Prominent Russian blogger Oleg Kashin at long last was able to identify by name the suspects in the brutal 2010 attack on him. But the likely organizer of the attack has now been released.
Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
The previous issue is here.
– âI Was on Active Dutyâ: Interview with Captured GRU Officer Aleksandrov
– Meet The Russian Fighters Building A Base Between Mariupol And Donetsk
– ‘There Was No Buk in Our Field’
– With Cash and Conspiracy Theories, Russian Orthodox Philanthropist Malofeyev is Useful to the Kremlin
Russian blogger Oleg Kashin announced on his blog September 7 that three men who had beaten him nearly to death in 2010 had been arrested, and he expected justice at last in his case.
The three men arrested — Danila Vesyolov, Vyacheslav Borisov and their driver Mikhail Kavtaskin were all hired by the security department of a company owned by the family of Pskov Region Acting Governor Turchak.
Turchak has long been a fierce critic of liberal opposition and suspected to be behind another attack, the severe beating of Pskov legislator Lev Shlosberg, who was the first to reveal the presence of Pskov paratroopers in Crimea — some of whom were then killed in combat in the Donbass.
But soon afterward the Investigative Committee back-pedaled on the arrests said to be related to Kashin’s attack and said “the case was not solved,” according to an article in the pro-Kremlin Vzglyad.
Back in 2010, a video of Kashin’s beating taken from a security camera soon found its way on LifeNews, a pro-Kremlin TV station close to intelligence and police. The superintendent of Kashin’s building also gave an interview in which he described seeing the assailants run away, then getting a cell phone call from Kashin to come and help him as he had been beaten. He helped him up but then called an ambulance when he saw he was severely injured.
One of the attackers was carrying a bouquet of flowers, which he dropped at the scene.
As Kashin described in a memorable New York Times op-ed titled “A
Beating on My Beat,” he was hospitalized for weeks, winding up with an
amputated finger, a broken leg and jaw and cranial wounds.
Kashin wrote on his blog September 7 (translation by The Interpreter):
I have long known that one day I would write this text. I have long thought about how to write it — at least the rough outlines. I have long prepared for this test.
I just needed two names — even three, if you count the driver. Now I know these names.
The man with the bouquet is Danila Mikhailovich Vesyolov, born November 11, 1972, at that time head of security of a mechanics plant in St. Petersburg (the factory is named just that, “Mechanics Plant,” and is part of the Leninets holding company which is owned by the family of Pskov Region Acting Governor Andrei Turchak.)
The man with the steel rod who came out from behind Vesylov’s back [during the attack] is Vyacheslav Borisov, and employee of the same security department.
The man who sat behind the wheel of the Focus in which they’d arrived is Mikhail Valentinovich Kavtaskin, born February 12, 1980, also a security guard at the same factory.
In nearly five years, I have never learned how to formulate these things easily, but here I have the opportunity to hide behind an official formulation: while sitting behind the wheel of the Focus, Kavtaskin was waiting while Borisov and Vesylov, “implementing a unified criminal intent for the murder of O.V. Kashin, in an organized group out of mercenary motives” knocked me to the ground, and broke my skull, legs and fingers.
Naming publicly specific people with specific names and birth dates as hired killers is fairly risky. A person could sue you, accuse you of libel, and I would not be able to prove anything — essentially, that’s the risk. However in my case, there is no risk.
Kashin went on to explain that all three men had been charged with conspiracy to commit premeditated murder under the Russian criminal code; two of them, Vesylov and Kavtaskin, were under arrest, and a federal “man wanted” alert had been declared for the third, Borisov, who was known to live in Mogilyov, Belarus.
Kashin said he was grateful to President Medvedev for taking the case under his personal oversight, and to investigators, notably Aleksei Serdyukov who had been on the case for five years, and Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee — a figure frequently criticized by the opposition for his role in many political cases that have put protesters behind bars or led to house arrests and suspended sentences such as opposition leader Aleksandr Navalny
Hours after the attack, then-President Dmitry Medvedev pledged to bring justice to the perpetrators in a famous tweet recalled today by New Times editor Yevgenia Albats
Translation: Gave an assignment to the Prosecutor General and the Interior Ministry to take under special oversight the case of the attack on the journalist Kashin. The perpetrators much be found and punished.
