Russia: Global scepticism proved justified as all ten Anna Politkovskaya murder suspects walk free Print E-mail

Monday September 03, 2007

SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH NOVAYA GAZETA CO-OWNER

Russian Media Is Like 'Brezhnev-Era Propaganda'

Scroll down for reports cynically predicting or sceptically greeting the arrest of Anna Politkovskaya's suspected killer[s]

Alexander Lebedev, Russian businessman, member of the State Duma and co-owner of the critical Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, spoke to SPIEGEL about the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and the lack of press freedom in Russia.

  Alexander Lebedev, co-owner of Novaya Gazeta (Pavel Kassin)

SPIEGEL: Shortly after Politkovskaya's murder, you advertised a reward equivalent to about €700,000 for the capture of the guilty parties. Do you now consider the case solved?

Alexander Lebedev: That will be for the courts to decide. I will be happy to pay the reward once all doubts have been set aside. Besides, I have introduced an amendment in the State Duma designed to protect witnesses.

SPIEGEL: Prosecutor General (Yuri) Chaika believes that the men behind the murder are abroad. Do you agree?

Lebedev: Just as in the Soviet days, other countries are once again being treated as a sinister threat. I haven't seen the evidence he supposedly has. Facts are important to me, not emotions. I would caution against speculation.

SPIEGEL: Chaika has pointed his finger at former oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

Lebedev: It seems to be in fashion among Russian politicians to blame Berezovsky for everything. Soon they'll be holding him responsible for global warming, earthquakes and tsunamis. But perhaps the prosecutor general wasn't even referring to him.

SPIEGEL: President Vladimir Putin himself said, three days after Politkovskaya's death, that the culprits could be found abroad.

Lebedev: Politkovskaya was a known critic of the administration. For this reason, one cannot rule out the possibility that someone would want to blame the government for the murder. We could also be dealing with an act of revenge by Chechen field commanders or other people who didn't like her reports.

SPIEGEL: How can it be that a head of state is interfering in an ongoing investigation with his premature judgments?

Lebedev: Of course, our president is entitled to his opinion, just like anyone else. I just hope that it won't become a guideline for the investigators. The only things they should pay attention to are pieces of evidence and witness testimony. Fortunately this is not 1937...

SPIEGEL: ... the year of the show trials under Stalin...

Lebedev: ...when weak charges led to unbelievable sentences.

SPIEGEL: It's noticeable that serving officers with the intelligence service and Interior Ministry officials are among the suspects.

Lebedev: We need a radical reform of the law enforcement agencies. They are not performing their duties. The police in Moscow are upholding the rights of developers and real estate sharks against protesting residents. But criminals are given a green light.

SPIEGEL: Is there any hope left for freedom of the press in Russia?

Lebedev: We would be lost without it. But the situation is completely unacceptable. There are hardly any differences anymore between what is happening now and the propaganda of the Brezhnev era. I would like to launch a campaign against the Channel One television station...

SPIEGEL: ... of which the Russian state is the majority owner...

Lebedev: ... to shake up citizens so that they can no longer be duped by these types of stations. Things aren't much better for the press. Even Novaya Gazeta, with all respect, cannot achieve any fundamental change on its own.

SPIEGEL: Why do you own this critical newspaper?

Lebedev: It's my duty as a citizen. I do not want to live in a country where something like Novaya no longer exists.

SPIEGEL: Some at the Kremlin believe that you are using the paper to protect yourself from the kind of harassment other defiant businessmen have suffered.

Lebedev: There are also those who claim that I bought the paper on behalf of the Kremlin. That's ridiculous. Owning a newspaper does not confer immunity.

The interview was conducted by Matthias Schepp

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Monday September 03, 2007

JUMPING THE GUN

Politkovskaya Investigation Damaged by Prosecutor's Zeal

By Matthias Schepp

The Kremlin proudly announced last Monday that it was close to solving the murder of Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. But within days many of the 10 arrested suspects had been released and the investigation had been severely compromised.


