Russian authorities announced yesterday that the investigation into the murder of Anna Politkovskaya is complete. Or at least one leg of it. Three suspects will be charged with being accomplices in the murder: Sergey Khadzhikurbanov, a former detective with the Moscow Department to Combat Organized Crime, and the brothers Makhmudov, Dzhabrail and Ibrahim. All three are Chechens. In addition, to the three, Pavel Ryaguzov, a former senior detective for the Moscow FSB is accused of abusing his position. Ryaguzov provided Politkovskaya’s home address to an old friend, Shamil Buraev. He passed the information to a childhood friend Lom-Ali Gaitukaev, who then gave it to the Makhmudovs, who are his nephews. What a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive.
Ryaguzov claims he didn’t know Politkovskaya’s murder was in the making. As for Gaitukaev, he was convicted earlier this year for the attempted murder of Gennady Korban, a Ukrainian financier with the company Privat. He will sit in a cell for 13 years. Finally, the third Makhmudov brother, Rustam, is still wanted by the police.
As you can see from the above list of people and their connections, the Russian authorities have a web of players, but still no killer or the murder’s contractor.
Sergei Sokolov, the editor of Politkovskaya’s paper, Novaya gazeta, stated that if you read the announcement closely, you’ll notice that the investigation is only completed into the named individuals. The overall inquiry is far from over since the killer and contractor still remain on the loose. This view was reiterated in an editorial on the paper’s website.
Central to Novaya‘s statement is who, for what purpose, and more importantly in whose interests was information about the investigaton leaked which might have allowed the killer, who is believed to either be Rustam Makdmudov or closely connected to him, to flee Russia and the murder’s contractor to cover his footprints? Back in April, Life.ru published a photo of Rustam Makhmudov, which Novaya believes was done intentionally to warn him that the police were on the hunt. And where might the source of the leak reside? Why in none other than someone in the FSB.
As for the truth of how this last assertion will pan out, that remains to be seen.
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By Sean — 6 years ago
Sunday, October 7, marks six years since Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in her apartment elevator. The assailant shot her four times, three in the chest, and once in the head, the trademark of a contract hit. Also on Sunday, incidentally, Vladimir Putin will turn sixty years old. Six and sixty. There’s symmetry in the numbers, the one marking a death, the other a birth. But Putin and Politkovskaya have been linked for a while now. That is, at least since the former became (acting) President of Russia in December 1999. Only six months prior had Politkovskaya begun writing for Novaya gazeta, where she spent the rest of her career covering the gruesomeness of Putin’s war in Chechnya. Her murder on Putin’s birthday (which many think was a perverse present to the leader) formally cemented the link between the two rivals, perhaps forever.
Sunday will be a reminder of that bond, if only because no one has been convicted of Politkovskaya’s murder. This is not to say that Putin is to blame for it, but the lack of conviction has occurred under his watch, first as President and then under his stand-in, DmitryMedvedev. Three suspects, Dzhabrail Makhmudov, Ibragim Makhmudov, and Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, were tried and acquitted in February 2009. By that summer, the Russian Supreme Court overturned their not-guilty verdicts, and the three will be retried. As it stands now, investigators have completed their inquiry, and six suspects will eventually stand in the docket: Rustam Makhmudov, the alleged gunman, his brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, and two former police officers, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov and Sergei Kadzhikurbanov. As for the persons who hired these alleged proxies, the search for them appears to have grounded to a halt, assuming it was ever started.
The link between Putin and Politkovskaya will be recalled in the divergence of scale and tone in the planned commemorations for each figure. The state channel NTV will run a documentary giving the public a “never-before-seen” peek into the life of their dear leader. Other Putinoids will hold everything from rallies to poetry readings, while towns like Rostov and Chelyabinsk will drape their thoroughfares in Putin banners. And just so you don’t think Putin has lost his virility, the Levada Center has conducted a poll that puts the sex into the sexagenarian Putin. According to the survey, 20 percent of women would “would jump at the chance” to wed Russia’s President. How fitting it all is. But make no mistake; such events are not at the behest of the Kremlin. Or so we are told. “I already said that Vladimir Putin is not a supporter of marking his birthday in public,” his press secretary, Dmitrii Peskov told reporters. “He spends his birthday among close friends and family.” Then he added, “We definitely do not encourage any kind of on air celebrations. Although some special celebration was initiated by the channels themselves, we will not approve of it.” As Jan Plamper noted in his study of the Stalin cult, such acts of disavowal amount to “immodest modesty” or “flamboyant modesty.” The leader wants his cult, but doesn’t want to appear to want it. I suspect Putin is no different in this regard.
Plans to observe Anna Politkovskaya’s murder are in stark contrast. Supporters, friends, and family will stage a small and likely solemn picket on Novopushkinskaya Square. The organizers originally wanted to have it at Pushkin Square in the center of town, but the authorities rejected the idea, saying the site will be occupied. This is not to say that Politkovskaya’s murder doesn’t have its own objects of memory. A human rights award has been named after her, two posthumous books have been published—her diary A Russian Diary (2007) and a collection of her final articles in Nothing but the Truth (2010) (published in the United States as Is Journalism Worth Dying For? (2011)—and a few films and documentaries have been produced about her work, murder, and its investigation. New memory objects are in the works. Just this week, officials in the Czech town Karlovy Vary renamed a park in her honor. And further celluloid immortalizations are in store with a new Hollywood film about the journalist in the planning stages.
There was no love lost between Politkovskaya and Putin. In Putin’s Russia, Politkovskaya called Putin the “soul brother” of Gogol’s Akaky Akakievich on the eve of his inauguration for his second term in 2004:
“[Putin’s] outlook is narrow, provincial one his rank would suggest; he has the unprepossessing personality of a lieutenant colonel who never made it to colonel, the manner of a Soviet secret policeman who habitually snoops on his colleagues. And he is vindictive: not a single political opponent has been invited to the inauguration ceremony, nor a single political party that is in any way out of step. Tomorrow . . . Akaky Akakievich Putin will strut down the red carpet of the Kremlin throne room as if he really where the boss there. Around him the polished tsarist gold will gleam, the servants will smile submissively, his comrades in arms, a choice selection from the lower ranks of the KGB who could have risen to important posts only under Putin, will swell with self-importance.”
In contrast to Politkovskaya’s hyperbole, Putin was cold, dismissive, and exact when it came to his critic. When asked for a comment on Politkovskaya’s murder, Putin said, “Yes indeed, this journalist was a harsh critic of the present authorities in Russia, but I think that journalists should know this, at least experts are well aware of this, the extent of her influence on political life in the country, in Russia, was extremely insignificant. She was known in journalistic circles, in human rights circles, in the West. I repeat, her influence on political life in Russia was minimal.” For him, Politkovskaya was merely a “woman” and a “mother,” and as far as who was the real victim of this crime, it was “Russia,” its “current government authorities,” and if that wasn’t ironic enough, those of the “Chechen Republic.” Her murder, Putin continued, “inflicts on the current authorities a far greater loss and damage than her publications.”
Politkovskaya would have hardly been surprised by Putin’s response. Yet I wonder what she would have thought about the last two years of Putin’s second term, the Medvedev interlude, and Putin’s return for a third tour. She would have likely been among those who called Medvedev a sham, and would have been unmoved by Putin’s hat-trick, or that the vast majority of Russian society passively accepted it. After all, her general assessment of Russia was incredibly dark, and she showed little hope that it would change. “Our society isn’t a society anymore,” she wrote in Russian Diary. “It is a collection of windowless, isolated concrete cells…There are thousands who together might add up to the Russian people, but the walls of our cells are impermeable.” Her prophesies about “revolution” in Russia were similarly laden with dread. “Our revolution, if it comes, will be red, because the Communists are almost the most democratic force in the country, and because it will be bloody.”
