Anna Politkovskaya

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian reporter assassinated at her apartment building on Saturday, spoke last year at a conference on press freedom sponsored by Reporters Without Borders, and her words seem prescient. “People sometimes pay with their lives for saying out loud what they think,” she said then. “People can even get killed just for giving me information. I am not the only one in danger. I have examples that prove it.” Politkovskaya herself has now become her own heroic example, warning of how Vladimir Putin’s Russia is growing ever less distinguishable from the totalitarian state it replaced.

Politkovskaya wrote for an independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, which is itself part of a dying breed of free journals in Russia. The reporter was broadly interested in Chechnya and, according to her editor, had been on the verge of filing an article about torture in the province for publication this morning. That story, which apparently was on the home computer that has been seized as part of the investigation into her death, is on hold.

One of the things on which Politkovskaya focused her investigative prowess was the Kremlin’s conduct of the two hostage crises that have roiled Russia in the past few years, the 2002 Moscow theater incident and the 2004 Beslan school raid. She believed the case of “food poisoning” that waylaid her en route to Beslan to cover the unfolding tragedy there two years ago may have been an early attempt to interfere with her work. Certainly many Russians feel the Kremlin still has much to answer for in its handling of both incidents and the resulting hundreds of deaths.

To the extent Politkovskaya was digging around that story, not to mention stories about corruption and human rights abuses in Chechnya, she posed a threat to Mr. Putin’s regime. Her murder is all the more troubling because it isn’t unique. Her death marks the 12th time in the past six years that a journalist in Russia has been killed. One of those, Paul Klebnikov, an editor at Forbes, was an American citizen. More reporters were victims of physical intimidation.

In its latest annual report on Russia, Reporters Without Borders reckons that in 2005 alone one journalist survived an apparent assassination attempt, eight were “physically attacked,” and eight more were arrested outright. At least as far back as the 1995 murder of a television journalist, Vladislav Listyev, reporters have apparently been fair game in the “new Russia.” Politkovskaya herself had a pretty clear idea of why freedom was eroding in Russia. She laid the blame at the feet of President Putin, most notably in a book titled “Putin’s Russia.”

“Putin, a product of the country’s murkiest intelligence service,” she wrote in a passage quoted by Bloomberg News over the weekend, “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.” Speculation is still running rampant over who was responsible for Politkovskaya’s murder. The full truth may never come out, but it is already clear that Russia is not a free country. When engaging Russia on the world stage, Americans will forget that fact at their peril.

The New York Sun

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