On May 17, 2001, Russian journalist Vladimir Kirsanov left his home to travel to his job as editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Kurganskiye Vesti in the Ural Mountains city of Kurgan, but never arrived. His body has not been found.
In March 2023, the Kurgan region’s Investigative Committee determined that Kirsanov was killed in direct connection to his journalism. Authorities charged two alleged members of a local criminal gang – Ivan Kurpishev and Aleksandr Shtinger – with his murder, according to news reports and a source familiar with the case who communicated with CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.
Kirsanov, 30, founded Kurganskiye Vesti in January 2001. He had been reporting on alleged criminal activities by local officials in Kurgan and had been threatened on numerous occasions, according to news reports and a report by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
The journalist’s friend Ivan Kamshilov told local news agency UralPolit.ru that Kurganskiye Vesti was the “only opposition newspaper in the city.” The last issue of the newspaper – except for a May 2002 update about the investigation into Kirsanov’s death — was published May 23, 2001, as the paper closed after he disappeared.
On the same day as his disappearance, someone used the journalist’s keys to break into his apartment and steal gold jewelry and 2,900 rubles (US$100), according to media reports. Kirsanov’s widow Larisa Chertova reported the burglary to the police later that day and her husband’s disappearance the following day.
Police found traces of Kirsanov’s blood in his garage and in the trunk of his car, which was parked near the newspaper’s office, according to news reports and the IFJ. Two weeks later, police found Kirsanov’s passport, military identity card, and press card on the bank of the Tobol River in Kurgan, according to those sources and Chertova, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Separate investigations into the journalist’s disappearance and burglary were briefly opened before the Kurgan regional prosecutor’s office combined them and took the case over on May 23, 2001, according to the IFJ. In January 2002, authorities suspended the investigation “due to the failure to identify the perpetrator of the crime,” according to media reports.
A mission to Kurgan by the global press freedom group Reporters Without Borders in March 2002 found “numerous” procedural violations in the investigation of Kirsanov’s case, saying authorities neglected to pursue leads indicating the killing had connections with his journalistic activity.
The Investigative Committee’s findings released in March 2023 said Kurpishev and Shtinger had been following Kirsanov since the beginning of 2001, and on May 17, the pair went to the journalist’s garage, killed him with a metal club, and took documents related to his professional activities, according to news reports and the person who spoke to CPJ.
Authorities also said they believed two now deceased gang members — Sergei Arakelov and Gennady Prokudin — assisted in removing Kirsanov’s body from the garage, moving his car near his workplace, and taking further actions to hide the original location of the killing, according to those sources.
Authorities detained Kurpishev and Shtinger in 2021 on suspicion of their involvement in the killing; on March 17, 2023, the Kurgan Regional Court extended their arrest until September 13, according to multiple news reports.
Kurpishev denied the accusations, calling the case “political” and claiming investigators pressured him to expose former Kurgan Governor Oleg Bogomolov as the murder’s mastermind, according to media reports. According to the results of forensic examinations conducted in 2021, Kurpishev and Shtinger left biological markings on the seat covers of Kirsanov’s car, media reported.
Kirsanov had written a pamphlet about Bogomolov, excerpts of which were published before and after his disappearance, according to news reports. The pamphlet discussed alleged corruption, the local economy, and some unflattering allegations about Bogomolov’s biography, according to mediareports.
Bogomolov has never been detained nor questioned in relation to Kirsanov’s disappearance, according to the person familiar with his case. That person said Shtinger was cooperating with authorities.
CPJ was unable to find contact information for Bogomolov, or for Kurpishev or Shtinger’s lawyers.
"He did what others were afraid to do [and] raised topics that everyone knew about but didn’t risk talking about,” Marina Kirsanova, Kirsanov’s niece and a Kurgan journalist, told UralPolit.ru. “He took a risk. And, more than that, he stood his ground, well aware of the outcome of his risk.”
“I am very much hoping that justice will prevail,” Chertova told CPJ in May 2023. “I have been waiting for this for 22 years.”
CPJ emailed the Russian Investigative Committee for the Kurgan region and the press service of Kurgan’s governor for comment but did not receive any responses.