It is time to end the fiction that Vladimir Putin’s “dictatorship of law” has made postcommunist Russia any less lawless. The murder of Anna Politkovskaya, one of Russia’s bravest and best journalists, a woman who dared to expose the brutal murders committed by Russian troops in Chechnya, is final proof that President Putin has delivered nothing more than a run of the mill dictatorship with the usual contempt for law.
This recognition is a timely one for the world to make, particularly Europe. Germany’s Foreign Ministry is preparing a policy on Russian/German relations that will enshrine indifference to Putin’s lawlessness as being in the national interest of the most powerful member of the European Union. But indifference becomes appeasement when it encourages Putin to pursue his lawless ways in the international arena, as in his current campaign to strangle Georgia’s economy.
The killing of Politkovskaya has incited an eerie sense of déjà vu: just as in the KGB’s heyday, people simply disappear in Putin’s Russia. Politkovskaya’s is the third politically tinged killing in three weeks. Enver Ziganshin, the chief engineer of BP Russia, was shot to death in Irkutsk on September 30. Andrei Kozlov, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who was leading a campaign against financial fraud, was assassinated on September 14.
The fact that Russia’s Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, took over the investigation into Politkovskaya’s killing, as he did with the murder of Kozlov, doesn’t inspire hope, as such senior level involvement would in any real democracy. In fact, the involvement of the highest level of Russia’s government is almost a guarantee that the killers will never be found.