Putin pardons Politkovskaya's killer

Putin pardons Politkovskaya's killer
Anna Politkovskaya, famous human rights investigative journalist and vocal critic of Chechnya's strong man president Kadyrov, was gunned down in front of her apartment in 2006 on Putin's birthday. / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin November 15, 2023

President Vladimir Putin has granted a pardon to Sergei Khadzhikurbanov who was convicted of the 2006 murder of famous investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, RBC reported on November 15.

Khadzhikurbanov was serving a 20-year sentence for the crime, but was pardoned by Putin after signing up to fight in the Special Military Operation (SVO) in Ukraine.

According to Khadzhikurbanov's lawyer, Alexey Mikhalchik, Khadzhikurbanov initially participated in the SVO as a prisoner and was later pardoned. Khadzhikurbanov's lawyer did not say when he started to fight in Ukraine or when he received the presidential pardon. Khadzhikurbanov is currently fighting in Ukraine on a contract with Russia's Defence Ministry, his lawyer said.

He subsequently re-joined the SVO as a freelance military contractor after entering into a contract with the Defence Ministry. His prior experience in special forces during the 90s likely contributed to being offered a command position. Mikhalchik believes that Khadzhikurbanov was not involved in the murder of Politkovskaya, who was a leading critic of Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov’s regime that runs the region.

The pardon elicited strong reaction from Politkovskaya's children. In a joint statement, Politkovskaya's daughter, Vera, and son, Ilya, said the decision was a "desecration" of their mother's memory. They also lamented that they were not informed about the presidential pardon, expressing disillusionment with the pursuit of justice in their mother's case.

There has been a string of murders of those that have opposed Kadyrov or criticised his regime. Chechens linked to Kadyrov are also thought to be behind the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in 2015, who was gunned down under the walls of the Kremlin.

More recently, another Kadyrov critic, Chechen Zelimkhan Khangoshvili was shot twice in the head in Berlin’s Tiergarten in August 2019 by a Russian assassin on a bicycle with a suppressed Glock 26. Khangoshvili had fled Russia and was seeking refuge in Germany. In December 2021, two Russian diplomats were expelled after a Berlin court determined that the murder was a state-ordered killing.

Observers believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin has little control over Kadyrov, who is a former military leader in his father’s succession movement that was attempting to break away from the Russian Federation. A poacher-turned-gamekeeper, the Kremlin has spent billions of dollars on rebuilding Chechnya and its capital, which was destroyed during two Chechen wars at the start of the 1990s. Today it is administered by Kadyrov who, in return, keeps the peace in Chechnya. A leaked Kremlin report written by top presidential aide Dmitri Kozak at the end of the 90s caused a storm when it reported more than $1bn of state investment money for the republic had gone missing.

The Chechen strongman has played an important role in the war in Ukraine, sending his so-called Kadyrovtsy elite fighters as part of the assault forces that attempted to capture Kyiv in the early days of the war. More recently, Kadyrov has kept out of the war and is believed to be building up a private army under his direct control on the off-chance there is a social backlash against the war and Putin being ousted from office.

Politkovskaya was a highly respected human rights investigative journalist at Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s few liberal newspapers that was partly funded by the late Mikhail Gorbachev.

She was assassinated in the entrance of her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006, the same day as Putin’s birthday.

Subsequently, six individuals received lengthy prison sentences for their roles in her murder, with sentences ranging from 11 years to life in prison. Among those convicted were Chechen gangster Lom-Ali Gaitukaev, who was convicted of organising the killing, and his nephew Rustam Makhmudov. Gaitukaev passed away in prison in June 2017. Additionally, three other individuals, including Khadzhikurbanov, acted as middlemen in the organisation of the crime and received sentences ranging from 14 to 20 years in prison.