Who Ordered Russia’s Most Famous Investigative Journalist Murdered?
MOSCOW — Ten years ago someone ordered the murder of crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya on October 7, 2006, the birthday of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Over the last week, bouquets of flowers have piled up outside the offices of her paper, Novaya Gazeta, on Moscow’s Potapovsky Avenue. There’s a little memorial there to Anya, as her friends and colleagues knew her. The motif is designed around pages torn from a notebook. One bears her sad, intelligent face looking at visitors if asking: “Who did this to me?”
Who financed her killing? And why do those who plotted her murder continue to live unpunished after the crime? Each and every reporter working at Novaya Gazeta today feels responsible for answering that question.
“Even 10 years later we at Novaya Gazeta have different versions about the mastermind of Anya’s assassination, but our newspaper cannot replace the state investigation. We have no resources to question all the suspects we have, including state officials, one head of a Russian region, and several military officers,” Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov told The Daily Beast.
By “one head of a Russian region” Muratov meant the leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, suspected by many Russians of ordering several assassinations, including the murder of human rights defender Natalia Estemirova, kidnapped in the Chechen capital of Grozny in 2009, and the assassination of the Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, shot in the back just outside the Kremlin wall on February 27, 2015.
After Russia’s decade-long war with Chechnya, Kadyrov, a close Putin ally, provided the Kremlin with his people’s loyalty, but no state investigators ever dared to actually question Kadyrov about any of the assassinations.
It is hard to pin down the truth in today’s Russia. And it was hard to do that 10 years ago, when Politkovskaya packed up her bags and took off to report on human rights abuses, murders, abductions and torture practiced by both the Russian military and the federal security service, FSB, in the republics of the Northern Caucasus.
Often acting as a human rights defender, she pushed hard for the punishment of guilty perpetrators, and sometimes she succeeded. In September 2001 Novaya Gazeta published her articles with a headline “Disappearing People” blaming Russian policemen working in Chechnya for murdering peaceful residents. In 2005. a Russian court convicted one of the police officers from Politkovskaya’s investigative report to 11 years in prison.
Politkovskaya’s career was full of terrifying moments. She was detained, beaten, threatened and even poisoned in the field by those who wanted to silence her.
Her long-time friend Svetlana Gannushkina, the chair of the Civil Assistance committee in Moscow, remembers how glamorous, serious and even sometimes cold Anya was before reporting stories in Chechnya.
Then, in 2002, Politkovskaya joined a group of Moscow officials and human rights defenders traveling around refugee camps in Chechnya and Ingushetia.
Moscow wanted refugees to return to their homes ruined by war, and that was supposed to be the story, but following the trip, Gannushkina recalls, “I looked at Anya and saw how much the war’s atrocities changed her. She was skinny, heartbroken, all the glamour of a Moscow famous prime-reporter was completely gone.”
“Anya risked her life again and again digging out the truth for its own sake, to have a right to live with dignity,” Gannushkina said. “Today there are many cowards in power who know the truth about Politkovskaya’s murder, but they have no dignity and are covering up the truth.”
Two years ago five men—Rustam Makhmudov, the gunman who shot Politkovskaya dead, his two brothers, their uncle and former policeman Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, who admitted tracking down Anya for her assassins—were found guilty and sentenced to long prison terms.
But who sent them to kill the journalist in the first place? That remains one of Russia’s key secrets. All Politkovskaya’s employer, Novaya Gazeta, could do at this point was to shake up the Kremlin and Russia, reminding them of the shameful murder and demand the truth.