As was the case with the dozens of other murders of journalists in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, the murder of Anna Politkovskaya on October 7 has been followed by much speculation about the identity of those who ordered the investigative journalist’s murder and their motives for doing so. Sadly, given how few of these cases have been solved, the theories are likely to remain unconfirmed indefinitely.
Among the first—and perhaps most significant—comments about who may have killed Politkovskaya came from the newspaper where she worked—Novaya gazeta. In a special edition published on its website on October 9, the bi-weekly wrote that Politkovskaya’s murder was either an act of revenge by Ramzan Kadyrov, “whose activities she wrote and spoke much about,” or was 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 president.” Kadyrov turned 30, which is the Chechen constitution’s minimum age for a president of the republic, on October 5 (Chechnya Weekly, October 5). It should be noted that the comments about the killing being the work of either Kadyrov or his enemies was subsequently removed from the Novaya gazeta website.
In what was apparently her last interview—given to Kavkazky Uzel by telephone and also published on September 7, the day she was killed—Anna Politkovskaya raised doubts that Kadyrov would become president. Referring to the celebrations and other events connected to Kadyrov’s 30th birthday two days earlier, she told the website: “Despite the disgraceful on-goings arranged by journalists who went in large number to lick well-known places in Tsentoroi [the Kadyrovs’ ancestral village] and by all of our insane Russia VIP managers, who felt it an honor to mark the 30-year anniversary of one premier of a tiny republic, it seems to me that Kadyrov does not have particular prospects,” Politkovskaya told Kavkazky Uzel. “I cannot know whether Putin wants to make him president of Chechnya or not. But I think that this simply will not happen, for many reasons.”
Politkovskaya said in the Kavkazky Uzel interview that Kadyrov “simply craves” to become the head of Chechnya; that he “dreams about it.” As the website noted, the last several months saw a construction boom in Chechnya in which schools, roads, homes and fountains were built, and some facilities, including the Severny Airport in Grozny, were ceremonially opened on September 5, Kadyrov’s 30th birthday. Kadyrov said that the construction projects were carried out under his “personal control,” Kavkazky Uzel reported. Commenting on this in her interview with the website, Politkovskaya noted, “Personal control was expressed only in the sense that he forced other people at gunpoint, with threats, to pay for this construction, since it was not paid for from the federal budget. The main source of revenue for the Kadyrov budget is the extortion of everyone who can be fleeced, not only from businessmen, but also, for example, from all of officialdom. In Chechnya, it [the bureaucracy] is, of course, corrupt from top to bottom, as in the rest of our country. Every such official forked over huge sums from their income. It was calculated how much the official had stolen and was forced to pay. I will not name specific sums without documents. Currently, I have only copies of complaints to the prosecutor’s office from employees of the [Chechen] MChS [Emergency Situations Ministry], who were outraged by the fact that they each had been forced to fork over, out of their salary, 13,000 rubles [about US$480], which is the lion’s share of their salary.”
Politkovskaya also told Kavkazky Uzel: “This extortion involved such ridiculous things as compelling the officials to go to all of these idiotic concerts given in Gudermes by the stars of our stage. Or, for example, to buy to tickets to the beauty pageant [the “Miss Chechnya” was held on May 28, and the winner and two runners-up won cars provided by the Kadyrov Foundation]. An official was obligated to buy two or three tickets at prices that exceeded the real price by about four times. And they did this. Such ‘purchasers’—two deputy ministers—told me about this.”
In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russian service two days earlier on September 5, Politkovskaya said she was conducting an investigation into torture conducted “in Kadyrov’s prisons” and had photographs of two people who had been abducted by kadyrovtsy “for completely inexplicable reasons” and died after being “horribly tortured.” According to Politkovskaya, the victims—one of them Russian, the other Chechen—were made to look like rebel fighters who had been captured after a battle with kadyrovtsy in the village of Aleroi. These cases were included in the material Politkovskaya was working on for Novaya gazeta at the time of her death. The bi-weekly published the fragments of the unfinished articles in its October 12 edition, one of which included the photographs Politkovskaya referred to in her RFE/RL interview (see below).
In her RFE/RL interview, Politkovskaya called Kadyrov “a Stalin of our times” and predicted his downfall. “I link Kadyrov’s fate to the number of [people who want to take revenge on him], that’s all,” she said. “Of course, I don’t wish death on anyone, but as far as this particular person is concerned, I think he should take serious care of his security.” Further on in the interview, she called Kadyrov “a puppet” upon whom nothing now depends. “I don’t think he’s more powerful than anyone else,” she said. “He’s a coward armed to the teeth and surrounded by security guards. I do not think he will become president [of Chechnya]. That is my strong inner belief, perhaps an intuition. It is not something rational, and nor has it been confirmed by [Chechen President] Alu Alkhanov…Alu Alkhanov himself is a very weak person. That is his particular problem and the main reason for Kadyrov’s increasingly draconian methods. Personally, I only have one dream for Kadyrov’s birthday: I dream of him someday sitting in the dock, in a trial that meets the strictest legal standards, with all of his crimes listed and investigated.”
Politkovskaya concluded the RFE/RL interview by saying that criminal cases had been launched against the kadyrovtsy and Kadyrov on the basis of three articles published by Novaya gazeta. “I myself am a witness in one of these cases,” she said. “These cases are about abductions, including one criminal case about the abduction of two people carried out with the participation of Ramzan Akhmedovich Kadyrov.”
Ramzan Kadyrov denied involvement in Anna Politkovskaya’s murder during an October11 press conference in Grozny. “Chechens never engage in score settling [razborki] with women; for us, a woman is holy and no one is allowed to lay a hand on her,” Interfax quoted him as telling reporters. “And anyone who kills a woman is, in general, not a human being and does not believe in the Most High. I have not killed women and never will.” Kadyrov claimed Politkovskaya’s articles had not only failed to ruin his reputation, but had actually enhanced it, although he expressed doubts about the articles’ accuracy. “She released material on the basis of information received from the streets, the markets, from conversations with people,” Kadyrov said. “Certain forces constantly unfurl black PR around Kadyrov, and I am sure that not only are my personal enemies involved in this, but also the enemies of Russia.” He added, “I am sure that the appropriate competent organs will find and bring to justice those involved in the murder of Politkovskaya. And this must be done without fail because, regardless of whether she was a journalist or not, she was a woman, a mother, and her killers must not duck responsibility.”