The “Unsolved” Case - The Fate of Antonio Russo
09 July, 2015
The “Unsolved” Case - The Fate of Antonio Russo
If published in the West, Russo’s footage would have been disastrous for Russia. The journalist wanted to do precisely that...

On September 25, 2000, a large international congress was held in Tbilisi, chaired by the Green Party. 40-year-old Italian journalist
Antonio Russo was the man of the hour, having presented the public with shocking materials showcasing the events that were taking place in Chechnya. If published in the West, his footage would have been disastrous for Russia. The journalist wanted to do precisely that, saying that he would take his video recordings and eyewitness accounts to the UN and other international institutions.

“It looked as if a herd of wild animals had stampeded inside the flat; everything was turned upside down. Antonio was nowhere to be found; a golden chain he wore lay on the floor, broken.”

Immediately upon the meeting’s conclusion, Georgian Foreign Ministry received a note of protest from Russia. Apparently, the subjects broached at the congress were “deeply concerning” for the Kremlin. Antonio Russo, an influential member of the Transnational Radical Party and a military reporter for “Radio Radicale”, knew nothing about this and went about his business as usual. Before arriving to the Caucasus, he worked in many of the world’s hotspots, providing reports on warfare going on there.
Antonio knew that the only way to get into Chechnya without ending up in any Special Services’ sights was through Georgia. This was the reason why he came to Tbilisi in 1999 – precisely at the time when approximately 10 000 Chechen refugees entered Georgia, fleeing the war in Chechnya. Most of them settled in Pankisi Gorge next to Kists, their distant relatives. Antonio immediately headed there, quickly finding common ground with both the local Kists and the refugees, befriending many of them; he even made oaths of brotherhood with a few in the village of Jokolo. It was were the refugees wgeotv.geho provided him with information of ethnic cleansing that was going on in the Caucasus. As he claimed, he also ventured into Chechnya twice himself, but did not stay there for long.

“Refugees have provided him with a video tape that contained candidly filmed footage from Grozny – black market surgeries and testimonies of children who survived them. “

Antonio planned to leave Georgia for Europe on October 17, three weeks after the congress in Tbilisi. Guram Nikoladze, owner of the apartment he stayed in, remembers these days quite well: “Antonio told me once that there would be a grand meeting in Paris on Tuesday and that he planned to present the footage he collected about Chechnya there. I liked this guy; we quickly became friends since the day he rented my apartment. He was brave and kind, and loved Georgia a lot.”
Prior to Antonio’s departure to France, his Georgian friends decided to take him to the town of Mirzaani to attend a folk festival “Pirosmanoba”. They came for him at 9 in the morning, but no one opened the door when they knocked. They tried the handle and discovered that the door wasn’t locked: “We all got a very nasty feeling upon seeing this and decided not to go in; instead, we called Antonio’s landlord, Guram Nikoladze, waited for him to come and entered the apartment together. It looked as if a herd of wild animals had stampeded inside; everything was turned upside down. Antonio was nowhere to be found; a golden chain he wore lay on the floor, broken. It was clear that something really bad happened here. We looked around the rooms and noticed that Antonio’s laptop in which he kept all the footage was gone, along with a dozen or so videotapes that used to always be heaped in front of the TV.”
His body was found in the morning of October 16, at the side of Gombori road, 27 kilometers from Tbilisi. According to forensic experts, he was purposefully run over by a car several times.

Italy was on the verge of officially accusing Russia of murdering an Italian journalist and politician, which would have caused a political scandal of great magnitude.

Russo’s murder has caused a massive outrage in Italy. Many politicians and journalists alike were (and still remain) convinced that this was the work of Russians. The public demanded that the case be solved immediately. Italian Prosecutor’s Office delved into the murder alongside the Georgian investigation; an elite Italian law enforcement cell DIGOS (Divisione Investigazioni Generali e Operazioni Speciali) was tasked with getting to the bottom of it all. DIGOS immediately sent two of its finest investigators, Lorenzo Trouzzi and Leonardo Biagioli, to Tbilisi. They returned to Rome in two weeks, with the media claiming that they had picked up the trail of Russian secret services. Italy was on the verge of officially accusing Russia of murdering an Italian journalist and politician, which would have caused a political scandal of great magnitude. But in a move that came as a complete surprise, Trouzzi and Biagioli suddenly absolved themselves of responsibility for the case, withdrew from the investigation and accepted demotion. This essentially marked the end of official inquiry into Antonio Russo’s murder case.
As Marco Pannella, current leader of the Transnational Radical Party told us, he could have provided the investigation with a lot of useful information: “I talked to Antonio several times before his death and had well-founded suspicions about this whole affair, but neither the Prosecutor’s Office nor the courts gave me an opportunity to voice them. It was obvious that they did not want the truth to be established. Even many years after Antonio’s death, most of Italy’s high-ranking officials avoid discussing this subject. Some of them told me honestly in private conversations that they were simply afraid of the influential people who prevented and still prevent investigation of Russo’s murder case. To my questions about who these “influential people” are, they only smiled meaningfully in response. And this is happening in Italy, the heart of Europe, one of the EU’s leading countries.”

