Anna Politkovskaya Murder: Apathy Permeates the Russian Authorities

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 155

From left, Ilya Politkovsky, son of Anna Politkovskaya, Karinna Moskalenko, center, a lawyer who represented Politkovskaya's family at the trial, and Sergei Sokolov, chief editor of Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

On August 10 the family of the celebrated murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who covered human rights abuses in Chechnya, issued a statement condemning a Moscow court’s decision to refuse to reopen the investigation and to merge it with the main case, (designed to find the mastermind behind the murder). Politkovskaya’s daughter Vera Politkovskaya and son Ilya Politkovsky said that a retrial of the suspects was of secondary importance since the poorly investigated case would only be a show. They refused to attend the trial, which might otherwise have provided unnecessary legitimacy. "The story of the nearly three year investigation has ultimately become a farce, and an attempt to distract public attention from the main question: "who was behind the murder?" The statement summed up the authorities’ attitude as "complete non-interest in solving the crime" (Novaya Gazeta, August 10).

Anna Politkovskaya worked with Novaya Gazeta, investigating the crimes and human rights abuses of the federal and Moscow-installed authorities in Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia. An outspoken critic of Moscow’s brutalities in Chechnya and Vladimir Putin’s consolidation of power in Russia, Politkovskaya was murdered on the steps of her apartment on October 7, 2006. Investigations identified several Chechen suspects as well as a Federal Security Service (FSB) colonel who might have been involved in the killing, but a jury cleared all suspects in February 2009 (, August 5).

One former colleague of Politkovskaya and a well-known Russian political analyst Yulia Latynina pointed out that some of the first trial’s jury members were biased. Indeed, they told her in private conversations, that they had not even considered that an FSB colonel and police officer could have been involved in any crime. Latynina explained that the court’s reluctance to allow further investigations by the authorities was due to the fear that the identities of the people who were really behind the murder might be exposed (Ekho Moskvy radio, August 8).

Meanwhile, according to the Politkovskaya family lawyer, Karina Moskalenko, the European Court of Human Rights will soon hear the case in Strasbourg. Moskalenko said that Politkovskaya’s family appealed to the court in Strasbourg in April 2007 based on the ineffectiveness of the investigation, the absence of any willingness to conduct a proper investigation and the breach of the victim’s rights. The court hearing in Moscow will resume on September 7 (Caucasian Knot, August 7).

Politkovskaya’s murder investigation did not start well. The then President Vladimir Putin famously stated that the award-winning journalist, who reported on human rights abuses in Chechnya, "brought more damage to Russia by her death, than by her work" (, October 11, 2006). Putin’s statement meant that the authorities regarded Politkovskaya as an enemy and her death was beneficial to them. This attitude may have contributed to the inadequate investigation of her murder, but also to the subsequent killings of two of Politkovskaya’s close colleagues, Natalya Estemirova and Stanislav Markelov. Markelov was a lawyer working on Chechen cases in Moscow where he was killed in January. Estemirova worked as a human rights activist and journalist in Grozny until July when she was kidnapped and found dead shortly afterwards.

In a similar manner to the way Putin had once tried to diminish the importance of Politkovskaya’s work and death, the President of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov attacked Natalya Estemirova. In an exclusive interview with Radio Liberty he questioned the widespread version of his involvement in Estemirova’s killing: "Why should Kadyrov kill a woman that nobody needs? She had no honor, dignity or conscience" (RFE/RL, August 9). Kadyrov unwittingly confirmed the vulnerability of any human rights defender and independent journalist working in Chechnya.

Even though the Politkovskaya murder suspects are all ethnic Chechens, there is one policeman among them and one ethnic Russian, an FSB colonel accused of providing critical informational support for the gang. It is not difficult to recognize the principal side in this improvised union of the FSB and the ethnic Chechens. The scheme in Politkovskaya’s murder – using Chechens as a shield to cover up the FSB’s involvement – may in fact provide clues to other notorious cases of how Chechen activists and refugees were killed in Europe and elsewhere over the past few years. The pattern is clear, first the scheme is tried out internally within Russia, and once it proves viable it is exported abroad. This also highlights that foreign actors should be interested in a proper investigation of the Politkovskaya murder, not only based on human rights, but also to avoid importing crimes from Russia.