A reporter for a suburban Moscow paper was beaten up Monday, two days after another Moscow journalist was bludgeoned on the head, arms and legs in a brutal attack that was captured on video and has caused a national uproar.
No motivation for either attack has been determined, but both men wrote about efforts to stop developers from cutting down trees in forests around Moscow to build highways. In addition, an opposition activist also trying to protect the Khimki forest near Moscow had his skull fractured in assault last week.
Road construction is considered one of the most corrupt sectors in Russia, offering huge profits to the businesses and officials involved who may see the journalists and activists as a direct threat to their bank accounts.
Police in the Moscow suburb of Zhukovsky said they were investigating the attack on Anatoly Adamchuk by two men outside his weekly newspaper office early Monday. Adamchuk was hospitalized with a concussion, a colleague wrote on the website of the paper, Zhukovskiye Vesti.
Kommersant reporter Oleg Kashin was beaten so badly early Saturday that he had to be put into a drug-induced coma, suffering a head injury, a shattered jaw and a broken leg. His hands were so mangled that a joint of his left pinky was missing.
"The United States condemns the attack on" on Kashin, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington on Monday, "and calls on Russian authorities to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice."
Russia has seen a wave of assaults on journalists and activists, and in most cases the perpetrators are never found. President Dmitry Medvedev, who has promised to crack down on corruption and strengthen the rule of law, has ordered that Kashin's attackers be found and punished. On Monday he said it was clear that Kashin was attacked for his work.
"It's not the way wallets usually get stolen," Medvedev said on television.
Kommersant, which focuses on business and politics, is one of Russia's major mainstream papers.
Kashin's wife, Yevgeniya Milova, said doctors are being extremely cautious in their prognosis. "We have no idea how long he will remain in a coma," she said on television.
Security camera footage posted Monday on YouTube purportedly shows the horrific attack on Kashin, who was jumped by two men outside his apartment building when he came home.
The grainy video appears to show a man with a bouquet of flowers punching Kashin in the face. A second man emerges from the shadows and the two pound the journalist with at least 50 blows, some with an unidentified weapon. The attackers leave in a hurry and the man on the ground tries to stand up but falls back to the ground.
Kashin had written on a wide range of issues, but among the more contentious was the efforts by environmentalists and opposition activists to protect the Khimki forest from being cleared for a new highway. Medvedev in August ordered the highway construction suspended, but there has been no final decision on the fate of the highway.
If the highway project is killed or if the road is built elsewhere, those who have invested in the project stand to lose out financially. The Khimki administration may also need to compensate investors.
Kommersant editor-in-chief Mikhail Mikhailin said Monday that he suspects the attack on Kashin is connected with the Khimki forest controversy.
"If you look at the particular style and brutality of the attack, it could be connected with this," Mikhailin said.
Khimki journalist Mikhail Beketov, who was among the first to raise public awareness about the forest, was severely beaten in 2008.
The successes of the Khimki campaign have inspired similar efforts, including one in Zhukovsky, where another highway is planned through a forest.
Adamchuk's newspaper has published critical reports about the construction plans, and last week Adamchuk wrote about schoolchildren who were detained by police after tying ribbons around trees in the forest. A rally to protest the highway construction is planned for Sunday in Zhukovsky.
Kashin's most obvious connection to the Khimki controversy was an interview he did in August with an anonymous blogger who claimed to head a group that ransacked the Khimki administration building in July.
The Kremlin youth group Molodaya Gvardiya, or Young Guard, took exception to the interview at the time, saying journalists should turn in criminals rather than interview them. The headline of the youth group's website article was "Traitor Journalists Must Be Punished!"
After Kashin was attacked, the group rejected any suspicions it was involved, posting a note expressing its "extreme sorrow" at the "barbarous attack."
"There is a civilized political battle and then there is out-and-out criminality ... we call upon everybody to understand this," the note said.
Associated Press writers David Nowak and Lynn Berry in Moscow and Desmond Butler in Washington contributed to this report.