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Kremlin Makes Headway in Journalists' Murders

A 2009 file photo shows a man holding a portrait of killed journalist Anna Politkovskaya as a woman lays flowers during a commemorative rally in St.Petersburg

The suspects in the murder of 16 Russian journalists remain at large, according to a recent poll by the Committee to Protect Journalists. It's very rare, in the former Soviet Union, for the Kremlin to make any arrests in the murders, and even if they do, many of those, who are apprehended, eventually go free. But, the recent arrest and convictions in two high-profile cases, have many wondering if the Kremlin is finally cracking down or if it political maneuvering in the run up to next year's presidential elections.

It was top news all over Russia. Police said they finally arrested 36-year-old Chechen Rustam Makhmudov in the 2006 high-profile shooting of prominent journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Politkovskaya covered the war in Chechnya and was often critical of the Kremlin and its alleged human rights abuses.

Polikovskaya’s former colleague Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, called the arrest a “development in the case" but he questioned the timing.

He says he wonders why it took the police so long to capture the suspect

Sokolov was also quoted in the Russian media as saying that, “he’d be very interested to know how the suspect managed to leave Russia and come back from his journey while his name was on the international wanted list."

Sokolov’s own newspaper is less circumspect. It investigated Politkovskaya's murder and has implicated the Russian Security Service.

Politkovskaya's son, Ilya, says the government has a long way to go before Russians believe the arrest of his mother’s killer is anything but political.

He says we have to wait and see if Makhmudov's guilt will be proven. But even that won’t even be enough. We need to know who actually masterminded my mother’s murder.

The arrest of Politkovskaya's alleged killer isn’t the only one. Just a few weeks ago, a court jailed a Russian nationalist for life, for the murder of Novaya Gazeta, a reporter and a human rights lawyer.

"There’s a lot of coincidences these days," said Anna Sevortian, who heads Human Rights Watch n Moscow. "We might expect new things flooding the informational context of political life in Russia just because the elections are looming."

The Kremlin disputes accusations of political posturing. Officials consistently claim they’re committed to solving the cases of slain journalists and point to the recent arrests and convictions as examples.

Andrei Kortunov, who is with the New Eurasia Foundation, says even if the Kremlin’s renewed interest in crimes against journalists is a pre-election ploy, it may not be such a bad thing.

He says that Russia is entering a new political season and maybe the Kremlin is ready to listen to the voices that are raising concerns about the state of the profession.

There are still at least 16 unresolved journalist murders in the former Soviet Union.