Russia arrests 10 men linked to journalist

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya is seen in Moscow in 2001. Politkovskaya, a critic of President Vladimir Putin was shot dead in Moscow in Oct. 2006. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, ITAR-TASS

MOSCOW – Under pressure to solve the contract-style killing of journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, Russia’s chief prosecutor announced Monday the arrest of 10 suspects, including a Chechen crime boss and five law enforcement officers.

Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika refused to say who was suspected of ordering the Oct. 7 shooting of Politkovskaya, whose tireless chronicling of the killings, kidnappings and torture of civilians in war-scarred Chechnya had angered the Kremlin and the Moscow-backed Chechen leadership.

But he said that only someone living outside Russia would have an interest in killing Politkovskaya, with the aim of discrediting President Vladimir Putin and destabilizing the country ahead of national elections.

In implicating Russia’s enemies abroad, Chaika echoed statements by Putin shortly after Politkovskaya’s death that “people who are hiding from Russian law enforcement have been hatching plans to sacrifice someone and create an anti-Russian wave in the world.”

Berezovsky said Monday the effort to link him to Politkovskaya’s death was a “hysterical reaction” to his criticism of Putin.

Chaika’s conclusion was met with some skepticism by media rights organizations and editors at Politkovskaya’s newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.

“Contrary to what the prosecutor general says, there were people inside the country interested in silencing her, and the investigation should be looking into this,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

Chaika said Politkovskaya’s slaying was set up by a Chechen native who led a Moscow organized crime ring that specialized in contract killings.

The prosecutor said that people involved in killing the 48-year-old Politkovskaya at her apartment building in Moscow may have also been involved in the 2004 shooting death of Paul Klebnikov, an American who was editor of Forbes magazine’s Russian edition.

Chaika told a news conference,

“It is in the interest first of all of those people and structures that aim to destabilize the situation in the country, change the constitutional order (and) create a crisis in Russia,” he said, adding that such forces want to “discredit the leadership” and put foreign pressure on the Kremlin..

Politkovskaya had been a consistent critic of Kadyrov, accusing his security forces of kidnapping and torturing civilians.

Politkovskaya’s killing came less than two months before the radiation poisoning death in London on Nov. 23 of Berezovsky associate and former KGB counterintelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko, which further damaged the reputation of the Russian leadership abroad in both Europe and the U.S.

Litvinenko, who had been investigating Politkovskaya’s death, had said Putin was behind her slaying and also blamed the Russian leader for his own poisoning. The Kremlin has tried to shift the blame for Litvinenko’s death onto Berezovsky.

Reporters Without Borders said it hoped the announcement has not been made solely to defuse questions from those who want the case solved. “We have in the past seen announcements by the Russian authorities that have been made just for effect,” its statement said. “And most of the investigations into the murders of journalists have never been concluded.”

Politkovskaya was the 13th journalist killed in a contract-style murder in Russia since Putin took office in 2000, and nobody has been convicted in any of them – a record that has led to doubts about the government’s dedication to freedom of the press.

“I think these are serious arrests based on real evidence,” Simonov said. He said he was confident investigators had tracked down Politkovskaya’s killers, but he expressed concern that the truth about who was behind the slaying could prove more elusive.

Simonov said the staff of Novaya Gazeta feared authorities would try “to steer the case in the direction of London” and blame Politkovskaya’s killing on Berezovsky.