Five years ago today, on October 7, 2006, Russian investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya was shot in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building. A year later the prosecutor general’s office told Politkokvskaya’s newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, that the list of suspects had been narrowed to no more than four names and that a breakthrough was likely. Since that time, however, little has been learned (or at least publicly revealed) about who was behind the crime, one of the most high-profile killings of a reporter in recent memory. The investigation has been tarnished by leaks, mishandled evidence and prosecutorial incompetence.
But last month, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation finally arrested a central figure in the murder, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, a former colonel in the 4th division of the Moscow General Internal Affairs Directorate, a surveillance unit within the city’s police force. Pavlyuchenkov is said to have brought together the team of young men—three Chechen brothers—who killed Politkovskaya. He allegedly used his resources as head of the surveillance division to have her followed and obtained the weapon used in the murder.
Rustam Makhmudov, the suspected triggerman, was arrested in May after several years, apparently, in hiding. In a 2009 trial, his two brothers, Ibragim and Dzhabrail, were acquitted of helping to carry out the murder. That verdict, however, was overturned by the Supreme Court and a new investigation is underway. A fourth suspect, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, a well-known Chechen mobster and the brothers’ uncle, wasjust charged today in the murder.
The lawyer for the Politkovskaya family and Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov have applauded the arrest but noted that it should have come far sooner. Novaya Gazeta, through its own independent investigation, had long ago tied Pavlyuchenkov to the murder. “Pavlyuchenkov set up a business under the former police leadership; anyone could book police surveillance for $100 an hour,” Muratov told a Moscow radio station. The questions now are, Who hired Pavlyuchenkov and why has he suddenly agreed to cooperate with investigators? (He was a witness at the 2009 trial, during which he maintained his innocence, pinning blame for the murder on the Makhmudov brothers.)
“I find it too early to comment on the significance of his arrest,” Friederike Behr, a researcher with Amnesty International in Moscow who has followed the case closely, wrote by e-mail. “His arrest, as well as the arrest of Rustam Makhmudov earlier this year, just show that the investigation has circled, for quite some time, around the same people. Pavlyuchenkov was a witness, then he was announced as the organizer of the murder (by the Investigative Committee of the RF) and now he is one of a group of suspects. His arrest will only have significance if the investigation really tries to bring the whole truth to light, including possible uncomfortable parts of the truth around the murder of Anna Politkovskaya.”
We’ve seen hints of what some of those uncomfortable truths might be. In public comments, Muratov has suggested that Pavlyuchenkov’s testimony may shed light on other significant crimes of recent years, including the killing of Russian-American journalist Paul Klebnikov. (The editor of Forbes Russia, Klebnikov was gunned down outside of his office in 2004). And there is widespread speculation that Pavlyuchenkov might reveal connections between the FSB—Russia’s Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB—and Russia’s criminal underground.