Russia arrests high-ranking police officer in Anna Politkovskaya murder case

The arrest of former top Moscow police officer Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov could be a major breakthrough in the murder case of Anna Politkovskaya, one of the Kremlin's most vocal critics.

Russian investigators say a high-ranking retired police officer who allegedly organized the 2006 murder of crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya has been arrested – potentially the breakthrough her family and friends have been waiting for after many false starts and two botched trials.

Vladimir Markin, spokesman of the official investigative committee, identified former top Moscow police officer Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov as a key suspect in the case after he was arrested yesterday.

"According to the investigation, Pavlyuchenkov received the order to organize the killing of Anna Politkovskaya in exchange for a monetary reward and gave his agreement," he said in a statement today.

Mr. Markin also suggested the committee had information about the mastermind who may have ordered Pavlyuchenkov to organize the murder, but said "it is too early to make this information public."

Lt. Col. Pavlyuchenkov, now retired, is thought to have hired the hit team, obtained the murder weapon, and arranged for Ms. Politkovskaya to be shadowed before she was fatally shot on then-President Vladimir Putin's birthday in the lobby of her apartment building. Polikovskaya was one of the Kremlin's foremost critics and her killing was seen by many as a crackdown on dissent in Putin's Russia.

But some experts say the arrest of Pavlyuchenkov may have been premature, and could simply be an effort to show progress in a case that has attracted intense international scrutiny and become an acid test of President Dmitry Medvedev's sincerity on human rights issues rather than a genuine breakthrough in the investigation.

Pavlyuchenkov "has been misleading investigators in a very clever way for a long time, pretending to be an important source of information about the murder," said Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor of Ms. Politkovskaya's newspaper Novaya Gazeta, on Wednesday.

"We and the prosecutors had doubts that he was sincere, but there was not enough evidence," he said, speaking to a group of journalists. "Now prosecutors have enough evidence, also collected by Novaya Gazeta, that show this man was linked to Politkovskaya's murder. But it's difficult to say if this arrest will help to discover who ordered the murder. There may be a long chain of mediators. So it'll take time before investigators can answer all the questions."

Politkovskaya is the best known of a long string of independent Russian journalists and human rights activists to be murdered or brutally beaten in the line of work over the past decade.

None of the cases have been solved, despite repeated promises by Mr. Medvedev to step up the investigations .

The key issue in Politkovskaya's case is to discover who ordered and paid for her killing, a fact that could be known to Pavlyuchenkov if the allegations against him are true.

But experts say the long catalog of errors by investigators and prosecutors working on Politkovskaya's murder suggests there is no official desire to actually get to the bottom of the case.

"It will be a very good thing for Medvedev to be able to claim that his efforts have brought results in this very prominent case, after such a long and glaring deficit of achievements," says Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Carnegie Center in Moscow.

"But, based on the track record, there is good reason to doubt that if a name [of the mastermind] is eventually given, it will be a real person or at least a living person. People are probably right to suspect this will turn out to be another dead end."

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.