Who really did kill Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya?

The conviction of five men for the contract-killing of the Kremlin critic has not revealed who ordered the hit

The sentencing of five men at a Moscow court this week for the murder of Anna Politkovskaya means that, as far as the Russian authorities are concerned, after almost eight years this repeatedly bungled case is finally closed.

For almost everyone else – from her family, to the family of the men convicted, to supporters of the redoubtable investigative journalist around the world, it does not mean this at all.

Four of the convicted men come from the same Chechen family. Rustam Makhmudov received a life sentence for firing the shots that killed Politkovskaya, as she entered the lift at her block of flats on 7 October, 2006.

His uncle, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, was also jailed for life for organising the murder. The three others, of whom two were Makhmudov’s brothers and one a former police officer, were given sentences of between 12 and 20 years.

Whether justice has been done, however, is another matter. Even if members of the Makhmudov clan committed the killing – which is by no means certain, as two of the brothers were acquitted in 2009, before being sent back for retrial by Russia’s Supreme Court – they were pawns in a much bigger game.

The judge, Pavel Melyokhin, was clear that this was a contract killing, with $150,000 paid by “a person unknown”. Nor was he in any doubt about the political motivation. Politkovskaya, he said, was killed for her work “exposing human rights violations, embezzlement and abuse of power”. 

Politkovskaya, who was a reporter for the independent Novaya Gazeta, was a virulent critic of President Putin. She had campaigned fearlessly against Russia’s conduct of the war in Chechnya, earning the wrath of pro-Russian Chechen leaders and of the Kremlin alike. Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor at the paper, described her killers as “thugs” and said neither the organisers of the crime, nor the killers, knew who they were killing, or why. 

Politkovskaya’s son, Ilya, said: “We will never consider the case closed unless the person or persons who ordered her killed are found and tried .”

There was as much discontent on the part of the Makhmudov family. The father of the convicted brothers claimed his sons had been “set up” and their lawyer said he would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Outside Russia, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe welcomed the sentences, but agreed that the case would not be closed until “those who ordered this horrific murder are identified and convicted”.

The organisation’s media rights advocate, Dunja Mijatovic, said the case was a reminder that “impunity for crimes against journalists is still commonplace in several countries”.

As indeed it is. The moment news broke of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder, suspicions of culpability raced off in two different directions. The most obvious led to the Kremlin, if not to President Putin himself; that 7 October is his birthday fuelled speculation about someone perhaps offering a macabre present. The other led to Chechnya and enemies Politkovskaya might have made among the entwined political, business and clan interests there.

In a bizarre episode at the journalists’ Frontline Club in London a year after Politkovskaya’s death, the exiled Russian interior ministry officer, Alexander Litvinenko, publicly named Putin as the killer – a charge that appears to have been part of his own personal vendetta. But apart from that, all efforts to trace the chain of responsibility have failed. That includes an investigation by Novaya Gazeta.

Putin denied any Kremlin involvement, saying at the time – in a statement that sounded crass, but was not completely wrong – that her death was “more damaging to the current authorities, both in Russia and the Chechen Republic, than her activities”.

Her murder, whoever ordered it, reflected extremely badly on the Kremlin which had fostered a climate where such killings could happen.

In retrospect, Politkovskaya’s death may have brought some change. The international outcry kept the case in the public eye, which is one reason it was not dropped. There have been fewer attacks on journalists in Russia since – though this could also reflect fear of following where Politkovskaya led. And the judge’s recognition both of her qualities as a journalist and of the fact that politics lay behind her death marks progress. 

But it is hard to agree with the prosecutor who described the convictions as “the highest achievement of the judicial system”. If they were, what does this say about the rest?

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £145 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?