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4/23/03 - RUSSIAN DEPUTY ASSASSINATED - 2003-04-23

On April 17th, Sergei Yushenkov, co-chairman of the Liberal Russia party, was shot dead outside his apartment in Moscow. Mr. Yushenkov was one of Russia’s most prominent pro-reform figures and a member of the Duma. He had succeeded in registering the Liberal Russia party for December’s parliamentary elections only hours before he was killed.

For more than a decade, Sergei Yushenkov worked to promote democratic change in Russia. He was among those who resisted the coup attempt by Communist hardliners in August 1991. He became well-known for persuading the commander of a tank unit to switch sides and support defenders of the parliament building led by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

The Liberal Russia party was founded in 2000 when a group of lawmakers broke with Russia’s largest liberal party, the Union of Right Forces. It remains small with some six-thousand members. More recently, Mr. Yushenkov had worked to introduce much-needed army reforms. He was also a vocal opponent of the war in Chechnya. Mr. Yushenkov took a leading role in a Duma committee looking into the role of Russian security services in a string of unsolved apartment block bombings in 1999. The blasts left more than three-hundred people dead. Authorities at the time blamed the attacks on Chechen terrorists.

Some believe Sergei Yushenkov’s murder was politically motivated. He is the ninth Duma deputy to be killed in the past nine years. So far, not a single of these murders has been solved. Investigators say they are trying to determine whether the shooting of Mr. Yushenkov is connected to the murder of Vladimir Golovlyov [gaw-lawv-LYAWF], another Liberal Russia party co-chairman. He was gunned down in Moscow last August.

Russia has lost an important voice for reform. In his message of condolence, President Vladimir Putin paid tribute to an “outstanding politician of our time. . .who considered it his obligation to defend democratic freedoms and ideals.” That’s why it is important for the Russian authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of Sergei Yushenkov.