Anna Politkovskaya: The journalist who refused to stop criticizing Russian authorities

On 7 October 2006, Anna Politkovskaya was killed in the center of Moscow. One of four bullets fired at point-blank range hit the head. The “Novaya Gazeta” journalist was not given any chance to survive.

I just wrote about what I had witnessed. 

– So what did I, the vile one, do? I just described what I had witnessed. And nothing more. I deliberately do not write about all the other “charms” of the path I have chosen. About poisoning. About detentions. About threats in letters and on the Internet. About death threats… I think these are anyway small things. The main issue is to have a chance to do the main thing… 

(From material read by colleagues on Anna Politkovskaya’s computer after her death). 

As it became known later, they had followed her relentlessly for a long time, and chose the most inconvenient moment for the attack: when she entered the entrance of her house with bags full of groceries in her hands. The killer was waiting for her there.

The day of Anna Politkovskaya’s death is also the birthday of Vladimir Putin.

For many in Russia that was no coincidence. It was more like revenge wrapped as a gift. Symbolic and at the same time demonstrative. Vladimir Putin had been the main object of criticism from Anna Politkovskaya for years. Her criticism was merciless and fair, and therefore unbearable for the Russian president who clung to the power that he accidentally inherited. 

And the fact that he celebrated his 54th birthday in St. Petersburg, from where he went straight to Dresden, where in Soviet times, as a KGB officer, he served as a translator at the House of Soviet-German Friendship, only emphasized the non-coincidence of what happened. The top leaders of the Russian state have a strange habit of not being present at their workplace when something terrible happens, but at that time they found themselves on important trips abroad or, at worst, on vacation. On 10 October, it was in Germany that Vladimir Putin spoke for the first time about what happened in Moscow. Clearly boasting and not showing much regret, he stated that the murder of the journalist caused much more damage to the country than all her publications and that she allegedly had an insignificant influence on political life in Russia. Anna Politkovskaya was still not buried at that time. 

– I often wonder if Putin is human at all, or a frozen or iron statue? – she wrote in the book “Putin’s Russia” published two years earlier. [1] – I wonder and can’t find confirmation that he is a human being. 

Anna Politkovskaya became widely known for her reports and articles from the war-torn Chechnya.

She worked as a special correspondent and columnist for “Novaya Gazeta” from 1999 until her death. She wrote about the crimes of the Russian military, the suffering of the civilian population, and about unprincipled representatives of the local pro-Russian administration. She had many enemies – cruel and powerful, but even more friends. The latter were human rights defenders, representatives of non-governmental organizations and victims, as well as their relatives. Among them she enjoyed boundless trust. On her numerous trips around Chechnya, she stayed overnight with them and they, ordinary people for whom it was unsafe to communicate and not to mention help an independent and sharp-witted journalist, took her to crime scenes, organized meetings with victims, and helped with collection of evidence. 

Actually, it is still not clear whether she was a journalist, a human rights activist, a rescuer or a politician. A person with a sympathetic soul and conscience – yes, no one who knew her doubted this, not even for a minute. Each of her materials aroused interest. Especially in Chechnya. Issues of “Novaya Gazeta” were sold out very quickly in the republic at the time. They were passed from hand to hand. We were looking for them. And in many ways they were sought after because of Anna Politkovskaya’s materials. This was the only Russian publication that ordinary Chechens, exhausted by the war and the lawlessness of armed people, trusted unlimitedly. Until 7 October 2006, for sure… 

Anna Politkovskaya was detained by the military several times.

She was once held hostage by Putin’s protege Ramzan Kadyrov. He called her for a conversation and mocked her, feeling complete impunity and enjoying his power. The result of the visit was the sensational interview “The center from Tsentoroy”, [2] where people for the first time and directly from the horse’s mouth learned how the people appointed by Moscow to rule Chechnya live and think. 

After the hostage crisis at the Dubrovka theater in Moscow in 2002, Anna Politkovskaya participated in negotiations with the terrorists. And having learned about the capture of schoolchildren in Beslan in North Ossetia in 2004, she immediately went to the airport, boarded the first plane flying to the North Caucasus and was poisoned on board. The authorities who decided to storm the school filled with children were not interested in peacekeeping efforts from anyone. Even more so, they did not want to receive help from their political and moral opponent. 

Anna Politkovskaya also criticized human rights activists, especially the renown and famous. She did not consider it acceptable to work within the boundaries established by the authorities. She considered it necessary to go beyond the boundaries, to destroy the rules of the game that they imposed on the public when covering events in Chechnya. According to these rules, power in the resilient republic has been transferred, as it were, to local residents and, therefore, it is no longer Moscow with its federal law enforcement agencies that is responsible for kidnappings and murders, but specific Chechens led by Ramzan Kadyrov, the main villain from now on. But for Anna Politkovskaya, the main villain was always Vladimir Putin. 

The investigation into her murder lasted many years. The people who followed her, the organizers of this surveillance and the perpetrator of the crime, even the intermediaries were identified. It is not surprising that most of them turned out to be ethnic Chechens. This has its own logic: it had to be those whom she defended in her publications that later were to be responsible for her killing. In 2014, two of them were sentenced to life imprisonment, and three others received long prison sentences.[3] Over time, it became clear that the killers were not just Chechens, but members of a mafia clan associated with the FSB and involved in other high-profile crimes. Only the person who commissioned the murder remained unclear. More precisely, he remained unnamed, although his name is heard all the time and not only in connection with Chechnya. 


Read more about Russia’s history here.