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Index on Censorship: Anna Politkovskaya

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  • Jeremy Putley
    Index on Censorship 03/07 Anna Politkovskaya : 1958-2006 The journalist and author Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated on 7 October 2006. To mark the first
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2007
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      Index on Censorship 03/07

      Anna Politkovskaya : 1958-2006

      The journalist and author Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated on 7
      October 2006. To mark the first anniversary of her death, Index here
      reproduces this interview with Politkovskaya, which originally
      appeared in Index on Censorship in 2002. At the time, Politkovskaya
      was living in Vienna: she had moved there after receiving death
      threats following her reports on Chechnya. The interview is a
      reminder of her remarkable courage in the face of increasing

      It also gives an insight into her motivation and integrity: `If
      people in my country have no protection from this lawless regime,
      that means I survive here while others are dying... People who were
      my witnesses and informants in Chechyna have died for that reason,
      and that reason alone, as soon as I left their homes. If it again
      proves the case, then how can I go on living abroad while others are
      dying in my place?'

      Index calls on the Russian authorities to conduct a fair, exhaustive
      and unprejudiced investigation into Anna Politkovskaya's murder.


      Just before my last trip to Chechnya in mid-September my colleagues
      at Novaya gazeta began receiving threats and were told to pass on
      the message: I shouldn't go to Chechnya any more, they said, because
      if I did my life would be in danger. As always, our paper has
      its 'own people' in the General Staff and the Ministry of Defence –
      I mean those who shares similar views to our own. We spoke to people
      at the ministry but, despite their advice, I did go back to
      Chechnya, only to find myself blockaded in the capital, Grozny. The
      city was sealed off after a series of strange events there. Controls
      were so tight you couldn't even move between different districts
      within the city, let alone make your way out of Grozny on foot. On
      that day, 17 September, a helicopter carrying a commission, headed
      by Major-General Anatoly Pozdnyakov, from the General Staff in
      Moscow was shot down directly over the city. The general was engaged
      in work quite unprecedented for a soldier in Chechnya.

      Only an hour before the helicopter was shot down, he told me the
      task of his commission was to gather data on crimes committed by the
      military, analyse their findings, put them in some order and then
      submit the information for the president's consideration. Nothing of
      the kind had been done before. The helicopter in which they were
      flying out of Grozny was shot down almost exactly over the city
      centre. All the members of the commission perished, and since they
      were already on their way to Khankala airbase to take a plane back
      to Moscow, so did all the material they had collected.

      That part of the story was published by Novaya gazeta. Before the 19
      September issue was sent to the printers, our chief editor Dmitry
      Muratov was summoned to the Ministry of Defence (or so I understand)
      and asked to explain how on earth such allegations could be made. He
      gave them an answer after which the pressure really began. There
      should be no publication, he was told. Nevertheless he decided to go
      ahead, publishing a very truncated version of what I had written.

      At that point, the very people at the ministry who had declared our
      report to be false, now conceded it was true. But they began to warn
      of new threats: they had learned that certain people had run out of
      patience with my articles. It was, in other words, the same kind of
      conversation as before my last trip to Chechnya. Then someone
      started saying there were threats from a particular officer, a
      Lieutenant Larin, whom I had described in print as a war criminal.
      The deaths and torture of several people lie on his conscience and
      the evidence against him is incontrovertible. Soon there were
      warnings that I'd better stay at home. Meanwhile the Internal
      Affairs Ministry would track down and arrest this self-appointed
      military hitman, and Deputy Minister Vasilyev would himself take
      charge of the operation.

      I was supposed to remain at our apartment and go nowhere. They made
      no progress in finding Larin, however, and I began to realise that
      it was simply another way of making me stop work. The newspaper
      decided I should leave the country until the editors were sure I
      could again live a normal life and resume my work.

      The paper was forced to omit from my story the sort of detail that
      is vital to the credibility of an article like this, which suggested
      the military themselves had downed the helicopter. All my subsequent
      difficulties began with those details. If these details surface, the
      ministry of defence told our chief editor, then that's the end for

      In fact, since I was moving around the city at the time, I can
      personally testify to what happened, as can others who were there
      with me. And these were no ordinary citizens, I may add: among them
      were Chechen policemen and Grozny Energy Company employees who, like
      me, were trapped inside the city. FSB General Platonov was also
      there: currently he serves as a deputy to Anatoly Chubais, chief
      executive of United Energy Systems. All of these people saw and knew
      exactly what I know. Platonov is not only Chubais' deputy but
      remains a deputy to the FSB director Patrushev. And no one else saw
      and knew as much about what happened as General Platonov – he
      couldn't help but see it. Not one person was allowed into the city
      centre after 9am. that morning. And yet a helicopter was downed

      Different branches of the military are split over future policy in
      Chechnya. There are good reasons why the recent public statements of
      defence ministry spokesmen all repeat the same phrases: `We deny the
      possibility of negotiations'; `it's out of the question'; `We are
      just doing our job'. Indeed they are: their `sweep and cleanse'
      operations have become even more brutal. Let us suppose that those
      representing certain other branches of the military on the ground in
      Chechnya are pursuing a rather different policy. That is where you
      should seek the reason for the deaths of all the commission members.
      I'm just a small cog in that machine – someone who happened to be in
      the thick of events when no other journalists were around.

