I promised myself to put commenting on the Litvinenko Affair to bed, but a friend alerted me to this interesting comment by Neil Clark. His words sum up my position on much of the rhetoric and baseless accusations against the Kremlin in regard to Litvinenko’s death.
From a socialist perspective there are certainly plenty of grounds for criticising the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. He’s introduced a flat-rate income tax, which greatly benefits the wealthy, and plans the partial marketisation of Russia’s education and health systems. And while some of Russia’s notorious oligarchs, who made their fortunes from fleecing public funds in the 1990s under Yeltsin have been bought to justice, others remain free to flaunt their ill-gotten gains, in a country where the gap between rich and poor is chasmic.
Even so, those on the left who have been enthusiastically joining in the current wave of Putin-bashing sweeping the western media, ought to consider whose cause they are serving. For it is beyond doubt that the driving force behind the campaign to portray the Russian President as a sinister totalitarian despot, have been Washington’s neo-conservatives.
Even before the recent unexplained deaths of journalist Anna Politskaya and former secret service man Alexander Litvinenko, hawks in the U.S. were doing all they could to discredit the Russian government. In 2003, Bruce P.Jackson, Director of the ‘Project for a New American Century’ and a key figure in several other neo-con pressure groups, talked of the way Putin’s re-nationalisation of energy companies threatened the West’s ‘democratic objectives- and claimed Putin had established a ‘de facto Cold War administration’. Jackson’s prognosis was simple: a new ‘soft-war’ against the Kremlin, a call echoed by many other leading neo-conservatives. The neo- cons are gunning for Putin not because of concern over alleged anti-democratic practices, but because the current Russian regime stands in the way of their plans for global hegemony. Their imperialistic strategy was recorded in the infamous ‘Wolfowitz memorandum’ a secret Pentagon document, leaked to the New York Times in 1992, which targeted Russia as the biggest future threat to US geo-strategic ambitions. The memorandum, authored by the then under-secretary for defence Paul Wolfowitz, considered by many to be the architect of the Iraq war, projected a U.S.-Russian confrontation over NATO expansion.
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I have this week’s edition of Novaya gazeta in front of me. The cover is all black with a center photo of Anna Politkovskaya. Above the photo it simply says “Anya.” There is a short editorial at the bottom of the page. It begins, “She was beautiful. She only became more beautiful with age. Do you know why? At first we receive our face from God unfinished, and then we make it ourselves. That is how we live. Still they say, in maturity the soul begins to appear on the face. Her soul was beautiful.”
Anna Politkovskaya’s murder has sent shockwaves not only across the Russian body politic, but the world. Almost every newspaper in Moscow had her murder as their cover story. Many of Russia’s state owned television channels heaped praise on Politkovskaya. They may have ignored her in life, but her tragic death couldn’t be so easily swept under the rug. Even NTV quickly reported the murder as political. Its evening Sunday talk show Voskresenyi vecher devoted a half an hour of its programming to discuss the murder, speculated on who committed it, and the threat it poses to the Russian press. Suggestions ranged from the Putin administration, nationalists and fascists, and Razman Kadyrov, the young Prime Minister of Chechnya and Putin proxy.
It is difficult to capture the Politkovskaya’s courage in words. She was a rare breed of journalist in Russia, who braved and eventually gave her own life to report on human rights violations in Chechnya and her native Russia. Internationally known, she has three books in English: A Small Corner in Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya (2003), A Dirty War (2004), and Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy (2005). The latter was not published in Russia because of its harsh criticism of the Putin’s rule. What separates her books from most journalistic accounts is not the acerbic words she uses to condemn those who don’t hesitate to stomp on humanity; it is the deep humanism that pervades her prose. While violence may dehumanize her subjects, often to a bloody pulp, she resurrects them to their full humanity. This is an art in any language let alone in Russian journalism where the cost for telling the truth has now become the lives of 42 journalists since 1992.
Details of her murder are brutal. On Saturday afternoon Politkovskaya was returning from Ramstore, a Moscow supermarket chain. She brought up two bags of groceries to her apartment and went down to fetch the remaining three bags. As she stepped out the elevator, the killer shot her four times. Twice in the heart. Once in the shoulder. Though the first two killed her instantly, the shooter let one final bullet into her head.
Her neighbors didn’t hear anything because the killer used an Izh pistol with a silencer. He dropped the pistol at the scene. The weapon had its serial number filed off. A neighbor discovered Politkovskaya’s body five minutes later at 4:15 pm. Needless to say, the murder was a professional hit.
The apartment building surveillance cameras captured the shooter but only from the back. It is being compared to video from the Ramstore cameras in hopes to getting his identity. The killer was a male, 180 cm tall in dark clothes. Police were able to compose a sketch from witnesses from a nearby pharmacy. There is talk that he was aided by a female.
