But that's as far as the theory goes. Kashin covered the subject of Khimki thoroughly and in his characteristically beautiful, at times acidic prose. But nothing he wrote was all that seditious; he didn't really expose anything that threatened anyone's financial interests. And, unlike the journalists who have been killed, attacked, or harrassed in Russia during the last decade, Kashin is not a fringe or opposition figure. When I first met him, in the winter of 2006, to interview him about the politics of young Russians -- his specialty -- he struck me as a Kremlin apologist. Kommersant is Russia's most prominent daily, a mainstream paper owned by Medvedev buddy and mining mogul Alisher Usmanov.
I was, of course, wrong about Kashin. He is not an apologist but is, in the best traditions of his generation, simply hard to categorize. He covers youth movements for his paper, and he is equally unsparing in his coverage of both the pro-Kremlin organizations, like Nashi and Molodaya Gvadia, and the opposition ones, like the Yabloko and Antifa movements.
He is also a loud, profane, and well-loved member of the Russian web community, which is why most of the fallout has occurred in a parallel Twitter universe. Kashin's handle, KSHN, was soon trending as hundreds of updates and hang-in-theres flooded the Russian-language part of the service. Most surprisingly, the pro-Kremlin wing of the Twittersphere, aside from the occasional outburst of "he had it coming," was as horrified by the attack as everyone else. "This filth was harsh with Kashin," tweeted Konstantin Rykov, a blogger who often writes of the "liberasts" -- that is, liberals plus pederasts. "Broke his fingers so he can't write. Damn." Rykov spent the rest of the day tweeting frequent, distraught updates on Kashin's condition and trying to remember what Kashin could have possibly said to have this happen. Kashin, however wrong in their view, was still a member of their community, and a physical attack, especially one of such savageness, was simply beyond the pale.
"Oleg never wrote flatteringly about Nashi," said Robert Shlegel, a federal commissar of the movement and a tech-savvy young Duma deputy. "He spoke rather harshly about us. We've known Oleg for many years, and he criticized us a lot, but no one ever spoke of attacking him ever, in any way." Kashin did sometimes defend Nashi, and the group, Shlegel said, plans on asking the prosecutor general to solve this case quickly. Shlegel also agreed that this was not a random attack, that Kashin was singled out because he was a journalist. "Hooligans don't deliberately break fingers," he said. Sounding unusually morose and rattled, Shlegel sighed and added, "To be honest, I'm in total shock."
It wasn't just bloggers who responded with alarm and empathy. Vesti, the leading news program on Russian state TV, led with a report about Kashin. Nashi and Molodaya Gvardia issued statements condemning the attack, though the latter chose to post it on its website with photographs of Kashin hugging two skimpily clad girls. Medvedev, whose press secretary had been woken in the middle of the night with the news, announced -- on his Twitter feed, of course -- that he had asked the Interior Ministry and prosecutor's office to take control of the case. "The criminals must be found and punished," He wrote. (Medvedev has also called Usmanov, the paper's owner, to offer help. Usmanov is said to be paying Kashin's medical bills, including his eventual transfer out of the country for further treatment.) Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika was reported to be personally overseeing the case, and Kashin's friends said that the entire police force seemed to be on the case, calling them in for questioning. ("I am now being interrogated by a woman in a gold Rolex," Kashin's ex-wife and fellow Kommersant reporter wrote on her Facebook wall.)
It is all a striking contrast to when journalist Anna Politkovskaya was killed in 2006. Then-President Vladimir Putin took days to respond. When he did, he said that "her influence over political life in Russia was minimal." Today's emphatic response was, perhaps, due to the fact that Kashin was not a fringe figure, like Politkovskaya. Or it could have been because Kashin works for Usmanov. But it was also a tacit acknowledgment of how bad the attack looks abroad -- and at home, too, during a period of relative openness. The question now is whether or not the Kremlin will follow through with an arrest and a conviction to send a strong signal to a culture used to a breathtaking impunity in such matters.
"The question isn't whether they'll find who did it -- in fact, they probably already have their pictures over at the precinct," says Oleg Mitvol, who, until a few weeks ago, was a local prefect opposed to the Khimki road and spoke often to Kashin on the subject. "The question is who ordered the attack, and whether, once they're found -- given how high up they probably are -- the government can tell society about them." Mitvol recalled that, when one of his deputies was attacked, the main hit man was found dead. "That's what will probably happen here, too," he said. "Considering the massive public resonance of this case, the people who ordered it will try to get rid of the people who carried it out."