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Lost and Found: Progress in the Politkovskaya Case May Indicate a Political Will to Bring Those Guilty of Killing Journalists to Justice

Following a string of successes in the investigation into the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, investigators may be close to arresting higher level members of the group behind Russia's most notorious journalist killing. Recent months have already produced several high profile arrests, with police claiming that they now have the gunman and the organizer in custody. The authorities have pushed back a deadline for the investigation by three months, increasing speculation that the organizer may reveal to police the name of the person who ordered Politkovskaya's murder.

Investigators' first break in the case came with the arrest of Rustam Makhmudov, the alleged triggerman, in his native village of Achkhoi-Martan in Chechnya earlier this summer. While prosecutors said that Makhmudov was actively eluding an international manhunt, his lawyers have argued that he was openly living in his native village and did not attempt to evade the police when they showed up at his house to arrest him.

The next breakthrough can last month when investigators arrested former Police Lieutenant Dmitri Pavlyuchenkov, who, according to their version of events, arranged for the three Makhmudov brothers to kill Politkovskaya. Pavlyuchenkov is also alleged to have acquired the murder weapon and organized surveillance of her apartment in Moscow. At a round table discussion held today at RIA Novosti, Dmitry Muratov, the editor of Novaya Gazeta ­ Anna Politkovskaya's employer at the time of her death ­ said that in the course of his surveillance, Pavlyuchenkov had also employed government automobiles, equipment and employees, who must have recognized that their orders diverged from their job descriptions.

Yet Muratov gave a mostly positive review of the Investigative Committee's recent work. "We support the version of events being put forward by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Government... that Pavlyuchenko played the role of co-organizer of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya," said Muratov. Since the attack, Novaya Gazeta has been running an independent investigation into the murder of Politkovskaya, in an attempt to provide a "check on the government investigation," said Muratov.

It is significant that Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper that is not afraid to criticize the government, collaborated closely with the Investigative Committee to make progress in a case that was thought to be a lost cause. While Muratov remained critical of the authorities' trepidation in going after the more powerful figures, who were probably behind the murder, he nonetheless confirmed that investigators had shown great professionalism and "did not stubbornly refuse our information when they were lost."

Just what predicated that reversal in fortune, and the sudden emergence of information about the case remain unclear. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported last October, on the fourth anniversary of Politkovskaya's murder, that relations with the newly created Investigative Committee had taken a turn for the better, and all 19 outstanding cases of murdered journalists were to be reopened in Russia. This followed low points in the case, such as when two of the Makhmudov brothers were acquitted by a Moscow court following a botched prosecution in 2009. The investigation into the Makhmudovs only continued after a Supreme Court Ruling threw out the earlier acquittal.

Mikhail Fedotov, Head of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, said at the conference that the renewed push to solve the case came from the president's office. "Advances in the investigation of journalists' murders is the result of a certain political will," said Fedotov. "We know that the issue is old, a lot of the witnesses are gone, and so the case was closed. But even when a case has been closed and is then opened again ... then that shows there is the political will to follow the issue to the very end." Yet Anna Stavitskaya, the Politkovskaya family's lawyer, shot back at Fedotov: "As a lawyer, I hope to live until such a time when political will doesn't impact investigations."

As Pavlyuchenkov will remain in jail for the next several months while the investigation continues, speculation is growing that he may cut a deal with police, an event which Muratov said would quickly reveal the rest of the participants in the conspiracy to kill Politkovskaya.

Journalists may be hoping that progress in the Politkovskaya case could lead to progress on other unsolved murders, although keeping alive the memory of some of those killed remains a challenge. "What information is there on Paul Klebnikov's murder?" asked an elderly member of the press corps. The panel looked at each other confusedly, apparently not anticipating the question. "Paul Klebnikov was also murdered," she repeated obstinately.


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