Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 39

Regardless of one’s feeling about Chechnya’s prime minister and his human rights record, an argument can be made that it was not in Kadyrov’s interest to kill Anna Politkovskaya—at least not by means of an apparent contract murder carried out by a gunman in broad daylight in central Moscow just two days after Kadyrov’s birthday and political coming of age and on the birthday on President Vladimir Putin. Some observers have reported that while powerful officials in Moscow like deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vladislav Surkov support Kadyrov, influential figures in the federal Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB) back the current Chechen president, Alu Alkhanov, because they see him as “a man that they can control” (see “The Increasingly Deadly Struggle for Power between Kadyrov and Alkhanov,” Mayrbek Vachagaev, Chechnya Weekly, September 28). If this description of Kadyrov’s relationship with the federal authorities is accurate, it would have been illogical for him to give his enemies among the federal siloviki a powerful lever, like the blatant public murder of his chief critic, to be used against him—a lever that could be used, at a minimum, to thwart his presidential ambitions. One might conclude from this that Politkovskaya was murdered by, as Novaya gazeta itself put it, “those who want suspicions to fall on the current Chechen premier, who having passed the 30-year boundary, can aspire to the post of president.”

Other observers lean toward this theory or a variation of it. “In the Chechen premier’s entourage, it is said that the murder of Mrs. Politkovskaya, if it really was connected with her publications about the republic, were to the advantage, above all, of Ramzan Kadyrov’s enemies,” Kommersant wrote on October 9. “Those enemies—for example, former Chechen siloviki connected to the special services—having organized the murder of the journalist on President Putin’s birthday, are trying to discredit Ramzan Kadyrov in order to prevent his appointment as president of Chechnya. If you follow this logic, then the journalist Politkovskaya was picked as a victim because the entire country knew about her conflicts with the premier and his entourage. For that very reason, Ramzan Kadyrov was less interested than anyone else in the journalist’s death.”

Against this backdrop, it may be significant that during his October 11 press conference in Grozny, Ramzan Kadyrov not only repeated his insistence that he is not ready to assume Chechnya’s presidency—which some observers had previously dismissed as a tactical ploy (Chechnya Weekly, September 28 and August 17) —but had unusually warm words for Chechen President Alu Alkhanov. “I realize what kind of burden a president must take on in modern conditions, and internally I am not ready for that,” Vremya novostei on October 12 quoted Kadyrov as saying. “Alkhanov is a wise person. But there are people in his entourage who are interested in introducing discord into our relations.” Kadyrov said that he nonetheless had “good” working relations with Alkhanov—“the kind that should be between a president and chairman of the government.”

Other observers have suggested that those who murdered Anna Politkovskaya were aiming not only at Kadyrov, but also at his patrons in the Kremlin. “It is no secret that among the Chechens collaborating with the federal authorities there are those who feel deadly enmity toward Kadyrov,” Geidar Dzhemal, chairman of the Islamic Committee of Russia, wrote on website on October 8. “Some of them may have been in Moscow on business lately. And it is understood that they could be a handy instrument for the organizers of the [Politkovskaya] murder. In reality, even Kadyrov himself was not the target in this case. One way or another, the target for discrediting is that part of the [Kremlin] administration with whom Kadyrov is connected. That is why the murder of Politkovskaya is a move in the internal war that is tearing apart the ‘vertical of power’ created by the Kremlin.”

Komsomolskaya pravda on October 9 quoted Valeria Novodvorskaya, the Soviet-era dissident and head of the Democratic Union party, as saying that it was “obvious” Politkovskaya’s murder was ordered by what she called “Kremlin & Lubyanka and Co.” Novodvorskaya added, “And I would not connect the murder of Politkovskaya with Kadyrov. He has not yet become so impudent as to act beyond the borders of Chechnya. Ramzan, of course, is happy about her death, but that gift was not for his birthday.”

Komsomolskaya pravda on October 9 also quoted Novaya gazeta columnist Yulia Latynina. “The murder of an opposition journalist on the birthday of the president and immediately after the 30th birthday of Ramzan Kadyrov (for whom Politkovskaya was a principled enemy) would not be called a gift,” Latynina said. “It is a powerful blow by those who are used to deciding all issues with special operations. I think that someone seriously set up Putin and the Chechen premier. That ‘someone’ wanted to kill two birds with one stone. First, to prevent Kadyrov’s election as Chechen president (the murder signals to the authorities—look, do you want this kind of a head for Chechnya?). Secondly, to force the president to run for a third term. The expectation [being] that after several such shameful murders, Russia may remain in international isolation and Putin will make that forced step—to run for election again.”

Another possibility cited in Russian media is that fringe ultra-nationalists murdered Anna Politkovskaya. on October 10 noted that she was in a list of “enemies of the Russian people and Russian statehood” that was drawn up in March 2006 by Nikolai Kuryanovich, a State Duma deputy from Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). According to the website, similar lists appeared on “national-fascist websites” that also made direct threats against their enemies. Earlier this year, the Union of Right Forces (SPS) asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate “execution lists” drawn up by extremist groups that included the names, addresses and telephone numbers of leading human rights activists, journalists and other public figures.