Why Chechens Need Anna Politkovskaya Right Now

March 31, 2010

On October 7th 2006, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was exitting the elevator from her Moscow apartment when a hitman shot her four times. The correspondent for the Novaya Gazeta, a controversial newspaper owned by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that explores Russia’s true social/political environment, was killed on the spot. The assassination, triggered on Vladmir Putin’s birthday, ignited the outrage and sorrow of Chechens as well as fellow Russian journalists who sought to expose the corruption of the FSB and government officials. Said Litvinenko, fellow journalist and a former KGB/FSB officer who resigned due to firsthandedly witnessing much of this corruption, “I know that a journalist of her stature could not be touched without sanction from the Russian president himself. Anna was a political opponent, and this is why she was killed.”

When later poisoned to his own death in London, Litvinenko uttered the famous phrase: “You may succeed in silencing one man, but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, for the rest of your life.” But the furor, as always, reverberates for a short period of time before dying down, the names and stories of Politkovskaya and Litvinenko fading into obscurity — which was part of the intent of those behind their assassinations, as well as a clear message to those championing human rights and truth in Russia that, should their work continue, they will be next.

But today Russia, Chechnya, the world needs Politkovskaya more than ever. The Moscow subway bombings of yesterday reek of unanswered plotholes that the Russian government will most likely keep to themselves. The event was blamed on Chechnen suicide bombers — though hard evidence to this has not manifested. Due to the brutality of the two past Chechen wars, during which both sides suffered immensely, every act of terrorism in Russia seems to be automatically assigned to the doings of the Chechen people. However, this accusation is not always true; the 1999 apartment bombings in Russia were originally blamed on Chechnen terrorists but were most probably orchestrated by FSB officials themselves. The end result of that conspiracy was Vladmir Putin’s ascension to power, and the engagement of the Second Chechnen War. Anyone who dared to divulge this truth was at once silenced through intimidation, or death. One man standing outside one of the bombed apartments in which his daughter, son-in-law, and grandson died, angrily said, “They say it was Chechens who did this, but that is a lie. It was Putin’s people. Everyone knows that. No one wants to talk about it, but everyone knows it.”

Which leaves us with this perplexing, ugly question: Were the Moscow subway bombings orchestrated NOT by Chechens, but by someone else? Like the FSB, for example (and for what end)? Does it even make sense that Chechens, after the end of the counter-terrorism operation in 2009 and during much-needed recovery, wish to trigger another war?

Although some US journalists have intelligently questioned the verity of the statements that it was Chechnen suicide bombers behind the attack, they are unfortunately physically too far-removed from Russia to solidify their investigations. Neither do they seem to understand that investigations carried out by Russian officers (some of whom are tied to the FSB) can lead to a truth that will do anything to remain hidden.

It is unfortunately easy to ascribe such acts of terror like the subway bombings to Chechen rebels. In October 2002, Chechen terrorists held hostage 850 people in a Russian theater. In September 2004, Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev (killed 2006) masterminded the Beslan School hostage crises, where more than 1,000 children and teachers were held captive in the gymnasium for several days and at least 330 people died.

Although they carried their dissent through these seiges, it was Politkovskaya who was their voice. Politkovskaya was the medium of truth, the only one who would frankly and intelligently tell their story to the world. Although she did not agree with the methods the Chechnen terrorists were using, she understood that they were using such opportunities to negotiate with the Russian government. When Russian officials tried to send in their own to the theater and Beslan school, the Chechens refused to speak with them. They demanded Politkovskaya.

During the theater siege, Politkovskaya immediately flew back to Russia from a media ceremony in LA, and while giving water and juice to the hostages, broadcast their voices to the world. “The terrorists,” she said, “wanted someone who would accurately report things as they were. My work in Chechnya makes people there feel that I don’t lie. But there wasn’t much I could do for the hostages anyway.” During the siege at the Beslan school, as Politkovskaya was getting ready to actively save the children by brokering talks between Russian officials and Chechen rebels, her tea was poisoned by state agents. Due to her illness, she was unable to attend the scene and mourned the catastrophic aftermath where sudden open-fire took the lives of so many.

But with Politkovskaya gone, there may not be anyone to broadcast the voice of the Chechen people and investigate if they were behind the bombings. There may be no one willing to expose the truth, if they should find it, for fear that the FSB would silence them next. Even today, the aftermath of the theater and Beslan school crises are left with disturbing conclusions found from crime scene investigations–that it was the FSB who fired first on both accounts, that Chechens did not begin firing until Russian officials started killing both terrorists and hostages alike. With Litvinenko and Politkovskaya now permanently MIA, this means possible danger for the Chechen people even more than ever. Who will continue the work Politkovskaya started?

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