Nationalist icon killed in central Moscow

Yury Budanov, a disgraced Russian colonel sentenced for kidnapping and killing a Chechen teenager, has been killed in central Moscow. Some Russian nationalists believe him to be a hero unjustly jailed to pacify Chechens.

Budanov was shot on Friday in one of Moscow’s biggest streets as he was leaving a notary’s office. Police believe he was killed by a trained assassin in a well-planned operation, which most likely included shadowing the victim for some time.

Preliminary reports say a hitman and an accomplice committed the crime. One person armed with a silenced pistol is believed to have shot Budanov four times at point-blank range. The shooter aimed for his target’s head, investigators say.

The accomplice was waiting in a car parked nearby. After the kill the duo sped away. The partially burned car was later found not far from the crime scene. Inside the vehicle, police discovered the pistol which apparently was used to kill Budanov.

Police are interviewing witnesses and checking footage from street CCTV cameras, which they hope will help identify the criminals.

A facial composite of the suspected killer has been circulated among Moscow police, investigators said. They also revealed that the driver had a Slavic appearance.

Budanov’s body was left at the scene as forensic experts would not work with it until they had got the green light from explosive specialists. It was done because investigators were concerned over a possible trap. It was eventually determined that there was no bomb on the body.

Some reports say Budanov was wearing a colonel uniform the moment he was killed. If true, it was illegal, since he was stripped of awards and military rank after conviction.

As the investigation continues, police have mounted up security near Moscow’s Manezhnaya Square, reports Interfax. The place has become symbolic after a major nationalist rally and riot happened there on December 11, 2010. A police source told the news agency that law enforcers are taking precautions in case nationalists try and use Budanov’s death for provoking riots.

­Revenge or provocation?

Investigators say they are considering several motives for the crime and revenge is just one of them.

“Taking Budanov’s identity into consideration, we don’t exclude that the murder was done with provocative aims. Also, it’s too early to say that some ethnic group is behind the murder. We have no information to support such a version at the moment,” spokesman for the Investigative Committee Vladimir Markin said.

“I believe organizers of the crime are either those who wanted to take revenge on him, or nationalist thugs who want to stir nationalistic moods in Russia and provoke ethnic tensions,” Gennady Gudkov, deputy head of the parliamentary committee for security said.

“If it was revenge, it would be impossible to keep a lid on it in the Caucasus. In this regard there are high chances to solve the crime” he added.

Adam Delimkhanov, Chechen politician and close friend of the republic’s head Ramzan Kadyrov commented to news website in a few words: “I believe it was retribution.”

Dmitry Babich, a political analyst for RIA Novosti news agency believes that the killing of Budanov will not lead to a nationalist backlash.

“There are very few people who identify with Budanov. Young nationalists do not identify with him,” he told RT. “Only a small minority among [nationalists made Budanov their icon], because there was the trial, and people, who supported him, didn’t particularly like him as a person, it was rather a protest against hysteria which was reigning in the liberal mass media at that moment. Liberal mass media declared Budanov guilty before the trial, so there were some people who sympathized with him.”

But Aleksey Malashenko, a professor of Islamic studies, believes that the murder of Budanov could expose deep rifts between the various ethnic groups.

“I think that this will cause a certain amount of tension, this doesn't mean we'll see mobs gathering in the streets – although in some places that can't be excluded – but this is a tragic event which highlights the abnormal inter-ethnic relations inside Russia,”  Malashenko told RT.

Aleksey Dulimov, the lawyer who defended Budanov during the war crimes trial, believes his death was revenge.

“Everything in life is connected. The only action, which may be connected to the circumstances and the fact of Budanov’s killing… is his conviction for the murder of Kungaeva,” he told RIA Novosti.

Oleg Orlov, head of the human rights organization Memorial agrees.

“I don’t exclude the version that it has been revenge for the crime he committed when he was in Chechnya,” he told Interfax.

Visa Kungaev, father of the girl Budanov killed, said the murder is unlikely to have anything to do with a blood feud.

“I don’t think it’s connected with a blood feud or the Chechens in any way. It’s something else. The investigation will sort things out,” he told RSN news radio station.

“A dog’s death for the dog,” the man added.

­Budanov's case

­Yury Budanov was a former Russian colonel, who was charged with war crimes committed in 2000 during the counter-terrorism campaign in the Russian Chechen Republic.

He was suspected of kidnapping, raping and murdering Elsa Kungayeva, a young Chechen villager. The man claimed that the 18-year-old girl was a militant sniper and that he accidentally killed her during an interrogation.

In 2003, a military tribunal found Budanov guilty on some counts and sent him to prison for ten years. He was acquitted of rape charges.

After serving half of his term, Budanov asked for early release. In 2008, after he pleaded for freedom for a fifth time, a court found he had repented. He was released in 2009. The move drew protests from the Chechen Republic and human rights activists.