Politkovskaya’s Murder Was a Stark Message to Putin

[by Kerkko Paananen, originally in Finnish]

Novaya Gazeta’s reporter, Ms Anna Politkovskaya, was shot in Moscow on President Vladimir Putin’s 50th birthday on 7 October 2006. Anyone responsible for the murder was fully aware of this.

About a week before her death, Ms Politkovskaya appeared on Radio Svoboda’s talk show, where she expressed her wish to see Chechnya’s Prime Minister and strongman, Mr Ramzan Kadyrov, stand in front of a judge accused of war crimes on his 30th birthday.

Ms Politkovskaya called Ramzan a “coward armed to the teeth”, a brutish torturer, and the “Chechen Stalin”. Ramzan needs to be very worried about his own life, given the number of Chechens he has killed, Ms Politkovskaya added.

It is wrong to assume that because Ramzan is Chechnya’s Prime Minister, i.e., holds a high public office, that he would be capable or even willing to act like a statesman; that he would be above these sort of personal insults.

The Russian Union of Journalists has an audio tape of Ramzan directing threats against Ms Politkovskaya after Radio Svoboda’s talk show. Any serious criminal investigator would certainly be interested in such a tape.

Moscow has succeeded in Chechnya where the US failed in Vietnam: Russia has “Chechenised” the war.

The civil conflict and terror are now directed by Chechen groups against each other and their civilian backers. The role of federal troops remains to prevent the war from spreading outside Chechnya.

The central government has almost no political role in Chechnya; it has no real possibilities to influence the political situation inside Chechnya; its influence is purely military.

Ramzan’s armed militia has shown time and again that he is Chechnya’s real ruler, not Moscow’s puppet. His militia has repeatedly kidnapped federal soldiers for ransom and killed them just “for fun”.

Mr Vadim Rechkalov, a reporter who appeared on Radio Svoboda together with Ms Politkovskaya, said Ramzan is stronger in the whole of Russia’s Northern Caucasus than Mr Putin is in Russia. Ramzan is a product of Mr Putin’s weakness.

Chechnya is being ruled by several criminal groups, who have formed a loose alliance, and whose principal source of revenue is criminal activity: large-scale embezzlement of state funds, illegal oil trade, kidnappings for ransom, slave trade, and trade in narcotics.

The relationship between the central government and Ramzan is not one of mutual trust; it is a tactical alliance between two criminal organisations that are, in fact, the closest enemies.

Moscow’s biggest enemy in Chechnya are not the guerilla fighters (there are very few left), but its main ally, Ramzan, since he is the only one with the power and ability to oppose the central government.

The central government lost Chechnya when it decided to “Chechenise” the war after the death of Ramzan’s father, Akhmat Kadyrov: by doing so, the central government gave up on its goal of “winning” this war, which cannot be won militarily.

Russia is politically weak in Chechnya, and the only means for it to influence events is through violence, i.e., militarily. Now even this option is melting away. Chechnya has ceased to be part of the Russian Federation a long time ago.

Ramzan turned 30 on 5 October 2006, just two days before Ms Politkovskaya’s murder. Under Chechnya’s constitution, Ramzan is now eligible to be elected President of Chechnya.

If Mr Putin refuses to appoint Ramzan as President of Chechnya, Ramzan either takes power himself or Mr Putin orders him killed. This will not, however, alter the situation in Chechnya one way or the other: Russia has lost Chechnya for good a long time ago.


Politkovskaya’s last article in Novaya Gazeta (28 Sep 2006)
Politkovskaya’s last appearance on Radio Svoboda (05.10.2006)


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