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Tribute to Novaya’s Killed Reporters

12:35, 16 октября 2021«Новая газета», редакция


12:35, 16 октября 2021«Новая газета», редакция


People hold photos of slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, in Moscow. Photo: EPA

Here what’s in store for you this week:

  • We pay a special tribute to our reporters who got killed in the line of work. Specifically, we mark 15th anniversary since the assasination of our colleague Anna Politkovskaya;
  • Plus, we take time to celebrate our Nobel Peace Prize win.

Want to get the full story? Click the links below for full-length articles in Russian.

15th Anniversary of Politkovskaya’s Murder

Novaya’s top investigative reporter, Anna Politkovskaya, was assassinated 15 years ago this month, on October 7. This now means that the statute of limitations for investigating her death has expired, as according to Article 78 of Russia’s Criminal Code, criminal liability can no longer be pursued after a 15-year period.

15 years later, it still hurts. The de-facto uninvestigated and unresolved assasination remains a devastating blow to all who knew her, professionally and personally. As well as those across the nation and around the world whom she touched with her tenacious spirit, her relentless truth seeking, empathy, and fearless approach to her vocation — especially as she covered human rights abuses, violence against Chechen civilians, and internal problems in the army during the Second Chechen War.

Politkovskaya was shot five times at point-blank range at her own residence on Lesnaya Street in Moscow. After she was gunned down in her apartment block elevator, six people were handed prison sentences in relation to her death. But the entire legal process following her 2006 assassination was a shambles. Four men — including a policeman — were eventually convicted in 2012-2013 for their involvement in planning the murder. Two Chechens, gangster Lom-Ali Gaitukaev and his nephew Rustam Makhmudov received the harshest prison sentences for undertaking it. But that took a very long time; Rustam Makhmudov, the alleged triggerman, managed to flee and was only prosecuted in this seven-year-later trial.

People passing by the place of Anna Politkovskaya's murder in Moscow. A picture dated 08 October 2006. Photo: RIA Novosti

But Russian authorities never bothered to establish who ordered the killing. This was clearly a case of special interest: in the immediate aftermath, her case was handed to Russia’s Investigative Committee (Sledcom) and it did eventually prosecute the actual murderers. But what of the person who ordered it? Russian President Vladimir Putin heavily hinted that exiled tycoon and prolific government critic Boris Berezovsky was behind her death. Prosecutor General Yury Chaika also pointed the finger at the late London-based oligarch, suggesting he paid off the men with the intention of discrediting Putin. It was only after the highest echelons of power decided that Berezovsky was the likely culprit did Sledcom begin to gather flimsy evidence (mostly against him). The investigation relied on flimsy sources implicated in other apparent criminal activities and investigators did not consider any other possible options.

This week, our deputy editor-in-chief Sergey Sokolov covers every single failure inherent in the case at all levels: the inability to identify the person who ordered the killing, the course of the arrests, and how the killer himself managed to flee Moscow. So, all those years ago, Novaya began its own investigation with businessman and former KGB officer Aleksandr Lebedev (who bought London’s Evening Standard newspaper in 2009) offering a reward for information. Then a high-level businessman and Novaya shareholder, he offered around 25 million rubles ($350,000 by today’s rates) — but unfortunately it resulted in some unpleasant consequences as chancers and opportunists sought the hefty payoff.

Meanwhile, we tried to find out who was really behind it, even travelling to Chechnya to chase the fraying trails of the plot to murder our Anya. We even managed to meet with someone purporting to be rebel commander Sulim Yamadayev, who departed for the Emirates shortly after the heavily-obscured interaction and was later murdered too. Former police colonel Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov ended up striking a plea bargain with investigators: he was supposed to name the client of the purported contract killing. He never produced a name — but the deal was not honored despite it being demanded by Anna’s children, who were deemed victims in the case. The perpetrators were sentenced but any investigation into the person who ordered the killing has remained completely stagnant since.

Last week we released a special documentary, with English subtitles, ‘Who Killed Anna’. Watch it here and please, share it. This would be the best way to honor Politkovskaya’s memory on the anniversary of her murder.

Politkovskaya’s Children Speak Out

Anna Poitkovskaya’s children, Vera and Ilya, also published a statement this month in Novaya to explain what these past 15 years mean to them, and the reluctance of state apparatus to search for the real killer.

“They did not want to investigate,” they state. “We have no doubts about that.”

