The trial of five men accused of involvement in the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya will begin in Moscow tomorrow, in the latest attempt by authorities to bring to justice those behind one of the most notorious contract killings in recent Russian history.
Ms Politkovskaya, who wrote for Novaya Gazeta, the Russian paper part-owned by Alexander Lebedev, who is also the financial backer of The Independent, was gunned down in the entrance to her Moscow apartment in October 2006.
On trial will be three brothers from Chechnya, their uncle, and a former police officer. Three of the accused have already been acquitted by a jury in 2009, but that decision was overturned by Russia’s supreme court, and a new jury was chosen for a new trial. Lom-Ali Gaitukayev is accused of organising the hit, while his nephew Rustam Makhmudov allegedly pulled the trigger.
Last December, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, a former police officer, was given an 11-year sentence for helping in the logistics of the murder, after cooperating with investigators. He tracked Ms Politkovskaya prior to her killing to learn her routine, and acquired the gun used to shoot her.
At the time of his conviction, Ms Politkovskaya’s colleagues and family said they were pleased that Pavlyuchenkov had been convicted but expressed frustration that he had not been forced to name those who ordered the attack.
“Pavlyuchenkov knows the name of the go-between at least, and very likely also the name of the mastermind, and he is being allowed not to name these people,” said Novaya Gazeta’s deputy editor Sergei Sokolov at the time.
Many of Ms Politkovskaya’s former colleagues have voiced suspicions that Ramzan Kadyrov, the controversial Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, could have been behind the killing. Ms Politkovskaya published a number of hard-hitting articles about rights abuses in Chechnya and she was preparing a story about torture in the region when she was killed. Mr Kadyrov has denied all involvement, saying that he would never kill a woman.
The Investigative Committee has suggested that the murder, along with other killings of those critical of the Kremlin or Mr Kadyrov, could have been ordered by Boris Berezovsky, the fugitive Russian oligarch who died earlier this year in Surrey, as an elaborate ruse to discredit the Kremlin.
President Vladimir Putin, in the days after the murder, said that Ms Politkovskaya’s “ability to influence political life in Russia was extremely insignificant”, and that her death caused Russia’s reputation more harm than her articles.
The new trial may establish who pulled the trigger; it is unlikely to reveal who ordered Ms Politkovskaya dead.