Dispatches: Murdering The Truth

When world-famous investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, one of President Putin’s fiercest and most effective critics, was assassinated last October in Moscow, there was international outrage.

At home, her colleagues at her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, were determined that an investigation into her murder was not going to run into the sand, like so many before. So they set up their own private investigation. Dispatches has been granted exclusive access to that investigation. And as the body count of journalists, businessmen and politicians mounts, the programme asks whether the hope of a new, democratic Russia is falling apart.

The programme meets the former Deputy Prime Minister of Chechnya, now in hiding, who claims he is the last person alive on a Chechen hit list that included Anna. The programme speaks to one of Russia’s richest men, Alexander Lebedev, the co-owner of Anna’s newspaper and a member of parliament in Putin’s own party who describes the secret services as “totally out of control”.

Under Putin, himself a career FSB officer, members of the security services have pervaded all levels of political and business life in Russia. Professor Olga Krystanovskaya of the Russian Academy of Sciences has discovered that three-quarters of senior politicians have a background in the security services – and the boards of the 27 largest companies in Russia are headed by security officials from Putin’s coterie, including the oil and gas giants Gazprom and Rosneft. As Europe becomes more dependent on Russian energy resources, Russia analysts fear the consequences for European countries of a melt-down in Russia.

Political freedoms are also coming under tighter control as next year’s presidential elections draw closer. Two of the five main television stations are state-owned. Gazprom owns the other three. Most of Putin’s powerful critics, like the oligarchs Viktor Khordokvosky and Boris Berezovsky, are in jail or in exile. In a rare interview, Berezovsky tells Dispatches of Putin’s campaign to destroy all opposition. Lebedev, the Novaya Gazeta’s co-owner, says there is now a dangerous power vacuum at the heart of Russia with Parliament acting as a puppet government under the President’s control.

Murdering the Truth reveals a society where the rule of law has broken down and where an elite is increasingly reliant on shadowy forces to ensure its continued grip on power – forces that even Putin may struggle to control.

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