An Arrest in Politkovskaya Murder Case

In a stunning turn of events, a major arrest has been made in the investigation of the October 2006 murder of Russian hero journalist Anna Politkovskaya.  Nearly five years after the gangland-style killing, Lt. Col. Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov was taken into custody in Moscow and charged with organizing the horrific crime.

Now retired, in October 2006, Pavlyuchenkov was head of surveillance at Moscow's Main Internal Affairs Directorate, the city's main police force.  He was not, in other words, a lackey of Ramzan Kadyrov, the warlord of Chechnya whose forces have been routinely fingered by those who would defend the Putin Kremlin from charges of complicity in Politkovskaya’s murder.  Instead, he was a high-ranking member of the Moscow security establishment.

Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper that published most of Politkovskaya’s relentless criticism of the Putin dictatorship, said the arrest offers the possibility of following the trail of blood into the upper reaches of the Kremlin itself:

When not only low-level executors but the suspected organizers and the suspected gunman are on trial, then we can have a serious prosecution that could lead to the finding of the mastermind.

Pavlyuchenkov used subordinates in his office to trail Politkovskaya, record her habits, and set her up for the killing. He then hired a trio of Chechen brothers as trigger men, obviously hoping to throw the spotlight of blame away from the Kremlin and towards Chechnya. Politkovskaya’s fearless reporting on the Kremlin’s human rights atrocities in Chechnya had infuriated not only Putin but also Kadyrov, Putin’s puppet in the region, and Kadryov had issued numerous threats against her, making him the perfect patsy.

When the identity of the trio was blown, Pavlyuchenkov actually testified against them at their 2009 trial, but his evidence was so unconvincing that there was an acquittal, followed by an order from the Supreme Court to reinvestigate and retry the alleged killers.

Pavlyuchenkov then accused a former officer with Moscow police's anti-mafia department, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, of seeking to extort $350,000 from him, and Khadzhikurbanov was sentenced to eight years in prison. Nobody asked how Pavlyuchenkov, paid a few hundred dollars a month, came by such a fantastic sum. Khadzhikurbanov has now been implicated in the murder plot as well, and Novaya Gazeta believes that the money was simply payment for the hit.

Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Russia's Investigative Committee, warned ominously:

Pavlyuchenkov, in return for a cash payment, received an order to organize Politkovskaya’s murder. He established an organized criminal group that included the three Makhmudov brothers and other individuals. Investigators have information about the alleged mastermind of this crime. However, we believe it would be premature to disclose it at this point.

This arrest obliterates all doubt, as if there ever could have been any, about whether the Moscow Kremlin, and Vladimir Putin himself, was involved in Politkovskaya’s killing. Days after she was shot down outside her apartment building, Putin openly stated that her writings had caused “damage to Russia” and then weirdly contradicted himself by calling her “insignificant.” But “insignificant” people are not assassinated in a conspiracy led by a leading figure in the Moscow security establishment after being trailed and monitored by on-duty cops.

Throughout her career, Politkovskaya pointed her pen directly at Putin, personally. She was more blunt and fearless in doing so than Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and that is why Politkovskaya was killed and Khodorkovsky was only imprisoned. Those who know Putin, a proud career KGB spy, find nothing at all surprising in the notion that he would order her execution. In fact, Putin’s entire career in the Kremlin is littered with similar instances of liquidated critics.

What is surprising, though, is that the Russian justice system has finally been allowed to begin unearthing the roots of this conspiracy. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Russia’s stock market has just lost 20% of its value and the number of Russians saying they would like Putin back in the presidency has dropped below 50%. Maybe Putin begins to seem vulnerable, and maybe there are those inside the Kremlin who would like to see him replaced.

Or maybe it is just that there are still a few men and women working in Russian law enforcement who draw the line when asked to look the other way at the brutal murder of wife and mother who had done nothing more than speak truth to power. Whatever the reason, the foundations of the Russian government have been rocked to their core, and an entirely new element has been added to the upcoming presidential elections. Russia’s future is in turmoil, and that is not a bad thing, because the “stability” of a KGB president for life meant certain doom for Russia.

There is one other, far darker, possibility, namely that this investigation is as blessed by Putin as Politkovskaya’s killing itself. Perhaps Putin feels he needs to scapegoat a high-ranking person in order to blunt Western criticism of his human rights record because political pressure is rapidly increasing in the wake of the murder of Kremlin critic Sergei Magnitsky. Maybe Putin even has a particular fall guy in mind, an enemy he cannot dislodge by other means.

This possibility carries so much darkness because Putin might be that evil -- anyone who knows him shouldn’t be surprised by that.  What’s really ominous is that Putin might think he could get away with such a gambit, something he could only believe if he takes the leaders of the West, Barack Obama in particular, for totally craven idiots.

What’s really ominous is that Putin just might be right.