Various theories have circulated regarding who might have murdered the journalist Anna Politkovskaya on October 7, and why. According to these, she was targeted by nationalist extremists, or by Russian military officers that she had named in connection with human rights abuses in Chechnya, or by Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, whose alleged abuses she had chronicled in great detail. Two days after her murder, the website of Politkovskaya’s newspaper, Novaya gazeta, said it was either an act of revenge by Kadyrov or carried out by “those who want suspicions to fall on the current Chechen premier, who, having passed the 30-year old boundary, can aspire to the post of [Chechen] president” (Novayagazeta.ru, October 9). Kadyrov turned 30 — the Chechen constitution’s minimum age for a president of the republic — on October 5. However, the comments about the murder being the work of either Kadyrov or his enemies were subsequently removed from the Novaya gazeta website. Putin himself, meanwhile, suggested the murder was connected to exiled opponents of his government who wanted to blacken its — and Russia’s — reputation. A pro-Kremlin newspaper was more explicit, suggesting that former Yukos official Leonid Nevzlin and Boris Berezovsky — exiled in Israel and Britain, respectively — were somehow involved (Izvestiya, October 9).
Another line of thinking – towards which Novaya gazeta may now be leaning — is that Politkovskaya was the victim of a Kremlin power struggle connected to Russia’s 2008 presidential election and the issue of Putin remaining in power beyond his second and final constitutionally mandated presidential term. (Putin himself, it should be noted, has repeatedly said he will not amend Russia’s constitution to permit a third presidential term.) On one side is a group of what might be called “pragmatists” (relatively speaking) who support maintaining procedural democracy, at least formally, and are seeking to pick a successor to Putin. (Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who chairs the board of Gazprom, is widely seen as the front-runner to succeed Putin, followed by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Other potential Putin successors reportedly include Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin, Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Sobyanin, and St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko.)
The other group, widely referred to as the siloviki, is said to include deputy Kremlin chief of staff Igor Sechin, a KGB veteran who also chairs the board of the Rosneft state oil company; Federal Security Service (FSB) Chairman Nikolai Patrushev (Kommersant reported on September 13 that Patrushev’s son, Andrei, had been made an adviser to Sechin on Rosneft’s board); and deputy Kremlin chief of staff Viktor Ivanov, another KGB veteran, who is also chairman of Aeroflot The siloviki apparently have no candidate to succeed Putin and actually want him to remain in office to ensure that they retain their power and property.
Yet, in a move widely seen as aimed against the siloviki, Putin this past June fired Prosecutor General Dmitry Ustinov, whose son is married to Sechin’s daughter (EDM, June 5). While Ustinov was subsequently made justice minister, the siloviki undoubtedly viewed his sacking as a hostile act and a threat.
The siloviki, some observers believe, are fighting back. “The political situation in the country is being determined today by a fight between two groups: supporters of a third term and its opponents,” chess master and opposition activist Garry Kasparov wrote on his website on October 5. “Those forces that connect their future with Putin’s departure, and thus with the possible reapportionment of the political balance and redistribution of property, are, to all appearances, yielding their positions to those who cannot envision their political and financial well-being after the current president’s departure. Putin can leave only if he personally makes a firm decision to do so. But making a decision is alien to the very mindset of the current president, who always prefers to remain above the fray, even when the situation demands his direct participation. This traditional passivity of Putin in the question of his presidency can ultimately lead to the victory of forces aiming to keep him at the top of the vertical [hierarchy] of power. This group’s advantage consists in the fact that they are staking on the current president, while the supporters of change, belonging to various bureaucratic clans, cannot put forward one leader, who would be ready to replace Putin. The ‘anti-Putinites’ are not consolidated and will most likely give way to the ‘third-termers’ in the apparatus battles.”
Kasparov added: “All of the most recent events, from the public aggression against Georgia to the hyperactivity of the DPNI [Movement Against Illegal Immigration], logically fit into the idea of a total incitement of international and inter-ethnic tension. Artificial support of hysteria in society and a harsh reaction to any activities of the opposition that is stepping forward under democratic, anti-Putin, and anti-bureaucratic slogans are needed only to replace the alternative of ‘Putin or democracy’ with ‘Putin or fascism and chaos’ ” (Kasparov.ru, October 5).
Two days after Kasparov’s analysis was published, Politkovskaya was murdered, and some analysts quickly linked her killing to the issue of a third Putin term. One of them, Novaya gazeta columnist Yulia Latynina, was quoted as saying the murder had two aims — to prevent Ramzan Kadyrov from becoming Chechnya’s president (reportedly the FSB oppose his ambitions), and to keep Russia “in international isolation” and thereby force Putin “to run for election again” (Komsomolskaya pravda, October 9).
Meanwhile, Novaya gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov wrote in reference to Putin’s now-infamous comment that Politkovskaya’s murder had caused his government greater harm than her articles: “The president, it appears, understands that it [the murder] is a blow not only to Anna’s children, sister, mother [and] family — to us [the newspaper] — but also to him. But I don’t know whether he imagines precisely from what side. I also don’t know whether a ‘Third Term Party’ exists now in the country. One that is ready — at any price, for the preservation of their businesses — to make the president an unacceptable figure to the world community and, in that case, capable, as a ‘Lukashenko’, of remaining for any term” (Novaya gazeta, October 16).