MOSCOW-- A reporter for a major Russian newspaper was left in a coma Saturday after two men smashed his head, legs and fingers in an attack that prosecutors believe was linked to his work.

Two unidentified attackers were waiting for Oleg Kashin, 30, when he returned to his apartment in central Moscow just after midnight, neighbors and prosecutors said.

Colleagues at the Kommersant newspaper said Kashin was beaten so badly that he suffered a concussion and fractures to his upper and lower jaw and both lower legs. After an operation, doctors put him into an artificial coma.

The beating was the latest in a wave of attacks on journalists and activists in Russia. Since 2000, at least 18 killings of journalists have gone unsolved, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Kremlin, however, seemed determined to show that this assault would be treated differently. President Dmitry Medvedev ordered Russia's prosecutor general and interior minister to oversee the investigation and all of Russia's national television networks, which are under direct or indirect Kremlin control, led their news programs with the attack.

"The criminals should be found and punished," Medvedev wrote in Twitter.

Investigators were examining footage from a video surveillance camera outside Kashin's apartment building, said Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the investigators, confirming that the journalist's work was a likely motive for the attack.

Kashin's editor, Mikhail Mikhailin, said he had no doubt that the attack was retaliation for Kashin's reporting.

"They broke his fingers," Mikhailin told Ekho Moskvy radio. "It is completely obvious that the people who did this did not like what he was saying and what he was writing. What specifically they did not like, I don't know, but I firmly connect this with his professional activities."

Mikhailin said Kashin was investigating "informal organizations" but gave no specifics. This could refer to anything from neo-Nazis to environmentalists.

Kashin's wife, Yevgenia Milova, said he had not received any threats, the Interfax news agency reported.

Kashin has written on a wide range of social and political issues, some politically sensitive, others not. His reporting appeared to be straightforward and balanced.

Yet among his more contentious reporting topics has been efforts by environmentalists and opposition activists to protect trees in the Khimki forest near Moscow from being cut down for a new highway. Medvedev in August ordered the construction suspended, but there has been no final decision on the fate of the highway.

The attack on Kashin came two days after an opposition activist, Konstantin Fetisov, had his skull fractured in an assault after being released from the Khimki police station, where he had been questioned about a protest.

"Two attacks in two days, it's a bit too much," said Andrei Mironov, a former Soviet dissident who rallied with about 20 others Saturday outside Moscow police headquarters to urge investigators to find Kashin's attackers.

In 2008, the editor of a Khimki newspaper who was among the first to raise public awareness about the forest was severely beaten and left crippled. As with most attacks on journalists in Russia, the perpetrators have never been found.

Vladimir Milov, a prominent opposition leader also at Saturday's rally, said if Medvedev was serious about stopping assaults on journalists and activists he needed to change the "atmosphere of hatred and aggression" that has encouraged the violence.

Milov described Kashin as an "exceptionally sincere and honest journalist."

NTV television on Saturday interviewed one of Kashin's neighbors, a woman identified only as Olga, who went outside as the ambulance arrived.

"He was covered in blood, his face was completely covered in blood, his legs," she said. "He showed his hand to the doctor so he could see it was all broken."

Yelena Pogrebizhskaya, a musician who lives next door to Kashin, wrote in her blog that a maintenance worker saw two men waiting for Kashin in the courtyard carrying a bouquet of flowers.