Anna Politkovskaya’s Last Interview to the Regional Russian Press On Day of Her Murder

October 7, 2016
Photo of Anna Politkovskaya and memorial from October 2009. Photo by Caucasian Knot

Anna Politkovskaya’s Last Interview to the Regional Russian Press On Day of Her Murder

Today October 7 is the 10th anniversary of the murder of Russian investigative journalist Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya.

Politkovskaya, known for her critical reporting on Chechnya for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya gazeta and her award-winning books, was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment building on October 7, 2006.

As we reported in 2013, while the first murder trial ended in an acquittal, ultimately five men, including 4 Chechens from the same family were sentenced to prison for the murder. But the real mastermind who ordered or paid for the contract killing is still not known.

This has been the pattern with murders of journalists and public figures in Russia both before Politkovskaya’s assassination and after.

Currently five Chechens are on trial for the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, but they appear to be only the perpetrators, with the contractors having escaped justice as in Politkovskaya’s case and others. 

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty published an English translation of the last interview Politkovskaya made to the foreign press, RFE/RL’s Russian Service two days before her death.

In it, she spoke critically of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on the occasion of his birthday, October 5, 2006, where he turned 30 and could then be legally appointed president of the Chechen Republic, a move that was widely anticipated after the assassination of his father, Akhmet Kadyrov in May 2004.

It turns out that pn October 7,  just an hour an a half before she was murdered, she also gave an interview on the phone to Vyacheslav Feraposhkin, a correspondent for the regional news site Caucasian Knot. Caucasian Knot titled their interview with Politkovskaya, “Kadyrov Won’t Be President of Chechnya: Source.”

The following is a translation of the article time-stamped October 7, 2006 at 20:49; the editors were unaware when they posted the interview that just a few hours earlier at about 17:00 in Moscow, her body had been discovered by a neighbor.

In an interview with a Caucasian Knot correspondent given today by telephone, Anna Politkovskaya  commented on the career prospects of Ramzan Kadyrov and the furious construction in this volatile Russian province, timed for the Chechen prime minister’s birthday. We will recall that on Thursday, October 5, Kadyrov turned 30 — the age at which he can become the president of Chechnya, according to its constitution.
“Despite the general outrage organized by journalists who in large numbers came now to lick certain well-known parts in Tsentoroye [Kadyrov’s home town], and all the rest of our insane Russian VIP managers who have come to celebrate the 30th birthday of just one individual premier of a tiny republic, I think that Kadyrov doesn’t have any particular prospects,” Anna Politkovskaya said in a confident tone.
“I can’t know whether Putin wants to appoint him president of Chechnya or not. But I think that this simply won’t happen for many reasons — I’ll limit myself to that formulation.” Ramzan Kadyrov himself, in her words, “is simply yearning” to occupy officially the post of the head of Chechnya, and “is dreaming about this.”
In recent months in Chechnya, the construction of various facilities — schools, roads, homes, fountains — has escalated. The opening ceremony for some of them in particular, such as the Severny Airport in Grozny, was held on  Ramzan Kadyrov’s birthday. During the construction of the most significant buildings, Kadyrov said he would take them under “his personal oversight.”
“Personal oversight consisted only of him compelling other people through force of arms and threats to pay for that construction, since this was not paid for out of the federal budget,” said Anna Politkovskaya.
“The main revenue line in the Kadyrov budget is fees from everyone he can manage to rob them from. Not only business people, but for example, the entire bureaucracy. Of course in Chechnya, as all over our country, the bureaucracy is corrupt from head to toe. Each such official has ‘peeled off’ enormous sums from his income. It was calculated how much a bureaucrat pilfered and then he was forced to pay up. I will not cite specific sums without documents. Today I have only copies of statements to the prosecutor’s office from Emergencies Ministry officials who were outraged that they were forced to ‘peel off’ from their wages 13,000 rubles each [$481 at that time–The Interpreter] — and that was a large part of their salary,” said Politkovskaya.
“These fees involved such funny things as forcing officials to go to all these idiotic concerts organized in Gudermes with star performing artists. Or for example, they had to buy tickets to beauty contests. An official was forced to buy two or three tickets at a price that was about quadruple the real price. And they do this. The ‘buyers’ of these tickets – two deputy ministers — told me about it,” Politkovskaya maintained.
According to Politkovskaya, Kadyrov tries to extract cash out of the federal budget to cover expenses incurred during the intensive construction, but the Russian Ministry of Finance blocked this, demanding project budget documentation for the facilities built “which naturally don’t exist with such hyper-construction,” she said.
“Thus, the struggle continues; Ramzan has already flown to Moscow to see Putin, in order to get the cash without these documents, but he failed,” she added.

The number of facilities built, Politkovskaya maintains, is extremely low.

“And what can you say about the quality,” she exclaimed angrily. “Those who saw them know just what ‘quality’ is there. I personally will not fly to that Grozny Airport. No thanks. I would be better off flying to another airport.”

If the buildings are not finished by the deadlines Kadyrov imposes, he “takes measures.”

“Nothing is hardly likely to happen, of course, with ordinary builders. It will happen with the managers of the construction. They will simply be abducted, coerced, and tortured. Such facts are already known,” Politkovskaya commented.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick