- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2006

We, starting with President Bush and all believers in democracy and a free press, must not forget the martyred journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, 48 and mother of two. Her murder was emblematic of the kind of country Russia has become. Mrs. Politkovskaya was murdered not only for her journalistic exposes but she was murdered as a warning to other Russian journalists to lay off and stay off.

If there was a Nobel Prize for journalistic courage, Mrs. Politkovskaya, who was born in New York, the daughter of Soviet diplomats, would have won it hands down. She had faced death several times, including 2004 when she was poisoned and nearly died.

Think of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder as if Bob Woodward were gunned down in broad daylight on a Washington street or in a K Street building elevator.

Mr. Putin’s Russia, it’s time to say, is a gangster state, a synonymic phrase for what he calls “managed democracy.” How right she was in calling Mr. Putin’s leadership “bloody.”

Mrs. Politkovskaya was the 13th Russian journalist killed in the six years since Mr. Putin took over, according to the Economist. Reporters Without Borders gives a higher figure: 21 journalists killed in Russia in the same period.

It is miraculous that in the face of such a roster of murdered Russian journalists, Mrs. Politkovskaya dared to speak out in her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, described as one of Russia’s few remaining independent papers. As the Economist full-page obituary described her, “She was brave beyond belief, reporting a gruesome war [in Chechnya] and a creeping [Kremlin] dictatorship with a sharp pen and steel nerves.” For her, Mr. Putin represented “the worst demons of the Soviet past, revived in modern form.” As the Economist wrote: “She often said that with a KGB officer as president, the least you could do was to smile sometimes, to show the difference between him and you.”

It took Mr. Putin four days to comment on Mrs. Politkovskaya’s murder. She had “minimal influence,” he said, implying her expose journalism could not have been the motive for her assassination.

But what can one expect from a onetime secret policeman who in his State of the Union speech on April 25, 2005, described the fall of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”? Imagine if German Chancellor Angela Merkel were to say the fall of Adolf Hitler’s Reich was the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

Millions of onetime Soviet citizens and their neighbors in Eastern Europe, believe they are better off today because of the “greatest political catastrophe of the century.” Obviously, Mr. Putin doesn’t share that view.

What Mrs. Politkovskaya’s murder tells me is that Mr. Putin and his allies are out to silence any and all critics of his regime and his policies. And it’ll work. The days of Stalin mass terror may be over but there’s always what I call Stalin Lite. Mrs. Politkovskaya’s murder is an appalling example of Stalin Lite.

Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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