It was her reporting from Chechnya that made Politkovskaya's national and international reputation. For seven years she refused to give up reporting on the war despite numerous acts of intimidation and violence. Anna was arrested by Russian military forces in Chechnya and subjected to a mock execution. She was poisoned on a plane flying from Moscow via Rostov-on-Don to help resolve the 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis, and had to turn back, requiring careful medical treatment in Moscow to restore her health.
Her post-1999 articles about conditions in Chechnya were turned into books several times; Russian readers' main access to her investigations and publications was through Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper known for its often-critical investigative coverage of Russian political and social affairs. From 2000 onwards, she received numerous international awards for her work. In 2004, she published Putin's Russia, a personal account of Russia for a Western readership.
On 7 October 2006, she was murdered in the elevator of her block of flats, an assassination that attracted international attention. In June 2014 five men were sentenced to prison for the murder, but it is still unclear who ordered or paid for the contract killing.
Politkovskaya was born Anna Mazepa in New York City in 1958, the daughter of Stepan F. Mazepa from Kostobobriv (Kostobobrov), Ukraine. Some sources say that her birth name was actually Hanna Mazeppa. Other sources state that she was born in Chernihiv (Chernigov) region of Ukraine. Her parents, Soviet diplomats at the United Nations, were Ukrainian. Politkovskaya spent most of her childhood in Moscow; she graduated from Moscow State University's school of journalism in 1980. While there, she defended a thesis about the poetry of Marina Tsvetaeva and married fellow student Alexander Politkovsky. They had two children, Vera and Ilya. At first Alexander was better known, joining TV journalist Vladislav Listyev as one of the hosts on the late-night TV programme Vzglyad. Apart from her childhood years, Politkovskaya spent no more than a few weeks outside Russia at any one time, even when her life came under threat. She was a U.S. citizen and had a U.S. passport, although she never relinquished her Russian citizenship.
Politkovskaya worked for Izvestia from 1982 to 1993 as a reporter and editor of the emergencies and accidents section. From 1994 to 1999, she worked as the assistant chief editor of Obshchaya Gazeta, headed by Yegor Yakovlev, where she wrote frequently about social problems, particularly the plight of refugees. From June 1999 to 2006, she wrote columns for the biweekly Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper with strong investigative reporting that was critical of the new post-Soviet regime from the outset. She published several award-winning books about Chechnya, life in Russia, and Russia under Vladimir Putin, including Putin's Russia.
Politkovskaya won a number of awards for her work. She used each of these occasions to urge greater concern and responsibility by Western governments that, after the 11 September attacks on the United States, welcomed Putin's contribution to their "War on Terror". She talked to officials, the military and the police and also frequently visited hospitals and refugee camps in Chechnya and in neighbouring Ingushetia to interview those injured and uprooted by the renewed fighting.
In numerous articles critical of the war in Chechnya and the pro-Russian regime there, Politkovskaya described alleged abuses committed by Russian military forces, Chechen rebels, and the Russian-backed administration led by Akhmad Kadyrov and his son Ramzan Kadyrov. She also chronicled human rights abuses and policy failures elsewhere in the North Caucasus. In one characteristic instance in 1999, she not only wrote about the plight of an ethnically-mixed old peoples' home under bombardment in Grozny, but helped to secure the safe evacuation of its elderly inhabitants with the aid of her newspaper and public support. Her articles, many of which form the basis of A Dirty War (2001) and A Small Corner of Hell (2003), depict a conflict that brutalised both Chechen fighters and conscript soldiers in the federal army, and created hell for the civilians caught between them.
As Politkovskaya reported, the order supposedly restored under the Kadyrovs became a regime of endemic torture, abduction, and murder, by either the new Chechen authorities or the various federal forces based in Chechnya. One of her last investigations was into the alleged mass poisoning of Chechen schoolchildren by a strong and unknown chemical substance which incapacitated them for many months.
