La Russophobe‘s professional translator allows you to read another column from the brilliant pen of Yulia Latynina in the Russian Press, this time singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to Vladimir Putin:
Putin’s Birthday and the Day of Polikovskaya’s Death
by Yulia Latynina
October 8, 2007
One year ago, on October 7, 2006 Anna Politkovskaya was shot in the entryway of her home, and no matter how many demonstrations “Nashi” (our own) may hold on this day – the birthday of Putin – this is the day of the death of Politkovskaya.
It seemed like the murder of Politkovskaya, unlike the murder of Litvinenko, would remain unsolved forever. But one year on, to the amazement of some, we already know a fair amount about this killing. It is helpful to separate out what we know into facts and conclusions.
The facts are as follows.
Immediately after the murder of Politkovskaya, President Putin announced that her murder brought more harm than her activities. The President appointed the investigator Pyotr Garibyan, who had no unsolved cases, to investigate the case.
The investigation took place in a vacuum. To the point of being funny: the killers arrived to murder Politkovskaya as a foursome, in one car. Surveillance cameras showed the car next to her apartment building, but the license plate number was not readable. The investigators tried to find the number by looking at footage from other cameras, but they too were blurry. They tired to “pull out” the number with the help of criminal investigations experts – and at that point everything got stuck. In the end the investigation, through personal connections, had an institute specializing in the manipulation of data from satellite photos manipulate the data from the surveillance videotapes. Out popped the license plate number of the car, which it turned out belonged to the Makhmudov killers, though formally it was owned by their uncle Akhmed Isaev.
The investigation found the car in which the killer (presumably one of the Makhmudov brothers) arrived at the scene. It was further determined that shortly before the death of the journalist a lieutenant colonel of the FSB, Pavel Ryaguzov, looked up her address in an FSB database and immediately called Shamil Buraev, his long-time acquaintance (and, apparently, his agent) – also the former head of the Achkho-Martanovskiy region, a reliable federalist, and from the same clan as the Makhmudovs. The investigation further determined that the address turned out to be old, and that a “outside surveillant” (naryzhka) from the police was hired to determine her new one. “There were two outside surveillants”, said the prosecutor Chaika.
In other words, it turned out there were two groups. One – the killers (the money paid them was not much – the Makhmudovs did not even destroy their car), the other – those who were responsible for the surveillance and penetration of the building (probivka). The investigation believes Sergei Khadzhikurbanov served as the connection between the two groups. Khadzhikurbanov was a former operations officer in the ethnic department of the Regional Directorate for Combating Organized Crime (RUBOP) [of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MID)] and, incidentally, a close acquaintance of Colonel Ryaguzov.
There was even an incident involving both of them: Khadzhikurbanov and Ryaguzov together beat up a businessman in an office. The businessman escaped from the building and ran to an embassy across the street. Ryaguzov and Khadzhikurbanov showed their badges and pried the businessman from the embassy guards, again beat him up, threw him into a car, and took him back to his home. When it turned out he had no money at his home, they beat him again, and drove him to a forest, but there they were stopped by a traffic policeman. There was, of course, no testimony of any sort taken from the businessman, and no criminal case was brought. How many times Ryaguzov and Khadzhikurbanov had driven around with a businessman in their trunk before without being stopped by a traffic policeman, no one knows.
The arrests occurred on August 13. They went quietly, without any sort of publicity, until the prosecutor Chaika announced to Putin that the murder had been solved and it was ordered by someone from abroad.
At this point there was an explosion of information. While at first nothing leaked from Garibyan’s group, no sooner was the information passed to the leadership than the leaks flowed as if from a sieve. The license plate of the car that transported the four men (which had up to this point still not been seized!) was leaked to the press, and the secretary of the Basman court gladly revealed to the press the names of those detained. But the most surprising thing happened in court with the FSB Colonel Ryaguzov.
