FSB Connections to Murdered Journalists

In light of the unraveling of the prosecution’s case in the Anna Politkovskaya trial, David Satter has a new column in Forbes detailing some of the alleged connections between the FSB and several murder cases of journalists.

The involvement of law enforcement officers in contract killings should be a momentous scandal, but the elimination of independent centers of power in Russia under Prime Minister (and former president) Vladimir Putin has created a situation in which the organs of law enforcement are integrated into the corrupt oligarchies that run the country. When the interests of those oligarchies are threatened by independent reporting, law enforcement is unable to restrain corrupt interests and is often in league with them. As a result, contract killers function as the ultimate censors.

There are a number of well-known cases in which agents of theRussian security services carried out extra-legal sentences incooperation with criminal elements. Two former KGB agents wereincriminated in the blowing up of a trolleybus in Moscow in 1996 and aplan to blow up the railway bridge across the Yauza River in Moscow.The former KGB agents were part of the criminal gang run by MaximLazovsky.

In 2004 and 2005, in Kaliningrad, FSB officers were involved in agang that engaged in kidnapping and extortion. An FSB agent who waspart of the gang described under interrogation how he shot a well-knownKaliningrad businessman on orders from the head of the anti-terrorismdepartment of the Kaliningrad FSB. Amazingly, despite this directtestimony, there was no investigation of the charges by either the FSBor the prosecutor.

In other apparent murders of journalists, important FSB businessinterests have been at stake. In 2003, Yuri Shchekochikhin, a deputyeditor of Novaya Gazeta, investigated the Tri Kita (“ThreeWhales”) furniture store chain, which had been evading millions ofdollars in customs duties. The co-founders of the company were firmsbelonging to the father of Yuri Zaostrovtsev, the deputy director ofthe FSB. In July 2003, Shchekochikhin, who had been in good health,contracted a mysterious illness that progressed from peeling skin toedemas of the lungs and brain. When Novaya Gazeta tried to investigate whether he had been poisoned, it was told that all information was a “medical secret.”

Since 2000, there have been at least 16 journalists murdered inRussia. In not a single case has the person who ordered the killingbeen arrested and in the majority of cases, the mastermind has beenneither identified nor sought. In recent comments on press freedom,Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said that journalists need to writethe truth and “be responsible for the stories you publish.” But a farmore pressing need is for the Russian authorities to stop using thesecurity services to settle accounts when the published truth issomething the regime cannot abide.