After Politkovskaya became widely known in the West, she was commissioned to write Putin's Russia (later subtitled Life in a Failing Democracy), a broader account of her views and experiences after former KGB lieutenant colonel Vladimir Putin became Boris Yeltsin's Prime Minister, and then succeeded him as President of Russia. This included Putin's pursuit of the Second Chechen War. In the book, she accused the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) of stifling all civil liberties in order to establish a Soviet-style dictatorship, but admitted
[It] is we who are responsible for Putin's policies ... [s]ociety has shown limitless apathy ... [a]s the Chekists have become entrenched in power, we have let them see our fear, and thereby have only intensified their urge to treat us like cattle. The KGB respects only the strong. The weak it devours. We of all people ought to know that.
She also wrote:
We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance. All we have left is the internet, where information is still freely available. For the rest, if you want to go on working as a journalist, it's total servility to Putin. Otherwise, it can be death, the bullet, poison, or trial—whatever our special services, Putin's guard dogs, see fit.
"People often tell me that I am a pessimist, that I don't believe in the strength of the Russian people, that I am obsessive in my opposition to Putin and see nothing beyond that", she opens an essay titled "Am I Afraid?", finishing it—and the book—with the words "If anybody thinks they can take comfort from the 'optimistic' forecast, let them do so. It is certainly the easier way, but it is the death sentence for our grandchildren."
In May 2007, Random House posthumously published Politkovskaya's A Russian Diary, containing extracts from her notebook and other writings. Subtitled A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia, the book gives her account of the period from December 2003 to August 2005, including what she described as "the death of Russian parliamentary democracy", the Beslan school hostage crisis, and the "winter and summer of discontent" from January to August 2005. Because she was murdered "while translation was being completed, final editing had to go ahead without her help", wrote translator Arch Tait in a note to the book.
"Who killed Anna and who lay beyond her killer remains unknown", wrote Jon Snow, the main news anchor for the United Kingdom's Channel 4 in his foreword to the book's UK edition. "Her murder robbed too many of us of absolutely vital sources of information and contact", he concluded, "Yet it may, ultimately, be seen to have at least helped prepare the way for the unmasking of the dark forces at the heart of Russia's current being. I must confess that I finished reading A Russian Diary feeling that it should be taken up and dropped from the air in vast quantities throughout the length and breadth of Mother Russia, for all her people to read."
Politkovskaya was closely involved in attempts to negotiate the release of hostages in the Moscow theatre hostage crisis of 2002. When the Beslan school hostage crisis erupted in the North Caucasus in early September 2004, Politkovskaya attempted to fly there to act as a mediator, but was taken off the plane, acutely ill due to an attempted poisoning, in Rostov-on-Don (see Poisoning).
In Moscow, Politkovskaya was not invited to press conferences or gatherings that Kremlin officials might attend, in case the organisers were suspected of harbouring sympathies toward her. Despite this, many top officials allegedly talked to her when she was writing articles or conducting investigations. According to one of her articles, they did talk to her, "but only when they weren't likely to be observed: outside in crowds, or in houses that they approached by different routes, like spies". She also claimed that the Kremlin tried to block her access to information and discredit her:
I will not go into the other joys of the path I have chosen, the poisoning, the arrests, the threats in letters and over the Internet, the telephoned death threats, the weekly summons to the prosecutor general's office to sign statements about practically every article I write (the first question being, "How and where did you obtain this information?"). Of course I don't like the constant derisive articles about me that appear in other newspapers and on Internet sites presenting me as the madwoman of Moscow. I find it disgusting to live this way. I would like a bit more understanding.
After Politkovskaya's murder, Vyacheslav Izmailov, her colleague at Novaya Gazeta—a military man who had helped negotiate the release of dozens of hostages in Chechnya before 1999—said that he knew of at least nine previous occasions when Politkovskaya had faced death, commenting "Frontline soldiers do not usually go into battle so often and survive".
