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I read www.gazeta.ru obsessively for up to date news on what's happening in Russia. Opening the site today at one point the news showed: A former deputy mayor of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, had been shot dead in a contract killing in Moscow overnight; the head of an academic institute and government economic advisor was also shot dead in Moscow; the head of Russia's most respected opposition radio station, Ekho Moskvy, came home to find an axe in front of his door and a secret video camera installed to watch the entryway. What is going on?
In the 1990s, threats and contract killings were a way of life as the country suffered under severe economic hardship, uncertainty over the future and a dysfunctional government. Most of the violence, however, was pointed at shady business interests, as Russia earned itself the name of the Wild East.
As the economic situation here deteriorates, the violence has begun creeping back up to 1990s levels, but the overwhelming political character is striking (not that it's entirely possible to separate the two, especially in Russia). A high number of the dead are in some way related to Chechnya. An essential piece of reporting for those interested in Chechnya came out in the New York Times last weekend, written by former Moscow correspondent C.J. Chivers. It makes a pretty damning case against the republic's hardline ruler, as well as the Moscow leadership to whom he owes his power.