Members of a delegation from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) who were in Moscow this week to push for more aggressive investigations into the murder of Russian journalists, and particularly Anna Politkovskaya, raised eyebrows when they claimed they were told by Foreign Ministry officials that Chechen policemen were being investigated for the crime. “Russia’s prosecutor general has opened a criminal investigation into several police officials in Chechnya who may have killed reporter Anna Politkovskaya because she was about to publish an article alleging their involvement in torture,” CPJ stated in a press release posted on the group’s website (CPJ.org) on January 23. “The information was disclosed to a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists in a meeting on Monday with Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov.”
The Moscow Times reported on January 24 that the CPJ officials said during a press conference in the Russian capital the previous day that Malakhov, who is the Foreign Ministry’s deputy spokesman, had told them about the probe of the Chechen police during a meeting on January 22. The English-language newspaper quoted Nina Ognianova, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, as saying that the meeting with Malakhov was in English and that the ministry’s statement was put in such unambiguous terms that clarification was not required. “We reported to you what we heard: that the Prosecutor General’s Office has launched a criminal investigation into several Chechen police officers,” Ognianova said, adding that Malakhov said he had obtained the information directly from the Prosecutor General’s Office. “We were just pleased to hear the investigation was making progress,” she said. Paul Steiger, managing editor of the Wall Street Journal and CPJ board chairman, said he had asked the Foreign Ministry officials to confirm their statement, which they did. CPJ executive director Joel Simon said the ministry officials had stressed that Chechen police involvement was just one of several theories being pursued by investigators.
Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Boris Malakhov subsequently denied that he had told the CPJ representatives about a possible Chechen police role in Politkovskaya’s killing. “Absolutely nothing like that was said at the meeting,” the Moscow Times quoted him as saying in a telephone interview on January 23. “I don’t know where they got that information from.” Instead, he said he had told the CPJ delegation that prosecutors in Chechnya were investigating a link between Politkovskaya’s last article, about torture in the region and her death.
Interfax, meanwhile, quoted the Chechen Interior Ministry as saying on January 23 that it had no information that any of its officers were in any way involved in Politkovskaya’s murder. Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, for his part, called reports about the possible involvement of Chechen Interior Ministry personnel in Politkovskaya’s murder “a carefully planned provocation.” Interfax quoted him as saying reports that a criminal case had been opened against two Chechen Interior Ministry employees on suspicion of involvement in Politkovskaya’s murder were also untrue. “Anna Politkovskaya was a journalist – a person of a peaceful profession – and Chechen policemen do not wage war against peaceful people; their task is to fight terrorists, members of illegal armed formations [and] Wahhabis, and they cope with that task successfully,” Kadyrov said. Still, as Kommersant noted on January 24, Kadyrov also ordered the Chechen Interior Ministry’s leadership to “liven up” its battle against so-called “werewolves in epaulettes” – the term coined in 2003 by then Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov for corrupt and criminal law-enforcement officers. According to Kommersant, Kadyrov ordered the ministry officials to report to him on their efforts in this area no later than February 18.