She minced few words when it came to the opposition too. In February 2004, she rhetorically asked, “Why is it so easy in Russia to put down democratic opposition? It is something in the opposition themselves. It is not that what they are confronting is too strong, although of course that is a factor. The main thing is that the opposition lacks an unflinching determination to oppose.” A month before her murder, her diagnosis of Russia’s democratic opposition had hardly changed: “To put it bluntly, I do not believe their democratic convictions run that deep. I don’t trust any of them, other than Kasparov, and I doubt that he will be able to move mountains on his own.”
Her assessment of her colleagues in journalism was no less caustic. In an article found on her computer after her death, presumptuously titled, “So What Am I Guilty Of?” Politkovskaya compared her peers to “koverny,” Russian circus clowns who entertained the crowd between acts. “Almost the entire generation of Russian journalists, and those sections of the mass media which have survived to date, are clowns of this kind, a Big Top of kovernys whose job it is to keep the public entertained and, if they do have to write about anything serious, then merely to tell everyone how wonderful the Pyramid of Power is in all manifestations.” She, on the other hand, refused to play the clown, and accepted the fate of pariah. “What am I guilty of? I have merely reported what I witnessed, nothing but the truth.”
This begs the question of what she might have thought about the Russia of 2012. It’s widely maintained that Russia has changed. Would Politkovskaya have changed with it? What would she have made of the New Decembrists and some of the Young Turks at their head, like Alexey Navalny and Sergei Uldaltsov? Of the protests against Putin, which during her life were never more than a few hundred people, at best, and now number in the tens of thousands? Of the political vibrancy of Runet, the centrality of blogs and Twitter, and the new crop of activist-journalists? Would she write them off as clowns? And what of Russian society? Would Politkovskaya look at all this and still see it as a tetragon of windowless, impenetrable concrete cells? Is there still even a place for Politkovskaya in today’s Russia? Where would her role be, when Chechnya and the North Caucasus in general are literally out of the Russian sight and out of the Russian mind? Sadly, thanks to three shots to the chest, and one to the head, we’ll never know.Post Views: 730
By Sean — 9 years ago
The Nation‘s Katriana Vanden Heuvel (and wife of Russia scholar Stephen Cohen) has addressed the murder of Natalya Estermirova. According to preliminary reports, Estermirova was abducted and stuffed in a van. Her corpse was later found murdered near a woodland area near Nazran in Ingushetia. Estermirova had a direct connection to the Nation. She wrote a chronicle of Anna Politkovskaya’s work in Chechnya for the magazine in 2007. About Politkovskaya, Estermirova wrote:
“There are those with a vested interest in keeping the Russian Abu Ghraib forgotten–so that they can once again kidnap and torture. Our task, however, is to uncover their deeds and to fight them. Anna was at the forefront of this work for many years.”
The final line of that article reads: “She is no more. Now it is up to us to continue her work.” Well, Estermirova did, and like Politkovskaya, paid the ultimate price, most likely at the hands of very people who have a “vested interest in keeping the Russian Abu Gharib forgotten.”
For Russian Live Journal reactions see Vilhelm Konnander’s summary on Global Voices.
While Estermirova was no journalist by trade, her personal friendship with Politkovskaya once again reminds one of the dangers of activist journalism in Russia. However, it is important to remember that most Russian journalists who’ve been killed or beaten don’t have high profile status or Western liberal friends. Most write for small papers. Most live far from Moscow where local power is much more immediate and violent and where baseball bats and metal pipes, not pistols, tend to be the weapon of choice. Most write not on Chechnya or oligarchs in Moscow, but on local political and business corruption. The most recent example of such a journalist was Vyacheslav Yaroshenko, the editor-in-chief of Rostov paper Corruption and Crime. He was beaten to death in April and died of his injuries in late June.
