Cablegate: Politkovskaya's Death Sends Shock Waves Through
DE RUEHMO #1316/01 2821114
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 091114Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3631
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
Monday, 09 October 2006, 11:14
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 011316
DEPT FOR EUR/RUS
EO 12958 DECL: 10/09/2016
TAGS PGOV, KDEM, PHUM, PREL, RS
SUBJECT: POLITKOVSKAYA’S DEATH SENDS SHOCK WAVES THROUGH
MOSCOW; PROSECUTOR GENERAL TAKES PERSONAL CONTROL OF INVESTIGATION
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns. Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) The October 7 murder of internationally-known investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya has sent shock waves through Moscow. A public demonstration has been held, the co-owner of Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper where Politkovksaya had worked since 1999, is offering a 25 million ruble reward for information leading to the arrest of the culprit(s), the GOR Prosecutor General has taken personal charge of the investigation, and prominent media and political personalities have condemned the murder. Motives are plentiful. Politkovskaya’s intrepid work in Chechnya, Beslan, and elsewhere in the North Caucasus earned her many enemies, and commentators here have been quick to point the finger at figures ranging from Chechnya’s Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov to those interested in seeing President Putin remain at the helm after 2008. The Ambassador has expressed strong U.S. concerns about the case to First Deputy Foreign Minister Denisov and Presidential Human Rights Commissioner Pamfilova and will continue to press the case with the GOR. End summary. ,
OCTOBER 7 MURDER
2. (U) Moscow media report that internationally-known investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated late-afternoon October 7 just after entering her apartment building near Belorusskiy train station in Moscow. (Politkovskaya was known for uncompromising work highlighting corruption and human rights violations in the Chechnya war, the Beslan siege, and the Moscow Nord-Ost theater siege.) The lone assassin fired four shots, and dropped the pistol before fleeing the scene. A security camera reportedly caught the blurry image of a man, his face largely concealed by a baseball cap. No one has claimed responsibility. Immediately after the killing, the area surrounding the apartment was cordoned off and key items from Politikovskaya’s apartment were removed for analysis for investigators.
3. (U) Prosecutor General Yuriy Chayka has announced that he personally will take control of the investigation because of its importance. Representatives of the Prosecutor’s office have removed for analysis Politikovskaya’s computer and other items from her office at Novaya Gazeta, where she had worked since 1999. Embassy understands that a number of journalists XXXXXXXXXXXX have already been questioned by the PG’s office. To date, no statement has been made about the progress of the investigation. Some of the news media, as of the morning of October 9, were reporting that there had been no progress in identifying the Politkovskaya’s assassin. Others reported that fingerprints and other evidence had been found.
4. (SBU) Politkovskaya’s assassination has prompted an outpouring of grief and rage in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia. An October 8 demonstration, originally scheduled to protest retributions against Georgians in the wake of the spy scandal in Tbilisi became as well a commemoration to Politkovskaya. (Demonstrations were held in St. Petersburg and Samara, as well.) A crowd of about one thousand attended. Although there were no speeches, prominent human rights and political figures gave interviews to the international and domestic press. XXXXXXXXXXXX. XXXXXXXXXXXX. described the assassination, which occurred on President Putin’s 54th birthday, a “direct challenge to the President.” XXXXXXXXXXXX saw the killing as a turning point, in which all must choose sides; either to cooperate with the “fascists” or fight against “such scum.” There were similarly strong words from XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX. Among the signs carried by demonstrators: “Politkovskaya is our Gongadze,” “The cannibalistic people in power killed Anna,” “Politkovskaya - a great daughter of Russia.”
5. (U) Other comments:
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-- Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov released a statement saying he was “deeply outraged and shocked by the fact that an honest journalist, who was also a woman and a mother, had been killed”;
-- XXXXXXXXXXXX: “The death of (Politikovskaya) is connected with her work in Chechnya...”
-- Chechnya’s Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov said he was shocked by Politikovskaya’s death, and rejected the assertion that the murder has Chechen fingerprints on it.
-- XXXXXXXXXXXX: “Politikovskaya was number one in political journalism. . .the murder of such a person is a very symbolic event for Russia...”
-- XXXXXXXXXXXX: “The fact that (the murder) occurred on the birthday of President Putin makes it a complicated political provocation. . .It is not clear if it was done by an enemy of Putin, or one of his supporters.”
