Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 41

Kommersant reported on October 25 that investigators believe former officers of an Interior Ministry unit from Siberia’s Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous Okrug, which had been deployed in Chechnya, were involved in the October 7 murder of Novaya gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya (Chechnya Weekly, October 12). Politkovskaya published an article in September 2001 accusing officers from the regional Department of Internal Affairs (UVD) in the city of Nizhnevartovsk of committing various human rights abuses while stationed in Chechnya. In particular, she accused Sergei Lapin, a senior lieutenant from the Nizhnevartovsk UVD’s criminal investigation department, known by his nickname “Kadet,” along with two of his superiors, Major Aleksandr Prilepin and Colonel Valery Minin, of complicity in the January 2001 abduction and murder of Grozny resident Zelimkhan Murdalov. In subsequent articles, she accused these and other members of the Nizhnevartovsk unit of murdering a number of other Chechen civilians. Novaya gazeta subsequently received an email death threat signed by “Kadet” and Politkovskaya fled to Austria for a time (The Monitor, October 18, 2001).

Nizhnevartovsk authorities brought charges against Lapin in 2002, but later dropped them. However, he was tracked down by the authorities after years in hiding and charged with various crimes related to Zelimkhan Murdalov’s disappearance and murder, including “intentional infliction of serious harm to health under aggravating circumstances.” Lapin was found guilty in March 2005 and sentenced to 11 years in prison. According to Kommersant, Prilepin and Minin, who are still wanted by the authorities, were recently spotted in Nizhnevartovsk. The Moscow Times on October 26 quoted a Nizhnevartovsk police spokeswoman as confirming that a team of investigators from the Prosecutor General’s Office had arrived in the Siberian city a week earlier to pursue the investigation into Politkovskaya’s slaying.

Novaya gazeta deputy chief editor Sergei Sokolov told Ekho Moskvy radio on October 23 that law-enforcement authorities had launched another criminal investigation, this one on the basis of an article that was published by Politkovskaya on March 20 in the bi-weekly. Politkovskaya’s article included her descriptions of and some clips from footage sent to her that was apparently shot by someone using a cell phone camera. One clip appeared to show the aftermath of a road accident involving a car belonging to Chechen siloviki and a Russian armored personnel carrier. Several Russian servicemen could be seen lying on the ground, apparently either dead or unconscious. The clip then showed, as Politkovskaya described it in the article, “people in Kadyrovite uniforms” beating another federal serviceman, who apparently had also been traveling in the APC, to the ground next to the other servicemen. “The crowd presses in, swinging with feet, fists, rifle butts,” Politkovskaya wrote. “Finally the crowd gives way. The bodies of the servicemen, sprawled on the dirty damp-clayey side of a Chechen road, remain lying motionless, facedown. One of the soldiers is kicked in the head; he doesn’t react—[he is] either dead or deeply unconscious.” Another clip showed a group of men wearing the camouflage uniforms of the Kadyrov-controlled Chechen security services forcing two men into the trunk of a car. Ramzan Kadyrov appeared to be among this group of uniformed men (Chechnya Weekly, March 23).

On October 24, Nezavisimaya gazeta quoted Acting Assistant Chechen Prosecutor Nadezhda Nazarova as saying that the republican prosecutor’s office was working on identifying the individuals who appeared in the video recordings that Politkovskaya wrote about, including the person described as resembling the Chechen prime minister. Nazarova told the newspaper that criminal proceedings have been instituted on the basis of the video recording back on April 24 under article 286 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code, which concerns officials exceeding their authority. According to Nazarova, the prosecutor’s office asked Novaya gazeta for the video files. “The republican prosecutor’s office apparatus investigated the case,” Nezavisimaya gazeta quoted her as saying. “The video recordings in question were examined, but there was no confirmation of Ramzan Kadyrov’s presence on them. Indeed, he could not have been on them anyway. There was no confirmation of the presence of members of his entourage on them either.” Nazarova added: “I cannot say whether or not Kadyrov was questioned. But even if he did not offer an explanation, witnesses questioned on the spot did.”

The newspaper further quoted Nazarova as saying: “In the files it says that personnel from the Nevsky Internal Affairs Ministry regiment—the regiment guarding the oil complex—were at the scene of the incident (the episode involving the abduction). The regiment is comprised of former members of Akhmad Kadyrov’s security staff, but at the time it was officially part of the republican Internal Affairs Ministry structure.” Since no individuals had been identified, Nazarova said, the case was “suspended” on June 24. “I cannot say whether the case will go any further,” she said. “I can officially say that work on identification of the individuals is still proceeding. The suspension of a case does not mean it has been closed.”

Meanwhile, the European Parliament on October 25 issued a non-binding resolution urging EU member states to give “serious thought” to their future relations with Russia in light of the Politkovskaya murder, the Associated Press reported. Earlier, on October 18, the president of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), Rene van der Linden, told a Moscow conference on democracy-building that he would demand from Russian officials that a thorough investigation into Politkovskaya’s murder be conducted, Reuters reported. Van der Linden was scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov while in Moscow.

On October 20, the international press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders asked the French government to strip President Vladimir Putin of the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor that President Jacques Chirac awarded him on September 22. “It beggars belief that Putin has been given one of the greatest honors France can bestow on a person,” the group said in a statement. “A total of 21 journalists have been murdered in Russia with almost total impunity since he became president. Chechnya is a black hole for news coverage. Putin waited 48 hours before making any comment about the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, one of the few journalists to cover the Chechen conflict, and then he chose to say ‘her impact on Russian political life was minimal’”

Reporters Without Borders also noted that the European Court of Human Rights has condemned Russia twice, most recently on October 12, when it ruled that Russia was responsible for the murder of five members of a Chechen family by federal forces—Khasmagomed Estamirov, Khozh-Akhmed Estamirov, Toita Estamirov, Khasan Estamirov and Said-Akhmed Masarov—in the suburbs of Grozny on February 5, 2000. As Reuters reported, the court ordered Russia to pay 220,000 euros ($275,700), to be shared between seven relatives of the victims, in moral damages and a further 7,751 euros to be shared between two of the seven in material damages.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the editors of Novaya gazeta and Anna Politkovskaya’s son, Ilya Politkovsky, in Moscow on October 21, during her official visit to the Russian capital.