Vanden Heuvel says that more than thirty journalists have been killed since Yeltsin. I’ve read much higher numbers. It just depends how you categorize them. But one thing is for sure, this pattern unfortunately has continued with Putin and Medvedev at the helm.
Equally sad is the pessimism that these types of incidents induce. While I share Vaden Heuvel’s call to honor the courage of Natalya Estemirova, I’m afraid that even despite Medvedev’s expression of outrage, that her call for justice, however necessary, will ring hollow.Post Views: 601
By Sean — 12 years ago
On Thursday, Novaya gazeta published Anna Politkovskaya’s last article. The article is incomplete. This translation was sent out on Johnson’s Russia List #231, 13 October 2006. It was translated by Elena Leonova. I reproduce it below.
October 12, 2006
The anti-terrorist policy of torture in the North Caucasus
Torture in Chechnya: Anna Politkovskaya’s final, incomplete article
By Anna Politkovskaya
Everyone is asking us whether Anna Politkovskaya’s murder was connected with her work on some articles about torture, which she mentioned in a Radio Liberty interview on Thursday, October 5, a day before her death. Today we are publishing fragments from two unfinished articles by our observer. The first fragment includes first-hand testimony about torture, confirmed by medical evidence. The second fragment is a transcript of a video recording which Politkovskaya intended to use for an article. The disc found in Polikovskaya’s possession (we would like to hear from whoever gave her this video recording) shows some unidentified individuals being tortured. The scene was recorded by the torturers themselves – presumably, personnel from one of Chechnya’s security and law enforcement agencies.
Every day, there are dozens of folders in front of me. These are copies of materials from criminal cases against people who are in jail for “terrorism” or still under investigation.
Why is the word “terrorism” in quotation marks here? Because the overwhelming majority of these people are designated terrorists. And by 2006, this practice of “designating people as terrorists” has not only displaced any and all real anti-terrorist efforts, but has also started generating revenge-seekers – potential terrorists. When prosecutors and courts work on political orders and chase after anti-terrorism statistics that will please the Kremlin, rather than working to uphold the law and punish the guilty, criminal cases are turned out like so many pancakes.
The conveyor belt of “organizing full confessions” excels at providing good statistics on “fighting terrorism” in the North Caucasus.
Here is part of a letter I received from the mothers of a group of young Chechens convicted of terrorism: “In effect, these penitentiaries have turned into concentration camps for convicted Chechens. They are subjected to ethnic discrimination. They aren’t allowed out of one-man cells or punitive solitary confinement. Most of them, or almost all of them, have been convicted of fabricated crimes, with no material evidence. Held in brutal conditions, subjected to humiliation, denied human dignity, they are developing a hatred of everything. This is a whole army of young men who will return to us with their lives ruined, their beliefs ruined”
I’ll be honest: I fear their hatred. I fear it because it’s like a river that will overflow its banks sooner or later. And it will be taken out on everyone – not just the investigators who tortured them. The “designated terrorist” cases are the arena where there’s a head-on clash between two ideological approaches to what is happening in the zone of the “counter-terrorist operation in the North Caucasus”: are we using the law to fight lawlessness, or are we hitting “their” lawlessness with “our” lawlessness?
They’re clashing, thus ensuring sparks in the present and in the future. The result of “designating terrorists” is an increase in the numbers of those who refuse to tolerate it.
Ukraine recently extradited, at Russia’s request, a certain Beslan Gadayev – a Chechen. He was arrested in early August during an ID check in the Crimea, where he was living with the status of a displaced person. Here is a quote from his letter dated August 29:
“After I was extradited from Ukraine to Grozny, I was led into an office and immediately asked if I’d killed someone from the Salikhov family – Anzor and his friend, a Russian truck driver. I swore that I hadn’t killed anyone or shed anyone’s blood, Russian or Chechen. They said firmly: ‘No, you killed them.’ I started denying it again. After I’d answered them for the second time, saying I hadn’t killed anyone, they started beating me. First I was struck twice near my right eye, with fists. While I was recovering from those blows, they twisted my arms and handcuffed my wrists in front of me, and placed a pipe between my legs so I couldn’t move my hands, although I was handcuffed already. Then they grabbed me – or rather, they grabbed the pipe at both ends, and suspended me between two tables about one meter high.