There is no doubt that Politkovskaya’s work was the reason for her death. More than anyone she exposed Russian terror, either direct or by proxy, in Chechnya. She dared to speak when everyone else was silent. She was an opera singer among the tone deaf. Her bravery poured out of the last letters she wrote. The last article she published in Novaya gazeta was titled “Vindictive Collusion” (No. 74, 28 September) she wrote, according to Kommersant,
“Most of the followers of Kadyrov, Yamadaev and Kakiev are fighting on the side of the federal forces to avoid blood vengeance or to take vengeance,” she wrote. “Members of those divisions are involved in the same kidnappings and commit torture and murder. Their cruelty has long been comparable to the death squads’ of Russian officers in the special services, but their activities are more selective.” Specific cases of kidnapping, with the names of those she considered their perpetrators—fighters and heads of the law enforcement structures controlled by Ramzan Kadyrov, were given in the article.
It is this type of reporting that makes many think that Politkovskaya’s murder is connected to, if not was directly ordered by, Ramzan Kadyrov. The Chechen Prime Minister, of course, denied any connection to the murder stating, “Despite not always objective character of Anna Politkovskaya’s materials about Chechnya, I sincerely and humanly feel sorry for the journalist,” adding “to suppose [Chechen involvement] without any reason and serious proof means to argue at the level of rumors and gossips; it does not adorn neither the press nor politicians.” Kadyrov’s 30th birthday this past weekend was met with much fanfare. He opened the new Chechen airport, though it hasn’t been cleared for commercial travel. According to Novaya gazeta, he also used Chechen police paychecks to buy a $450,000 Ferrari. Many newspapers are also declaring that turning 30 has opened his path to the Chechen presidency.
Putin remained silent until the pressure for him to speak became too much. In a televised statement made today (some say three days too late), he promised that “all necessary efforts will be made for an objective investigation into the tragic death,” calling the murder “an unacceptable crime that cannot go unpunished.” Hopefully this statement is enough to stir the Russian police out of complacency.
Politkovskaya’s enemies were many. Kommersant and Izvestiia are now reporting there are three main theories to her murder. One is a conspiracy by opponents of Kadyrov and Putin. The idea is that Politkovskaya’s murder would undermine both Putin’s and Kadyrov’s authority. The conspiracy involves Boris Berezovsky as the mastermind. The second is that corrupt police officers from the Siberian city of Nizhnvartovsk had the journalist murdered because her investigation of their brutality in 2001 led to their imprisonment. Finally, there is the theory that influential Chechens, most likely connected to Kadyrov, had her killed in revenge from her reporting on Chechnya. Lesser theories include the involvement of fascists, nationalists, and others who have been angered by her muckraking reporting and polemical positions. Given the Russian propensity for conspiracy theories, I’m sure the Jews will surface as potential culprits at some point. As for real progress on the killing, the business daily reports that little headway has been made.
Anna Politkovskaya was buried today in Troekurovskoe Cemetery. Two thousand people attended. Her reporting angered many but that’s what good journalism is supposed to do. Many loved her and her work despite her detractors. Hundreds of people have left flowers at her Moscow apartment. Others are demanding that the Russian government make the case a priority. Her newspaper, Novaya gazeta has offered a $1 million reward for information leading to the killer’s capture.
In her final interview with Radio Svobodna on September 28, Politkovskaya had one wish: “Personally I only have one dream for Kadyrov’s birthday: I dream of him someday sitting in the dock, in a trial that meets the strictest legal standards, with all of his crimes listed and investigated.”
If that day ever comes, it will because of all the work she did. Rest well, Anya.Post Views: 538
My apologies for belaboring the Basayev story. But I find the whole thing rather fascinating. And as expected more and more details of the incident and commentary surrounding it are coming out.
Kudos to Kommersant which has consitently attempted to peel the layers of the onion so we will know the true story behind his death. Today’s edition presents a new theory: Basyaev’s death was possibly carried out by the Dagestani terrorist group Shariat. The theory is based on the fact that forensics now believes that a bomb was indeed planted in the car Basayev was traveling in. His “alleged body” (I say “alleged” because some people in Russia, one of which includes Prosecutor General’s Office Alexander Solzhenitsyn, doesn’t believe that it is Basayev’s body. When can we say enough already?) had wires and shrapnel that are the signature of Shariat chief Rappani Khalilov. The bomb was far too crude to be the work of the FSB. The FSB, with all its supposed high tech, wouldn’t use “a primitive hand-made bomb, since there is always risk that such bomb will explode at a wrong time or in a wrong place or will not explode at all.” According to experts this finding also dismisses the rumors that he was assassinated by a remote bomb, missile, or flame thrower. A James Bond operation this was not. The article, however, gives no reason as to why Shariat would want to kill Basayev.