Politkovskaya herself did not deny being afraid, but felt responsible and concerned for her informants. While attending a December 2005 conference on the freedom of the press in Vienna organised by Reporters Without Borders, she said "People sometimes pay with their lives for saying aloud what they think. In fact, one can even get killed for giving me information. I am not the only one in danger. I have examples that prove it." She often received death threats as a result of her work, including being threatened with rape and experiencing a mock execution after being arrested by the military in Chechnya.
Early in 2001, Politkovskaya was detained by military officials in the southern mountain village of Khattuni. She was investigating complaints from 90 Chechen families about "punitive raids" by federal forces. She interviewed a Chechen grandmother from the village of Tovzeni, Rosita, who endured 12 days of beatings, electric shocks, and confinement in a pit. The men who arrested Rosita presented themselves as FSB employees. The torturers requested a ransom from Rosita's relatives, who negotiated a smaller amount that they were able to pay. Another interviewee described killings and rapes of Chechen men in a "concentration camp with a commercial streak" near the village of Khattuni.
Upon leaving the camp, Politkovskaya was detained, interrogated, beaten, and humiliated by Russian troops: "the young officers tortured me, skillfully hitting my sore spots. They looked through my children's pictures, making a point of saying what they would like to do to the kids. This went on for about three hours." She was subjected to a mock execution using a BM-21 Grad multiple-launch rocket system, then poisoned with a cup of tea that made her vomit. Her tape records were confiscated. She described her mock execution:
A lieutenant colonel with a swarthy face and dull dark bulging eyes said in a businesslike tone: "Let's go. I'm going to shoot you." He led me out of the tent into complete darkness. The nights here are impenetrable. After we walked for a while, he said, "Ready or not, here I come." Something burst with pulsating fire around me, screeching, roaring, and growling. The lieutenant colonel was very happy when I crouched in fright. It turned out that he had led me right under the "Grad" rocket launcher at the moment it was fired.
After the mock execution, the Russian lieutenant colonel said to her: "Here's the banya. Take off your clothes." Seeing that his words had no effect, he got very angry: "A real lieutenant colonel is courting you, and you say no, you militant bitch."
In 2006, the European Court of Human Rights found the Russian Federation responsible for the forced disappearance of a suspected Ingush militant, Khadzhi-Murat Yandiyev. Colonel-General Alexander Baranov, the commander of the Russian Caucasus deployment mentioned by Politkovskaya's camp guide as the one who ordered captured militants to be kept in the pits, was filmed as he ordered Yandiyev to be executed.
While flying south in September 2004 to help negotiate with those who had taken over a thousand hostages in a school in Beslan (North Ossetia), Politkovskaya fell violently ill and lost consciousness after drinking tea given to her by an Aeroflot flight attendant. She had reportedly been poisoned, with some accusing the former Soviet secret police poison facility.
In 2001, Politkovskaya fled to Vienna, following e-mail threats that a police officer whom she had accused of atrocities against civilians in Chechnya was looking to take revenge. Corporal Sergei Lapin was arrested and charged in 2002, but the case against him was closed the following year. In 2005, Lapin was convicted and jailed for the torture and subsequent disappearance of a Chechen civilian detainee, the case exposed by Politkovskaya in her article "Disappearing People". A former fellow officer of Lapin's was among the suspects in Politkovskaya's murder, on the theory that the motive might have been revenge for her part in Lapin's conviction.
In 2004, Politkovskaya had a conversation with Ramzan Kadyrov, then Prime Minister of Chechnya. One of his assistants said to her, "Someone ought to have shot you back in Moscow, right on the street, like they do in your Moscow". Ramzan repeated after him: "You're an enemy. To be shot...." On the day of her murder, said Novaya Gazeta's chief editor Dmitry Muratov, Politkovskaya had planned to file a lengthy story on the torture practices believed to be used by the Chechen security detachments known as Kadyrovites. In her final interview, she described Kadyrov—now president of Chechnya—as the "Chechen Stalin of our days".
