Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered on October 7, 2006
Moscow - Today Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika announced that ten suspects had been detained in connection with the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. On October 7, 2006 an unknown assailant shot Politkovskaya dead in her Moscow apartment building. The baseball-cap wearing gunman was caught on video tape as he left the building.
Perhaps most disturbing for both Russians and foreigners is the fact that the suspects include one police major, one Lieutenant Colonel from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), and three ex-cops. The other five men detained in connection with the plot are ethnic Chechens, one of them a lawyer in Moscow, who were allegedly part of a gang engaged in contract killings. Russian Prosecutors believe that the Chechen group could have been involved in the murders of Russian Central Bank Deputy Chairman Andrei Kozlov and Forbes magazine Russia editor Paul Klebnikov in 2004.
File photo of Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika
According to The Moscow Times:
Novaya Gazeta, where Politkovskaya worked and which is conducting its own investigation, said in a statement that the arrests were made from Aug. 15 through Aug. 23.
Politkovskaya's son Ilya, 28, said in e-mailed comments that the family was "not surprised by this news" about the arrests.
Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov called prosecutors' conclusions "convincing," Interfax reported.
"Our names of those who organized the murder coincide with the official investigation," said the newspaper's deputy editor, Sergei Sokolov. "But the identity of the person who ordered the murder does not coincide."
As a writer for the liberal Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Politkovskaya was a strong critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and of pro-Kremlin Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, accusing both of human rights abuses. The coincidence of her murder with Mr. Putin's birthday was widely seen in Russia as an intentional act by the perpetrators of the crime.
In his statement to the media, Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika declared that forces outside of Russia had ordered the killings of Politkovskaya, Kozlov and Alexander Litvinenko, in order to blacken Russia's international reputation. "It was in the interest of those people and structures that aim to destabilize the situation in the country, change the constitutional order and create a crisis in Russia," he said. Mr. Chaika added that the conspirators wanted "a return to the former system of rule under which money and oligarchs decided everything."
Several Russian and Western media outlets have claimed that Chaika was speaking about the exiled Russian oligarchs Boris Berezovsky and Leonid Nevzlin. But at this time, Russian prosecutors have declined to name the alleged mastermind behind the plot, citing the need for confidentiality in an ongoing investigation. However, at the same press conference, Chaika insisted that the Prosecutor General's office would continue to pursue the extradition of Berezovsky from Great Britain on previously filed criminal charges. Meanwhile, in the biggest news bombshell of the day, the FSB held a separate press conference to announce that one of their own, Lieutenant Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov, had been arrested in the case.
Here at Russia Blog, we have declined to speculate on the outcome of these criminal cases before hard evidence is presented - unlike the many media outlets that immediately accused the Russian government of "getting away with murder" and of being "the enemy" last year after Alexander Litvinenko's sensational and public death from radiation poisoning.
In terms of motives, it's no secret that Anna Politkovskaya was a staunch critic of the Putin Administration. It's also not a secret that in his book, Godfather of the Kremlin, Paul Klebnikov had publicly accused Boris Berezovsky of ordering the contract killings of his business rivals during the Nineties, and of having direct connections to terrorist groups operating in Chechnya. A few months before he was gunned down, Klebnikov had written an article for Forbes titled "Millionaire Mullahs" about the overseas holdings of Iran's clerical dictatorship - assets that the authorities in Teheran clearly would not want to see frozen by the U.S. or its allies.
The point is, without knowing all of the facts, anyone can produce theories and make accusations, but the rule of law demands due process and the presumption of innocence until someone is proven guilty. The fact is that the number of business-related murders and killings of journalists in Russia has actually declined since the 1990s - but the deeply planted culture of impunity from that era is not easily uprooted. In the last few years, as several former senators and governors, oligarchs, and others who thought they were above the law have gone to jail, President Putin's administration has begun to address the problem, but his successors will have to carry on the fight against corruption.
UPDATE: According to Sean's Russki Blog, a Russian tabloid has published the list of suspect names - and there are eleven, not ten suspects.