Celestine Bohlen of Bloomberg News, writing in the New York Times:
Russia is still getting away with murder.
On Tuesday, two more bodies of human rights workers were found in the southern republic of Chechnya, this time in the trunk of a car.
This comes less than a month after the shocking death of Natalya Estemirova, a 50-year-old human-rights campaigner whose body was dumped by the side of a road. She had been shot several times — at least once in the head, which is the signature for the killers who have been methodically eliminating critics and rivals of Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya.
Once again, Mr. Kadyrov, who is just 32, has mocked both his accusers and the victims. “Why should Kadyrov kill a woman who was useful to no one?” he scoffed when asked by Radio Free Europe about allegations that he was responsible for Ms. Estemirova’s death. “She was devoid of honor, merit and conscience.”
Even more chilling was the silence that fell across a Grozny street at 8:30 on the morning of July 15 when Ms. Estemirova was forced into a small white car. Witnesses heard her scream out that she was being kidnapped, but no one would give details, the license plate number or any descriptions of the driver.
That speaks volumes. Terror breeds fear, which produces the silence that Ms. Estemirova dealt with daily, as she tried to help victims of kidnappings, house burnings, extortion, torture, extrajudicial executions and other crimes.
Her success in getting people to talk is why she was killed: Even President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia said as much, to the surprise of many. “She was doing a very useful job,” he said. “She spoke the truth.”
The Mafia in Sicily thrives on omertà; Russia, on a state level, is tolerating something similar in Chechnya. There is no reason Western leaders should stay quiet about the reign of terror gripping the region, with the Kremlin’s implicit blessing.
Most human-rights observers lay the blame for this wave of violence on Mr. Kadyrov, whose control over the Chechen Republic and its wealth are unchallenged. Whether he is the mastermind of the killings — he denies any responsibility — the fact is that criminals, including those in uniform, act with impunity in his republic.
The key to young Mr. Kadyrov’s unstoppable power is the Russian prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin, who ceded control of the republic first to Mr. Kadyrov’s father, and then to him, in return for their help in quashing a separatist rebellion. According to a joke that makes the rounds in the Caucasus republic, if Mr. Putin were to wake up 15 minutes later than usual one day, Mr. Kadyrov’s corpse would already be going cold.
The paradox is that Mr. Putin has succeeded in creating exactly what his predecessor Boris Yeltsin first went to war in Chechnya in 1994 to prevent: a lawless quasi-autonomous region run by a gangland-style warlord who rules through a manipulation of clan rivalries, vendettas and elements of Islamic Shariah law.
Ms. Estemirova was not the first human-rights campaigner killed because of his work in Chechnya. In January, a human-rights lawyer and a young journalist, who both worked on Chechen cases, were gunned down on a Moscow street. And then there was Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent journalist who had also investigated abuses in Chechnya, killed in October 2006 by a bullet to her face, as she was bringing home groceries.
These murders produced an international outcry, but little more. So far, justice hasn’t caught up with the killers, or at least those who ordered the hits.
Now, the bodies of Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband, Alik Djabrailov, who worked with an organization that helped young people in Chechnya, have been discovered in the trunk of their car in Grozny, after the human rights group Memorial reported they had been kidnapped.
Why aren’t Western governments doing more to hold Moscow accountable? Instead of letting the Kremlin off the hook, they could shame Russia into stopping the murders and jailing the killers. President Medvedev’s outraged comments — rare for a Kremlin leader — may prove to be the crack in the omertà in the Putin-Kadyrov regime. He could be held to his promise of an uncompromising investigation into Ms. Estemirova’s death.
In the past, the West has chosen to mute its criticism of Russia’s Chechen wars. In 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States government accepted Russia’s help in Afghanistan, in return for overlooking brutal tactics in what Moscow described as its own war on terror in Chechnya.
There should be no excuses this time. Ms. Estemirova, like Ms. Politkovskaya, and the other felled human rights campaigners, were a threat only to those who killed her.
Telling the truth should never be that dangerous.