Politkovskaya was found dead in the lift, in her block of flats in central Moscow on 7 October 2006. She had been shot twice in the chest, once in the shoulder, and once in the head at point-blank range. Many sources which reported on her death note she was killed on Vladimir Putin's birthday.
The funeral was held on 10 October 2006 at the Troyekurovskoye Cemetery in the outskirts of Moscow. Before Politkovskaya was buried, more than one thousand mourners filed past her coffin to pay their last respects. Dozens of Politkovskaya's colleagues, public figures, and admirers of her work gathered at the cemetery. No high-ranking Russian officials could be seen at the ceremony. Politkovskaya was buried near her father, who had died shortly before her. There was widespread international reaction to the assassination. Some of her colleagues and friends accused the Russian authorities of negligence in doing nothing to prevent her murder, or even of actual involvement in her assassination.
In May 2007, a large posthumous collection of Anna's articles, entitled With Good Reason, was published by Novaya Gazeta and launched at the Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow. The event came soon after the birth of Anna's namesake grandchild: Vera's daughter was named Anna in honour of her grandmother. A few months later, 10 men were detained on suspicion of various degrees of involvement in Politkovskaya's murder. Four of them were brought before the Moscow District Military Court in October 2008.
Three men were charged with directly aiding Politkovskaya's killer, who was allegedly the brother of two of the suspects. There was insufficient evidence to charge the fourth man—an FSB colonel—with the murder, though he was suspected of a leading role in its organisation; he stood trial at the same time for another offence. The case was held before a jury (a rare occurrence in Russia) and, after the jurors insisted, was open to the press and public.
On 25 November 2008, it was reported that Politkovskaya's murder might have been ordered by a politician inside Russia. Murad Musayev, a lawyer for the men on trial, told journalists that the case notes—as one of the interpretations of the crime—mentioned that a politician, based in Russia (but not named in those notes), was behind her death.
On 5 December 2008, Sergei Sokolov, a senior editor of Novaya Gazeta, testified in court that he had received information (from sources he would not name) that defendant Dzhabrail Makhmudov was an agent of the FSB. He said Makhmudov's uncle Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, who was serving a 12-year jail sentence for the attempted murder of a Ukrainian businessman, also worked for the FSB.
Russia's Investigative Committee—with help from the Belgian police—arrested Rustam Makhmudov, the man suspected of killing Anna Politkovskaya, after he was detained in the Chechen Republic and transported to Moscow for questioning.
After all three men were acquitted of Politkovskaya's murder in February 2009, her children Vera and Ilya, their lawyers Karinna Moskalenko and Anna Stavitskaya, and senior Novaya Gazeta editor Sergei Sokolov gave their reaction to the trial at a press conference in Moscow. In his comments on the end of the trial, Andrew McIntosh, Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's Sub-Committee on the Media and Rapporteur on media freedom, expressed frustration at what he perceived to be a lack of progress in investigating the murder, or the inability of the Russian authorities to find her killers:
Two years ago, in its Resolution 1535 (2007), the Assembly called on the Russian Parliament closely to monitor the progress in the criminal investigations regarding the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and hold the authorities accountable for any failures to investigate or prosecute. The closure of the trial yesterday can only be regarded as a blatant failure. I call on the Russian authorities and Parliament to relaunch a proper investigation and shed light on this murder, which undermines not only freedom of expression in Russia, but also its democratic foundation based on the rule of law. There are no excuses for these flawed investigations into murders of politically critical journalists writing against corruption and crime within government, such as the murders of Georgy Gongadze in Ukraine in 2000 and Paul Klebnikov in Moscow in 2004.
Before the trial ended, Stanislav Markelov, a lawyer who had investigated many of the abuses documented by Politkovskaya, was assassinated in Moscow on 19 January 2009. Journalist Anastasia Baburova, who was with Markelov at the time, died later of injuries sustained while trying to intervene. Baburova was a freelance contributor to Novaya Gazeta, and Markelov represented the newspaper on many occasions. In November 2009, the first public results of the investigation into the double shooting suggested that the murders had no immediate connection to the Politkovskaya assassination.
More closely related to Politkovskaya's work as a journalist was the 15 July 2009 murder of Natalia Estemirova. A board member of the Memorial human rights society and one of Politkovskaya's key informants, guides, and colleagues in Chechnya, Estemirova was abducted in Grozny and found dead, several hours later, in the neighbouring Republic of Ingushetia.
All three murders highlighted the impunity with which such activists were being killed (see List of journalists killed in Russia). After the first killing, Novaya Gazeta chief editor Muratov asked publicly for his journalists to be trained in self-defence, with firearms if necessary. When Estemirova's death was followed that August by the killing of two more human-rights activists in Grozny—Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband Alek Dzhabrailov—Novaya Gazeta announced it could no longer take the risk of sending its journalists to Chechnya.
The Chechen authorities expressed their offence at this "slur." In an interview with Radio Liberty, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov voiced statements about Estemirova that contradicted his earlier expressions of public concern and regret. She was a woman, he said, who had "never possessed any honour, dignity or conscience".
On 5 August 2009, the prosecution service's objection to the acquittals in the Politkovskaya trial was upheld by the Supreme Court, and a new trial was ordered.
In August 2011, Russian prosecutors claimed they were close to solving the murder after detaining Dmitry Pavliuchenkov, a former policeman, who they alleged was the principal organiser. The following month Kommersant Daily reported that, according to Pavlyuchenkov, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev was the one negotiating with the person who ordered the killing, and although Pavlyuchenkov did not know the name, he suspected he could be the fugitive businessman and Putin critic Boris Berezovsky.
In December 2012 Dmitry Pavliutchenkov was found guilty and sentenced to 11 years in a high security penal colony.
In May 2014 five men were convicted of murdering Politkovskaya, including three defendants who had been acquitted in a previous trial. The defendants were three Chechen brothers, one of whom was accused of shooting Politkovskaya in the lobby of her Moscow apartment building. In June 2014 the men were sentenced to prison, two of them, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev and his nephew Rustam Makhmudov, receiving life sentences. It is still unclear who ordered or paid for the contract killing.
In September 2016 Vladimir Markin, official spokesman for the Investigative Committee, included the killing of Anna Politkovskaya among the Most Dramatic Crimes in 21st century Russia and claimed that it had been solved. Her colleagues at Novaya gazeta protested that until the instigator or sponsor of the crime was identified, arrested and prosecuted the case was not closed.
On 7 October 2016 Novaya gazeta released a video clip of its editors, correspondents, photographers and technical and administrative staff holding text-boards giving details of the case and stating, repeatedly, "The sponsor of Anna's murder has not been found". On the same day deputy chief editor Sergei Sokolov published a damning summary of the official investigation, describing its false turns and shortcomings, and emphasised that it had now effectively been wound up. After the three Makhmudov brothers, Khadjikurbanov and Lom-Ali Gaitukayev were convicted in 2014, wrote Sokolov, the once large team of investigators was reduced to one person and within a year he retired, to be replaced by a lower-ranking investigator.
In accordance with Russian law there is a 15-year statute of limitation for the "particularly grave" crime of first degree murder. The 2000 killing of Igor Domnikov, another Novaya gazeta journalist, showed that the perpetrators might be identified (they were convicted in 2008), as was the businessman-intermediary who hired them (he was sentenced in December 2013 to seven years' imprisonment). The man allegedly responsible for ordering the attack on Domnikov was brought to court in 2015. In May that year the case against him was discontinued because the statute of limitations had expired.
