Today’s date, October 7, has double significance in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
First, it’s Putin’s birthday, and this year is a big one. He turns sixty today.
Second, it’s the date on which Putin had Anna Politkovskaya murdered for reporting his outrageous violation of basic human rights in Chechnya. The date was chosen by the assassin he employed so that her killing would be a birthday present for Putin, the kind he likes best: bloody.
The U.S. State Department has issued a memorial statement which demands that “all involved in her murder” be “identified and prosecuted.” Presumably, this includes Putin.
Putin’s murderous campaign against opposition figures began the moment he took office in the Kremlin, with Galina Starovoitova. It continued after Politkovskaya to reach Alexander Litvinenko, Stanislav Markelov and Natalia Estemirova. And not once — not once — has so much as a trigger man been brought to justice. In the wake of her killing, Putin branded Politkovskaya a threat to the nation. Before she was gunned down, she had written: “I have wondered a great deal why I have so got it in for Putin. What is it that makes me dislike him so much as to feel moved to write a book about him? I am not one of his political opponents or rivals, just a woman living in Russia. Quite simply, I am a 45-year-old Muscovite who observed the Soviet Union at its most disgraceful in the 1970s and ’80s. I really don’t want to find myself back there again.”
If the U.S. Statement Department is really serious when it says “journalists across the globe who speak out against abuses and work to secure fundamental freedoms for their fellow citizens must be protected” then it’s time for actions, not mere words. Sanctions should be imposed on the malignant neo-Soviet regime led by Putin, and public efforts should be made to reach out to and assist those few remaining figures who dare to continue Politkovskaya’s work. Among them are Yevgenia Albats, Lida Yusupova, Yulia Latynina, Maria Litvinovich and Svetlana Gannushkina. They should all get invitations to come to the White House and munch burgers with Obama, just like Medvedev got.
Most recently, another one of Polikovskaya’s heirs came in for the treatment. Tatyana Lokshina, a specialist for Human Rights Watch, received a barrage of threatening text messages that included menacing her unborn child and knowledge of her personal movements, indicating she was being watched and followed by a shadowy organization that seems very much like the KGB beloved by Vladimir Putin. And one thing we know for sure is that the KGB and other Russian law enforcement agencies have done absolutely nothing since Lokshina received the messages, despite a specific demand for action by the American ambassador, to investigate and apprehend the culprit.
Russians learned nothing from the demise of Politkovskaya. Instead of rising to demand Putin leave office, they handed him unlimited power for life and now watch him to all he can to recreate the USSR. And President Barack Obama has pursued a policy of appeasement that can only make Putin sure he’ll be able to get away with murder.