06MOSCOW11490, PUTIN REACTS TO POLITKOVSKAYA ASSASSINATION

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW11490 2006-10-12 16:18 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO7486
PP RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #1490/01 2851618
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 121618Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3842
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 011490 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/11/2016 
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PHUM PREL RS
SUBJECT: PUTIN REACTS TO POLITKOVSKAYA ASSASSINATION 
 
REF: MOSCOW 11313 
 
Classified By: Charge Daniel A. Russell.  Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
------- 
Summary 
------- 
 
1. (C) President Putin, three days after the murder of 
outspoken investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, issued 
his definitive public statement that everything would be done 
to find the killers and bring them to trial.  Russia's 
Prosecutor General, in fact, has already assumed charge of 
the investigation.  The same Putin statement, however, 
downplayed Politkovskaya's influence, calling it politically 
insignificant.  Human rights activists and liberals have 
criticized the slowness of Putin's public reaction to 
Politkovskaya's killing and his characterization of her work. 
 The real test of Putin's commitment will be the vigor of the 
investigation and the results it produces.  End Summary. 
 
--------------- 
What Putin Said 
--------------- 
 
2. (U) In the wake of the October 7 assassination of 
investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, (reftel), 
President Putin has made two statements that have been 
reported in the media.  One stemmed from an October 9 
telephone conversation with President Bush, where Putin 
assured the President that Russian law enforcement "would 
take all necessary measures for the objective investigation 
of the tragic death...".  The second set of comments was made 
in Dresden during a press conference with Chancellor Merkel 
and in an October 10 interview with the Suddeutsche Zeitung 
(SZ).  As transcribed in Russian on the presidential 
administration website, the SZ interview excerpt reads: 
 
Begin informal translation: 
 
"First of all, I would like to say that the murder of a 
person is considered a very serious crime, both by society 
and by God.  The criminals must be found and stand trial. 
Unfortunately, this is not the only such crime in Russia. 
And we are going to do everything so that the criminals are 
identified. 
 
As far as the political side of this matter is concerned, the 
investigation is examining all possible motives.  And of 
course one of those, one of the main ones, is the (nature of 
the ) professional activities of the journalist.  She was a 
critic of the powers-that-be, like all members of the press, 
but she was quite radical.  She had recently concentrated her 
attention on criticizing officials in Chechnya. 
 
I must say that her political influence (I think experts will 
agree with me) was insignificant in Russia and, she was 
probably better known in human rights circles and among the 
western mass media.  In that regard I think --as one of our 
newspapers today correctly pointed out --that the murder of 
Politkovskaya did greater damage to the current 
powers-that-be and especially to the administration of 
Chechnya than her publications. 
 
In any event, I repeat that it is absolutely unacceptable. 
This horrible crime is damaging to Russia and must be solved. 
It is damaging both morally and politically.  It is damaging 
to the political system which we are building, in which there 
must be a place for all people whatever their views; on the 
contrary they must be given the possibility to --unhindered-- 
to express their views in the mass media.  As you know, 
several years ago an American journalist of Russian 
background Paul Khlebnikov was murdered in Russia.  He also 
was involved in Chechnya and wrote a book, which he called 
"Conversation with a Barbarian."  According to the 
investigation, the main characters of the book were not 
pleased with the way that Khlebnikov portrayed them, and they 
destroyed him."  End informal translation. 
 
3. (U) In response to a follow-up question, Putin 
emphatically rejected speculation that Chechnya's Prime 
Minister Ramzan Kadyrov was responsible for Politkovskaya's 
murder.  Politkovskaya's reporting had not harmed Kadyrov's 
political activities and had not hindered the development of 
his political career, Putin said and, in concluding his 
answer, asserted:  "I cannot imagine that a government 
official could have dreamed up such a serious crime." 
 
------ 
Timing 
------ 
 
 
MOSCOW 00011490  002 OF 002 
 
 
4. (C) Many commentators have noted -- citing as examples the 
Kursk submarine disaster and the recent assassination of 
banker Andrey Kozlov -- that the time lag before the 
President comments is standard operating procedure in the 
Putin administration.  When quicker off the mark -- mentioned 
are Putin's congratulatory telephone calls in the wake of the 
contested December 2004 elections in Ukraine and a call to 
Yabloko's Grigoriy Yavlinskiy congratulating him on what 
later turned out to be unrealistically high election returns 
-- the comments have occasionally proved embarrassing. 
Gorbachev Foundation's Valeriy Solovey did not impute 
anything political or personal to the delayed reaction. 
Standard operating procedure, combined with Putin's 
misreading of the intensity of international reaction, caused 
the Kremlin to stumble. 
 
5. (C) In contrast to the Presidential Administration, the 
Kremlin's United Russia (YR) political party on October 8 
posted statements of condolence by General Council Presidium 
member Andrey Isayev, General Council member Valeriy 
Komissarov, and faction member Aleksandr Lebedev.  Lebedev 
may have been responsible for the alacrity with which the 
statements were posted.  He is co-owner of the newspaper, 
Novaya Gazeta, where Politkovskaya had worked since 1999 
 
------- 
Content 
------- 
 
6. (U) Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov in an October 10 
interview told Radio Svoboda that he was disturbed that Putin 
made his statements only "under pressure from the West."  The 
fact that Putin termed Politikovskaya's journalistic 
contributions insignificant, Ryzhkov said, meant that "for 
our head of state, freedom of the press...is not a serious 
theme and is not an important problem."  Leader of the human 
rights organization "For the Peoples' Rights" Lev Ponomarev 
termed Putin's comments "inhuman" and the President's several 
day silence before making them "incomprehensible." 
 
7. (C) Aleksey Simonov of the Foundation for the Defense of 
Glasnost described the SZ interview to Embassy as "not 
Putin's best moment.  He had a very ordinary reaction to an 
extraordinary situation."  Simonov, noted that channel One 
had reported that only 500 people attended Politkovskaya's 
funeral when in fact "thousands were there," and suggested 
that the media were attempting to support Putin's contention 
that Politkovskaya's political influence was insignificant. 
Per Simonov, other politicians had gotten Putin's message. 
He noted that Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov had sent his press 
secretary to the funeral.  The only chief newspaper editor 
 
SIPDIS 
present at the grave was Novaya Gazeta's Dmitriy Muratov, 
Simonov said. 
 
8. (C) Moscow Helsinki Group's Lyudmila Alekseyeva agreed 
with Putin's description of Politkovskaya's political 
influence was "insignificant," but termed that fact an 
indictment of the Russian regime, where journalists who "tell 
the truth have no influence on political life." 
 
9. (C) IMEMO's Andrey Ryabov thought that Putin simply did 
not understand why Politkovskaya's assassination was 
significant, and was likely to see the European and U.S. 
reaction as "just another pretext to put pressure on Russia." 
 Putin, Ryabov said, "lacks a feel for the necessary public 
gesture" in such situations, and does not respond 
appropriately. 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
10. (C) Whatever the reservations expressed about Putin's 
timing and the context of his comments, the President did in 
the end stress the importance of finding the instigators and 
bringing them to justice.  While the Prosecutor General's 
immediate decision to take personal control of the 
investigation is an indication of the GOR's resolve, the real 
test will be how actively and thoroughly the authorities 
follow through on Putin's commitment to find and prosecute 
the killers. 
RUSSELL

Wikileaks

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