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Parallels, No Closure 10 Years After Politkovskaya's Murder

  • Tom Balmforth

A man holds a portrait of slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya during a rally marking the eighth anniversary of her death in Moscow on October 7, 2014.

A man holds a portrait of slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya during a rally marking the eighth anniversary of her death in Moscow on October 7, 2014.

MOSCOW -- The week began with the trial of five men charged with the assassination of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. It is ending with the 10th anniversary of another brazen killing in Moscow: the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

The parallels in the two slayings and their aftermath are not lost on Politkovskaya's son, Ilya Politkovsky, who in recent years has spent countless hours observing the trials of those implicated in his mother's murder, but is still no closer to knowing who the mastermind was.

"There really is the feeling that the brakes have been put on the investigation into the people who ordered it," Politkovsky told RFE/RL. "In 10 years, we haven't moved an iota toward finding the people who ordered the crime, but I still have hope."

Politkovskaya, 48, a renowned reporter for Novaya Gazeta who tirelessly exposed rights abuses in the southern republic of Chechnya, was gunned down in the stairwell of her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006, sending a chill through national media and civil society and harming Russia's reputation abroad.

In May 2014, after initially being acquitted, five men -- three of them from Chechnya -- were convicted of the murder, with two of the men receiving life sentences. But Politkovskaya's supporters and family have repeatedly said the prosecutions do not equate to justice unless the mastermind is identified, a familiar refrain from relatives of slain opposition figures in modern Russia.

Nemtsov Parallels

Politkovsky does not consider the murder "solved," and drew comparisons to the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, whose trial began on October 3 in Moscow military court.

The former deputy prime minister and opposition politician was shot in the back late on February 27, 2015, as he walked home across a bridge near the Kremlin. Five men from Chechnya have been charged with carrying out the killing, all of whom have pleaded not guilty. Investigators allege that the men were promised 15 million rubles (currently about $240,000) to kill Nemtsov, but a question mark hangs over who ordered the hit.

This has led Nemtsov's family and the opposition to accuse the authorities of not pursuing a trail of evidence they say clearly leads to Chechnya, claiming the Kremlin is wary of angering Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Calls have been made for the arrest of Ruslan Geremeyev, a senior former Chechen officer in the Sever (North) battalion with close ties to Kadyrov's inner circle, but he has not been questioned.

And while investigators in late 2015 named Geremeyev's driver, Ruslan Mukhudinov, as the alleged mastermind of the assassination, the member of Kadyrov's security services remains at large.

"The way the murders were carried out is similar," Politkovsky said. "The [alleged] triggermen are being specially shown on camera to keep society content with them being caught. But totally missing in the investigation are the people who ordered [the killings]. It's as if they don't exist. On the one hand, they say all the possibilities are being looked at, as they said with us. But in actual fact nothing is going on.

"It is really unfortunate that what we are seeing in the Nemtsov case and what is happening in the trial is extremely similar to our case. Again, there are the triggermen and middle-level organizers in court, and there is no word about who ordered the murder. It's a real shame if the story repeats what happened with our case."

WATCH: Anna Politkovskaya: A Journalist Silenced

'Enemy Of The Chechen People'

Politkovsky said he will mark the anniversary at a lunch for close relatives and then attend a commemorative ceremony at the offices of Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper where Politkovskaya worked for seven years.

If she were still alive, Politkovsky said, his mother would probably be investigating rights abuses in eastern Ukraine, where fighting between government forces and Moscow-backed separatists has claimed over 9,600 lives. The renowned journalist, he said, "would have worked on the Ukrainian issue, helping people on both sides -- and not the countries that are involved in this conflict."

The daughter of a Soviet diplomat from Ukraine, Politkovskaya was born in the United States and held dual Russian and U.S. citizenship. She was educated in Moscow, and began working as a journalist in 1982, leaping to prominence as she uncovered rights abuses by Russian and Chechen forces in the troubled republic torn apart by two wars after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Kadyrov, seen as being behind many of the abuses of the second Chechen war, was the subject of much of her reporting. She interviewed him shortly after his father, pro-Moscow Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, was assassinated in 2004.

Speaking to the recently appointed deputy prime minister in his home village of Tsenteroi, the interview ended badly, with Kadyrov calling her an "enemy of the Chechen people," and warning that she should "answer" for this.

Two years later, she was killed -- reportedly as she was working on an article exposing abuses by Kadyrov's militia -- leading many to look back on the threats the future Chechen leader had made.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov called Politkovskaya an "enemy of the Chechen people," and warning that she should "answer" for this.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov called Politkovskaya an "enemy of the Chechen people," and warning that she should "answer" for this.

'You Can't Kill All Journalists'

Novaya Gazeta on October 3 dedicated a special issue to their slain reporter. The front page carries an article written by the paper's Chechnya correspondent, Yelena Milashina, documenting Kadyrov's ironfisted rule of Chechnya and Grozny's close relationship with the Kremlin.

Milashina argues in the piece that any political bargain struck between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kadyrov when the latter came to power has "expired." She alleges in the piece that Kadyrov was initially backed by the Kremlin to lead Chechnya in return for his unwavering loyalty following years of separatist wars in the troubled southern republic, but says Kadyrov's disregard for Russian law is tantamount to a new, and more dangerous, brand of separatism.

At the top of the page, the newspaper wrote in an editorial note: "Politkovskaya was killed 10 years ago. We know for sure: for her work in Chechnya."

"The Chechen authorities have asked for 10 years why Novaya writes so much, so frequently, so stubbornly about Chechnya. The answer is simple: because our journalist was killed for Chechnya. The same Chechens who worked with Politkovskaya worked with us on this article. It was easy for you to kill Anya. It is impossible to kill her topic."

Milashina posted the article on her Facebook page with another message: "You can kill one journalist. You can kill several journalists. But you can't kill them all. That's the law of Politkovskaya."

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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at