Anna Politkovskaya

Acclaimed investigative journalist whose work included searing critiques of Putin's Russia


Anna Politkovskaya, journalist: born New York 1958; married (one son, one daughter); died Moscow 7 October 2006.

If ever any proof were needed that Russia is still haunted by its Soviet demons, it has been provided by the assassination on Saturday in Moscow of Anna Politkovskaya, the acclaimed investigative journalist.

Her killing, in the lift of her own apartment block, is the latest in a series of murders to target prominent campaigners which have besmirched the democratic credentials of the state. For those of us who worked in Moscow in the Soviet era, it is a chilling reminder of a time gone by, when murders went unsolved and people disappeared from view for speaking their mind.

It is hard to disagree with Politkovskaya's own diagnosis, that the hallmarks of the Soviet era have made a comeback with the authoritarian "managed democracy" of Vladimir Putin. Critics have been jailed, opposition television stations muzzled, non- government organisations shut and surrogate parties formed under the umbrella of the Kremlin to give the semblance of democracy.

These are tough times for the defenders of human rights in Russia, with the oil price just below $60 per barrel. Like China, Russia can swat away the criticism, knowing that the West now needs Russia more than Russia needs the West. Russia currently even holds the presidency of the Council of Europe, the European-wide human rights watchdog.

Yet, only a few weeks ago, Andrei Kozlov, the deputy chairman of the central bank, was shot dead by two gunmen in Moscow after launching a crusade against money-laundering which had resulted in the closure of a number of banks. Other victims of still unsolved murders include Paul Klebnikov, the American-born editor of Forbes Russia who had written about organised crime and Chechnya, and who was killed in a drive-by shooting outside his Moscow office in 2004.

While Politkovskaya was the fourth prominent journalist to be murdered in post-Soviet Russia, her death was all the more shocking because she was a woman, a 48-year-old mother of two children. Her murder is reminiscent of that of the reformist deputy Galina Starovoitova, also a prominent human rights campaigner, who was shot to death at the entrance to her apartment building in November 1998 in St Petersburg, the home town of Putin.

Anna Politkovskaya was born in 1958 in New York into the privileged background of a family of UN diplomats, but she was educated in Soviet Russia. In recent years she knew that she was a marked woman because of her journalistic work, which included searing critiques of Putin, a KGB agent turned president, and his wars in Chechnya. In her 2004 book Putin's Russia, which lifted the lid on the subversion of Russia's nascent civil institutions by Putin, she assailed the West for turning a blind eye to what was going on. "Why is it difficult to sustain the rosy point of view when you are faced with reality in Russia?" she wrote.

Because Putin, a product of the country's murkiest intelligence service, has failed to transcend his origins and stop behaving like a lieutenant-colonel in the Soviet KGB. He is still busy sorting out his freedom-loving fellow countrymen; he persists in crushing liberty just as he did earlier in his career.

The book was not published in Moscow.

Politkovskaya was a graduate of the journalism school of Moscow State University, and wrote for the daily newspaper Izvestiya during the heady days of perestroika, the reform movement launched by Mikhail Gorbachev.

In 1999 she joined the Novaya Gazeta, known for its tough criticism of the Kremlin, and began reporting on Chechnya during Russia's second military campaign there. She focused fearlessly on the human rights abuses against the civilian population in the independence-seeking republic. In 2001, she fled to Vienna, where she remained for several months after receiving death threats from a Russian police officer said to be bent on revenge.

In 2002, she mediated in the hostage-taking at a Moscow theatre when Chechen guerrillas took control of the building during a performance, seizing 900 people. She later wrote about the aftermath to the hostage-taking which ended with Russian special forces using poison gas inside the theatre, leaving 129 people dead. According to Politkovskaya, Putin himself selected the secret military gas.

In 2004, when travelling to Beslan to cover the school hostage-taking by suspected Chechen militants, she became seriously ill with symptoms of food poisoning after drinking tea on the flight from Moscow. Colleagues had no doubt that the incident was an attempt on her life.

Last March, she wrote of the mysterious illness affecting schoolchildren and their teachers in Chechnya which was dismissed as "mass hysteria" by the Kremlin but which could have been mass poisoning.

She was also an outspoken critic of Chechnya's Moscow-backed Prime Minister, Ramzan Kadyrov, given a free hand by the Kremlin to unleash a reign of terror in the republic. She accused the militia under his control of being responsible for abductions and torture, charges which Kadyrov has denied.

Politkovskaya, whose shock of grey hair and glasses were well known in Russia, was acclaimed in the West where she won more than 10 awards for her writing, including the Olof Palme Prize for human rights in 2005 and an Amnesty International prize.

Condemnation rang out yesterday around the world in response to the killing of Anna Politkovskaya. Yet the Kremlin's silence was chilling. As of yesterday evening, Putin had not commented on the journalist's death. One is reminded of his reaction to the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine with 118 on board in August 2000, which reflected the Communist apparatchik's callous disregard for human life. Speaking from the Black Sea resort where he was on holiday, he simply said: "It sank."

Politkovskaya always took a different view. She said: "My heroes are those people who want to be individuals, but are being forced to be cogs again. In an empire there are only cogs."

Anne Penketh

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will also work alongside their seasoned sa...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first step into...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical Design Engineer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative company working...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat