This is pretty awful:
A Russian investigative journalist who wrote about the deaths of mercenaries in Syria has died in hospital after falling from his fifth-floor flat.
Maxim Borodin was found badly injured by neighbours in Yekaterinburg and taken to hospital, where he later died.
Being a journalist in Russia is not especially dangerous. Being a journalist in Russia and writing about things which concern powerful people is incredibly dangerous, bordering on suicidal.
Local officials said no suicide note was found but the incident was unlikely to be of a criminal nature.
Uh-huh. One minute he’s exposing the clandestine use of Russian mercenaries in Syria, the next he’s just fallen off a balcony. Could happen to anyone.
However, a friend revealed Borodin had said his flat had been surrounded by security men a day earlier.
Vyacheslav Bashkov described Borodin as a “principled, honest journalist” and said Borodin had contacted him at five o’clock in the morning on 11 April saying there was “someone with a weapon on his balcony and people in camouflage and masks on the staircase landing”.
Borodin had been looking for a lawyer, he explained, although he later called him back saying he was wrong and that the security men had been taking part in some sort of exercise.
Many a time have I come home to find people with weapons on my balcony and masked, camouflaged men in the stairwell conducting an exercise. Yeah, this is all perfectly normal.
In recent weeks, the journalist had written about Russian mercenaries known as the “Wagner Group” who were reportedly killed in Syria on 7 February in a confrontation with US forces.
Maxim Borodin was phenomenally brave in investigating this story but, like Anna Politkovskaya, you’ve got to wonder if it was worth it. I don’t know who is behind the Wagner Group but you can be sure they are nasty, brutal, and well-connected. Going anywhere near an outfit like this and raising awkward questions was bound to end badly, and sadly it has.
The story is a useful reminder that Russia is a violent, lawless place in many respects and not every high-profile murder is carried out on the orders of Putin. Putin must take a lot of the blame for presiding over the conditions which allow journalists to be murdered with impunity in Russia, but it’s worth noting he is a product of the same culture, not its architect. Murders don’t occur in Russia because Putin allegedly has people murdered; any murders ordered by Putin occur in a culture where murdering people is routine. There’s a difference, and I think this was missed during the Skripal affair when it was assumed Putin simply must have been behind it. Now he probably was, but there was also a fair chance he wasn’t, which those unfamiliar with Russia utterly failed to even consider. It has become an article of faith among western reporters that Putin is responsible for the murder of Politkovskaya, and they go so far to directly charge him with the murder of journalists. The sad truth is any number of people would have wanted Politkovskaya dead, and Putin might not even have been one of them. We’ll never know.
The other noteworthy point to this story is that Maxim Borodin was genuinely brave and attempting to uncover a story which is in the public interest. Contrast this with western journalists who are mainly propagandists for the ruling classes yet are forever congratulating one another on their bravery, despite facing nothing more perilous in their day-job than a burned lip from an over-hot latte. I wonder how well a journalist like Borodin would go down in a western media outfit? Not very well, would be my guess.