American Optimist Mourned in Moscow
Slaying of Forbes Editor Reflects Old Ways of a Society He Hoped Was Changing
By Peter Baker and Susan B. Glasser
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 15, 2004; Page A14
MOSCOW, July 14 -- As he lay bleeding on the street from four bullet wounds to the chest, American journalist Paul Klebnikov struggled to breathe. The first ambulance that showed up, according to a witness, couldn't give him oxygen because it didn't have any.
When medics brought him to a hospital, the gate was locked and the ambulance had to wait. When they tried to take Klebnikov to an operating room, the witness said, the elevator broke down. It took at least 10 minutes for a repairman to get it going again. By the time the elevator door opened, a medic had declared Klebnikov dead.
In the end, the Russia that Paul Klebnikov loved, the country of his ancestors and of the future he hoped to build here with his family, would prove to be his demise. Friends say that when he came to Moscow six months ago, he was filled with optimism about a place changing for the better. Yet he fell victim to the many ways it has not changed -- struck down in a city where business disputes are still often solved by hired gunmen and state agencies are ill-equipped to come to the rescue of those in need.
"We all felt, including Paul, that they're no longer hiring assassins in Russia, they're hiring lawyers to settle their disputes," said Boris Jordan, a Russian American investment banker and close friend of Klebnikov's. "The fact is, that doesn't seem to be the case."
Klebnikov, 41, was a longtime investigative reporter and editor at Forbes magazine who launched its Russian edition in April. He was memorialized Wednesday at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a symbol of the Russian rebirth he hoped to chronicle. At the service in the vast church near the Kremlin, torn down by the dictator Joseph Stalin and rebuilt after the fall of communism, mourners knelt before his open coffin, crossed themselves and kissed him goodbye.
Russian investigators have made no arrests in the Friday night killing, the first murder of an American journalist in the post-Soviet era and the first contract-style slaying of an American in Moscow in eight years.
Klebnikov's two older brothers said Wednesday that Russia could validate their dead sibling's faith in the country by finding his killers. "This is a wonderful opportunity for the Russian government to show the world it has turned the corner," Michael Klebnikov said at a news conference at the U.S. Embassy. "They have every incentive to demonstrate their competence."
The surviving Klebnikov brothers, Michael and Peter, dressed in identical black suits, spoke the fluent Russian of an exile family that never lost its connections here. Their family traces its history in Russia back 500 years, and Michael compared Paul to their illustrious ancestor, Ivan Pouschine, who was a friend of the poet Alexander Pushkin and was exiled to Siberia for his role in the failed 1825 rebellion known as the Decembrist uprising .
Paul Klebnikov, a graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, Yale University and the London School of Economics, spent much of his career reporting on Russia, often exploring the secretive world where money, power and violence intersect in the new Russia.
He became known for his exposés on the tycoons who emerged from the often corrupt and bloody introduction of capitalism in the 1990s. But lately, he had taken a more optimistic view. "He felt that the time of buccaneer capitalism had ended," Peter Klebnikov said.
Some admirers wondered whether that played into his downfall. "He was a Russian romantic," Boris Nemtsov, a pro-market political leader, said as he left the service. "Maybe he was too idealistic."
Nemtsov said President Vladimir Putin had ushered in a new era in which attacks on journalists have become increasingly common. "This is Putin capitalism, not bandit," he said. "This is KGB capitalism. Fourteen journalists were killed in Putin's time. They hate independence of press."
Vladimir Ustinov, Russia's prosecutor general, has taken over the investigation and attended Wednesday's service. But Putin has made no public comment on Klebnikov's death and, according to the family, sent no private condolences.
A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said Putin was "very sorry, and the fact that the case was taken by the prosecutor general shows that Russian authorities are paying a lot of attention to it."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Michael, right, and Peter Klebnikov kneel at the memorial service in Moscow for their brother Paul, who was shot four times on Friday after leaving work. Standing at center with a candle is U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow.
(Mikhail Metzel -- AP)