The murder of Anna Politkovskaya: comments and theories

The leading theories about the murder of Anna Politkovskaya can be divided into two groups: political theories – attempting to destabilize the situation in Russia or damage Russia’s image abroad; and “Chechnya connection” theories – directly related to the journalist’s writings.

The law enforcement agencies are trying to avoid making any official comments on theories regarding the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. On the very first day, Prosecutor General’s Office personnel said that Politkovskaya’s death was certainly linked to her work. They have said nothing more. Meanwhile, others are presenting arguments for a broad range of theories.

The leading theories can be divided into two groups: political theories – connected with an attempt to destabilize the situation in Russia and “correct” Russia’s image in the international arena; and “Chechnya connection” theories – directly related to the journalist’s writings.

The political theory has it that Politkovskaya’s murder was ordered from abroad. We were the first to draw attention to this theory. A similar assumption was expressed by President Putin at a press conference in Dresden on October 10. Developments of this theory have mentioned the names of Boris Berezovsky and Leonid Nevzlin – the most prominent of the individuals Russia is trying to extradite. Both Berezovsky and Nevzlin will probably face extradition attempts for a long time to come, having to prove in foreign courts why they should not be returned to Russia. One of their primary objectives is to portray Russia as a state where people can get shot in the head for their pro-democracy convictions.

Boris Berezovsky, interviewed by phone from London: “A revolution in Russia would certainly be to my advantage. But all my actions are within the law – esepcially since the Russian authorities are doing far more to destabilize the situation in Russia than I ever could. I had a difficult relationship with Anna Politkovskaya. At first, she directly accused me of instigating the war in Chechnya. But then she learned more about the situation and withdrew those accusations. I understood that her work was dangerous, but I didn’t attempt to tell her what to do. Everyone chooses their own risks. Trying to stop her would have been futile.”

Then again, it should be acknowledged that others besides Berezovsky and Nevzlin would also stand to benefit from “correcting” Russia’s image. Russia is also trying to extradite common criminals, who often argue in foreign courts that they’re being persecuted for political reasons.

The Chechnya theory has been mentioned in practically all media outlets, including the “Novaya Gazeta” newspaper, Politkovskaya’s employer. This theory has two components: Politkovskaya may have been killed by either supporters or opponents of Ramzan Kadyrov. It’s curious to note that the management of “Novaya Gazeta” had been planning to reassign Politkovskaya from the Chechnya issue to other topics. Might this have been the reason for her death? It’s an open secret that Politkovskaya had her own sources of information in Chechnya: information of a particular kind – undermining the credibility of the federal forces and the Chechen administration. These people may have found out that Politkovskaya was about to be taken off the Chechnya story. She was about to become useless to them – or perhaps even dangerous to them, given the information at her disposal. Or did these people decide that death was the final service Politkovskaya could render them?

Many observers don’t rule out the possibility that the murder could have been revenge by military personnel who had served in Chechnya. Among Russian officers, there was a lot of anger about Politkovskaya’s articles. In patriotic clubs and associations, where many former officers are members, Politkovskaya may have been “sentenced” to death. Politkovskaya’s former colleagues don’t rule out this theory either.

“It’s possible,” says “Novaya Gazeta” military observer Vyacheslav Izmailov. “I’ve heard of these secret societies who call themselves ‘Russia’s saviors.'”

An officer threatened to kill Politkovskaya several years ago. In 2001, she wrote an article about the disappearance of Zelimkhan Murdalov in Grozny. Then she started getting death threats by email.

“Someone calling himself ‘Kadet’ was promising to buy a sniper rifle and shoot Anna,” says “Novaya Gazeta” Chief Editor Dmitri Muratov. “Anna reported it to the police and was assigned some bodyguards.”

The bodyguards were dismissed two weeks later, when Kadet was found. He turned out to be Senior Lieutenant Sergei Lapin from the OMON police in Khanty-Mansiisk. He had been sentenced to 11 years for abducting Murdalov.