It is seldom discussed that since Vladimir Putin came to power in Russia in 2000, 13 journalists have been killed there. Anna Politkovskaya was one of them, gunned down in a contract killing in Moscow on Oct. 7, 2006. Fortunately, she had already finished "A Russian Diary" when she died.
Recently, I reviewed a book about the life and murder of another Russian, Alexander Litvenenko, a former KGB agent who defected to Great Britain and started protesting the tactics employed by Putin. Litvenenko was killed in England, the first Russian dissident to be murdered outside Russia. He was the victim of polonium poisoning, and he died a slow and miserable death in less than a month. He had been investigating the Politkovskaya murder at the time his own life was snuffed out.
Both victims considered Putin to be a total dictator whose aim from the time he took power was to assemble all aspects of Russian society directly under his thumb. Those, therefore, who have thought Putin favored democracy as Boris Yeltsin did before him are kidding themselves.
The belief that Putin's tenure as president will end in 2008 because Russian law says he cannot serve any longer than eight years is almost certainly incorrect. Those who have been writing about the regime are sure that Putin will either change the law or replace himself temporarily with a pawn he can control.
His determination to assassinate those who protest his leadership and write articles or books about it serves as evidence that Putin controls Russia to the same level enjoyed by Josef Stalin. Politkovskaya wrote, "It is an old story: the Kremlin fosters a baby dragon, which it then has to keep feeding to stop him from setting everything on fire."
Politkovskaya wrote for the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and also wrote three other books critical of Russian leadership. In numerous articles, she traced Putin's step-by-step gathering of personal power and denounced the rise of corruption under his regime. She asserted that he jails his opponents, muzzles the press and continually lies to the public.
She was also extremely critical of Putin's lackadaisical approach to the terrorist take-over of the Beslan school, in which 1,200 hostages were taken, then numerous lives lost when Russian authorities stormed the school.
The hard-hitting journalist wrote about the fear anyone in Russia has of "making waves." She added, "These are the effects of Putin's War (in Chechnya), and it is a way of thinking that is rapidly spreading to the rest of Russia. You find a similar blind panic gripping the families of those abducted throughout the North Caucasus, in all those towns and villages where Chechnya-style mass 'cleansings' have been taking place."
Politkovskaya also wrote, "Such is daily life in Russia today. Crimes, a lack of honest investigation, and even a lack of any attempt at it. The result is the endless replication of tragedies and terrorism."
Shortly after her written attacks, Russian soldiers, police, criminal gangs and high-ranking politicians threatened her life. It's a scary, sobering story as Putin's legal tenure in Russia starts running out.