Russia has announced that 10 people had been arrested over the killing of journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, including police officers and a Chechen crime boss accused of organising the murder.
Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika said the 10 would soon be charged with the October 7 killing of Politkovskaya, who revealed human rights abuses in war-scarred Chechnya, and he suggested her murder was plotted outside Russia to discredit its leadership.
Her killing blackened the reputation of President Vladimir Putin’s resurgent Russia and deepened Western concerns about the safety of journalists and government critics in the country.
By pointing to enemies of Russia abroad, Chaika echoed statements by Putin and allies who suggested Politkovskaya’s death could have been plotted by Kremlin opponents who have fled Russia as part of a campaign to besmirch the country’s image.
Politkovskaya was shot dead in her Moscow apartment building. Putin sparked outrage abroad when he seemed to dismiss Politkovskaya shortly after her killing, saying her influence on Russian political life was “very minor”.
Chaika said the murder was set up by a Chechen native who led a Moscow organised crime ring that specialised in contract killings. He said that those arrested – accused of helping track Politkovskaya and provide her killers with information – included a police major and a Federal Security Service officer, as well as three former police officers.
He said people involved in Politkovskaya’s killing may have also been involved in the 2004 shooting death of Paul Klebnikov, an American who was editor of Forbes magazine’s Russian edition.
“As for the motives for the killing, the results of the investigation lead us to the conclusion that only individuals located outside the territory of the Russian Federation could have had an interest in getting rid of Politkovskaya,” Chaika told a news conference.
“It is in the interest first of all of those people and structures that aim to destabilise the situation in the country, change the constitutional order (and) create a crisis in Russia,” he said, adding that such forces want to “discredit the leadership” and provoke foreign pressure on the Kremlin.
They seek “a return to the former system of rule, under which money and oligarchs decided everything,” he said.
Chaika mentioned no names, but he appeared to be pointing the finger at least in part at Boris Berezovsky, a former Kremlin insider who is one of Putin’s fiercest critics and lives in Britain, where he has refugee status.
His assertion was likely to be met with disbelief by Kremlin critics, who say Putin and his government are too quick to blame foreign countries and foes abroad – often Berezovsky – for the nation’s problems.
Politkovskaya’s killing came less than two months before the radiation poisoning death in London on November 23 of Berezovsky associate and former KGB counterintelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko, which further damaged the Russian leadership’s reputation abroad.
Litvinenko, who had been investigating Politkovskaya’s death, had said Putin was behind her killing and also blamed the Russian leader for his own poisoning.
Days after Politkovskaya’s death, Putin suggested her killing could have been plotted by Kremlin foes abroad to harm Russia’s image, and his allies have made similar remarks about Litvinenko’s death. In November, Chaika said a foreign connection was among several theories being investigated in the Politkovskaya case.