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Russia's Milestones Are Gravestones


Tributes are left to the late Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge in Moscow, where he was gunned down in February 2015. (file photo)

The Moscow jury decision finding five Chechen men guilty of murdering opposition leader Boris Nemtsov is the latest chapter in a series of high-profile killings that have punctuated Vladimir Putin’s 17-year presidency.

Nemtsov's 2015 killing also put him on an even longer list, stretching back into the wild 1990s, when assassinations and gangland killings of politicians, business people, and other public figures were commonplace during Boris Yeltsin’s term.

There’s one notable difference in the list of murders, Yeltsin-era vs. Putin-era. While the motives for the killings in the 1990s tended to be more diffuse -- just as the Russian state and political elite were more fragmented -- in the Putin era, they appear to be more straightforwardly directed at critics of the regime.

Here are a few of the prominent, Putin-era cases:

Valentin Tsvetkov

October 18, 2002: Valentin Tsvetkov, the governor of Magadan Oblast in Russia's Far East, is shot dead by a sniper just blocks from the Kremlin. Tsvetkov, who earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first regional governor assassinated in post-Soviet Russia, had been trying to crack down on crime in his Pacific region's gold and oil industries.

Sergei Yushenkov

Late Russian opposition politician Sergei Yushenkov
Late Russian opposition politician Sergei Yushenkov

April 17, 2003: Sergei Yushenkov, a veteran politician and leader of the anti-Kremlin party Liberal Russia, is shot in front of his Moscow home. Yushenkov had been at the forefront of efforts by liberal lawmakers to investigate the possible involvement of the Federal Security Service in a series of deadly apartment bombings in 1999. The bombings, which killed some 300 people, were blamed on Chechen rebels and used by Moscow as a pretext to launch its second Chechen war.

Yury Shchekochikhin

Yuri Shchekochikhin in 1999
Yuri Shchekochikhin in 1999

July 3, 2003: Yury Shchekochikhin, a liberal lawmaker and investigative journalist, dies after suffering a mysterious illness. Authorities blamed his death on an allergic reaction, but many suspected Shchekochikhin was deliberately poisoned because of his muck-raking reporting into sensitive cases including the 1999 apartment bombings.

Nikolai Girenko

Antifascist protesters carry a portrait of the late tolerance campaigner Nikolai Girenko who was shot dead in 2004. (file photo)
Antifascist protesters carry a portrait of the late tolerance campaigner Nikolai Girenko who was shot dead in 2004. (file photo)

June 21, 2004: Nikolai Girenko, one of Russia’s leading experts on racism and xenophobia, dies after being shot through the door of his St. Petersburg apartment.

Paul Klebnikov

Paul Klebnikov, the American-born editor of the Russian edition of Forbes Magazine who was killed in Moscow in 2004.
Paul Klebnikov, the American-born editor of the Russian edition of Forbes Magazine who was killed in Moscow in 2004.

July 9, 2004: Paul Klebnikov, the American editor of Forbes-Russia, is gunned down outside his Moscow office. Klebnikov had written at length about corruption, and Forbes had published a list of Russia's richest people. A Chechen businessman and boxer, Kazbek Dukuzov, was linked to the killing, but was later acquitted by a jury. In 2013, Dukuzov was among 18 people blacklisted by the Untied States under the Magnitsky Act, а law aimed at punishing Russians implicated in rights abuses.

Anna Politkovskaya

Assassinated Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2001.
Assassinated Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2001.

October 7, 2006: One of Russia's most prominent journalists and a dogged chronicler of rights abuses in Chechnya, Politkovskaya is shot dead in her apartment building, in an execution-style killing. Two men were sentenced to life in prison and three others to long prison terms in 2014 for their involvement, but her family said officials failed to bring the masterminds to justice. Earlier this month, relatives of Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, one of those convicted for Politkavskaya's killing, said he had died in prison.

Aleksandr Litvinenko

Alexandr Litvinenko shortly before his death from radiation poisoning in 2016.
Alexandr Litvinenko shortly before his death from radiation poisoning in 2016.

November 23, 2006: The former Russian security agent-turned-Kremlin critic dies in London after being poisoned with highly radioactive polonium-210. Litvinenko had fled to Britain in 2000 after publicly accusing the Federal Security Service of plotting to kill oligarch Boris Berezovsky. He later co-authored a book blaming the agency for the 1999 apartment bombings. The British investigation found Litvinenko drank tea laced with polonium during a meeting in a London hotel several weeks earlier with two Russians, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun. Moscow has refused to extradite them. In January 2017, the United States blacklisted both under the Magnitsky Act.

Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Barburova

A memorial picket to slain journalist Anastasia Baburova and rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov shortly after the January 2009 killings.
A memorial picket to slain journalist Anastasia Baburova and rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov shortly after the January 2009 killings.

January 19, 2009: Markelov, a leading human rights lawyer, is shot dead in broad daylight in central Moscow as he left a news conference. Baburova, a young reporter who had been interviewing Markelov for the muck-racking newspaper Novaya Gazeta, attempts to protect Markelov and later dies of her gunshot wounds. Markelov had been fighting against the early release of Russian military officer convicted of killing a young Chechen woman. In April 2011, two nationalists, Nikita Tikhonov and his girlfriend Yevgenia Khasis, were convicted of murdering Markelov and Baburova.

Natalya Estemirova

Human rights activist Natalya Estemirova in the Chechen capital of Grozny in September 2004.
Human rights activist Natalya Estemirova in the Chechen capital of Grozny in September 2004.

July 16, 2009: The body of the renowned human rights activist, with bullet wounds to her head and chest, is found in Ingushetia, hours after her abduction in the capital of Chechnya, Grozny. Natalya Estemirova had been personally investigating hundreds of cases of rights abuses in Chechnya including kidnapping and murder. The rights group she worked for, Memorial, said initial investigation pointed to the possible involvement of local law-enforcement officers. Memorial's head, Oleg Orlov, was later sued for defamation after accusing Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov of orchestrating Estemirova's killing, but he was eventually acquitted.

Sergei Magnitsky

Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky (file photo)
Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky (file photo)

November 16, 2009: The whistle-blowing lawyer who had implicated Russian officials in a $230-million tax fraud dies one year after being jailed on similar charges. Sergei Magnitsky suffered from pancreatitis and was denied medical care in pre-trial detention and -- according to the Kremlin's own human rights council -- was badly beaten before his death. The United States in late 2012 passed the Magnitsky Act, which targets Russians implicated in rights abuses with visa bans and asset freezes. In July 2013, a Russian court found Magnitsky guilty of tax evasion in a posthumous trial.

Mikhail Beketov

Journalist Mikhail Beketov (right) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in 2012.
Journalist Mikhail Beketov (right) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in 2012.

April 8, 2013: A crusading journalist who had reported on large-scale corruption, Mikhail Beketov dies five years after being savagely beaten in the Moscow suburb of Khimki. Beketov had been left severely brain damaged from the attack. Supporters linked it to his work uncovering corruption surrounding the construction of a controversial highway through a protected forest.

Compiled by Kathleen Moore. An earlier version of this article was published in February 2015.
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