As it turned out, the military court presided over by judge Seryukov (the same one who acquitted the accused in the murder of Kholodov) categorically refused to arrest Ryzugov in the case for which he was detained two months previously. The court demanded all information in the Politkovskaya case be turned over to it. It was turned over. For the first time the name of Buraev was heard. (Buraev at that moment had not yet been arrested or questioned in the Politkovskaya case, although his name had been mentioned in the Khlebnikov murder case.) The court proceedings were closed to the public. The name, however, appeared on every website, with a reference to Interfax, although Interfax had released nothing from the court.
Some journalists called Buraev. He said that as soon as he heard of this idiotic affair he got dressed, got in his car, and drove from his home. At this point he was immediately arrested, because he had been under surveillance for some time.
So these are the facts, or more exactly, some of the facts. What remains are the conclusions which can be drawn from the facts.
In my view, Putin’s announcement [immediately after the murder of Politkovskaya] was directed primarily at the murderers: What did you vermin drag in here?
In my view, appointing Garibyan (and not someone like Karimov) as the investigator meant that Putin actually was interested in finding out who of his people killed Politkovskaya.
The order for the murder was given to a certain syndicate of killers and had a purely commercial character. As far as the organizer of the murder was concerned (and this was not Makhmudov, nor Muraev, nor even, probably, Khadzhikurbanov), the order might have gone to anyone. However, the active involvement of government officials in “establishing the target” (ustanovlenie obekta) of Politkovskaya forces us to assume that the officials at least knew that the murder was being planned.
But here’s a question: One of the Makhmudovs pulled the trigger. And he got out of the car that was carrying the foursome and was waiting for Politkovskaya at her apartment building. But surely Politkovskaya was being followed on the day she was murdered. The killers were passed the information that she was approaching. Meaning that someone other than the foursome was in another car. Whose car would that be, and who was in it?
Or this: Colonel Ryaguzov got Politkovskaya’s address from the FSB database and called his personal friend Buraev. Maybe it was Buraev who asked Ryaguzov for the address – this is what Ryaguzov says, claiming that he was “kept in the dark” and used. It is possible that Ryaguzov first got the address and then asked Buraev about what the next steps would be. But one thing is clear: you can “keep in the dark” and use a bum. Or a journalist. Even a killer. But a lieutenant colonel in the FSB cannot be “kept in the dark” and used. Ryaguzov had known Buraev a long time. He knew what Buraev did for a living. He knew, above all else, about the Khlebnikov affair. And when a person, whose activities are well known to an FSB lieutenant colonel (who himself is in the habit of transporting businessmen in his trunk), asks the FSB lieutenant colonel for the address of an opposition journalist, the FSB lieutenant colonel will at a minimum inform his leadership.
In my view, Chaika’s press conference was connected with the fact that rumors of the arrest were already circulating around Moscow, and if there was no press conference, the public would begin talking about exactly what was talked about above: the facts. But facts are not fatal to the security services. And the appropriate P.R. decision was made: “Instead of having them discuss the facts, let them discuss an announcement about how Politkovskaya was killed by the enemies of Russia.”
The strategy worked perfectly. The occasional liberal publication did not shed any tears over the alibis of the four Makhmudov brothers (their alibis consisted of a claim that one of the brothers was in Chechnya at the time) and the bright image of the chekist Pavel Ryaguzov, whom his leaders put forward due to his exceptional discipline, demonstrated in Ryaguzov’s attempt to save the life of the viciously beaten Aleksandr Pumane.
In my view, President Putin now knows who killed Politkovskaya. But we will not know, at least not until the end of the regime.
There are democratic regimes, in which the head of the government does not order the murder of opposition journalists. And there are dictatorships, in which the head of the government does order the murder of opposition journalists. But I do not know what to call a regime in which an opposition journalist is killed and the head of the government is genuinely interested in knowing who did it – his left hand or his right foot.
NOTE: A heavily abridged version of this article appears today in the Moscow Times without naming Yezhedevny Zhurnal as the source.