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A contract to kill

October 7, 2011

There's been progress into the investigation into the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Yet who ordered the killing remains unknown. Five years later, there's nothing more than speculation.

A man lays a flower in front of a giant portrait of Politkovskaya
Politkovskaya was an outspoken critic of the KremlinImage: picture alliance/dpa

Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the killing of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. She was found shot in the stairwell of her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006. Politkovskaya had worked for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta and was a strong critic of former president and current prime minister, Vladimir Putin. Her reports repeatedly revealed human rights violations in the Russian region of Chechnya.

Even today, it's unclear who was behind her murder. Yet Russian officials are saying, for the first time, that they've made some progress in the investigations. In May an alleged gunman was arrested in Chechnya. According to the investigators, Chechen Rustam Makhmudov had waited in Politkovskaya's apartment building before ambushing her.

They say he was aided by fellow members of a Chechen militia. In August former senior police officer Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov was also arrested. Investigators say he organized the murder.

Investigation criticized

Editor-in-Chief of Novaya Gazeta Dmitry Muratov
Politkovskay's former colleague Dmitry Muratov wants more answersImage: dpa

The editor-in chief of Novaya Gazeta, Dmitry Muratov, praised the efforts of the investigators in early September. "We welcome the fact that the investigators now are treating Lieutenant-Colonel Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov not just as a witness, but as an accomplice," he said at a press conference in Moscow.

A "horrible abscess" has been eliminated, Muratov said, referring to the special division of the militia led by Pavlyuchenkov. He said he believed other members of the department were also involved in the murder.

Muratov was disappointed, however, that it was not yet clear who had given the order for the murder. "We know who organized the murder. But I have the impression that no one wants to uncover anything further," he said.

Those behind the murder

While officials have made no comment on who might have been behind the order to kill Politkovskaya, the Russian media has speculated plenty. According to the newspaper Kommersant, Pavlyuchenkov revealed the name of the person who ordered the murder during police questioning.

In September the newspaper reported that Pavlyuchenkov had said it was possible Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky had commissioned the murder through a middleman in the Caucasus in order to cause Putin political harm.

Berezovsky has been a harsh critic of the Russian government. He has lived in exile in Britain for ten years, while in Russia he is wanted on charges of corruption and money laundering. From London Berezovsky has attempted to influence Russian politics and has repeatedly called for an end to Putin's rule.

No known suspect

Authorities have denied rumors of a connection between Politkovskaya's murder and Berezovsky.

"We do not know yet who ordered the murder," Russia's chief investigator, Alexander Bastrykin, said in response to the news paper reports. "We have no basis on which to say that it is Berezovsky."

Boris Berezovsky
Berezovsky is seen as a major Putin opponentImage: dpa

Many journalists and human rights do not buy the idea that Berezovksy was involved. Sergei Sokolov, the deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, described such suggestions as a "bad joke."

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the chairman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a government monitoring organization, said the allegations against Berezovsky made no sense.

"How was Anna Politkovskaya in his way?" the human rights activist asked. "I think this is a trick of the investigators in order to distract us from the real people behind the murder. Berezovsky is no angel and I have little sympathy for him, but what we have here is speculation and conjecture and I wonder who is taking advantage of that."

Author: Jegor Winogradow, Markian Ostaptschuk / hf
Editor: Michael Lawton