People hold up a portrait of murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya during a rally marking what would have been her 49th birthday (AP)

At first glance the young man looked as though nothing could upset him. Ilya Politkovsky, wearing jeans and a sweater, walked resolutely into a café in downtown Moscow. But he looked around nervously, speaking in short, abrupt sentences as if he were afraid that he was running out of time. The minute the conversation turned to his mother he lit a cigarette, his fingers shaking.

It was Thursday morning of last week, and Moscow was just beginning to wake up. Politkovsky, who works for a large advertising agency, planned to go to his office later. He had arranged to meet his sister, grandmother and aunt at noon to drive to his mother's grave. His mother is Anna Politkovskaya, Russia's most famous reporter, and she would have turned 49 that very day. "We always celebrated her birthday with only the immediate family," Ilya said. "She didn't want people to make a big fuss about her."

In her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, the woman who was Russia's moral conscience accused President Vladimir Putin of "state-sponsored terrorism" and his intelligence services of "kidnapping" and committing torture and murder in Chechnya. Politkovskaya was murdered on Oct. 7, 2006. She was shot four times.

This petite woman came to be honored as an icon of investigative journalism in the West after her violent death. But at home in Russia, President Putin irreverently and cynically sought to appease the public by claiming that Politkovskaya's influence on political life in the country was "extremely insignificant," and that the consequences of the murder were in fact more serious for him than the "damage inflicted by her articles."

After her death, Politkovskaya was quickly turned into a pawn for political interests. The Kremlin has tried to implicate its archenemy, former oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who lives in exile in London. Putin's opponents, on the other hand, say the government was behind the murder.

'The Arrests Torpedoed Further Investigations'
However, international outrage over the bloody killing in Moscow -- as well as the fact that there have already been 20 unsolved murders of journalists in Russia -- has put Putin under pressure to at least present the public with a killer in the Politkovskaya case. The Kremlin announced last week that it was ready to do just that. But what appeared on Monday to be a breakthrough in one of Russia's most spectacular criminal cases quickly turned into a political embarrassment.

Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika appeared in the president's office on Monday morning to present the initial results of the investigation. At a press conference a short time later he proudly announced that 10 suspects had been arrested, mostly Chechens, but also three former police officers and an employee of the domestic intelligence agency, the FSB. The case, Chaika told reporters, was as good as solved.

Ilya Politkovsky watched Chaika's announcement on television. For 10 months both investigators and the Novaya Gazeta had preserved a strict policy of silence. "The fact that the prosecutor general has made the 10 arrests public torpedoes further investigations into this murder," he says agitatedly. Accomplices and anyone else behind the murder, says Politkovsky, have now been warned.

He would be proved right. Within a few hours it was clear that Chaika's announcement was -- deliberately or not -- greatly exaggerated, and that it had in fact damaged the Politkovskaya murder investigation. Over the course of the week, the overzealous prosecutor general was forced to release one murder suspect after another. Alexei Berkin, a bodyguard who had been arrested 12 days earlier, and Oleg Alimov, a police officer, were released on Tuesday evening. The prosecutor's office had failed to present a solid case against the two men, leaving it with eight remaining suspects.

Sergey Khadjikurbanov, a police major with the Interior Ministry's organized crime unit, presented an astonishing alibi: he claimed that he was in prison on the day of the Politkovskaya murder. He had delivered a package of cocaine to a Moscow businessman, a common practice in Russia that police officers use to extort money from wealthy victims. This brought the number of suspects down to seven.

Pavel Ryagusov, a lieutenant colonel with the FSB, appeared to have been only marginally involved in the Politkovskaya murder. Prosecutors were able to prove that he may have had ties with a group of criminals they claim were behind the murder. And then there were six suspects.

On Thursday, the Novaya Gazeta felt compelled to issue a statement on the Chaika report and, in doing so, publish part of its own investigation. Ilya Politkovsky was the co-author of the paper's cover story. The authors used three words to refute Chaika's claim that the Politkovskaya was practically solved: "Eto ne tak" -- "Not the case!"

Although the article praises the efforts of investigators, it reads like an indictment. According to Novaya Gazeta, the prosecutor general's actions revealed a deep crisis in the Russian system: the close intertwining of the government and the mafia.

It appears beyond dispute that the trail in the Politkovskaya murder leads, at least indirectly, to the Interior Ministry and the intelligence services. When comparing telephone numbers, the investigators discovered links between the arrested suspects and the men behind the bombing of a Moscow McDonald's restaurant in 2002.

Prosecutor General Chaika portrayed the criminal law enforcement officers as exceptions. "Every family has its black sheep," he explained. In truth, however, the case points to a chronic condition within the Russian justice system.

In March five Moscow police officers were arrested and charged with robberies and 15 murders. And a Moscow-based ring of gangsters, judges and high-ranking officers in the police department's organized crime division was cracked. The group had fraudulently obtained hundreds of apartments through extortion and manipulated court decisions.

Leaks Undermine Investigations
In his press conference, Chaika admitted that he did not have full confidence in his own officials and those of the Interior Ministry. Two weeks ago he sent two IL-76 transport aircraft operated by the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry from Moscow to St. Petersburg to arrest mafia boss Vladimir Barsukov, known as Kumarin, the notorious "Godfather of St. Petersburg." The aircraft were carrying 300 heavily armed police officers and even a few armored vehicles. "If we had acted differently, he would have been warned," Chaika said. "We have discovered leaks in the Prosecutor General's Office and city government, as well as the police and security agencies."

The same pattern was apparently behind the leaks of the names of the 10 suspects in the Politkovskaya case, because Chaika never named them. Yet the day after his press conference, the names, along with addresses and photos, appeared in a major tabloid newspaper and on the Internet. Investigators complain that the leaks have deprived them of the element of surprise in bringing suspects and others believed involved in the murder face to face.

"The Interior Ministry, FSB and Prosecutor General's Office held an open house last week," writes Novaya Gazeta. Even a photo of the head of the investigation team, Pyotr Garibyan, is now on the Internet, almost as if he too had become a target for hit men.

The amateurish course of action taken by Chaika stands in sharp contrast to the self-assurance with which he revealed who was allegedly behind the Politkovskaya murder. It seemed more than a coincidence that Chaika echoed President Putin's statement shortly after the murder: "Only people outside Russia could have been interested in Politkovskaya's death."

The implication was that not only Boris Berezovsky, the oligarch in London, but also Leonid Nevslin, a partner of former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, were involved. Khodorkovsky is in a Siberian prison camp, while Nevslin lives in exile in Israel. "They want to destabilize the country and return to the system in which money and oligarchs decided everything," Chaika fumed. His statement fits nicely into the anti-Western mood of the parliamentary election campaign, which begins this week.

"The bullet came from abroad," was the conclusion of government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta. According to a survey in the paper Isvestiya, 57 percent of its readers agree. The Russian tycoon and former KGB foreign investigator Alexander Lebedev (more...), who owns Novaya Gazeta together with former President Mikhail Gorbachev, sees things differently. He warns against demonizing other countries, and recommends instead a "radical reform of the law enforcement agencies" in his own country.

Ilya Politkovsky also takes little stock in conspiracy theories. His mother, he says, wrote more than 500 articles, and most of them could have been reason enough for someone to want revenge. "She was killed because of a very specific piece of research," he says. Politkovsky says he doesn't want to give up hope that "the truth will come to light one day after all."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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 London ~~ Saturday September 1, 2007

Enemies of the state

The prosecutor in the Politkovskaya inquiry sounds disturbingly like he's back in the USSR

Roman Shleinov

The arrest of 10 people suspected of involvement in the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya was announced in Moscow this week by the prosecutor general, Yuri Chaika. Those held include officials from the Russian interior ministry and the Federal Security Service. Chaika said that those ultimately behind the murder are living outside the Russian Federation, adding that it was committed with the intention of destabilising Russia and reimposing the rule of the oligarchs.

It is gravely troubling that the prosecutor general is summing up before a full indictment has been issued, and long before legal proceedings have been completed. What is more he has repeated almost word for word a statement President Vladimir Putin made in the immediate aftermath of the murder, blaming forces outside Russia. Either the Russian president is blessed with prophetic powers, or the public prosecutor is making an effort to please Putin.

Yuri Chaika's declaration resembles the statement of a politician rather than a public prosecutor. It fails to stand up to criticism if only because the murder of a journalist could not destabilise the country. Over the past 10 years, more than 200 journalists have been killed, or have died in suspicious circumstances. The Russian people are neither surprised nor intimidated by such murders: they became inured to these things long ago.

The prosecutor general's language is redolent of times when the internal problems of the Soviet Union were linked exclusively to the machinations of enemies outside the country. If we are to suppose even for a moment that forces outside Russia's borders are in a position to hire officials from the Federal Security Service and the interior ministry to kill a journalist, then the leaders of the special services, the police force and the prosecutor general's office should resign tomorrow.

· Roman Shleinov is investigations editor at Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper where Politkovskaya worked. A longer version of this article is at indexonline.org.

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 London ~~ Tuesday 28 August 2007

Russia suggests Berezovsky was behind journalist's killing

By Shaun Walker in Moscow

Russian prosecutors have announced a breakthrough in the hunt for the killers of Anna Politkovskaya, the crusading journalist and prominent critic of Vladimir Putin, who was murdered last year.

Conveniently for the Kremlin, the finger of suspicion points directly at President Vladimir Putin's main enemy, the exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

The announcement came three days before what would have been Politkovskaya's 49th birthday, and almost a year after she was shot dead in a hail of bullets in the lift of her Moscow apartment building early last October.

The Russian prosecutor-general, Yuri Chaika, said at a press conference in Moscow yesterday that 10 arrests had been made, including the direct organisers, accomplices and the assassin himself.

Figures within the Russian Interior Ministry and secret services have been arrested as accomplices to the crime, but it was hinted that the mastermind of the murder was the oligarch living outside Russia.

The person who ordered the crime, said Mr Chaika, was living outside Russia and wanted to "destabilise the situation in the country ... and return to the previous ruling system, when money and oligarchs decided everything."

This would suggest either the London-based Boris Berezovsky, or the former head of Yukos oil and gas company, Leonid Nevzlin, who lives in Israel. The Kremlin and Russian authorities have long suggested that Mr Berezovsky is behind the murder of both Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent poisoned in London last November.

Experts and former colleagues of the assassinated journalist expressed satisfaction that arrests had been made, but scepticism at Mr Chaika's conclusions.

"It's good that there has been progress in the case," said Igor Yakovenko, secretary-general of the Russian Union of Journalists. "If we believe everything that Chaika says then this is the end of the sad tradition of the murders of journalists in Russia going unsolved." But, he said, there were several doubts about the allegations. "It's worrying that, even before the investigation has been officially completed, they are pointing the finger at people abroad," he said.

Dmitry Muratov, the editor of Novaya Gazeta, the opposition newspaper where Politkovskaya published her hard-hitting reports on Russian politics and the conflict in Chechnya, expressed similar doubts. "We have known about this for a while. We've worked together with their investigation and we trust their professionalism," said Mr Muratov. "But we are absolutely amazed that they have openly stated they know who ordered the crime before the investigation has even been completed."

Mr Muratov confirmed that a security services official had been arrested, and revealed that the FSB security-service operative in question was a Moscow-based lieutenant-colonel. "At this stage, I don't want to reveal any more," he said. "Let's wait first for the court case."

Mr Chaika stated that the killing was carried out by a Chechen criminal gang operating in Moscow that specialises in professional hits. He also linked the group to the killings of Andrei Kozlov, the corruption-fighting banker who was shot dead last year, and the Forbes magazine editor Paul Klebnikov, killed in 2004.

He refused to name the mastermind, but separately stated that Russia's long-standing efforts to have Boris Berezovsky brought before a Russian court could bear fruit soon, if the former oligarch is extradited from Britain to Brazil, where he is wanted on charges of financial irregularity, and from there to Russia.

If all of Mr Chaika's claims are to be believed, it would mean that members of Russia's security services are under the command of Boris Berezovsky. " The level of corruption in Russia can bring many unpleasant surprises," said Gennady Gudkov, a former FSB colonel and now a member of the security committee of the Duma, or parliament. Mr Gudkov said he was certain the London-based exile was behind the killing: "My information leads me to believe that Berezovsky himself, or people controlled by him, are behind both this act and many acts of terrorism."

Others were sceptical. "We have no guarantees the names of those who really ordered the killing and the names of those who will be accused of it will be the same," said a statement from Novaya Gazeta's editorial team. "We have no complaints about the investigative team. We're working together ... But we want to be certain that nothing 'expedient', with no actual relation to the crime, influences this joint work."

Many might wonder if it is a little too convenient that Mr Chaika's statement neatly confirms the Kremlin's allegations from the start. "It makes you wonder if we are dealing not only with an 'ordered' killing but with an 'ordered' investigation too," said Mr Yakovenko.

Mr Berezovsky did not comment last night.

A passionate critic of Putin

* Born in New York in 1958 to Soviet Ukrainian parents - both UN diplomats - Anna Politkovskaya graduated as a journalist from Moscow State university and went on to report for the Soviet newspaper Izvestiya for over 10 years. In 1999, she became a national figure when she joined the relatively liberal Novaya Gazeta, a paper which took a consistently critical line against the Kremlin.

* She travelled regularly to Chechnya and the north Caucasus, reporting especially on the deaths of innocent civilians caught up in the war there with Russia.

* In 2002, she tried to help negotiate at the scene after becoming one of the few journalists to enter the theatre in Moscow seized by Chechen militants who held hundreds of people hostage.

* In 2004, she reported that she had been poisoned by a cup of tea on a flight.

* In the same year, she wrote Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy, a book attacking Mr Putin's human rights record. Her final article was about pro-Kremlin militias operating a policy of "Chechenisation" in the region. She was shot dead in her Moscow apartment block on 7 October 2006.

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| August 27, 2007

Investigations

How Anya was killed

First arrests of the suspected of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder done

Ten people, suspected of being involved in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, have been arrested. This information was communicated today by General Prosecutor Chaika at the press-conference. It was also confirmed by the special investigator from Prosecutor General’s Office Pyotr Garibyan. A charge has been brought against the arrested about several episodes of their criminal activity. The court legitimated detentions made from 15 to 23 August and gave sanction for arrest. Active investigation actions are being carried out now – interrogations and searches.

Of course, it’s too early to talk about solving Politkovskaya’s murder. It’s not all accomplices who are detained while the guilt of those who are arrested is to be proved. In such a complicated case mistakes are possible while presumption of innocence cannot be canceled even considering that was the murder in the first degree. All must be proved cogently so that the case not cracks in the court. That is why we cannot disclose all the details known to the journalists from the Novaya who continue their own investigation of the Anya’s murder.

So who is arrested? First, these are several members of rather big and rather known criminal ethnic gang specializing in contract murders. Second, it’s several officers (former and acting ones) from law enforcement bodies and special service who received orders for a cover of murders and other criminal actions and also had their own racketeer’s business. We know their record of service and their record of criminal episodes and we have an idea of how roles were assigned in the preparation and completion of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder.

The number of the arrested and those who are to be arrested says about several points. First, one may assume that separate investigations by Prosecutor General’s Office and by the Novaya Gazeta came to at least two stable criminal groups that cooperate “fruitfully” with each other. This is interpenetration of crime and law enforcement bodies that Anna wrote about many times. This is absence of control that makes warrant officers and majors sell their official powers. It must be stressed that this is the joint business established years ago and based on the grave crime and offence. If we unraveled this tangle, then the details of many celebrated unsolved cases would be disclosed.

Second, the murder was planned and prepared meticulously by professionals who had had experience of solving such kind of “problems”.

Third, it cost expensive. It’s too early to talk about those who ordered this murder; coming elections considering that may cause political special operations around circumstances of the crime. Besides, we don’t have guarantees that real clients’ names will be mentioned in the indictment. And that wouldn’t be investigation’s fault.

We have repeated many times that we don’t have claims against those who investigate the murder of the Novaya Gazeta’s journalist. We are collaborating, and the mutual opinion is that this collaboration is effective. We just want to be sure that certain “rational reasons” that don’t relate to this matter directly, wouldn’t influence the outcome of our joint work. The outcome we need is clear. The killers, accomplices and real clients of this murder must be established and convicted.

Analyzing circumstances of Anna’s death we reconstructed approximately the crime. The mediators got the order in spring or summer 2006. In the beginning of September Politkovskaya began to be shadowed. Before that, her actual address of residence (she had moved to a flat on Lesnaya Street not long before that) was established using facilities of the special service. She was shadowed from morning till night. Generally, Anya was very careful, considering the number of hidden and evident threats. She always reported to editorial staff about all “peculiarities” that happened to her and her relatives.

But in the end of August and beginning of September the situation was different. Her mother was in hospital and they just had buried the father. Anya’s route was practically same those days, differently from her usual working days. In the morning she had a walk with her dog, and then she went shopping and came to see her mother in the hospital. In the afternoon she took again her dog for a walk and late in the day she came to hospital again. When you have problems about your relatives you don’t care of yourself too much. Anya mentioned, though, some strange people hat she met on her staircase.

Yes, those strange people, to put it more exactly one man, really had to be met by her. We think that the killer had at least twice entered the block of flats before, following Politkovskaya and scouting the place. 7 October at 16:01 he fired 5 shots. The first and the fifth bullet (checking shot) were shot into the head. Remodeled gas gun with silencer was left at the crime scene. This gun had no crime records before.

The killer rushed out from the entrance, got in a car and left the crime scene. The publication of the frames fixing all this, made by someone and passed to the journalists, prejudiced the investigation very much.

As you understand, there are a lot of essential details laying behind this laconic chronicle that cannot be disclosed yet.  We often hear questions and reproaches why investigation takes so long and why we journalists say “no comment” for long time.

About term of investigation. Anna Politkovskaya published over 500 articles in the Novaya Gazeta. Almost each of them could have been the reason of the murder. It’s not only materials about Chechnya. The geography is rather large. It’s Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Astrakhan, Bashkiria, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. That is why initially there were many versions. One of the first ones was about special squad officer in the city of Khanty-Mansiysk whose family name is Lapin. This man threatened Politkovskaya many times. Now he is being tried in the court about another case. Lapin’s accomplices, who are also officers, were wanted by the federal security service. The investigation of Politkovskaya’s murder had questions to them too. One of them was found in the city of Khanty-Mansiysk. He didn’t hide; he lived at home and continued his service. But it turned out that those people didn’t have any relation to this murder.

This way, step by step, version by version, the skilful investigative work was done.

Many things were happening around these two investigations – ours and the official one. Agent provocateurs tried to foul the trail and distract the investigation. Some people tried to get the money offered by the Novaya’s shareholder Alexander Lebedev as consideration for the information given. There were also threats and we will tell about it later.

And the last thing. Our reservedness in communicating with our colleagues could have offended someone. Some people said we take care not to fall foul with someone and that’s why we keep silence. Yellow press carried out their own investigations and communicated silly things saying about “witnesses” and giving their names (it were Anya’s relatives and people who had no relation to this matter). All that endangered those people’s lives. Some people insisted on “right” versions sounded by high rank officials. (By the way, Assistant President Shuvalov or Ramzan Kadyrov who made loud statements about this case, haven’ been interrogated yet).

Such was the background the investigation was done at. This is the answer to the question “why does it take so long?” And we will wait as long as it is needed to be sure that the sentence is indisputable and true.

Editorial board of the Novaya Gazeta
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 London ~~ Monday June 18, 2007

Yelena Tregubova: In Putin's Russia, the law of the bandit has prevailed

The attack on Andrei Kalitin exposes the atmosphere that President Vladimir Putin has created in Russia. Bandit law prevails and people are able to intimidate their critics and eliminate their opponents with force.

On the day of Anna Politkovskaya's funeral, Mr Putin described the investigative journalist and her work as "insignificant". If one of the most well-respected journalists is insignificant, what does that say about the others? It is a sign that the government does not care and will not protect them.

