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Anna Politkovskaya: Putin and the reporter he killed

by Dave Crouch
Issue No. 2022

Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist murdered by a hit-man in Moscow last Saturday, was Russia’s Robert Fisk. At great personal risk she reported Russia’s criminal occupation of Chechnya.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, George Bush and Tony Blair have condemned the killing, but all three will sleep easier in their beds for her death.

Bush and Blair explicitly linked Chechnya to their “war on terror” in Asia and the Middle East. This gave Putin a free hand to continue the assault on the republic, which was subject to a full scale invasion by Russia in 1994.

Politkovskaya’s reporting revealed the blood and filth that Russia’s war on Chechnya unleashed. All speculation about her killer’s identity is a smokescreen. His name is Putin.

Russia is the world’s third most deadly country for journalists - only Iraq and Algeria are more dangerous. Politkovskaya’s was at least the 12th contract?style slaying of a journalist since Putin came to power.

Her murder follows a pattern of recent crackdowns on press freedom in the former USSR. Opposition journalists murdered in recent years include Georgy Gongadze in Ukraine and Veronika Cherkassova in Belarus.

Politkovskaya received constant threats from the Russian military and was forced to flee Russia for several months in 2001. The next year she was detained by Russian troops in Chechnya, intimidated and abused.

In 2004 she flew to the Caucasus after Chechens seized a school in Beslan, where she hoped to mediate as she had done during the capture by Chechens of a theatre in Moscow two years earlier. On the plane she was poisoned - she never fully recovered. The toxin was not identified because her blood tests were destroyed.

Her murder came during the latest wave of racist hysteria in Moscow, this time whipped up against Georgians. Moscow schools are providing the police with lists of children with “Georgian names” so their parents can be harassed.

All this makes a mockery of the scurrilous words this week, seized on by the Russian press, from the head of the Council of Europe, Blairite MP Terry Davis, that Putin is a defender of media freedom and has nothing to do with Politkovskaya’s murder.

Anna was no radical. The title of her recent book on Chechnya, A Dirty War, actually refers to the Chechen resistance.

But the sheer magnitude of Russia’s crimes mean that her books and journalism, so full of compassion and anger, remain the finest condemnation of Putin’s “war on terror”.

The National Union of Journalists has called a protest at the Russian Embassy at 12 noon this Saturday. Assemble 5 Kensington Palace Gardens, London W8

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Sat 14 Oct 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2022
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