Who Murdered Anna Politkovskaya?

Article published on July 2, 2014
Article published on July 2, 2014

The Moscow Court con­victed the five hit­men who car­ried out the mur­der of the Russ­ian jour­nal­ist, Anna Politkovskaya, but the mas­ter­mind re­mains un­pun­ished. Be­fore dying, the re­porter de­nounced threats she re­ceived from the Krem­lin be­cause of her in­ves­tiga­tive re­ports about the Sec­ond Chechen War.

The five al­leged hit­men of Anna Po­li­t­ko­v­ska­ya, the Russ­ian jour­nal­ist mur­dered eight years ago be­cause of her in­ves­tiga­tive re­port­ing in Chech­nya, have been found guilty. The per­pe­tra­tors were con­victed by the Moscow Court on June 9th. How­ever, the real rea­sons for the at­tack have not yet come to light, nor has the con­nec­tion be­tween the mur­der and the threats that the jour­nal­ist re­ceived be­fore 2006.

25 months be­fore her mur­der, Politkovskaya was threat­ened while on board a plane des­tined for the heart of the Cau­casus. 100 mi­nors were taken hostage at a school in Beslan, North Os­se­tia by Chechen sep­a­ratists. The of­fi­cial ver­sion of events, largely par­layed by Russ­ian media cov­er­ing the event, hid­ the real mo­tives be­hind the hostage tak­ing. In­stead, it was por­trayed as a spon­ta­neous kid­nap­ping that would be re­mem­bered as the Beslan School Mas­sacre for the 186 chil­dren and adults who were mas­sa­cred fol­low­ing the botched in­ter­ven­tion of Russ­ian agents. Anna Po­li­t­ko­v­ska­ya in­tended to go where the jour­nal­ists work­ing on be­half of the Krem­lin didn't dare.

Who tried to kill her on board the plane to Os­se­tia? On Sep­tem­ber 9th, 2004, the Guardian pub­lished Poi­soned by Putin, an article in which the jour­nal­ist ac­cused the top brass of the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment of or­der­ing the at­tempted at­tack.

Mur­dered on putin's birth­day

It would be three gun­shots that sen­tenced the jour­nal­ist to death. On Oc­to­ber 7th, 2006, as Vladimir Putin cel­e­brated his 54th birth­day, Anna Politkovskaya was mur­dered in the foyer of her home in Moscow. A group of five men set out to kill her, all of whom were later found guilty on June 9th in Moscow: Rus­tam Makhmoudov and Lom-Ali Gaituka­ev, re­spec­tively con­sid­ered the en­forcer and the ar­chi­tect of the mur­der, were sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment; two broth­ers and an ex-po­lice of­fi­cer were also con­victed for tak­ing part in the am­bush of the re­porter.

The pun­ish­ments were handed down after the Russ­ian Supreme Court threw out the first guilty ver­dict against the accused due to 'se­ri­ous pro­ce­dural flaws', while the Moscow Court sen­tenced an­other prime suspect of the mur­der. Dmitry Pavli­utchenkov, a for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer, was sen­tenced to hard labour for stalk­ing the jour­nal­ist and pro­viding the mur­der­ers with use­ful in­for­ma­tion that eventually helped them to or­ga­nise the am­bush.

For the mo­ment, only the ex-lieu­tenant colonel is the only prime sus­pect to be tried for the killing. After agree­ing to co­op­er­ate with the jus­tice sys­tem, news that the agent was ready to re­veal sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion on the case spurred interest from press around the world. How­ever, Pavli­utchenkov's ac­cu­sa­tions were designed to trap Putin's en­e­mies: he iden­ti­fied the mas­ter­minds of the mur­der as a Chechen sep­a­ratist and a Russ­ian oli­garch, both bit­ter neme­ses of Vladimir Putin. "Pavli­utchenkov only said what the in­ves­ti­ga­tors want him to say," com­mented the Deputy Di­rec­tor of the No­vaya Gazeta, the news­pa­per where Politkovskaya worked at the time of the mur­der.

In­ves­tiga­tive re­port­ing to evade cen­sor­ship

Al­though the Politkovskaya case has re­ceived a lot of at­ten­tion in Eu­rope, it has been dif­fi­cult for jour­nal­ists to gather re­li­able in­for­ma­tion about the pro­ceed­ings, par­tic­u­larly about the true iden­tity of the mas­ter­mind be­hind the mur­der. In­ter­net has been the most re­li­able source, as anti-Krem­lin jour­nal­ists con­tinue to de­nounce the con­tin­ued si­lence of the Russ­ian press and rely on media that elude po­ten­tial cen­sor­ship. "It's ab­surd," wrote Politkovskaya in her 2004 ar­ti­cle, "but was it not the same under com­mu­nism, when every­one knew that the au­thor­i­ties were talk­ing rub­bish but pre­tended it was true? We are hurtling back into a So­viet abyss (...) The In­ter­net re­mains the only place where you can still find free in­for­ma­tion. For the rest, if you want to con­tinue to be a jour­nal­ist, you need to swear ab­solute loy­alty to Putin."

Sto­ries of the mas­sacre in chech­nya

The re­ports by 'Anja', as friends called the Russ­ian jour­nal­ist, de­scribe in de­tail the re­al­ity of the Sec­ond Chechen War, that very bloody con­flict that was heav­ily cen­sored for Russ­ian jour­nal­ists and the rest of the world. The rea­sons be­hind the con­flict be­tween Rus­sia and Chech­nya were meant to be ap­par­ent to all: on one side, Putin-style Russ­ian democ­racy, and on the other, a band of Chechen fun­da­men­tal­ists whose aim is to es­tab­lish Sharia law. Anna Po­li­t­ko­v­ska­ya wanted to re­veal the real rea­sons be­hind the con­flict and above all, tell the sto­ries of the Chechen peo­ple, vic­tims of a geno­cide. She was thor­ough, going to vil­lages un­known to the pub­lic, where the slaugh­ter of in­no­cents was could be car­ried out in com­plete in­dif­fer­ence. 

This was the only way to ob­tain real eye­wit­ness ac­counts, un­cen­sored by the mil­i­tary press; also the only way to give a voice to silent vic­tims. A love of truth that made her run away from a des­tiny that for her would have en­tailed easy entry into Russ­ian high so­ci­ety along with its priv­i­leges. In­stead, she chose the path to­wards death. "Being a per­son in Chech­nya" — said an ar­ti­cle signed by Politkovskaya and pub­lished in In­ter­na­zionale — "does not have the same mean­ing as in the West. A per­son in Chech­nya is a sub­ject de­void of any rights with­out the pos­si­bil­ity of re­ly­ing on state struc­tures. "