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The Kirovian Fallacy: Russian Prosecutors Go Stalinist with Politkovskaya

When I think back on my meetings and conversations with Anna Politkovskaya before my expulsion from Russia, I recall always being impressed by her stalwart resolve. Indeed, her fearlessness was well documented – including several interviews during which she acknowledged the likelihood that her brave work would cost her life: “I’ve written my will. I’m getting my children used to the idea that at any moment they might be left without me.” What Anna could not possibly have predicted is that she could be murdered twice: once as the assassin pulled the trigger, and a second time more than ten months later when her death would become a weapon used by the government against political opposition.

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Russia’s opposition leader Garry Kasparov, right, and opposition leader Eduard Limonov, second left, stand in front of a portrait of slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya, marking what would have been Politkovskaya’s 49th birthday during a rally in Moscow, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007. About 200 to 300 people, including prominent human rights advocates, journalists and opposition leaders, gathered in a central Moscow square Thursday evening for a rally and march to the apartment building where she was killed to lay flowers at the door. Others are unidentified. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

This week when Russia’s Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika came forward to announce that ten suspects had been arrested in connection with the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, most of us were relieved and encouraged. When Chaika claimed that this same criminal group was also possibly responsible for the murder of Forbes journalist Paul Klebnikov and central banker Andrei Kozlov, most of us became more skeptical. And when Chaika furthermore made a broad, sweeping declaration that Politkovskaya’s murder was ordered from abroad by enemies seeking to destabilize Russia, most rational minded observers simply stopped listening. Today, it seems, that Chaika has had to take a few steps back from his neat political speech: two suspects have been released, a third is no longer under investigation (Pavel Ryaguzov, who was the highest ranking FSB officer included in the arrests, will likely be charged with abuse of authority, nothing to do with the Politkovskaya murder). As Politkovskaya’s former employer cautiously points out, given the wide-ranging nature of her incisive journalism it would not seem prudent to categorically rule out that the plot did not originate within Russia. By turning the Politkovskaya murder into an instrument of political convenience, the Russian government has invoked a methodology from the darkest pages of Soviet history. The incident bears remarkable resemblance to the assassination of Bolshevik leader Sergey Kirov in 1934, an event which Joseph Stalin was able to take advantage of as an excuse to begin the Great Purge – perhaps the most horrid period of Russian history which gave birth to the reprehensible GULag system. The fact that we are seeing this Kirovian fallacy return to Russian politics is absolutely insufferable. I do not know who killed Anna Politkovskaya, and I am not prepared at this time to subscribe to any of the open theories. However there seems to be little question that the current presidential administration is entirely responsible for her death because of the culture of impunity and the lawless environment they have cultivated and thrived in. As Nina Khrushcheva pointed out in a column last October, the murder of Politkovskaya on Vladimir Putin’s birthday “was committed in the clear belief that it would please the king.” Today we mark another milestone altogether: Anna Politkovskaya could have been celebrating her 49th birthday at home with her family. We all have a duty to honor her memory and reject this shrewd attempt on behalf of the Kremlin to turn her into a another Kirov. We must refuse to allow her legacy to become yet another excuse for Russia to crack down on liberties, and not allow these elements to steer this great nation toward an unnatural and unnecessary historical reenactment.