      Those who want to continue fighting seem to have the upper hand;
      they represent the more powerful section within the Combined Forces
      Group (CFG). To avoid repetition of the disastrous lack of
      coordination between ministries of defence and internal affairs and
      the FSB during the first Chechen conflict in 1994-96, overall
      command of army, police and other paramilitary and special units in
      the present war was given to the military. Although the FSB
      supposedly now exercise overall control of the `anti-terrorist
      operation', the military are too strong for them. On the fateful day
      the helicopter was downed and the commission perished, not even
      servicemen and officers were permitted to enter the central,
      cordoned-off area of Grozny. Only defence ministry officials were
      allowed through. Even FSB and ministry o justice people were kept
      out; that was extraordinary. No one was permitted to enter the area
      where the helicopter was about to fall. Representatives of other
      military bodies and organisations, even ranking officers, had no
      right to go there.

      I don't think we should expect much from the defence ministry, nor
      from President Putin [in light of the US-led campaign in
      Afghanistan]. He has received carte blanche to take the measures and
      employ the forces that he considers necessary in Chechnya. I'm
      thinking of Tony Blair's recent activities and words spoken by
      Chancellor Schroeder when Putin was visiting Germany. As you know,
      it was then said that Europe should re-examine its stance on

      Their position was already rather feeble and bore no relation to the
      real state of affairs in Chechnya concerning the abuse of human
      rights. If, however, they are going to alter that position then it's
      clear what will happen. In practical terms they'll support Putin.
      Whatever he does will be fine by them. I think he's been working
      steadily and persistently towards that end for some time. And, I'm
      sure he'll make good use of it now. There's been a battle to see
      whose nerve is stronger, and it's not for the first time during the
      present war. Putin held back [over the west's own `anti-terrorist
      operation'] for some while: we shan't support the Northern Alliance
      in Afghanistan, he said, but we'll offer them back up. Then he
      nevertheless agreed to supply them with arms and, evidently,
      advisers. In exchange he received a free hand in Chechnya. That's
      the way things are likely to go, I'm afraid.

      I can't say when it will happen, but whatever happens there will be
      a more intensive `liquidation of Chechen partisans'. As always in
      Russia, however, it all depends on the methods to be used. What will
      the `liquidation of Chechen bandits' amount to this time? Will they
      herd everyone into concentration camps, or hold repeated sweep
      operations in all the population centres in Chechnya?

      I can't answer for [Chechen president] Maskhadov, but will offer a
      brief analysis of his actions. In my view, he is doing nothing
      whatsoever. He has retreated into his shell and is thinking, to the
      exclusion of all else, about his own immediate future – he's
      forgotten the Chechen nation. Just as the federal authorities in
      Moscow have abandoned the Chechens, so now have the other side. The
      nation has to fend for itself, with no leadership or protection. It
      survives as best it can. If people need to take revenge for their
      tortured and murdered relatives, they will. If they need to say
      nothing, they'll keep their mouths shut. In such circumstances,
      which are the equivalent of a civil war, and under continuing
      pressure from the federal forces, no one today could say whom the
      Chechen nation would vote for if elections were held. No one now has
      any idea whom they'd elect and in that respect everyone has
      committed the same enormous mistake.

      Maskhadov has obviously been driven into a corner. That's quite
      clear. But the struggle for independence has become an obsession
      with him, it seems to me; he will now hear of nothing else. I don't
      really understand what use independence will be to him, when he,
      Basayev and his immediate bodyguard are all that's left. The first
      duty of a president is to fight for the well being of his nation. I
      have my own president, and it makes no difference that I personally
      did not vote for Putin. He remains the most important figure in the
      Russian state. And I'd like him to enable me, and everyone else, to
      live a normal life. I'm referring to the laws that should govern our
      existence. I find myself in a situation, however, where no one gives
      a damn how I survive. I'm cut off from my family. I don't know what
      will happen in the future to my two children. It is not law that
      rules Russia today. There's no person and no organisation to which
      you can turn to be sure that the laws there are have any force.

      I have no thoughts about my future. And that's the worst of all. I
      just want everything to change so I go back and live in Moscow
      again. I can't imagine spending any length of time here in Vienna.
      Or in any other place, for that matter. I must do all in my power to
      return to Moscow. But I have no idea when that will be.

      If people in my country have no protection from this lawless regime,
      that means I survive here while others are dying. Over the last year
      I've been in that position too often. People who were my witnesses
      and informants have died for that reason, and that reason alone, as
      soon as I left their homes. If it again proves the case, then how
      can I go on living abroad while others are dying in my place?
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