New Arrest in 15 Year-Old Political Assassination in Russia

November 11, 2013
Memorial for human rights champion Galina Starovoytova, who was assassinated in 1998.

Galina Starovoitova was a pro-democracy activist in the 1990s, a prominent member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and a defender of ethnic minorities. She was assassinated in 1998, soon after becoming the leader of “Democratic Russia,” a registered opposition party, she was assassinated outside her apartment building in St. Petersburg.

Two men were arrested for the murder in June 2005, however the people who ordered the killing have never been found. For the first time, the Federal Security Service has named a former member of the State Duma, Mikhail Glushchenko, of planning the murder. Glushchenko is a former advisor to the then leader of the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Glushchenko has also gone to prison for extortion, and has been charged in connections to other murders. – Ed.

The Federal Security Service has officially informed Alexander Afanasyev, the attorney for the former State Duma deputy Mikhail Glushchenko, that on November 8 his client will be formally charged with organizing the murder of Galina Starovoitova. Now the main question is whether the FSB considers him the one who ordered that killing, or just its organizer.

Allegedly the organizer

According to Alexander Afanasyev, he was notified about bringing charges against Mikhail Glushchenko by Alexander Nikitin, an investigator of the Investigation Department of the FSB Main Department of the St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region. He believes that in 1998, Mikhail Glushchenko arranged the assassination of Starovoitova, and contracted Yuri Kolchin and his associates for this purpose (all of them have already been convicted of the murder of Starovoitova). According to the lawyer, his client has been charged under Part 3 of Article 33 and Article 277 of the Criminal Code (organization or commission of a crime and the encroachment on the life of a statesman or a public figure, respectively).

Currently the main question in the case is the evidence that investigators have today, after so much time has passed since that high-profile crime was committed. One can only guess what it could be. It is appropriate to assume, for example, that some testimony against Mikhail Glushchenko as a possible organizer of the murder of Galina Starovoitova was given by Sergei Shevchenko, a well known St. Petersburg businessman (who testified as a victim in the criminal case, where Gluschenko was convicted of trying to extort 10 million dollars from Shevchenko’s family members).

It can also be assumed that the testimony the investigators found interesting was made by Yuri Kolchin and his associates, who are now serving time for the murder of Starovojtova. It’s no accident that Alexander Nikitin, the St. Petersburg FSB office investigator, spent the last week of October in the Urals. It is said he visited those inmates. Unfortunately, Pavel Zhichkin, a St. Petersburg attorney who represents Kolchin, flatly refused to speak to Fontanka, citing the gag order.

But these are just speculations. And of course there is a document in this case written by the late Vyacheslav Shevchenko and called a suicide letter. This document begins in the tradition of a suspense novel: “If you are reading this letter, that means I am no longer alive.”

A man who looks like Shevchenko

The document contains three pages of text that is quite small. This text in its entirety describes the criminal actions that in the author’s opinion were initiated by Mikhail Glushchenko. For example, the words “Here are some of the crimes committed by Mikhail Glushchenko,” are followed by a list, one paragraph of which is of direct relevance to today’s events (the author’s spelling and punctuation are preserved).

“Ms. Starovoitova, State Duma deputy, the order for Misha regarding her was received from…, a man closely associated with Zhirinovsky… According to…, Starovoitova was throwing mud all over the place at the LDPR and ‘leader’, but most importantly she was engaged in some kind of investigation of the LDPR activities, poking her nose in everything. By that time it was clear that the fight for election would be quite serious, everything would be much more difficult than before. The murder of Starovoitova was a kind of payment for putting Misha on the list of the prospective LDPR Duma deputies. He hesitated for a long time, trying to decide, who to contract, trying to attract people from the outside, at that time different groups constantly offered him ‘protection’. In the end he opted for Jura Kolchin, he did not have to pay him a lot, it would be enough to prepare him ideologically, so for Misha it was a cost-effective solution…”

It’s very likely that the investigation has some other evidence linking Mikhail Glushchenko to the murder of Starovoitova. It has to be recalled that the letter, the authorship of which is attributed to Vyacheslav Shevchenko, ends in suspense: “To make this story credible I enclose some evidence confirming everything I wrote here…” In any case, we’ll soon find out about it.

Anyway, here’s the main, you can say political, suspense: would FSB accuse anyone other than Gluschenko of organizing the murder of Galina Starovoitova and would they name the one who ordered the killing? The question is far from idle: even the letter allegedly written by Vyacheslav Shevchenko shows that Mikhail Glushchenko was not the one who initiated the murder. And also just common sense tells that it’s very unlikely that Galina Starovoitova could end up in the field of interest of Mikhail Glushchenko.

There is also an image side to this situation. The media argued for a number of years that Mikhail Glushchenko will sooner or later be accused of the murder of Galina Starovoitova. Certainly, it’s great that after 15 years of investigation the FSB finally managed to do it, but it will be a disgrace for such a reputable agency if, having named the alleged organizer, the agency’s staff would make it look like the idea to organize such a crime came to Mikhail Glushchenko from outer space.

© Fontanka


Galina Starovoitova, a State Duma deputy, was killed in her apartment building on the embankment of Griboyedov Canal on November 20, 1998. The killers had been waiting for her at the door of her apartment. Ruslan Linkov, an assistant to the human rights activist, was also injured. The criminal case was filed in 1998 under several articles of the Criminal Code, including Article 105 (murder) and 277 (act of terrorism). In the case of the murder of Starovoitova, the City Court of the northern capital delivered its verdict against the eight defendants. Three of them, including the organizer and the perpetrator of the crime, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 11 to 23.5 years.

After that the investigation was reopened several times, but back in March 2012, it was suspended.