Jonas Bernstein of the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor gives us the latest update on the Kremlin’s Politkovskaya murder coverup:
October 7 marked the second anniversary of the murder of Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya. According to The Moscow Times, several hundred people, including Politkovskaya’s colleagues and children, human rights activists, and political opposition leaders, gathered on central Moscow’s Pushkin Square to remember her. In a speech to the gathering, Novaya Gazeta Editor-in-Chief Dmitry Muratov criticized the decision to try the men accused of her slaying in the Moscow District Military Court, which in 2004 acquitted several men of the 1994 murder of Moskovsky Komsomolets reporter Dmitry Kholodov. “This very court heard the murder case of journalist Dmitry Kholodov and let his killers walk free,” Muratov said. The Moscow District Military Court announced on October 7 that preliminary hearings in the case would begin on October 15 (Itar-Tass, October 7). Petros Garibyan, who is in charge of the investigation into Politkovskaya’s murder, told Novaya Gazeta that the case would be heard by a military court rather than a civil court because classified material and an FSB officer were involved.
Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former officer with the anti-organized crime unit of the Moscow police department, and two ethnic Chechen brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, have been charged in Politkovskaya’s murder. A fourth suspect, Federal Security Service (FSB) Lieutenant Pavel Ryaguzov, was initially suspected of illegally disclosing information about Politkovskaya’s address but was subsequently cleared and is now awaiting trial along with Khadzhikurbanov on charges of abuse of office and extortion. Garibyan said Khadzhikurbanov was no longer accused of direct involvement in Politkovskaya’s murder but would be tried because of his previous association with Khadzhikurbanov (The Moscow Times, October 8; Novaya Gazeta, October 6). Rustam Makhmudov, an ethnic Chechen who is thought to have been the trigger man in the murder, is believed to be abroad; and an international warrant has been issued for his arrest.
Originally, 10 suspects were arrested in connection with Politkovskaya’s murder, and Dmitry Muratov has charged that details from the investigation were leaked and that this helped suspects avoid prosecution. “I think this is the first case in the history of domestic criminalistics that a list of suspects has been talked about so loudly, and not even by the Prosecutor General’s Office, but by a court,” Muratov said in an interview this week in the newspaper Sobesednik.
“It looks above all like a deliberate undermining of the case. We at Novaya Gazeta have repeatedly stated that we evaluate the work of the investigative group under the leadership of Petros Garibyan as highly professional. We presented all the necessary information about the topics Anna Politkovskaya was involved in. We know the versions that the investigative group has worked out, and we have no complaints about its work. But to give utterance to the list of suspects means to warn everyone connected with them: hide and cover your tracks … Besides that, it means to foist on the public a prepared version about [the person who ordered the murder] being a foreigner, which could have been predicted from the very beginning. It only remained to guess whether [London-based exiled tycoon Boris] Berezovsky or [Israel-based exiled tycoon Leonid] Nevzlin would be named the foreigner who ordered it. Unfortunately, there is nothing new here.”
Prosecutor General Yury Chaika suggested in August 2007 that the person who masterminded Politkovskaya’s murder was hiding abroad and that the murder was aimed at discrediting the Kremlin. This past May, Dmitry Dovgy, a senior Investigative Committee official under investigation for possible corruption, alleged that Berezovsky had ordered Politkovskaya’s murder through the reputed Chechen crime boss Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev (The Moscow Times, April 4).
Muratov told Sobesednik he believed that those who actually carried out the murder were among those in custody. “In general, Politkovskaya’s murderers are people in shoulder straps who carry out various orders in their off-duty hours,” he told the newspaper. “This is a widespread practice and practically all recent high-profile crimes have been carried out precisely by these professionals” (Sobesednik, October 8).
Asked what has changed in the two years since Politkovskaya’s murder, Garry Kasparov, the opposition leader and former chess champion, answered:
“Things have gotten worse. The regime murders such people! That is evidence that everything is sliding into an abyss. No one knows who ordered [Politkovskaya’s murder], who carried it out. First and foremost, it was the regime itself that ordered it. The specific people are not so important. Since the day of Politkovskaya’s murder, the persecution of free speech [and] civil liberties has intensified. The regime in power constitutes a menace. Sentence must be passed on the murderers. But this will only be real if sentence is passed on the whole system” (www.kasparov.ru, October 7).