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Russian President 'Will Watch Over' Journalist's Murder Investigation

Dmitry Muratov (left) with Mikhail Gorbachev after Anna Politkovskaya's killing
MOSCOW -- "Novaya gazeta," which is partly owned by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and businessman Aleksandr Lebedev, is a rare publication in Russia these days. An independent national newspaper with its own highly popular website, it has become famous for its daring investigative reporting.

Several of the newspaper's reporters have paid the highest price. The latest was 25-year-old Anastasia Baburova, who was shot in central Moscow on January 19 alongside human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, in still-unexplained circumstances.

Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of "Novaya gazeta" was invited to the Kremlin on January 29 by President Dmitry Medvedev and spoke to RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Andrei Shary about the meeting.

RFE/RL: Who organized the meeting with President Medvedev?

Dmitry Muratov:
[An official of] the presidential administration phoned Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev and me yesterday and said the president of the country would like to meet with us today, and we met today.

RFE/RL: And what did Medvedev tell you?

Mr. Medvedev said he absolutely did not want to make any statements [on the killing of Markelov and Baburova] because he knew very well how things work in the administration -- he worked as chief of the presidential administration for many years. And he said he understood perfectly well that investigators could interpret the words of the head of state as a directive to pursue a certain line of investigation. As a lawyer he felt strongly against that as a matter or principle.

After allowing some time for investigators to work efficiently and independently, while understanding that what had happened was a tragedy, he decided to invite a shareholder of the newspaper, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the editor in chief to express his condolences, but also to get our perspective as people who don't represent the official or, generally speaking, television's point of view.

RFE/RL: How did he react to your words? What did you speak to him about?

I spoke about fascists sensing a certain public mood now, sensing a public demand. I said democratic institutions are stifled and that is probably the reason why fascism has raised its head. There is only one alternative to fascism and that is democracy.

As far as I understood, Dmitry Medvedev is following the situation closely and knows well about fascist, Nazi groups, which kill people constantly, in effect emerging from the underground. I handed our newspaper reports to him, essentially with a calendar of killings. He said it was one of the most dangerous phenomena today and he would pay attention to this matter. He said the cumulative effect of such fascist attacks is in complete contradiction with the path our country should follow.

RFE/RL: You are the editor in chief of an opposition newspaper that has often criticized the Kremlin. Was that felt during the meeting?

As far as our newspaper is concerned, when I said that after the killing of Anna Politkovskaya I personally thought of closing it down because it was dangerous for the lives of our people, Medvedev said, "Thank God the newspaper exists." He said that it criticizes the authorities harshly, but that's what it's for, and "Novaya gazeta" does not have to be liked, but it's necessary to accept its criticism.

RFE/RL: Did you discuss other topics?

I had more general questions, and so did Gorbachev. We talked about Stalin again being referred to as an "effective manager," and Medvedev immediately and unconditionally supported the idea of building in Moscow -- with the support of Gorbachev, Lebedev, Memorial, [artist] Ernst Neizvestny, the Russian intelligentsia, free business -- of a memorial research center for the victims of political repressions and Stalin's gulags.

RFE/RL: Was the name of jailed former Yukos executive Svetlana Bakhmina mentioned?

We also spoke about [jailed former Yukos executives] Bakhmina, [Platon] Lebedev, and [Mikhail] Khodorkovsky. He said that the humanization of punishment should continue and that punishment for people who committed crimes not directed against individuals should be softened.

RFE/RL: Did you have the impression that it was Medvedev's personal initiative to hold this meeting?

I have absolutely no doubt that this was the decision of the president [to meet with me and Gorbachev]. If you think that this was the kind of meeting where he, being a well-mannered person, wanted to express his sympathy quietly -- Medvedev said firmly that I could talk about this meeting wherever I wanted and any way I wanted, and that is what I'm basically doing.

RFE/RL: What is the result that you expect from this meeting?

Of course, practically speaking, what I expect from this meeting is that the president will watch over the investigations of the killings of our staff members: [Igor] Domnikov's killing, whose masterminds have not been identified, Yury Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, as well as Stanislav [Markelov] and Anastasia [Baburova]. And it seemed to me that that was the decision he made. Of course, he didn't say that to me or to Gorbachev, but that is how I understood his interest in this matter.