• TOPICS : The price of Russia’s ‘dictatorship of law’

The contract-style killing of Novaya Gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya this past weekend has caused shock and outrage in the human rights and journalistic communities in Russia and abroad. While thousands attended her funeral last Tuesday, the Russian government was apparently represented only by a deputy minister of culture. The significance

of her death can only be understood within the context of recent developments in Russia that must not be ignored by foreign political and business leaders.

Politkovskaya’s assassination cannot simply be regarded as retribution for her reporting about atrocities committed by the Russian armed forces in Chechnya or her critical assessment of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policies. Rather, her murder - the 13th contract-style murder of a Russian journalist since Putin came to power in 2000, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists - is the latest example of the lawlessness in Russian society.

This state of affairs is a by-product of a conscious effort by prominent individuals representing

powerful interest groups to intimidate the opponents of the political and economic order, as well as to drive foreign competition in the natural resource and financial sectors out of Russia. Last month, Russian Central Bank Deputy Director Andrei Kozlov was murdered in Moscow. Kozlov was widely regarded as a supporter of further economic reform and opening up the country’s banking sector to increased competition, including from foreign banks. Earlier this month, Enver Ziganshin, the chief engineer for the Anglo-Russian oil producer TNK-BP, was gunned down in Siberia - perhaps as a warning to BP. Ziganshin’s killing took place shortly after Russia’s government jeopardised Shell’s multibillion-dollar oil-development investment in the Sakhalin II fields by revoking a critical licence.

After becoming president six years ago, Putin promised to end the disorder of the Yeltsin era and establish a “dictatorship of law.” This phrase was ambiguous then. Not so today. Given Putin’s time as a KGB agent and his education as a lawyer, it’s clear that he envisioned a “Bismarckian” model that would combine a rule-based society with an expanded safety net. For Russia to attract both domestic and foreign investors, its legal and corporate governance must become more transparent and accountable.

This will not occur without an independent press that reliably reports about conditions that affect commerce — or if the Russian government continues to intervene on behalf of its political favourites. It cannot live on energy exports alone, especially given its falling population. If current conditions persist, only those who have good political connections with the Russian ruling elite will be willing to be active in the country’s economy.

In some respects, this may resemble centralised control over economic activity and political life as it was in the not-so-distant past. — The Christian Science Monitor