“Straight after they suspended me, they started attaching wires to the fifth finger of both my hands. A couple of seconds later they started giving me electric shocks and beating me with rubber batons at the same time, anywhere they could reach. Unable to stand the pain, I started screaming, calling on God, begging them to stop. In response, because they didn’t want to listen or hear me scream, they placed a black bag over my head.
“I don’t remember exactly how long this lasted, but I started to pass out from the pain. Seeing that I was losing consciousness, they took off the bag and asked me if I’d talk. I said I would, though I didn’t know what I could tell them. I answered in order to escape the torture, if only temporarily.
“Then they let me down, removed the pipe, and threw me to the floor. They said: ‘Talk.’ I replied that I had nothing to tell them. They responded by hitting me with the same pipe, near my right eye again. I fell on my side and I was barely conscious as I felt them start hitting me all over my body. …I was then suspended between the tables again, and they repeated what they’d done before. I don’t know how long it lasted, I can’t remember, they kept throwing water over me.
“The next day, they washed me and smeared something over my face and body. Around lunch-time, an operative in plain clothes came in to see me and said that some journalists had arrived, and I’d have to confess to three murders as well as looting. He threatened that if I didn’t agree, they’d repeat everything they did before and release me after performing abuses of a sexual nature on me. I agreed to confess. After I’d been interviewed by the journalists, the operatives threatened me with sexual abuses again and forced me to sign a statement to the effect that all the injuries I’d received from them, all they’d done to me, all those injuries were allegedly incurred during an escape attempt.”
Lawyer Zaur Zakriyev, defending Beslan Gadayev, told the Memorial human rights organization that his client suffered physical and psychological abuse at the Grozny (village) district Interior Ministry police station. According to the lawyer’s statement, his client had essentially confessed to a raid on police in 2004. But the Grozny (village) police also decided to make him confess to a number of crimes he hadn’t committed in the village of Starye Atagi, Grozny (village) district, Chechnya. According to the lawyer, the severe violence left his client with visible injuries on his body. A medical inspection at the SIZO-1 pre-trial detention center in Grozny, current location of Beslan Gadayev [charged under Article 209 of the Crime Code (banditry)], showed numerous signs of a beating, injuries including scars, abrasions, bruises, broken ribs, and complaints of pain in internal organs.
For all these blatant abuses of human rights, lawyer Zaur Zakriyev has filed complaints with the Prosecutor’s Office of the Chechen Republic…* * * * *
Politkovskaya’s article stops there. It is unfinished. We are attempting to establish what kind of incidents remained undescribed in this text.
One of the last video recordings received by Anna Politkovskaya
The video shows two young men being held and tortured, presumably by personnel from one of Chechnya’s security agencies. One of the detainees is sitting in a car, bleeding (a knife is embedded in the vicinity of the victim’s ear). The other detainee appears to have been thrown out of the car, onto the road. The torturers themselves are not visible – there’s just the sound of their voices, speaking Chechen (Melkhiisk dialect), interspersed with obscenities.
The transcript, verbatim:
“Putin said: ‘keep a lookout,’ he said, ‘on all sides…'”
“He’s still with us! [Addressing the victim, scornfully, using the feminine gender.] She’s refusing to die… slut. Idiot, damn you… Fag, fuck. Look how pretty you are. I’m longing for you.”
“Breathe, buddy, breathe, slut. For God’s sake, I’m telling you, telling…”
“Done, huh? Is he done?”
“Yes, he’s done.”
“Let’s go… over here!”
“Hey, grab the… get in position, get in position, keep all surroundings under surveillance.”Translated by Elena LeonovaPost Views: 411