This is the story of a murdered Moscow journalist who was critical of Putin. The trial of those suspected of the killing has just finished. The accused, one of whom was your stereotypical lieutenant-colonel in the FSB (Why are they always Colonels? Don't you get a Corporal in the FSB?) were all aquitted this week, amid claims that lots of crucial evidence had been shredded, burned or just plain not there, your Honour.
Politkovskaya was shot dead in her Moscow apartment in October, 7th 2006.
Ostensibly the murders were thought to have been carried out by a criminal gang, but in Russia the boundaries between the criminal fraternity and the government are very thin indeed and it is thought that all of the gang were linked to the FSB. There is also the issue of what kind of message was being sent to dissidents without too much inconvenient attribution but with enough wit to make sure you know.
Quite recently a contact who has had long term business interests in Russia and an office in Moscow told me that the Government kills people as a matter of routine. That bit is not very big news, MI5 believes that the Russian Secret Service behaves with far more autonomy than the state sponsored security services in other countries, but what he also said was that the way it is done is so diffuse that it is systemically resistant to detection. It is not necessary, he said, for Putin to have ordered the killing - even in the case of Alexander Litvinenko. It is merely understood that those who have become "a nuisance" can be "taken care of" without too many questions being asked. After that, the judiciary and the police merely get the nod and make sure the evidence disappears. In the case of Litvinenko, with the smoking gun being so close to Lugovoy that he may as well have eaten it, the suspect was placed far beyond legal powers by being very quickly made a deputy of the State Duma.
Glance up for a moment and read the date of this woman's assassination. The killers could have chosen any day to do it, but they chose October 7th. It was Vladimir Putin's birthday.
UPDATE1: Some interesting analysis of the early parts of the trial can be found here: http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/politkovskaya-s-murder-solved-or-fudged