Politkovskaya article prompts inquiry into Chechen brutality

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The Independent Online

Prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the deaths of Russian troops in Chechnya based on revelations by the murdered investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

An article, published more than six months before Politkovskaya was killed, suggests that Kremlin-backed local militia in Chechnya are attacking and murdering Russian servicemen - soldiers who are supposed to be their allies.

Politkovskaya made a name for herself by exposing human rights abuses committed by Russian forces and separatist rebels in Chechnya, a Muslim southern republic that has experienced two wars since 1994.

The Kremlin claims that the second Chechen war, which started in 1999, is now over and that something approaching normality has returned. Politkovskaya rejected that claim. She was shot dead in a contract killing earlier this month in the lift of her Moscow apartment block.

Editors at the newspaper she worked for, Novaya Gazeta, said she was killed because of her investigative work in Chechnya. Sergei Sokolov, the deputy editor, has now disclosed that prosecutors have been working since the spring on a criminal investigation based on the contents of an article Politkovskaya wrote on 20 March. The article chronicled the beating of three Russian servicemen at the hands of their Chechen allies and was published alongside disturbing video footage shot on a mobile phone that appeared to back up Politkovskaya's allegations.

In the article, she raised the possibility that Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's Kremlin-backed Prime Minister, may have personally been involved in the beating, and possible murder, of the Russian servicemen.

In the days after Politkovskaya's murder, Novaya Gazeta suggested that Mr Kadyrov either ordered her killing to punish her for something she had written or that someone who wanted to discredit him did.

The Chechen premier has denied any involvement in her death and claimed that someone is trying to besmirch his reputation.

The incident in which the three Russian servicemen were beaten up and possibly killed by loyalist militia occurred in Grozny, the Chechen capital, in November 2005.

The footage, which can still be viewed on Novaya Gazeta's website, shows the bodies of the three men, possibly dead, prostrate on a Grozny street. The soldiers were the crew of a Russian armoured personnel carrier and had been involved in a traffic accident in which Chechen civilians may have suffered. The footage shows one of the three soldiers being severely beaten by a group of "Kadyrovtsy", the name for members of Mr Kadyrov's private army.

The soldier is knocked to the ground with rifle butts and then beaten unconscious in a frenzy of fists and kicks. At the end of the ordeal a fighter kicks his head like a football; he is lifeless and is either unconscious or dead. The same article included other footage purporting to show the kidnapping of two civilians in Mr Kadyrov's presence.

If the allegations turn out to be true the fallout would be significant, since the Kremlin has long alleged that it has quelled breakaway sentiment in Chechnya by delegating power to local loyalists such as Mr Kadyrov and his militia through a policy known as "Chechenisation". If the Kremlin's allies (many of whom are former rebels who have switched sides) are shown to be little better than the bona fide rebels, Moscow's policy would begin to look less than successful. Novaya Gazeta's Mr Sokolov said Politkovskaya wrote around 580 articles in her six years at the paper and that 39 criminal cases were opened as a result.

The investigation into Politkovskaya's murder continues; no arrests have yet been made.