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US, EU Urge Russia to Find, Prosecute Mastermind in Journalist's 2006 Killing

A portrait of investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya with the words 'the killers are still at large' is displayed on a bookshelf in the offices of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper in Moscow, Russia, Oct. 7, 2021.

The United States and the European Union have honored the memory of a Russian investigative journalist slain 15 years ago by demanding that Moscow bring to justice those who ordered her killing and praising the independent journalists continuing her legacy under Kremlin pressure.

In one of two statements issued Thursday, the 15th anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya's killing, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized what he called "continued impunity for those who ordered [her] murder," saying it undermined Russia's freedom of speech, press freedom and broader human rights.

"We urge that all of those involved in her murder be identified and held accountable for their crimes," he said.

EU foreign affairs spokesperson Peter Stano said the 27-nation bloc "call[s] on the Russian government to ensure that all those responsible for Anna Politkovskaya's assassination are brought to justice through an open and transparent judicial process." He also noted a 2018 judgment by the European Court of Human Rights that said Moscow had not done enough to find those who ordered her killing, even after convicting several people who carried it out.

Politkovskaya was shot to death in an elevator of her Moscow apartment building on Oct. 7, 2006. The 48-year-old investigative reporter for Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta had been an outspoken critic of Russia's longtime president, Vladimir Putin.

She gained prominence for her coverage of human rights violations committed during Russia's war with separatists in its constituent republic of Chechnya in the 2000s.

Her killing coincided with an intensification of a Kremlin crackdown on freedoms of speech and the press in Russia, recalled Jeffrey Trimble, an Ohio State University political science lecturer who had been a senior manager at VOA sister network Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty at the time.

"It was the year, for instance, that the Voice of America and RFE/RL lost almost all of their local rebroadcasting partners in Russia," Trimble told VOA in a Wednesday interview.

Both Blinken and Stano noted in their statements that Russia's press freedoms have recently weakened further, with the government designating many independent journalists as "foreign agents" or "undesirable." They said the U.S. and the EU will stand in solidarity with those journalists in the face of such pressure.

Speaking to Russian reporters Thursday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said finding the mastermind of contract killings was a difficult and lengthy process. He said the "inevitability of punishment" for such crimes was of major importance to Moscow.

Members of Reporters Without Borders demonstrate outside the Russian Embassy in Paris, Oct. 6, 2021, to pay tribute to Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead on Oct. 7, 2006, in Moscow.
Members of Reporters Without Borders demonstrate outside the Russian Embassy in Paris, Oct. 6, 2021, to pay tribute to Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead on Oct. 7, 2006, in Moscow.

In 2014, a Moscow court convicted four Chechens, one of whom was the gunman, of involvement in the Politkovskaya killing. A former Moscow police officer also was convicted of being an accomplice.

Novaya Gazeta published an article Wednesday, noting that under Russia's statute of limitations, the killing's mastermind would not face punishment more than 15 years after the crime was committed unless a court extended the period. It vowed to push the government to revive its investigation and identify the mastermind.

The newspaper also posted on its website a nearly two-hour documentary with findings from its own investigation into the killing.

"Even with the crackdown on independent journalism in Russia, creative and brave journalists are finding a way to cooperate and work with their international colleagues," Trimble said. "I hope that Russian journalists who continue to investigate this [killing], together with international journalists who have other resources, can produce information that will force the Russian authorities to take more definitive action to solve this crime," he added.

This article originated in VOA's Russian Service. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.