No Terrorist Act in Post-Soviet Russia Has Ever Been Fully Investigated, Expert Says
by Paul Goble

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Eagles Mere, PA, September 30 - Moscow has never investigated a single terrorist incident "to the end," according to a leading Russian legal specialist, and its failure to do so not only has opened the way for more terrorist actions but raised questions in the minds of many about the complicity of Russian officials in particular cases.

Mikhail Trepashkin, who coordinates legal aid for the All-Russian public organization The Commission for the Struggle with Corruption, argues that this involves not only major terrorist acts like those at Buinaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk which claimed hundreds of lives but many smaller ones as well.

In some cases, the powers that be have arrested the executors of these crimes but not the organizers. And the former, having been incarcerated, which is where Trepashkin has worked with them, "complain that they were deceived [by the latter] and promised short sentences in exchange for confessions but, in fact, were given longer ones."

But the problem is larger than these individual human tragedies, he says. It touches on the entire society because "the special services apply the paragraph of secrecy to conceal their own violations of the law" and thus the relatives of the victims are not able to find out who was responsible for their deaths.

And that, in turn, leads both the authorities and the terrorists to believe that they can get away with more such crimes and the Russian people to distrust the one and fear the other in ways that a more open and complete approach to the investigation of such incidents would preclude, Trepashkin says.

When Putin declared that "it is possible to kill [Chechens] even in the toilet," the Moscow lawyer says, he was in effect giving permission to the authorities to murder large numbers of people "without trial or investigation" and, thereby, allowing those responsible to evade responsibility.

"If we had known the origin of [such terrorist acts]," Trepashkin continues, we would have understood how to struggle against it." And Russians would have gained even more, he insists, because they would have been able to avoid the situation that now infects much of Russian life.

Such actions by the authorities both in 1999 and more recently in cases like the Yamadayev killing mean that "any person who is thinking logically begins to conclude that those who ordered the killing of those who carried out the crime do not want them to tell who ordered them to commit it."

That is all the more so, Trepashkin continues, because those who have tried to investigate these crimes on their own, as he did, face threats and even fabricated criminal charges that he planned to assassinate Putin. In 2002, he says, he was told to stop investigating the apartment bombings, and when he refused, he was charged and brought before a closed military court.

"The prosecutor at that time directly told" him, the lawyer says, that "yes, he had been arrested illegally, that there was no evidence of a crime, but that all the same the chief military prosecutor had agreed with the judges of the military collegiums of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to convict him."

Moreover, the prosecutor added, Trepashkin would "not be able to appeal his sentence in Russia because the military collegium would not allow him to do so." That order, Trepashkin was told, came from "the highest" ­ a euphemism not for the director of the FSB but for his boss, then-President Vladimir Putin.

Trepashkin is not the only Russian commentator writing about this problem. In an article posted online this week, Yuri Girenko argues that Russia's basic problem in this regard is that it has sometimes sought law and sometimes order but it has not sought order in law because that takes time to develop.

"The brutal murder of [Yamadayev] in the center of Moscow made it clear that in Russia there is no more important task than to guarantee law and order." But it is "especially difficult to do this," the Moscow writer continues, in a way that "law and order" do not become mutually exclusive categories.

At various points in its history, Russia has had order "based not on law but on force." And at other times, the country has witnessed "attempts to make Law the foundation of statehood." But those efforts have ended every time either with a new tyranny or anarchy" largely because their authors have moved too quickly to be able to ensure order.

And then, as events like the murder of Yamadayev happen, order is once again valued "higher than law" because "the weakness of the Law undermines Order," a vicious circle that Girenko argues cannot be cut by decree but rather by slow, slogging work, something neither Russian rulers nor many ordinary Russians yet seem to want to do.

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