-- XXXXXXXXXXXX in a conversation with Embassy XXXXXXXXXXXX paid tribute to Politkovskaya, “a hero who cannot be replaced.”
-- XXXXXXXXXXXX have launched their own investigation of the murder. XXXXXXXXXXXX Duma Deputy Aleksandr Lebedev has offered a 25 million ruble award for information leading to the rest of the killer;
-- XXXXXXXXXXXX: “conversations about freedom of speech are still just conversations. . .This cynical crime is an echo of the turbulent 90s”;
-- XXXXXXXXXXXX: “The (murder) is a political provocation, which may be followed by the murders of other well-known people. . .”;
-- XXXXXXXXXXXX: “Politkovskaya was an icon who, we believed, had reached the point where she had transcended danger. XXXXXXXXXXXX guessed that reporters working on Chechnya will be even less likely to report frankly than they have in the past;
-- XXXXXXXXXXXX reported that Moscow-based human rights organizations would be convening soon for a strategy session in the wake of Politkovskaya’s murder.
6. (SBU) The mailbox in front of Politkovskaya’s apartment on a busy street has been turned into an informal shrine, with flowers and a picture of the journalist. A basket of flowers hangs on the railing in the lobby where Politikovskaya was killed.
7. (C) The assassination of one of Russia’s most outspoken journalists and the absence to date of any leads has generated much speculation about possible perpetrators here. Embassy contacts note that Politkovskaya’s work had won her many enemies. XXXXXXXXXXXX told Embassy October 8 that the late journalist “constantly” received threats --”by telephone, letter, by e-mail, by SMS.” Politkovskaya had become inured to the threats. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, “she had accepted the possibility that she could be killed at any time, and talked about it very little.” The most frequent threats, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, had come from Chechnya Prime Minister “Kadyrov’s people” (not necessarily with Kadyrov’s knowledge) and the Russian Special Forces, whose brutalities in Chechnya had been exposed by Politkovskaya.
8. (C) There have been at least two criminal cases opened against people who have threatened Politkovskaya in the past, and she was prominent on an “enemies” list maintained by Russian nationalists. In addition, an effort was allegedly made to poison her as she flew to the North Caucasus as the Beslan tragedy was unfolding in 2004. Immediately after Politkovskaya’s murder, there was a flurry of speculation that the assassination was linked to an article on the use of torture in Chechnya by troops loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov that Politkovskaya was to have turned over to Novaya Gazeta on
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October 8. XXXXXXXXXXXX
9. (C) Among the other, highly speculative theories making the rounds here:
-- according to XXXXXXXXXXXXX (and others), the assassination is a “poisoned gift” for President Putin. It will be used by some to argue that there is a state of emergency, and that the President cannot leave when his term ends in 2008.
-- others theorize that Politkovskaya’s death was tied not to Putin’s birthday, but to the thirtieth birthday of Chechnya’s Premier Ramzan Kadyrov. Politikovskaya’s trenchant articles on the conduct of the war in Chechnya had angered Kadyrov and his confederates, the theory has it, and rumors that the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership was to be fingered in the article that was to appear this week had caused someone to intervene. A corollary speculation has it that the assassination might have been engineered by Chechnya’s President Alu Alkhanov in order to implicate, and neutralize Kadyrov. A third possibility is that those in Chechnya opposed to Kadyrov’s pro-Moscow regime were attempting to use Politkovskaya in order to marginalize Kadyrov.
10. (C) In the more implausible category:
-- others argue that the assassination will be used, like journalist Georgiy Gongadze’s death in Ukraine, as a reference point in an effort to foment a Russian “orange” revolution. Still others suggest that her death, which follows on the heels of the assassination of Bank Deputy Chairman Andrey Kozlov, will provide a pretext for still tighter controls in an effort to restore order.
THE U.S. CONNECTION
11. (SBU) Politikovskaya was a U.S. citizen by birth and U.S. passport holder, although she spent most of her adult life in Russia.
12. (C) As noted above, Prosecutor General Yuriy Chayka has taken personal charge of the investigation, and it appears that the authorities are moving quickly to gather evidence. Ambassador has been told (septel) by First Deputy Foreign Minister Denisov that the GOR will issue a statement on October 9. BURNS