The Intercept published a top-secret document released by Edward Snowden with a screenshot of Intellipedia according to which
(TS//SI/REL TO USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL) Russian Federal Intelligence Services (probably FSB) are known to have targeted the webmail account of the murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. On 5 December 2005, RFIS initiated an attack against the account annapolitovskaya@US Provider1, by deploying malicious software which is not available in the public domain. It is not known whether the attack is in any way associated with the death of the journalist.2008, documentary by Masha Novikova Anna, Seven Years on the Frontline; 78 min., the Netherlands.
In 2008, Swiss director Eric Bergkraut made a documentary, Letter to Anna, about Politkovskaya's life and death. It includes interviews with her son Ilya, her daughter Vera, her ex-husband Alexander Politkovsky, and others—such as businessman Boris Berezovsky and filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov.
In 2011, Russian director Marina Goldovskaya made the documentary A Bitter Taste of Freedom, a Swedish Russian American co-production. The title refers to an earlier documentary film by the same director, A Taste of freedom (1991) which is about Russian life in the new, post-Soviet reality and features the Politkovsky family.
A Bitter Taste of Freedom was shown at the 27th Warsaw International Film Festival where it won the Best Documentary Feature Award. From the festival's programme:
She was brave, she was bold, and she was beautiful. In her fearless quest to uncover the wrongdoings of the Russian State, Anna Politkovskaya inspired awe in some and fear in countless others. An investigative journalist for Moscow's liberal Novaya Gazeta, she was the only spokesperson for victims of Putin's government. Hers was a lonely voice, yet loud enough for the entire country to hear. It was too loud. At age 48 she was assassinated for simply doing her job. A documentary about the bravery of the human spirit. As the director says, it "is especially important now, when the world is so full of cynicism and corruption, when we so desperately need more people with Anna's level of courage and integrity and commitment".2001: "Golden Pen Prize" of the Russian Union of Journalists
2001: Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism
2002: Norwegian Authors Union Freedom of Expression Prize ("Ytringsfrihetsprisen")
2002: Index on Censorship Award for the "Defence of Free Expression".
2002: PEN American Center Freedom to Write Award
2002: International Women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award
2003: Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage
2003: Hermann Kesten Medal
2004: Olof Palme Prize (shared with Lyudmila Alexeyeva and Sergei Kovalev)
2004: Vázquez Montalbán Award of International Journalism
2005: Civil Courage Prize (with Min Ko Naing and Munir Said Thalib)
2005: Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media
2006: International Journalism Award named after Tiziano Terzani
2006: World Press Freedom Hero of the International Press Institute
2007: UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize (awarded posthumously for the first time)
2007: National Press Club/John Aubuchon Freedom of the Press Award (posthumous)
2007: Geschwister-Scholl-Preis (posthumous)
2007 Democracy Award to Spotlight Press Freedom by the National Endowment for Democracy,
The 2007–2008 academic year at the College of Europe was named in her honour.
The human rights organisation "Reach All Women in War" (RAW in WAR), which particularly focuses on protecting women's rights during wartime, announced in 2007 that they would be awarding an annual "Anna Politkovskaya Award" in Politkovskaya's honor. The award recognizes "a woman human rights defender from a conflict zone in the world who, like Anna, stands up for the victims of this conflict, often at great personal risk".
The award was first given in October 2007 to Anna Politkovskaya's friend and colleague Natalya Estemirova, who was herself found shot dead in 2009.Winners of the Anna Politkovskaya Award
2007: Natalya Estemirova (1958–2009), Russia
2008: Malalai Joya (b. 1978), Afghanistan
2009: One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality, Iran
2010: Halima Bashir, Sudan
2011: Razan Zaitouneh (b. 1977), Syria
2012: Marie Colvin (1956–2012), USA
2013: Malala Yousafzai (b. 1997), Pakistan
2014: Vian Dakhil (b. 1971), Iraq
2015: Khadija Ismayilova (b. 1976), Azerbaijan
2016: Jineth Bedoya Lima (b. 1974), Colombia (and Valentina Cherevatenko, b. 1956, Russia, special 10th-anniversary award)