Gazeta.ru reported on September 9 that Kashin would have a drink in celebration of what seemed like finally the closing of his case.
But as has happened before in the cases of prosecution of journalists’ attacks, the celebration soon seemed premature.
Konstantin Rykov, a top pro-Kremlin blogger, noted:
Translation: The Investigative Committee has not confirmed the solving of the case of the attack on Kashin.
“Likely he learned that from his lawyers as I understand it. I don’t have any more information, neither confirming of denying,” said Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Investigative Committee.
As Vzglyad noted, in June, Aleksandr Gorbunov, the manager of Zaslon [Bastion[, a defense factory also owned by Leninets, was arrested for unlawful possession of weapons and explosives. This case was linked to Kashin’s beating by media reports, but it is not clear how.
Over the years, while even the official media conceded that Kashin’s beating was caused by his blogging, there were disagreements about what forces could be behind it. The speculation that Turchak was behind it was only one hypothesis, related to a post Kashin once made claiming that Turchak only had his position due to close ties to the Kremlin.
Another hypothesis and one that had more support was that the municipal authorities of Khimki, a town between Moscow and St. Petersburg, had ordered the attack on Kashin because of articles he wrote criticizing a proposed highway between the cities that would destroy the forest. This version of the attack gained further credibility because another journalist, Mikhail Beketov was so severely beaten he suffered irreversible brain damage and ultimately died of a heart attack and Yevgeniya Chirikova, an environmental activist who led protests in Khimki was ultimately forced to flee Russia for Estonia.
Yet a third version of the attack theorized that the perpetrators could have come from a government-supported youth movement called “Nashi” [Ours] whose followers were called Nashisty due to their nationalist beliefs and aggressive fascistic behavior. When he read Kashin’s blog, Rykov’s first thought was to demand that he apologize to Vasily Yakemenko, founder of Nashi.
Translation: Yes, do call him.
But then as Carl Schreck of RFE/RL reported today, news came that Gorbunov — who Kashin believed had organized the attack on him in 2010 — was released from pre-trial detention related to the weapons charges.
Earlier in the day, Kashin published a copy of the release papers for Gorbunov, the director of a factory linked to an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He told RFE/RL in a September 11 telephone interview that authorities
are attempting to stifle the investigation into his attack by releasing
Gorbunov, who had been in detention for an unrelated case on illegal
possession of firearms and is formally identified as a witness in the
case of Kashin’s beating.
“Of course this is an attempt to sweep my case under the rug,” said
Kashin, a prolific blogger and writer who regularly publishes piercing
criticism of Putin and his government.
Kashin told RFE/RL that he had released the names of the suspects
out of fear for his safety in the event of Gorbunov’s release, following
a prescription used by other vulnerable reporters and opposition
leaders who figure that publicity is the best weapon when the court
system itself is biased.
As the Committee to Protect Journalists noted in reporting Kashin’s case,
“This is a welcome first step on the road to achieving justice for Oleg
Kashin, but authorities must not stop there,” said CPJ Deputy Director
Robert Mahoney. “Too many killers of journalists still walk free in
Russia. Those who ordered this crime as well as those who carried it out
must be brought to justice. Not to do so merely continues this
murderous cycle of impunity.”
Now the outcome of the case is not certain.
Kashin ended up going abroad after his attack and living in Switzerland for some years. He married and had a son and then decided to return to Russia in June of this year
— a move that some of his readers found perplexing as other
intellectuals were fleeing Russia. He explained that after he was able
to get eye surgery abroad related to his attack, and his wife completed a
contract, they decided to return to Russia. While he remains critical
of some government policies, Kashin indicated his support for the
Russian occupation of Crimea; “Crimea is ours,” he said.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick