Who Really Killed Anna Politkovskaya?

by Laura Snedeker

For proof of the fragility of democracy, look no further than the state of press freedom in Russia, where 13 journalists have been killed since President Vladimir Putin took office in 2000. Not one conviction has been made in what the Committee to Protect Journalists is calling “contract-style murders.”

The latest victim was a respected investigative reporter whose stories detailed the extensive human rights abuses committed by the Russian army in Chechnya. Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in the elevator of her apartment building in 2006.

Last week, the Russian government arrested ten suspects, three of whom are former police officers and one of whom is a police major. Five others are involved in organized crime. Also arrested was an officer in the Federal Security Services (FSB), the successor to the KGB, the Soviet secret police and intelligence agency that spied on, imprisoned, and tortured dissidents.

The top investigator, upon announcing the arrests, echoed Putin’s claim that forces outside Russia assassinated Politkovskaya to discredit the president before the upcoming elections. Russian law prevents Putin from serving a third consecutive term, however he is expected to pick a successor and he has indicated he may run again in 2012.

While there are undoubtedly forces outside Russia that have a lot to gain by destabilizing the country and discrediting Putin, who prides himself on strong security credentials, the potential involvement of the police and intelligence services point to government collaboration in Politkovskaya's death. The position of the Russian government on this matter is common in authoritarian governments: Whatever embarrasses the state must be the work of outsiders, and those who question the state fall into the trap of these enemies.

Putin’s heavy-handed approach to the media is not confined to print journalism. In 2001 he promised he would not attempt to exert state control over NTV, the only independent television channel. That same year, the state gas company took control of the station and appointed new leadership that chastised journalists for reporting government corruption. Two other newspapers were closed during the takeover.

Putin, a former KGB counterintelligence officer, was picked to lead the FSB in 1998, two years before he was elected president. It’s no surprise then that his government has adopted the KGB’s attitude towards dissent. The cult of secrecy embraced by the worldwide intelligence community is the natural enemy of democracy, and there is no better demonstration of the necessity of a vibrant press than the hostility of those who have the most to fear from it.

(The photo of Politkovskaya is © copyright Novaya Gazeta and the Portal for Human Rights in Russia. The photo may be republished if the copyright holders are properly credited, as they are here.)

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Jeff Siegel said...

It's worse than this, and what Laura writes is pretty bad. Check out http://www.economist.com/world/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9682621

Rick Rockwell said...

Or you can also go here.

Rick Rockwell said...

Just as a postscript: The National Endowment for Democracy will give Politkovskaya a posthumous award later this month.

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