Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Politkovskaya's trial will raise questions for the Kremlin, but not the questions its most vehement opponents want.

When Novaya Gazeta’s crusading journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, was murdered in 2006, there followed a stream of innuendo implying that the Kremlin had ordered her death. Conspiracy theories involving VV Putin’s regime are ten a penny, but even by the fantastic standards of such conjecture, the idea that Russia’s president had ordered Politkovskaya’s killing was not one of the more plausible.

The journalist was certainly a robust critic of the Kremlin, but Putin was not being disingenuous when he dismissed the notion that her journalism constituted a threat to his regime. To be frank, Politkovskaya was a fly on the hide of an elephant. Indeed the president acknowledged that her criticisms were healthy and welcomed them. She was not censored or silenced. Any large bookstore in Moscow or St Petersburg carries copies of Politkovskaya’s books to this day.

Alas the vast majority of Russians have no interest in reading them and have little sympathy for notions that the conflict in Chechnya was prosecuted in unnecessarily brutal fashion. It was a dirty war, against a terrorist enemy who lived amongst civilians. Russians believe that a certain amount of mess was justifiable and even necessary. Their attitude is not untypical of those who have been subjected to campaigns of terror wherever in the world it afflicts state and society.

Even had the Kremlin been in the habit of killing its most challenging opponents, it would have had little motivation to dispose of Politkovskaya. Indeed, as Putin observed at the time, the journalist’s death had much more potential to damage Russia’s reputation than her work had ever had.

That is not to say that the trial of alleged conspirators, charged with the journalist’s assassination, is not potentially embarrassing for Russia’s government. One of the defendants, Pavel Ryaguzov, was an officer in the Federal Security Service. Chechen involvement in Politskovskaya’s murder is almost certain and the grubby fingerprints of the Russian republic’s Prime Minister, Ramzan Kadyrov, are unlikely to be far away.

The trial is taking place in open court, enabling justice to be done and to be seen to be done. This, despite the fact that Ryaguzov’s involvement would have entitled the judge to order closed proceedings. There are likely to be tricky questions which Putin and his successor Dmitry Medvedev will face arising from this trial. The Kremlin’s decision to allow a thug such as Kadyrov to maintain peace in Chechnya by dubious methods is likely to shape many of them. It is the type of post conflict, moral conundrum which is common in many trouble spots.

Amongst Russia’s critics there has been grudging surprise that this murder is to be tried in open court. It is politically expedient for Putin, they mutter.

The fact is that the Kremlin is unlikely to have anything nearly as extravagant to hide as its most rabid opponents have spent the previous two years implying. It is peculiarly twisted logic to criticise justice for being transparent, simply because it might prove relative innocence on behalf of someone you wish to implicate in a crime. If an open trial is politically expedient for Putin because it will show that he had no involvement in killing Anna Politkovskaya, then all the better. It will put an end to false allegations and innuendo.


Dinamo said...

Interesting theory chekov.

What I am not too pleased about is this book "the whisperers" being promoted on this website of yours. What kind of people are these whisperers? They can whisper all they want at the lubyanka. Acclaim for socialist realism is to be shouted from the rooftops comrade!

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