Seven weeks after Kabardian journalist and human rights activist Timur Kuashev was found dead on the outskirts of Nalchik, the precise cause of his death remains unclear. In light of the trace of an injection in his left armpit, the republican division of the Investigative Committee has nonetheless opened a murder investigation on the assumption that Kuashev was killed because of his professional activities.
Kuashev, 26, left home on the evening of July 31 to go jogging. His body was discovered the following day in woodland some 15 kilometers from his apartment. His body showed no signs of violence but friends said his fingers were turning black, which they construed as evidence he had been deliberately poisoned. Pathologists from the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) Health Ministry, however, said Kuashev’s heart, brain, and circulatory system were undamaged and his body showed none of the usual signs of poisoning.
Forensic tests conducted under the aegis of the Health Ministry reportedly failed to determine the cause of death. Further tests are to be conducted in Moscow, Kuashev’s father Khambi told Kavkaz-uzel last week.
The KBR Interior Ministry and the republican subdirectorate of the Federal Security Service have similarly made no progress in establishing who might have had a motive to kill Kuashev. The Interior Ministry had rejected in May a request by Kuashev to investigate death threats against him posted on the website KavkazPress, which is rumored to be controlled by the “force” agencies. (It was the recourse by KBR Interior Ministry personnel to indiscriminate and gratuitous violence against law-abiding young practising Muslims that served as the catalyst for the multiple attacks on police and security facilities in Nalchik in October 2005.)
Russian journalists Maksim Shevchenko and Natalya Kevorkova, who traveled to Nalchik to conduct an independent investigation into Kuashev’s death, established that he was not involved in commercial activities, had no ties to the North Caucasus insurgency (although he professed Salafi Islam), and had no personal enemies.
Shevchenko and Kevorkova further noted that while dozens of journalists and human rights activists have been killed in the Caucasus over the past 10 to 15 years, almost all of them were shot. That circumstance conveniently allowed investigators to blame the killings on the North Caucasus insurgency, with the result that the killers were never found and brought to trial and/or the investigation was shelved.
The announcement in early September by investigators in Makhachkala that they had suspended inquiries into the murder in July 2013 of journalist Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev as all possible leads had been exhausted elicited outrage among international human rights watchdogs.
The use of a poison that leaves no trace (if that is, indeed, how Kuashev died) is a new and alarming occurrence, Shevchenko and Kevorkova say.
The two journalists acknowledge that Kuashev’s death reflects badly on Yury Kokov, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin named acting republic head last December. Although Kokov, 59, has spent virtually his entire career in the Interior Ministry, serving most recently as head of the federal ministry’s Counterterrorism Center, he has adopted a much softer stance vis-a-vis the insurgency than his predecessors. Kokov is personally monitoring the investigation into Kuashev’s death, which he termed a “terrible tragedy,” and has met personally with Kuashev’s mother.
In the absence of any other motive, it is conceivable that Kuashev was killed with the sole intention of undermining Kokov and preventing his confirmation as republic head. If so, the perpetrators appear to have miscalculated. On September 15, Putin proposed Kokov, together with two alternative candidates, for the post of KBR republic head. The new parliament elected on September 14, in which the United Russia party controls 50 of the 70 seats, is to elect the new republic head on October 9. Most observers take it as given that deputies will endorse Kokov.