“I talked to him a few days before his death. He was crying; I could not calm him down. He told me that he has procured a video recording of Russian surgeons killing kids in one of Grozny’s hospitals,” recalls Beatrice Russo, Antonio’s mother.”

Attempts by Georgian investigators to uncover the truth behind the journalist’s murder turned out to be even more dramatic than those of their Italian colleagues. Two Georgian investigators died in suspicious circumstances while on the case: One committed suicide and the other succumbed to what looked like food poisoning. Both of them were young and healthy individuals. It has not been established to this day whether their deaths were connected to the case they were investigating. Who knows, it might have merely been a strange coincidence (!).
The world’s media also claimed that Antonio planned to accuse Russia of not only ethnic cleansing of Chechens, but also of ecocide: According to information he uncovered, Russians searched for Chechen partisan hideouts by spraying forests with unidentified white chemical from the air. This chemical, a powerful defoliant, completely destroyed the forests’ greenery within hours. Russians’ “dirty bombardments” have dealt the region’s ecosystem a grievous blow from which it still hasn’t recovered. In addition, Russian Cancer Research Center’s statistics show that in the entirety of post-Soviet space, the region of Chechnya has the highest prevalence of oncological diseases.
Antonio also was among the first who uncovered information about organ trafficking in Chechnya. Refugees have provided him with a video tape that contained shocking footage from Grozny – black market surgeries and testimonies of children who survived them.
“I talked to him a few days before his death. He was crying; I could not calm him down. He told me that he has procured a video recording of Russian surgeons killing kids in one of Grozny’s hospitals,” recalls Beatrice Russo, Antonio’s mother.
The video cassette that contained the recording has vanished without trace when Antonio’s apartment got raided. There exists a reasonable suspicion that it was filmed by the same people who killed him. Beatrice, together with Russo’s fellow party members, arrived in Tbilisi on October 20 of 2000, hoping to find the cassette in a hidden stash somewhere in the apartment. They searched every inch of the place, but couldn’t find anything.
The assassins came to Russo at night. Presumably, one of them was an acquaintance of his and let them in. But there also exists another version of how they gained entry: Several days prior to his death, Russo lost the keys to his apartment in what most likely was a deliberate theft. Nikoladze Street, where he stayed, is located in one of Tbilisi’s central, densely populated districts, but the attack was conducted so quickly and quietly that not even Russo’s next door neighbors heard anything. It is obvious that the abduction and subsequent murder was done by professionals.
The question remains, however: Why did they abduct the journalist if they were going to kill him? The most reasonable hypothesis was that they wanted to interrogate Russo, which could not be done inside the apartment.
Even though Antonio Russo’s body was found at the roadside, he clearly was not killed there. In 2000, there was a police station located within 200 meters of that place, with at least 4 policemen being on night duty there. It is obvious that the journalist was murdered elsewhere and his body was then dumped on the road that connects Tbilisi and Pankisi Gorge - the culprits probably wanted Chechen refugees or Kists to be blamed.
Another noteworthy fact is that in 2000, there was a location within a few kilometers of the spot where Russo’s body was found that was off-limits to Georgian citizens and even high-ranking officials. This place is called Vaziani, and back then it served as a major Russian military base. Many special operations against Georgian statehood were carried out from there, and it was most likely the place where abducted Antonio Russo was tortured and killed.
One day, even this tough murder case may be solved, but will nevertheless remain just a single entry in the long list of atrocities Russia committed and keeps committing in the Caucasus while the civilized world lazily watches.

Author: Mikheil Cherkezia
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