RFE President - Putin culpable for "climate of fear" behind Politkovskaya murder

Vladimir Putin, photo: CTK

Her murder one year ago sent shockwaves through Russia and around the world, but attempts to shed light on the case have largely come to nothing. When the campaigning journalist Anna Politkovskaya was found shot dead in the elevator of her Moscow apartment on October 7th, 2006, many linked her death to her work exposing human rights violations in Chechnya and her harsh criticism of the Kremlin. On Thursday the U.S. broadcaster Radio Free Europe held a special conference on Russia one year after her death, attended by many former friends and colleagues. We spoke to Radio Free Europe President Jeffrey Gedmin, and began by asking him whether he believed her killer - or killers - would ever be brought to justice.

"To be completely candid I'm pessimistic, because of the climate in that country, because of the role of the judiciary in that country, because of the role of the security forces in that country. Now, two things: do I think it's important to find out who murdered her? Absolutely yes, and if you're a friend of hers, or a family member - that has to happen. But at the same time, I don't want to sound cavalier or glib about this, I don't know if we actually need to know precisely who pulled the trigger, because we know who is creating the climate of fear, suspicion, distrust of free media and who is attacking free institutions brazenly. We know who those people are. They are ultimately culpable for this I think."

And who are they?

Vladimir Putin,  photo: CTK
"I think that's Vladimir Putin. I think that that's this current regime in Russia. Slowly but surely we've come to the conclusion. Good heavens, at first we thought - maybe we have him and them wrong? Then we thought - good heavens, maybe this is a trend. Look at any reasonably objective measure - Freedom House, anecdotal, the Economist, the BBC, the Washington Post - it's a trend. And it's not a trend of one or two years, it's a trend of five and six and seven years. It is most definitively in my judgment a trend having to do with the current rule of Russia. They are, in principle, in word, in deed fundamentally illiberal, I'm sorry, but I think that's what you call that, and they do indeed have hostility to free institutions and certainly free media."

Even though Vladimir Putin might and I think indeed has pointed out to his critics, and they include the United States - well, look at your versions of democracy, and promoting democracy. Look at Iraq. Look at other areas of the world where the values that you are trying to instil are causing mayhem and bloodshed and murder on a massive scale, a huge scale. We don't need your advice. What would you say to that?

"Well, I would say this. If you are saying, Mr Putin, that we are flawed - the answer is yes, correct. If you are saying democracy is not perfect or a panacea, or a system that is crying out for constant revision and self-correction - the answer is yes. But the fact is we believe in a system where you have free independent media, where you have independent judiciary, where you have fair and free elections, where you have independent and truly free trade unions to check power and be part of that self-correcting process. Have we made mistakes? Yes. We have a far higher probability of correcting things than in a closed system, a corrupt system, a system lacking fundamental transparency. That's what I'd say."