The Death of Anna Politkovskaya

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A memorial for Anna Politkovskaya in Finland

A memorial service for Politkovskaya in Finland [uninen / Flickr]

What did she know about Putin’s Russia that we don’t? Politkovskaya was murdered in Moscow this week, shot on the street. A journalist, she spent the last seven years as a columnist for Novaya Gazeta, covering Chechnya and the oligarchs and the list of official sins that continues to grow in Putin’s Russia. She titled collections of her columns Putin’s Russia, A Dirty War and A Small Corner of Hell; it’s not hard to figure out why she made a lot of people uncomfortable.

She had a lot of enemies, they all had motives, and the threat isn’t limited to her. Russian journalist Masha Gessen revealed on the phone this afternoon that, given the choice between a lighthearted piece for a Russian paper on the economy or a more sober look at Putin for an American paper, she’d take the economy. Safer that way.

Several guests we spoke to this afternoon described Politkovskaya as “passionate”; she opened her 2004 book Putin’s Russia with the words “These are my emotional reactions, jotted down in the margins of life as it is lived in Russia today.” She established her own credibility; she was asked to help negotiate the hostage crisis in Beslan and then — she believed — poisoned on the plane on the way down. After the crisis, when it became illegal to sell a newspaper within a hundred meters of a subway entrance or bus stop, she was one of the few fearless journalists left; The Economist described her in an obit on Sunday as brave beyond belief.

And now she’s gone. What does this say about Putin’s Russia? Was an oligarch — or a Chechen, or police sergeant exposed for corruption — angry at what she’d done to his image, or did the Kremlin send a signal? And as we focus our attention on the Middle East, Russia threatens European natural gas supplies and rounds up Georgians as “criminals” for export back to Georgia. Are we completely missing a serious and not-so-new problem?

Masha Gessen

Deputy Editor, Bolshoy Gorod

Raffi Aftandelian

Blogger, Maaskva: Nashimi Glazami

Management consultant working in Russia

Vilhelm Konnander

President and Russia expert, Swedish Society for the Study of Russia, Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Blogger, Vilhelm Konnander’s Blog

Edward Lucas

Central and Eastern Europe Correspondent, The Economist

Blogger, Edward Lucas

Extra Credit Reading

Veronica Khokhlova, Anna Politkovskaya’s Murder, Global Voices Online, 10/8/06

Veronica Khokhlova, Monday, October 9, 2006, Neeka’s Backlog, 10/9/06

Anne Applebaum, A Moscow Murder Story, The Washington Post, 10/9/06

Garry Kasparov, What’s Bad for Putin Is Best for Russian, The New York Times, 7/10/06

Vilhelm Konnander, Death & the Kremlin, Vilhelm Konnader’s Blog, 10/8/06

W. Shedd, Russian Journalist Anna Politkovskaya Murdered on the Streets of Moscow, 10/7/06

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