Russian activists are blaming Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for maintaining a climate that resulted in Wednesday's murder in the Caucasus of journalist Natalya Estemirova. Her colleagues from the Memorial human rights organization and other groups told a Moscow news conference that Mr. Putin's protégé in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov is specifically responsible for Estemirova's death.
Memorial chairman Oleg Orlov called Natalya Estemirova the soul of the organization; a journalist dedicated to uncovering widespread criminality in Chechnya. Orlov accuses Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov of responsibility for her death. Kadyrov was hand-picked by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in his former capacity as president.
Orlov says he thinks responsibility for an atmosphere of permissiveness and impunity in Chechnya as well as massive and serious crimes committed by government representatives lies with Russia's current and recent senior leaders, including Prime Minister Putin and President Dimitri Medvedev .
The head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alexeyeva notes many personal critics of Ramzan Kadyrov have been killed under suspicious circumstances in Chechnya and abroad.
Despite such crimes, Alexeyeva says Kadyrov remains in office and no case has been filed against him, nor is he asked any relevant questions. The veteran human rights leader adds that Kadyrov's permissiveness and power depend on the support of Mr. Putin.
Ramzon Kadyrov says the killers will definitely be found and punished.
The Chechen leader says there is respect for the law and order in his republic. He says enemies of Russia and its people sparked the Chechen war and are also making various (detrimental) moves.
Kadyrov acknowledges Estemirova was kidnapped in downtown Grozny, the Chechen capital. Human rights activists note this as well, but add that her body was found in neighboring Ingushetia. They also ask how it could have been transported without official cover through many checkpoints in the volatile region.
Mr. Medvedev has ordered an investigation into the Estemirova murder and is confident the perpetrators will be found.
He told a news conference in Munich with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Estemirova's killing is a sad event tied to her professional activity. He said such activity is needed in any normal country, adding that the slain journalist did very useful things by speaking the truth and offering some harsh assessments of Russia. That, notes Mr. Medvedvev, is the value of human rights activists, even if they are inconvenient and uncomfortable for the authorities. But he also referred to her death as a provocation.
The Kremlin leader says he thinks those who committed the crime counted precisely on dissemination of versions that are the most primitive and most unfavorable to the authorities.
Though deflecting blame for the killing from Russian officials, Mr. Medvedev's positive assessment of human rights activists stands in contrast to his predecessor's dismissal of them as jackals who scavenge at foreign embassies.
Oleg Orlov says Russian authorities must stop such negative characterization of critics.
Orlov says when such an image is created about human rights activists; it creates the atmosphere in Russia that leads to the killing of people depicted in such terrible ways.
The republics of southern Russia's Caucasus region have been rocked by violence attributed to Islamic extremists, separatists, and criminal elements.
Last month, the president of Ingushetia was seriously injured in a suicide bombing, the deputy chief justice of the republic's Supreme Court was shot dead, and the interior minister of neighboring Dagestan was killed by sniper fire.