Politkovskaya’s Murder: From Tragedy to Farce

If Anna Politkovskaya’s murder was a tragedy, the investigation and events surrounding it are a farce. Nothing says this more than the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, 41, in a London sushi restaurant. Litvinenko is a former FSB agent turned critic of the Kremlin. Toxicology reports show that he has traces of thallium in his blood, a tasteless, odorless chemical that is the favorite of cloak and dagger assassinations because a lethal dose is around a dash of salt. According to reports, there is some confusion as to who Litvinenko met. The LA Times says he met with “a former KGB associate” who claimed to have secret information about Politkovskaya’s death. While Kommersant says he met with an Italian named Mario Scaramella. Litvinenko told the Moscow business daily the following:

“[Scaramella] sent me an e-mail from Italy late October asking to meet and wrote that he will be in London November 10 to 11,” Litvinenko said. “But suddenly, he called me November 1 and, as usual, we decided to meet on Piccadilly Circus. We met at around 3:00 p.m., and I invited him to dine in the restaurant.”

From Scaramella, Litvinenko received a four-page document printed in English. The Italian was nervous claiming the document mentions names of the people involved in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, Litvinenko went on.

Indeed, the document spelled out names of some officers of Federal Security Service, said Litvinenko, former colonel of this Service, adding he asked for the time to study the information.

“I ordered the food, and he took just water and was hurrying me. From the text, I understood that the mentioned people could have really arranged the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. We parted nearly at once,” Litvinenko continued. “As soon as I got home, I put the papers and was down.”

As of yesterday, he has been moved to an intensive care unit. The reigning theory about Litvinenko’s poisoning is that the order came from the Kremlin.

The James Bond style assassination attempt on Litvinenko comes at the precise time the “official” search for Politkovskaya’s killer appears in a deadlock. As Kommersant reported a few weeks ago, Russian investigators believe that her killers are hiding somewhere in the Siberian town of Nizhnevartovsk, located in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area. Now the Guardian reports that local police are doing their best to obstruct the investigation and search for the police’s main suspect Aleksandr Prilepin. Prilepin is currently in hiding because he is connected to the 2001 disappearance and killing of a Chechen named Zelimkhan Murdalov. Politkovskaya’s articles were instrumental in the arrest and conviction of his associate, Sergei Lapin. Prilepin is now also wanted for Politkovskaya’s murder.

The fact that Prilepin is in an “undisclosed location” didn’t stop him from giving an interview to state newspaper Rossiisskaya gazeta. When asked his theory about Politkovskaya’s murder, he had this to say:

I have a theory. Who could have needed such a sensational victim? One that was guaranteed to draw attention from all the country’s media? Their articles would express theories, including “werewolves in shoulder-boards,” and there would definitely be talk about the tyranny of the federal forces in the North Caucasus. . .

I consider the primary theory to be political. It seems to me that the overriding purpose of killing Politkovskaya was to make as much noise as possible. And that is guaranteed with the death of a figure known in the West. It is all being done with an aim at preparations for the coming elections. A shadow is being cast on the government that Politkovskaya criticized. Just as the theory of our, police participation in her murder casts a shadow on the federal forces in Chechnya. I am sure that there are forces for which this is advantageous.

It seems that the theory that Politkovskaya’s killer is linked to the “dark forces” aboard seeking to manipulate the Russian body politic continues to be unfurled as needed. Forgetting the fact that this theory is simply ridiculous, in Russia’s current political climate there is no way it would work. Politkovskaya impact in Russia was minor at best and her killing, while proving to many in the West what they already think about Putin and Russia, won’t have any effect on Russian voters or the elections.

Still the theories continue to mount up. On 15 November, Izvestiia introduced its “Man in the Black Baseball Cap” theory. This theory focuses on the mysterious man caught on surveillance cameras and the possibility that this is the same man featured in the video that was the basis for Politkovskaya’s 20 March article, “Video of the Premier in Chechnya.” The video allegedly features Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov with the “Man in the black baseball cap”. According to Izvestiia on the scenes in the video showed the following:

In the picture the man is embracing a girl in a scarlet bra. There is another woman in the background. There is music, shrieking, and loud laughter. Then a thin young man in a greenish sweater and a black baseball cap appears on the screen. The man who looks like the premier of Chechnya approaches him and, smiling, says something. The man in the black baseball cap drops his pants and begins to masturbate. Male laughter and squealing noises are heard. The ladies run off. The man who looks like Kadyrov distractedly films the “session” on the mobile phone.

Politkovskaya writes that the man in the baseball cap was forced into “dropping his pants” (Politkovskaya omitted the details) against his will. However, it is hardly possible to claim for sure that the man was forced. No one makes any menacing gestures toward him or threatens him. It appears that he is doing everything of his own free will. He even seems to smile — that is how they entertain themselves.

Immediately after these videos appeared Ramzan Kadyrov declared that he was not the man shown. We showed the videos to experts, but they could not give a definite answer, whether it was the Chechen premier in them or not. The picture quality was too poor. But it is obvious that whoever was in the video, these pictures were not intended for a broad audience. The folks were enjoying themselves they way they wanted — keep it quiet. Completely unexpectedly the pictures become public property. The man in the baseball cap was held up as a laughing stock. For a proud and self-respecting Chechen (and there is no other kind of Chechen) to find himself in such a situation is like death. Only blood can settle the score.

If we compare the face of the presumed killer of Politkovskaya that was taken by the video camera in the entryway with the face of the man from the bathhouse, it turns out that they are similar. Of course, with correction for the fact that both video pictures are of poor quality. Both are wearing baseball caps with long, bent visors. Both are thin, and the outlines of their heads, their figures, and their posture coincide… By the way, why doesn’t this man take his cap off in the bathhouse? That kind of behavior is typical of people who are shy about scars or other skin damage.

According to this theory, then, Politkovskaya’s murder was nothing more than your typical Chechen shame killing. The “Man in the black baseball cap” was humiliated when Politkovskaya’s article was published. And as Izvestiia reasons, “There is Internet in Chechnya too. And in the republic the “hero” of the video, the man in the baseball cap, is most likely recognizable. It is one thing for guys to fool around in the bathhouse, but it is something entirely different if you are shown naked to the entire republic, the entire country.”

So this is where we stand. One poisoned formed FSB agent; investigators “scouring” Siberia for a suspect, who Rossiisskaya gazeta seems to have no problem finding; and a mysterious “man in a black baseball cap” who got caught diddling himself on video. Tragedy has indeed become farce.