Evgenii Kolesov, one of the jurors in the Politkovskaya murder trial, was on Ekho Moskvy today and said the following about the sudden closing of the trial to the media:
“I can’t say that the initiative originated from us. In no way did any of us demand this,” the juror emphasized. According to him, the court secretary came to the jury room before the trial and asked them to sign a request to conduct the trial without the press, but “yesterday no one signed this request.” Today, the jurors for the Politkovskaya case addressed the court with a request to allow the print media into the trial.
It appears that the plot is thickening.
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They say it’s ten but no names were given in the interest of the investigation of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder. The ten comprise of a Chechen native who’s a specialist in contract killings, two security officers, one from the MVD and the other FSB, and three former police officers. The other four have yet to be identified in any way, but according to the Prosecutor General Iurii Chaika, the ten are “the direct organizers, accomplices, and implementors of the crime.”
The investigation, about which information has been scant for months, revealed that the conspiracy to assassinate Politkovskaya was composed of enemies from without determined to discredit the Kremlin. “As to the motives for the murder, the results of the investigation have led us to the conclusion that only people outside the territory of the Russian Federation could have an interest in eliminating Politkovskaya.” Chaika told the media. “It first and foremost benefits people and structures which aim to destabilize the situation in the country, change its constitutional order, create a crisis in Russia, return to the former system of governance where money and oligarchs decided everything, discredit the leaders of the Russian state and a desire to provoke internal pressure on the leadership of our country.” That’s quite a mouthful. All roads, it seems, lead to Berezovsky.
One can’t describe how neatly this fits into the Kremlin’s own narrative of not only the motives for Politkovskaya’s murder, but also the high profile murders of Alexandr Litvinenko, Paul Klebnikov, and Central Bank head Andrei Kozlov.
The convergence of the Kremlin’s line with the investigation’s own findings will undoubtedly raise suspicions as to whether those arrested are really the perpetrators. And though Politkovskaya’s colleagues at Novaya gazeta, which the Prosecutor’s office informed beforehand, feel that the arrests are based in real evidence, they can’t help be concerned that they will be used for political purposes. Sergei Sokolov, the deputy chief editor of Novaya gazeta says that the staff fears that the Kremlin would attempt “to steer the case in the direction of London.” By Chaika’s statements, that already appears to be the case. In addition, Solokov told the Associated Press, “Of course we are concerned that in an election year, this crime may be used by different groups for their own aims.” In the game of politics, they would be stupid not to. Such opportunism is no more a “Russian illness,” in Sokolov’s words, than the meat and potatoes of politics itself. No matter who, where, or how they are practiced.
But while I think suspicions of who Russian authorities connect to the crime are certainly valid, one should hesitate to fall lock step with the march of conspiracy theories that are surely on the horizon. There is no doubt that the Kremlin’s will strive to rationalize Politkovskaya’s murder within it its own paradigm of paranoia. That’s a given. But to use that as impetus to search for the real conspiracy behind the conspiracy doesn’t guarantee the revelation of any deeper truths. Such a search, I’m afraid, will only fuel a paranoia opposite of the Kremlin’s. That all roads lead to an omnipresent Putin.
One things is clear, Politkovskaya as “political football” has been dusted off and re-inflated just in time for a new season.
One day later and Russia and world have reacted to the arrest of 10 suspects in Anna Politkovskaya’s murder. Most of the Russian media have led with the story. The Kremlin funded English language Russia Today provided an overview of the story and the subsequent international reaction. The popular daily Komsomolskaya pravda hyped the fact that one of its correspondents originally spotted the killer, reporting that he “conducted himself like a agent or an operational worker from [Russian] security forces.” One of those arrested, Pavel Riaguzov, served in the central administration of the Moscow region FSB. According to statements given to the press by FSB General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Kupriazhkin, Riaduzov has long been suspected of having criminal ties. KP wondered whether Riagunov was indeed the person their correspondent spotted. Moskovskii Komsomolets also focused on the Riaguzov angle, and like KP, pointed to his connections to criminal elements. “The Chekist allegedly provided wiretaps and details of Politkovskaya’s conversations.” Riaguzov’s lawyers called the accusations “complete nonsense.” Nezavisimaya gazeta focused on the Western media’s obsession with the claim that the murder might be connected to Boris Berezovsky.
But not all the Russian media is so tame or sensible. Writing in the ever critical Ezhednevnyi zhurnal, Iuliya Latynina, in a bold headline “A Trotskyist-Berezovskii Operation,” searches for the conspiracy behind the conspiracy. And sadly Stalin’s historical footprint always seems to reveal itself on these occasions. She asks why the findings about Politkovskaya murder were revealed to the public at this moment. She gives three answers. First, simply, the “shit already had began to ooze,” and the revelation about the arrests to the public was inevitable. There was no way to hide the fact that those arrested–two former chekisty, some police officers, and Chechens bandits–was going to go unnoticed. If the government didn’t construct a preemptive narrative, it was likely the public would have made their own conclusion. And Latynina thinks that this conclusion would be unpleasant for the authorities. “For example, the public could decide that security agents . . could hardly take orders from enemies of the regime, which could keep all of their business under lock and key, but easily take orders from persons who keep their business quiet in case of failure. I personally think that this version is the most believable.” By her logic the first rule of politics is: control the message.
Second reason: the case will die in the courts. The “lack of evidence” and “pressure.” This, Latynina thinks is the most unlikely.
Third, the announcement of the arrests is a preview of a “big autumn Presidential fight.” Taken with the bombing of the Neva Express and the arrest of Tambov mafia boss Vladimir Kumarin, finding Politkovskaya’s killers falls into a political context that Latynina thinks will “end Putin’s road to retirement.”