“For the first five years, we believed that there was a chance. They answered everything with the sentiment that ‘we just have to wait and hope’ …. Various officials tried to convince us in every possible way, ‘we have to wait, the investigation is underway … the main thing is to be careful, don’t make public statements, don’t criticize or interfere with the investigation’. We didn’t interfere. And what happened? Nothing. After 15 years we still don’t have the name of the client.”

Vera and Ilya Poitkovsky (in the centre). Photo: RIA Novosti

‘From day one nobody planned to search for the client who ordered the killing.’ Poitkovskaya’s children note that police officer Pavlyuchenkov’s 11-year sentence for playing a participatory role in the murder will soon come to an end. And that, in the transcript of his interrogation, he was encouraged to state that Berezovsky was the person who ordered the killing.

“Today we are certain that we have every right to state: from day one nobody planned to search for the client who ordered the killing. Since October 7, 2006, when my mother was shot at the entrance to her home, there was not a single day when [investigators] sought out those who ordered it, and those who did had no reason to worry — from the very start.”

“The house of cards will crumble not only in our case, but in many other cases of contract killings, in which the customers and organizers were sheltered and prevented from being served justice,” Poitkovskaya’s children warn in an open letter published by Novaya.

Read their heartfelt testimony, here.

Our Nobel Peace Prize

‘Alive and dead, this is their prize’

Last week, Novaya Gazeta’s Editor-in-Chief, Dmitry Muratov, jointly with Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa, won the Nobel Peace Prize, “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace”. Muratov was a co-founder of the newspaper in 1993, after the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev used a portion of his own Nobel funds to help set it up. He originally worked for Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP), which stood against the 1991 coup against Gorbachev — after which it took a more tabloid-y direction — whereas Muratov’s loyalties lay with a more investigative outlet.

We dedicated the prize to all our murdered journalists, including Anya. Six of us have been murdered since the year 2000. Many more have received death threats, life-threatening injuries, or harassment.

“Igor Domnikov, Yury Schekochikin, Anna Politkovskaya, Stas Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, Natasha Estemirova — these are the people who received the Nobel Prize today,” said Muratov.

Novaya Gazeta’s Editor-in-Chief Dmitry Muratov. Photo by Anastasia Tsitsinova for "Novaya Gazeta"

The Nobel Committee cited our wide-ranging coverage of sensitive topics, amid significant personal danger. “Since its start-up in 1993, Novaya Gazeta has published critical articles on subjects ranging from corruption, police violence, unlawful arrests, electoral fraud and ‘troll factories’ to the use of Russian military forces both within and outside Russia,” it stated.

“Novaya Gazeta’s opponents have responded with harassment, threats, violence and murder. Since the newspaper’s start, six of its journalists have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaya.”

Being a journalist in Russia has never been easy, but Russian media crackdowns remain on the rise, taking a brutal turn in 2019 and they are still reaching new lows. This year alone, media outlet Proekt (‘Project’)* has been deemed ‘undesirable’, while Meduza, VTimes, First Anticorruption Media, RFE/RL, and Current Time have all been slapped with the ‘foreign agent’ label. Journalists are routinely taken to court as part of a campaign to silence and intimidate, and violence against them is common. Earlier this year, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) raided the apartment of veteran investigative reporter Roman Anin. Our investigative reporter Elena Milashina was attacked in Chechnya back in February and has faced death threats over her latest reports.

Despite the huge irony behind it, several Russian figureheads congratulated us — including many from Kremlin-affiliated channels. Feel free to read all of their varied messages here.

If you like to join the international solidarity wave and support our journalism from abroad, please subscribe to this newsletter as many of your colleagues and friends as possible. You can do it by sharing this link with them.

Bonus Round


THE RUSSIAN CONTEXT is our first English-language podcast show. You can find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Soundcloud, Castbox and VK podcasts. Our first episode is devoted to the rising power of Russian authoritarian tech and the Kremlin's growing censorship of Russians online. It features our columnist Sergei Golubitskii explaining the consequences behind recent success of the Russian Sovereign Internet, our politics correspondent Dasha Kozlova explaining new wave of online censorship laws, our special correspondent Ivan Zhilin explaining Russian disinformation, and our politics editor Kirill Martynov reflecting on the future of Russian digital repressions. We would appreciate your feedback. Please drop us a line at [email protected].

This newsletter drop is written and edited by Aliide Naylor. Produced by Nadezhda Prusenkova.

Please, Support our work by promoting our newsletter with#RussiaExplained hashtag on social media.

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