguised political murder of an opponent who stands head and shoulders above those in power today.

Maryana Torocheshnikova: Why is the murder of Galina Starovoitova still unsolved?

Karinna Moskalenko: It’s not beneficial for the authorities, and for certain representatives of the authorities it would even be dangerous to get to the bottom of the murder. When criminals see their impunity, they begin to understand that you can commit crimes and there will be no consequences. The main thing is to commit a crime that pleases those in power today, those who have all the opportunities to control the investigation. If at the same time the expectations of those in power are satisfied, then the murder will never be solved (or will not be entirely solved).

At some point, it was believed that Starovoitova’s murder had even been kind of solved. As we know, that is not the case. But there are cases in which an even bigger result has been achieved, and still you won’t see either those who ordered the crime in the dock, or the true reason behind it, the motive, the goal. And these are the circumstances to be proven in a criminal case: if they are not proven and not established, the case has not been investigated, that’s all.

Maryana Torocheshnikova: Most of the political murders in Russia have not been fully investigated. Those who carry them out are behind bars, but that’s seldom the case for those who order them committed.

Karinna Akopovna, what kind of crime is meant by political murder? What distinguishes such crimes from all others?

Karinna Moskalenko: A murder should be considered political if it is carried out as an essential means of interrupting someone’s political activities, to prevent someone from gaining power. Such murders are political because those killed by the authorities are engaged in solving certain crimes or conducting certain politically sensitive affairs, and they are carried out in order to stop their activities.

By the way, it is not only for the authorities. Those who are not in power may be guided by political motives, and conversely, wish to eliminate representatives of the authorities. And in this case, if the authorities in any way at all encourage impunity for these acts, then they also endanger themselves, because tomorrow there may be other goals and motives, but also politically significant for someone, and they too may become victims. Political murder and murder in general is the most serious crime, because it is a crime against the most important thing – human life. But political murders are simply heinous crimes that sometimes change the fate of an entire nation, a people, a state. Sometimes such murders are catalysts of negative processes that could and should have been contained, but failed, and following a political murder, one or another social phenomenon erupted.

Mariana Toroocheshnikova: And in Russia do they know how to solve political murders? Perhaps they just don’t want to?

Karinna Moskalenko: Of course, they don’t want to. As they say, there is no will to do this. And those who prepare these planned political eliminations often set up a whole network of protection: there are at least two or three available options and a couple of groups which are possible to be scapegoated for it. On the surface it appears there are criminals or dodgy characters who have some understanding of the background to the case, who have to some extent contributed to or participated in this, and they give themselves up or suddenly frame themselves, although all this has been set up in advance, and act as a cover. And the group or the individual who actually committed the murder, is safely protected by these bogus statements.

In all such cases there is a common problem. At the very beginning, when necessary investigative actions should be carried out, obvious tasks are left undone: they need to be checked, investigated, and these conditions must be identified with the greatest urgency. And if this isn’t done, then that golden opportunity will be lost, and consequently the investigation cannot be considered effective.

And very often the investigation is limited to one explanation (look at the verdict in the case of Dmitry Kholodov). If the authorities only accepted one explanation, and it was wrong, then everything that was allegedly investigated was wrong, and innocent people found themselves in the dock. Where are your other explanations, where is your progress?! You could have got a lot of evidence. The same was true in the case of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder.

In a healthy country, political assassinations are impossible or are an abhorrence which the authorities will investigate, and they will seek the truth, identify all those responsible, with all their motives and objectives. And in a failing state one characteristic feature always prevails: the elimination of people for political purposes flourishes, and no one can really prevent it. And it’s like a snowball.

This shows the authorities in a very bad light. The authorities say,’We had nothing to do with it! We were in no way involved with the murder of Anna Politkovskaya (or Natalia Estemirova). Nemtsov was killed by such and such, Yushenkov by so and so. And nobody tried to poison Navalny.’

But if the government is really not involved, do you know how it will conduct an investigation to eradicate all suspicion of its involvement? They will dig the ground, investigators will work day and night, interrogate thousands of people, and not just for show.

As noted by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Anna Politkovskaya, the interrogation of two and a half thousand people did not yield any results, it was only quantity, not quality. And the ECtHR described this investigation as inadequate, because those who should have been interrogated, and whom the defence sought to question from very earliest stages, were not questioned. Alternative explanations were not considered, although the defence did insist on it. And any characterization of the investigation as ‘inadequate’ or ‘ineffective’ is a shame and a disgrace on our authorities, because when the authorities are really interested in solving a crime, they do pull out all the stops to achieve it.#

Translated by Anna Bowles and Graham Jones

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