In the same edition of Kommersant, Ekho Moskvy commentator, Yulia Latynina, muses about why Basayev’s death couldn’t be the work of Russian Special Forces. Her reasoning is simply that most of the time Russian Special Forces are too busy raping and pillaging Chechen and Dagestani civilians to carry out such a precise operation. She writes,
Do you know what it looks like – a special operation in Caucasian mountains? That’s how it looks: several hundreds people arrive on armored troop carriers to Chechen village of Nuradilovo in Dagestan. The result of it: they demolished the corner of a local school, lifted a shop, and shouted to children: “You, Chechens, should all be killed!”. The terrorist, whom they came to capture, escaped, leaving some people dead and some—injured. He was in the village because the talks on pardoning him were held. In Kabardino-Balkaria, police goes to capture terrorists. They do not find any. Coming back through the village of Kendelen (17,000 people), they arrest young men out of spite, then keep them in jail for a day, and then let them go.
Are these the special forces who finished Basaev?
Hardly, she answers. Because the real reason for war in her opinion has little to do with the Basayevs of the world. Instead it has to do with “Russian special forces who make robbery instead of a special operation, cops who demolish houses with tanks, and butchers who kill people and then offer their bodies to victims’ relatives for $10,000.”Post Views: 468
In the meantime, the politics of Politkovskaya’s death rumbles on. As Wally Shedd reports on his blog, Accidental Russophile, Exile editor Mark Ames has weighed in on the Western media’s sudden infatuation with Politkovskaya. Always looking for a chance to twist his pen into the sides of the American media, Ames reviews American press coverage of the murder. He also rightly asks, “Where is America’s Politkovskaya?”
If you ask me, what is most significant for us in the West about Anna Politkovskaya’s death, and her courageous life (btw, a big “fuck you” to our nationalist readers who don’t agree with this), is not so much what it says about Russia — it doesn’t say much new at all, to be honest, but instead is another chapter in an increasingly depressing story that started under Yeltsin.
Rather, what is significant about her death is this: Why doesn’t America have an Anna Politkovskaya? Why don’t we have someone as courageous as she was to tell the story of how we razed Fallujah to the ground Grozny-style? How we bombed to smithereens and ethnically cleansed a city of 300,000 people in retaliation for the deaths of four American contractors? Where is the American Anna Politkovskaya who will tell us about how we directly killed roughly 200,000 Iraqis, and indirectly are responsible for about half a million Iraq deaths since our invasion? Why isn’t there a single American willing to risk almost certain death, the way Politkovskaya did, in the pursuit of truth and humanity?
On the other side of the political divide, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave a rare interview to Novaya gazeta during her recent trip to Moscow. It is interesting to note that Il’ia Politkovskii, Anna Politkovskaya son was one of the interviewers. Rice was of course asked about the journalists murder:
Novaya gazeta: Miss State Secretary, this work, of course is possible to continue. But for the last six years there were three horrible loses to out newspaper. In 2000, Igor’ Dominkov was died: contract killers murdered him, and now they sit in court. He was killed for his professional activities. And a corrupt official—the vice governor of one of Russia’s regions gave the order for the murder.
[Then there was] the mysterious death three years ago of deputy editor of Novaya gazeta, Duma deputy, and head of the Commission for the Struggle Against Corruption, Iurii Shchekochikhin. This case has not been investigated. Now the murder of Ania. Is there a higher price to pay for the right to practice your professional duties?
Secretary Rice: What you talk about is a shared sorrow. I know about these tragedies. We raised the issue to the Russian government that the murders, which occurred over the last few years—about what you speak of, and even the murders of other journalists, that it is necessary to investigate them and that the people who committed these crimes must know that they will not go unanswered.
It is difficult to answer your question abstractly because I know that all of this is a personal tragedy for you, a personal loss. But if we look at history, we arrive at the conclusion that in various states people sacrifice for their principles. For very important causes.
These losses can never be in vain because in the end freedom will prevail.
What concerns journalists, especially those so-called “muckrakers”, who pursue investigations, that this is an extremely dangerous profession. Because by their very nature they inform people of the truth about what happened in reality.
And in the process they make enemies for their activities.
You see it is often said that people who can lose much if the truth come out and it will spread.
But without independent journalists who conduct such investigations, democracy cannot function.
I don’t think that this will bring you personal comfort. But I want to say to you that all of these murders have resonance all over the world, people all over the world profoundly feel and urge that an investigation will be carried out and the guilty punished.
I want to repeat. You are not alone in your struggle.
You know if Rice said such things in the American media, I might actually begin liking her. Take a look in the mirror, sister.
Correction: Il’ia Politkovskii is Anna Politkovskaya’s son not her husband. The correction has been made above. Thanks to Veronica at Neeka’s Backlog for the alerting me of the error.Post Views: 460