Someone has gunned down Anna Politkovskaya in the elevator of her apartment block in Moscow – when I was researching my book on the fall of Communism, my driver and minder insisted on accompanying me even, indeed especially, in the elevator. Anna was someone other commentators met in Moscow. Born in New York as the daughter of Soviet diplomats, she was what Mrs Thatcher liked to call “one of us.” Slight in build, serious, with big spectacles, she was highly intelligent, and a first-class journalist. Russian brutality in the war against the Chechens shocked her, and she was not afraid to write about it. It’s no exaggeration to say that she was the foremost critic of President Putin and his megalomaniac and destructive policies.
A few years back, Galina Staravoitova was similarly shot dead in front of the house where she lived. She was a cheerful plumpish lady, a member of the Duma or Parliament, and a specialist on the many minority peoples in Russia, whose interests mattered to her. Nobody was ever arrested for the killing of Galina, and it is a safe bet that nobody will now be arrested for the murder of Anna. It gets between me and peace of mind that people I have run across can be rubbed out so easily and inconsequentially.
Who profits from such deaths if not the Kremlin ? Who can get away with killing if not the Kremlin or its agents ? Another free-spirited Russian I have come across is Oleg Gordievsky, the highest-ranking KGB officer ever to defect. When the Kursk submarine was lost with all hands, he was watching out for Putin’s reaction, and immediately commented, Look at the coldness in Vladimir Putin’s eyes, that tells you everything about the man. Oleg defected in the mid-1980s, but he still lives under cover out of a well-founded fear that these never-identified Russian gunmen will come for him too. Over there, they still don’t know what to do with free spirits except shoot them dead.