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Putin Has Blunt Words for Killers and Victim

He says those behind the assassination of a writer have damaged Russia more than her articles did. A journalist calls the remark `outrageous.'

October 11, 2006|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — As mourners buried investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya on Tuesday, President Vladimir V. Putin, the target of much of her criticism, condemned both her slaying and her reporting -- and suggested her death might have been ordered by exiles to make Russia look bad.

The remarks by Putin, who discussed the killing during a telephone call Monday with President Bush, reinforced a sense that Politkovskaya's death has touched a nerve here and presents a serious blow to the nation's democratic credentials.

At Politkovskaya's funeral, attended by close to 1,000 mourners, the mood of sadness seemed tinged with a broader sense of discouragement for Russia's political future.

"Who is next? This is the question asked today by thousands of journalists, human rights activists, liberal politicians and progressive people in general," Yuri Chernichenko, deputy chairman of the Moscow Union of Writers, said after the funeral service. "The answer is we don't know. But we know that this is not the first and not the last funeral after which we will be asking that question."

Many of those who gathered on a cold and drizzly day at a Soviet-era funeral hall in suburban Moscow praised Politkovskaya's courage and concern for the unfortunate.

"I heard that Anna Politkovskaya was on a list of 'enemies of Russia.' But it's obvious that she ... was a real patriot, and she died for the truth," said Eduard Sagalayev, head of the Assn. of Independent Broadcasters.

Speaking at a news conference during a visit to Dresden, Germany, where he once was based as a KGB agent, Putin called the Novaya Gazeta reporter's contract-style slaying Saturday "a crime of loathsome brutality." But he drew the ire of Politkovskaya's admirers when he also portrayed himself as a victim and implied that her articles had damaged Russia.

"This murder has done more damage to Russia -- and the current authorities of Russia and Chechnya, which she has been covering lately in her work -- than Politkovskaya's articles," Putin said in remarks broadcast here on state-run television.

"Putin said an outrageous thing today about Anna," Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, said after Putin's remarks were broadcast. "What he said today is so outrageous that it is unworthy of a man, and it is unworthy of the president of Russia."

Putin also appeared to endorse the idea, promoted since Sunday by pro-Kremlin media, that advocates of a Ukrainian-style "Orange Revolution" had ordered Politkovskaya's killing in order to advance their cause. Admirers of the slain journalist have described that theory as ridiculous and offensive.

Politkovskaya, 48, was known in particular for her reporting on human rights abuses in war-torn Chechnya. She was killed in her apartment building by gunshots to the chest and head after a Saturday afternoon shopping trip.

Novaya Gazeta has pledged to conduct its own investigation into her death.

A large majority of those who came to the funeral were middle-aged or elderly, representing a generation that had placed great faith in democracy during the waning years of the Soviet Union and the first few years after its collapse in 1991. Those in attendance filed past the open casket, setting down long-stemmed roses, carnations and other flowers.

"For me, this woman is the embodiment of courage," Anna Volkova, 43, a landscape designer, said in explaining why she was there. "I didn't know her personally, but I saw her on television a lot and read her articles. I think there are no other such courageous correspondents among women."

Lyudmila Kucherina, 67, a chemistry professor at Moscow State University, said she found the slaying and the public's apparent muted response disturbing. "It's big trouble -- the country losing such people, while being silent at the same time," she said, waiting in the rain to get into the funeral hall. "I wanted to express the pain that I share along with others who couldn't come today."

Alexander Minkin, a prominent investigative journalist at the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, who spoke at the service, expressed regret that there were not more young people present. "There should be thousands here," he said. "In the past, it was students who pushed things forward."

After the indoor service, Politkovskaya's coffin was placed in a hearse, driven to the cemetery, then carried to the burial ground in a procession led by a man carrying a Russian Orthodox cross. The cross bearing her name was placed on her grave, which was then covered with wreaths and flowers.

Vyacheslav Izmailov, a Novaya Gazeta reporter who worked closely with Politkovskaya, said the newspaper would focus on four possible culprits in the slaying: pro-Kremlin Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov or his entourage, the Russian special services, military officials whose abuses were exposed in her stories, or ultranationalists.

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