Russia

They got her at last, said Moscow’s Novaya Gazeta in an editorial. Anna Politkovskaya, the most courageous investigative reporter in Russia, was gunned down in a professional hit at her apartment last week. Our “Anya” was preparing one of her meticulously documented exposés, this one on torture in the Russian province of Chechnya, for publication in this newspaper. In her last interview, with Radio Liberty just before her murder, Anya said she had evidence of “bodies that had been horribly tortured” in prisons run by Ramzan Kadyrov, the brutal warlord whom President Vladimir Putin installed as Chechen prime minister. She knew she was a target of those in power. Our “beautiful, courageous Anya” was often threatened. But she was never intimidated and never compromised her reporting. And we, her colleagues and friends, will never stop hunting for her murderers.



There are plenty of suspects, said Alexander Zheglov in Moscow’s Kommersant. Many unsavory people—Russians and Chechens alike—wanted Politkovskaya silenced. More than any other reporter, she revealed the extent of Russian soldiers’ atrocities in Chechnya, and she was a fierce critic of President Putin. Yet she also exposed the depth of corruption among Chechens in the pro-Moscow Chechen government. Her most recent Novaya Gazeta article described how former warlords had taken posts in the Chechen security services “fighting on the side of the federal forces to take blood vengeance” on rival warlords. She even called Kadyrov “the Stalin of our times.” One theory holds that she was killed by pro-Kadyrov forces. Another, more subtle theory holds just the opposite: that she was killed by forces in Moscow that have soured on Kadyrov and want to prevent him from assuming the Chechen presidency. The implication is that Kadyrov would be blamed for Politkovskaya’s murder and would then be purged.



Either way, most Russians assume that the Kremlin was involved, said Tony Halpin in the London Times. Her death made a gruesome gift for both Putin and Kadyrov: The day of her last radio interview was the day that Kadyrov turned 30 and became eligible for the Chechen presidency. And the day she was killed, two days later, was Putin’s 54th birthday. Muscovites are quick to point out that Politkovskaya is the 12th prominent journalist “to die in a contract-style killing” since Putin came to power.



Murder has become Russia’s “special way of recognizing the services of uncompromising reporters,” said Moscow’s Vedomosti. We don’t give out Pulitzer prizes here. Instead, assassination is the top honor, proof that a journalist has uncovered an important story that implicated the powerful in evil deeds. Politkovskaya, through her articles and especially in the books A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches From Chechnya and Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy, told unsettling truths about the state of Russia today. “Everyone today is calling Anna Politkovskaya a symbol of journalistic freedom.” But she was more than a symbol; she was a real person. And “real people are easy to shoot.”