Russian liberal leader gunned down in 'political killing'

By Eric Engleman,In Moscow
Saturday 21 December 2013 02:04

Sergei Yushenkov, the liberal Russian lawmaker and an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, was shot and killed in Moscow yesterday. Fellow legislators said his death was a political killing.

Mr Yushenkov, a leader of the Liberal Russia party, was shot near his home in northwest Moscow and hit three times in the back, a Moscow police spokesman said. Police said he died later of his wounds and a pistol with a silencer was found near the scene.

Mr Yushenkov, 52, was killed just hours after announcing that Liberal Russia would take part in December's parliamentary elections. Yuli Nesnevich, a party spokesman, told NTV television that Mr Yushenkov had not received any threats recently. A supporter of human rights causes and an opponent of the war in Chechnya, Mr Yushenkov is the second member of the Liberal Russia party to be shot dead this year. "I have no doubt at all that this was a political murder," said Gennady Seleznyov, the speaker of the state Duma, Russia's lower parliament house.

In August, Vladimir Golovlyov, a member of the party, was fatally shot in the head, and Mr Yushenkov said at the time he thought that killing was politically motivated.

The Liberal Russia party was founded last year with the financial backing of Boris Berezovsky, a self-exiled tycoon and Putin opponent who was elected one of its co-chairmen with Mr Yushenkov. Several months later, however, Liberal Russia broke ties with Mr Berezovsky because of the tycoon's political overtures to the Communists. Mr Yushenkov, a member of the Duma security committee, was a sharp critic of the Federal Security Bureau (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

Last year, he and his party publicised a Berezovsky-financed film purporting to prove FSB involvement in the series of 1999 bombings in Moscow and other cities that killed 300 people and became one of the pretexts for the Kremlin to send Russian troops back into Chechnya, launching the second war there in a decade.

He was also a member of a non-government commission established to look into claims of a government role in the bombings. Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the reformist Union of Right Forces party, said he was shocked by the murder.

He said: "Yushenkov stood at the source of the democratic movement. This was a person with a crystal-clear reputation, which is acknowledged even by his political opponents."

Viktor Pokhmelkin, the co-chairman of Liberal Russia, said he was certain the death was a contract killing. "It has the obvious handwriting of a professional," Mr Pokhmelkin said, referring to the gun left at the scene – considered a typical taunting gesture of hired killers in Russia. Mr Putin offered his condolences to Mr Yushenkov's family.

Attacks on Russian politicians have dented the image of stability that Mr Putin had worked hard to create after a decade of post-Soviet chaos. Yuli Rybakov, an independent lawmaker, said: "This is not just the murder of a lawmaker and leader of the only real democratic party. This is a strike against the democratic movement as a whole."

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