So much for the Prosecutor office’s request that “reporters be more accurate with various kinds of information from unofficial sources and refrain from publishing the reports that may hinder investigation.”
Latynina’s comments remind me a bit like Freud’s death drive. Either people like her are so traumatized by living where the leader is eternal that they can’t imagine anything different even if they oppose said leader, or the desire for say Putin to leave office is so great it doubles back as a perverted desire that he will stay. Wouldn’t everything Latynina thinks about Russia be undermined if there is a peaceful transition of power through, albeit flawed, elections? After all, she might find more comfort in a verified ego rather than in one faced with the horrific notion that what it thinks no longer conforms to reality. Where would she be if the great Evil Putin wasn’t there to give her purpose?
Since everyone is speculating about the timing of the arrests, there is one coincidence that can’t be ignored. The arrests come a few days before Politkovskaya’s birthday. She would have turned 49 on August 30.
The truth of the matter, however, is that the arrests have revealed something far more disturbing than any grand conspiracy to manufacture a way for Putin to remain in office. As Novaya gazeta’s editorial board noted in a statement on the arrests, the investigation shows that elements in Russia’s security organs and the criminal underworld have cooperative ties. How high up this goes or whether they are rogue or connected to the Presidential administration is unknown. Either way such elements are likely to out last this and future administrations.
“Good day! I’m calling Ana . . . I would like to give a report on recent events to her. Anya! It’s impossible to not be an admirer of yours. I was concerned for Shchekochikhin and IT happened. I was afraid for you and IT also happened. They will not name a star or a constellation after you. No matter, your name will shine brighter than all the stars named for respectable people on earth. [Your name] already serves as proof, an example and a warning.”
Such are the words of a certain Vasilii Vasilevich from Moscow in a call to Anna Politkovskaya’s cell phone. The call was not made a year ago. It’s barely a few days old. Vasilii phoned Politkovskaya on 1 October 2007 in response to Novaya gazeta’s announcement that the paper has reconnected her cell phone number. The paper is encouraging readers to call in and leave remembrances. The number, (495) 798-10-34, will be working until 7 October 6:00 pm Moscow time. The messages will be printed in a special edition of Novaya called “Ana’s Number” on 8 October.
“Ana’s Number” is not the only act to commemorate Politkovskaya’s murder. In Nizhni Novgorod the group Fund for the Support of Tolerance and Human Rights Watch are holding an international forum in the memory of slain reporter. Amnesty International organized as similar event in Brussels. Similar conferences are scheduled in New York, Washington, Prague, Stockholm, Hamburg, Paris, and London.
Politkovskaya memory is being enshrined in other ways. Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome, presided over a ceremony naming a small square in the Villa Pamphili after Politkovskaya. The journalist’s daughter, Vera, was in attendance to accept the honor. “It feels strange being here and seeing the plaque with mum’s name a year after her death,” Vera Politkovskaya told reporters.
She better get used to it. Her mother’s name is all over the place these days. Numerous newspapers are using the anniversary to call for justice, decry the Russian government’s attacks on “free speech”, and draw attention to its poor human rights record. Sixty intellectuals from all over the world have signed a statement in support of RAW in WAR calling on the Russian government to bring her murders to justice. The group also gave Natalia Estemirova, a human rights activist for Memorial and frequent colleague of Politikovskaya, their first award named after the Novaya gazeta correspondent. Estemirova works to stop abductions in Chechnya. The Nation published Estemirova’s remembrance of Politkovskaya.
The organization Committee to Protect Journalists used the anniversary to directly notify Putin that the “world is watching.” CPJ sent a letter to Putin saying that people the world over are expecting an “investigation [into her murder] that is diligent, transparent, and free of political influence.” “Thus far, CPJ writes, “the signals have not been encouraging.” I doubt Putin will lose any sleep over their objections.
There has been little progress in solving Politkovskaya’s murder since Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika announced the arrest of 10 suspects in late August. One twist in the investigation is the arrest late last month of Shamil Burayev, the former head of Chechnya’s Achkhoi-Martan Raion. Burayev’s arrest was leaked to Komsomolskaya pravda.
The most recent development occurred today. In its own remembrance of sorts, the state newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta says that authorities are holding a 49 year old mafia boss from Ukraine as a suspect with connections to Politkovskaya’s murder. This is after the paper reiterated Chaika’s claim that the murder was a provocation carried out by “forces intent on destabilizing the country, change the Constitution, and inflame a crisis.” The arrest was dismissed by Roman Shleinov, the investigative editor at Novaya gazeta as “complete nonsense” and said that the paper’s editors “don’t think [the arrest] is serious.
Serious or not, the announcement shows that even the Russian state isn’t going to pass up taking advantage of Politkovskaya’s memory. And why not? One year later, it seems that everyone is trying to claim her for their own. However insulting it may sound, especially considering how Putin declared her work as irrelevant, the Russian government might as well take its share.
Politkovskaya must be remembered if not simply for her will and courage. Few people speak truth to power. Even fewer do it so fervently that they pay the ultimate price for it. That said, memory is never neutral and no matter how sincere it may be it only captures a person’s living force in caricature. As I read her name across numerous articles I can’t help feeling a bit hollow. As the pundits and the world’s liberal intellectual class make Politkovskaya their cause celebrity, I can’t help notice how their memory of her flattens, contorts, and repackages her deep humanism into small consumable bites all ready to take its place in a conference title, plaque, editorial, press release, and petition. It’s no fault of theirs, I guess. Time is the mediation between life and memory of life. And with each ticking second, the latter overcomes the power of the former. Already I’m sensing what Politkovskaya was is already being subsumed into what she’s become: another casualty to the politics of the present.