The paramedics reached 30-year-old journalist Oleg Kashin Saturday morning at 12:40 a.m. He was lying outside the door to his apartment building in central Moscow, his face bloodied, his legs mangled, the ground covered in blood. "He showed his hand to the doctor so he could see it was all broken," a neighbor told TV reporters. The toll, tallied by various news sources, was chilling: two broken jaws, one broken leg, a fractured skull at the temple and a heavy concussion, blood in the lungs, fingers partially torn off at the joints, one of them later amputated. By the time Moscow woke up to the news on Saturday, Kashin was already in an artificially induced coma.
At Kommersant, the newspaper where Kashin works, no one doubted that the attack was related to his journalism. "The thing that bothers me is that at the moment of the beating, they broke his fingers," the editor in chief said in a radio interview. "It is completely obvious that the people who did this did not like what he was saying and what he was writing." Kashin's iPhone, wallet, and other personal belongings remained on his person, untouched.
There was no shortage of theories about why Kashin was targeted. Many pointed instantly at United Russia's youth wing, Molodaya Gvardia, which openly threatened Kashin in an August article on its website. It was titled, in the hyperbolic, hyphenated language of early Soviet propaganda, "Journalist-traitors need to be punished!" "They have betrayed their homeland, they have spit on their civic duty!" it blared, adding Kashin to a list of others needing to be punished. Kashin's sin was daring to interview one of the radical anti-fascist protestors who attacked a local government building while protesting the cutting down of the Khimki forest this summer. That interview was not particularly inflammatory -- in fact, Kashin took a stern line with the young hoodlum -- but it brought the police to Kommersant's offices, asking the paper to turn over Kashin's email.
Russian journalists are usually killed or attacked because they threaten powerful financial or economic interests. The chopping down of the Khimki forest to make room for a highway between Moscow and St. Petersburg has exactly those interests behind it: It was being financed by Arkady Rotenberg, Vladimir Putin's judo buddy, and Putin proclaimed this summer, amid growing protests, that "all decisions have been made." That is, the road would be built as planned. (This remains the silent consensus in Moscow, despite Medvedev's August moratorium.)
Moreover the attack on Kashin seems to fit a disturbing pattern. Only a few days ago, Khimki activist Konstantin Fetisov was attacked with a baseball bat when he got out of his car in front of his Moscow home. The left side of his head was bashed in. His wife later found a fragment of the bat that had splintered off from the force of the blow. Like Kashin, Fetisov remains in an artificially induced coma and in serious condition.
Kashin's case most resembles a far earlier one, however. In the spring of 2008, Mikhail Beketov, a local journalist in Khimki who sought to expose the corruption behind the road, was beaten and left unconscious and bleeding in front of his house. He too slipped into a coma. There are eerie similarities between this attack and Kashin's: Beketov's legs were so brutally beaten that one had to be amputated, and he suffered such severe brain damage that he can now barely speak. But his hands were the most symbolic, chilling target. Three of Beketov's mangled fingers had to be amputated. Whoever got Beketov, and whoever got Kashin, wanted to make sure they never wrote again.