Politkovskaya was first targeted when she was poisoned on a flight to cover the Beslan school hostage tragedy. The second time, those who wanted her dead succeeded when she was murdered in the lift of her Moscow flat last year.

It is also a sign to the political, social and business elites that no one is safe. Mr Putin is removing opponents from the political landscape in time for the presidential elections next year. It looks as if the killing of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent, in London was intended as a message: "If you do not agree with us you will become our enemy and you will be killed."

And it is not just about Mr Putin and his opponents. When people see that the authorities solve their problems with force, businessmen think: "Why can't I do the same?" In persecuting their political detractors and in turning a blind eye to attacks on journalists, the Kremlin is giving a green light to those who wish to eliminate their opponents.

We are seeing a return to the Wild West days of the early Yeltsin era. Tony Blair's tough talk about standing up to Russia was just empty rhetoric. International businesses - British businesses - simply roll over and accept these bandit rules, such is their fear of being frozen out.

The G8 summit showed how impotent Western leaders are in the face of Mr Putin's provocations. They continue to smile and shake his hand. Only Mr Blair spoke out (and only because he is leaving office soon and has nothing to lose).Mr Putin and his regime understand nothing but money; only tough economic sanctions would have any effect on him.

This lack of action is not just immoral, but also potentially harmful to the rest of the world. How long before the killers target foreign journalists and foreign business opponents?

I have no reason to think that the situation in Russia will improve. It has deteriorated rapidly since the murder of Politkovskaya and is worsening day by day. Freedom of the press is a key indicator of the conditions that exist in a society. In Russia, journalists who speak out against the regime or against big business are in mortal danger. The Kremlin has made it clear that anyone wishing to silence their critics can do so.

Yelena Tregubova is a Russian journalist seeking asylum in Britain.
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 August 30, 2007

Putin's politicized prosecutor

AMERICANS anxious about what can happen when prosecutors are subject to political manipulation need only consider the announcement Monday by Russia's chief prosecutor that 10 suspects have been arrested for the murder last October of the independent journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of Kremlin abuses in Chechnya.

After meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, chief prosecutor Yuri Chaika told the press the murder was masterminded by a Chechen crime boss. The detainees included police officers and a lieutenant colonel of the FSB, the successor to the KGB.

Politkovskaya's colleagues at the independent paper Novaya Gazeta, who had been pursuing their own investigation of the contract killing, said the arrests were credible. But they intimated that the prosecutor's allegations about the motive and the ultimate responsibility for the murder might lack a factual basis.

They were being circumspect. The prosecutor's conspiracy theory was a transparently political piece of disinformation.

"As for the motives, the investigation results enable us to conclude that only someone outside the territory of the Russian Federation could be interested in killing Politkovskaya," Chaika said. "The murder plays into the hands of the people and structures aiming to destabilize the situation in Russia, change the regime, have Russia plagued with crises, plunge it back into the former system where everything was decided by cash and oligarchs, and disgrace Russian leaders."

When reporters asked if the prosecutor was alluding to Boris Berezovsky, the billionaire who regularly castigates Putin from exile in London, Chaika smiled and refused to respond. He didn't have to. His imputing of guilt to Berezovsky is consistent with the central propaganda line of Putin's Kremlin.

In that construct, Russia is under threat from Berezovsky and others who plundered the motherland's assets during the 1990s, when Boris Yeltsin ruled the country. Because of that threat, the line continues, the Kremlin is justified in controlling most of the media; appointing regional governors; taking ownership of energy conglomerates; cracking down on non-governmental organizations from abroad; and empowering the secret services to enforce the authoritarian writ of the Kremlin. In the run-up to parliamentary elections in December and presidential elections scheduled for next March, the political incentive to propagate this doctrine is more acute than ever.

Hence a theory of the Politkovskaya case that pretends a Chechen crime lord had her killed, at the behest of an expatriate oligarch, to destabilize Putin's strong state. This version serves the interests of that state better than an independent legal process. After all, that may show she was killed to stop her reporting on the Kremlin's human rights abuses in Chechnya, and the links between criminal gangs and the security services.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.