Observers say truth unlikely to emerge from Politkovskaya retrial | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 04.08.2009
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Observers say truth unlikely to emerge from Politkovskaya retrial

On Wednesday, a Russian military court is retrying four men accused of the 2006 killing of journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya. But hardly anyone thinks the case will be truly resolved.

A woman holds a photograph of reporter Anna Politkovskaya

Politkovskaya is one of 40 journalists killed in Russia since 1993

The retrial comes after the four defendants were acquitted in February for lack of evidence.

The four men are thought to be accessories in the fatal shooting of Politkovskaya in the stairwell of her apartment building on October 7, 2006. The murder had the hallmarks of a contract killing, but investigators never found the person or persons who ordered the execution or actually gunned down the journalist.

Family members and friends of Politkovskaya, whose work revolved around human rights abuses in Chechnya, say the authorities should reopen the case entirely.

"On Wednesday we will insist that the case be sent back to investigators," Ilya Politkovskaya, the victim's son, told the AFP news agency.

Amnesty International has also called the lack of a conclusion in the trial "regrettable."

"The investigation should continue with renewed vigor to bring to justice all those involved, including the gunman and those who ordered the killing," said Amnesty International researcher Simon Cosgrove in a statement to Deutsche Welle.

The four suspects in the murder case of Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya

These four men are accused of being accessories

A deputy editor at the newspaper for which Politkovskaya worked, Novaya Gazeta, says Russian authorities had only scratched the surface.

"The investigators were obstructed in their work," Sergei Sokolov told AFP.

The implication is that there's been a cover-up, possibly to conceal links between Politkovskaya's murder and the Chechen government or maybe even the Kremlin.

And given that others with connections to Politkovskaya have also been killed, some suspect that there is an active campaign to silence journalists critical of the current leadership in Russia's most troubled republic.

Chechen conspiracy?

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov

Some suspect Kadyrov, right, or even Putin of being involved

Politkovskaya's lawyer, Stanislav Markelov, was killed in January and the woman thought to be one of her primary sources, Natalia Estemirova, was murdered in an execution-style killing last month. Her body was found in Ingushetia, which borders on Chechnya.

Some have said the Chechen government is involved.

"I have no doubt that [Chechen President] Ramzan Kadyrov is behind the murder," the head of the Russian human rights group Memorial, Oleg Orlov, told the epd news agency shortly after Estemirova's killing.

Kadyrov responded by suing Orlov for slander, but the fact remains that the sort of investigations needed to bring clarity have not been carried out.

"There is no hard evidence of a link with Kadyrov and no investigations proceeding in that direction," Henning Schroeder, an expert on Russia with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told Deutsche Welle. "But the series of murders in which the victims had something to do with Chechnya makes it seem as though opponents of the government are being rubbed out."

Schroeder added that normally authorities would investigate such allegations and that Kadyrov, if innocent, should himself have an interest in seeing the investigations carried out.

"As it stands, the impression arises that police are only interested in finding scapegoats," Schroeder said.

West can only talk

Russian troops sit atop an APC while patrolling in Grozny

Almost 15 years of war left Chechnya devastated

Kadyrov, who assumed the Chechen presidency in early 2007 is a popular man in Moscow. He is credited with largely eradicating that Chechen separatist movement and bringing relative calm to a region that was the site of war for the better part of a decade and a half.

He is rumoured to enjoy close personal ties with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, but Schroeder says Kadyrov's standing is based on how useful he has made himself to the Kremlin, which had difficulty putting down the separatist revolt.

"Russia's strategy in Chechnya was to Chechenize the conflict," Schroeder said. "Russia needs Kadyrov to keep the peace."

As the leader of a pro-Moscow militia which did the dirty work for the Kremlin, Kadyrov oversaw the killing of most of Chechnya's separatist leaders and has been accused of maintaining a private militia and committing a host of human rights violations.

Human rights groups have called upon Western countries to put more pressure upon Moscow to ensure that there is a thorough investigation into the alleged connections between the murders of journalists and the Chechen president.

Chancellor Merkel with President Medvedev

Merkel was able to extract a promise from Medvedev this July

But given Russia's power and the internal nature of the conflict, there isn't all that much other countries can do.

"The possibility of exerting any influence is very small," Schroeder said. "Leaders can raise the issue, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel did recently with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in the hopes of someone within Russia personally intervening. But that's about it."

After meeting Merkel, Medvedev did in fact promise that Natalia Estemirova's killers would be found. But there's no guarantee that his promise will be kept.

And by all accounts, the defendants in the Politkovskaya retrial are - if anything - accessories to her murder. The person or persons who carried out and possibly ordered the killing remain at large.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Rob Mudge

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