The Anna Politkovskaya slaying – is Kasparov in danger?

10/13/2006 – On October 7th the US born Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment block in central Moscow. Her writings were very critical of the Russian government and army, she was a fervent supporter of human rights and the rule of law. The same can be said about Garry Kasparov, who now himself feels threatened.

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Anna Politkovskaya [Photo: Moscow Times]

Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya was found dead last Saturday, the day on which she was supposed to file an extensive critical story on torture used in Chechnya. She was shot four times in the elevator of her appartment block in central Moscow, apparently by a contract killer. Thousands attended her funeral on Tuesday, and her murder has caused a strong international reaction.

In the October 9th edition of the Wall Street Journal there is a substantial piece on Anna Politkovskaya, written by editorial contributor Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion and vocal critic of the current Russian regime of Vladimir Putin. The article is available online only to subscribers, so here is a brief summary. [The full article now appears to be available in Google News]

Anna Politkovskaya

"Anna was a fearless journalist best known for her reporting on the government's atrocities in Chechnya. To know Anna was to know how profoundly she cared. She felt the pain of others deeply and communicated that passion in her work. She took on the most sensitive stories and the most painful subjects. She was an inspiration because she was never intimidated, because she never wrote a line she didn't believe in passionately. And on Saturday – President Vladimir Putin's 54th birthday – Anna Politkovskaya was murdered. Her killers made no attempt to disguise what their act was, no attempt to make it look like anything other than a politically motivated assassination.

This brutal episode cannot be taken outside the context of recent events in Russia. The forces in control here are facing an impending crisis and fault lines are beginning to appear in the Kremlin's vertical power structure. The authoritarian structure that Mr. Putin has built in Russia has been very profitable for his circle of friends and supporters. Income is siphoned off from every region of the country. Business and politics have been combined into a streamlined process for bleeding the nation dry."

Kasparov goes on to describe the dilemma that Vladimir Putin is in. His term of office ends in 2008, after which there is a danger that the "mafia-like structure" of the government may explode, with a bloody scramble for Putin's position ensuing. "Whoever wins that battle must then eliminate the others to consolidate his grip," writes Kasparov, estimating that ten percent of the combatants will pay in blood or incarceration and ruin. In order to avoid this some of Putin's closest lieutenants are dedicated to making sure the top man stays right where he is.

"With the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya," Kasparov says, "the forces of corruption and repression in Russia have now made it plain that there is nothing they won't do to stay in power. This is obviously bad news for my country. But it is catastrophic for every nation that these forces continue to receive the approval of the leaders of the free world."

Kasparov in danger?

Shortly after the murder of Anna Politkovskaya Garry Kasparov appeared for a business conference in Lisbon, Portugal. On Thursday the equally outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted that he fears for his own safety, especially in the wake of the weekend murder. "I try to protect myself and my family as much as possible but I am aware that no protection is possible," he said in an interviewed published in daily Portuguese newspaper Jornal de Negocios.


Kasparov being attacked by political opponent in Moscow

"Putin's regime is seen in the West as a strange democracy, a Russian-style democracy. But in reality it is a police state. And the sooner Putin leaves, the better off the country will be," he added. "It would be stupid for someone who is hostile to an authoritarian regime to not be afraid."

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