Soul-searching in Russia after murder of Chechnya colonel

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Russia on Saturday sought to make sense of the brazen killing of a Russian army colonel notorious for strangling to death an 18-year-old Chechen girl in 2000.

Some mourned Yury Budanov, a Caucasus war veteran, while others feared his murder may stoke ethnic tensions.

Budanov, convicted of the murder of Elza Kungayeva, was shot dead in broad daylight Friday in central Moscow in a contract-style killing.

Investigators said the murder could have been aimed at stirring up ethnic tensions, while others chalked it up to blood revenge.

Budanov was sentenced to 10 years in jail for Kungayeva's murder but released on parole in 2009 after serving most of the sentence, provoking angry protests by Chechens and Russian rights activists.

Even after his death he remains such a polarising figure that the Kremlin and Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, who has publicly called the colonel "the enemy of the Chechen people," have remained conspicuously silent.

Supporters placed flowers at the scene of the murder, which came as the country gears up to mark the Day of Russia, a state holiday.

Police went on high alert ahead of the holiday but said people were free to mourn Budanov. "If a person wants to come bring flowers then it's his right," a police spokesman told AFP.

Opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which keeps a close eye on the rights abuses of the military in the Caucasus, cautioned against jumping to conclusions over the motive of the killing.

"A living Yury Budanov is dangerous for Chechens. A dead Budanov is dangerous for us all," it said. "Hatred at the ethnic level ends up not in blood revenge but in a bloody mess."

Others were openly sympathetic.

"May he rest in peace. A symbol and the bane of the second Chechen war, the tormentor and tormented, a Russian officer of the Russian army the way it was at the start of the 21st century," wrote the mass-circulation daily Moskovsky Komsomolets.

It said Budanov was "a cruel and honest man, a bold spirit and a coward, a brilliant commander, consciously and irreversibly ruining his own life and that of another person in a blink of an eye."

Budanov was the commander of a tank regiment that was deployed in Chechnya after the start of the Kremlin's second war against separatists in 1999.

He was decorated with an Order of Courage, one of the most coveted honors for Russian officers. Arrested in 2000 and stripped of all honours, he was found guilty of kidnapping and murdering Kungayeva in 2003.

Charges of raping Kungayeva were dropped during the trial although rights activists still believe there was forensic evidence to convict him on this count. Budanov, who said he thought the Chechen woman was a sniper, denied raping her.

© 2011 AFP

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