Raking Moscow’s Muck

A feisty Russian newspaper perseveres after a reporter’s murder

| January-February 2008

“Stop digging.” Another text message arrives on the mobile phone of a newspaper staff writer.

The newspaper is Novaya Gazeta. Published twice weekly from Moscow, it is one of the Kremlin’s most vocal critics. The staff writer is investigating the murder of its most famous journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in the elevator at her home in October 2006.

Novaya’s journalists are used to working under a constant stream of threats; they refuse to crack, even knowing that tomorrow they too could be looking down a gun barrel. After Politkovskaya’s murder, the editor, Dmitryi Muratov, called an emergency meeting, saying no story was worth dying for. His journalists then launched their own investigation into the murder. Novaya has also since stepped up its coverage of human rights abuses in Chechnya, the very subject that is thought to have cost the reporter her life.

Novaya’s coverage has spurred more than 30 criminal investigations since the paper’s inception in 1993. Politkovskaya’s work alone resulted in 15 such cases and more than 20 convictions. “The inquiry into the Russian Foundation for Federal Assets: A telling struggle against corruption or a Kremlin attempt to trade off confiscated goods?” reads a typical headline from the current top story as I speak with Roman Shleinov, the paper’s investigative editor.

Daring and incisive headlines are common currency for Novaya, he says: “We are an opposition newspaper who try to say what is not pronounced on official television or by media owned by businessmen loyal to the Kremlin. We are interested in showing cases of corruption in state agencies, cases of protectionism, and cases of money laundering. We are highly interested in making the connection between Russian business and politics more transparent.”

“In Russia there is a unified system that cannot be destroyed,” he adds. “But we try to remind the public of criminal cases that top officials were, or are, involved in.”