Former Russian police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in organizing the 2006 assassination of the prominent journalist Anna Politkovskaya, has received a pardon from President Vladimir Putin after taking part in Moscow’s ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Khadzhikurbanov’s lawyer, Aleksei Mikhalchik, on November 14 confirmed media reports saying the Defense Ministry had recruited Khadzhikurbanov to join the war in Ukraine in late 2022. Mikhalchik said that after serving six months in Ukraine, his client was pardoned but continues to serve in the Russian armed forces in Ukraine on a contractual basis.
In 2014, the Moscow City Court sentenced Khadzhikurbanov to 20 years in prison on a charge of mediating the organization of the murder of Politkovskaya, a critic of Putin whose dogged reporting exposed high-level corruption in Russia and rights abuses in Chechnya. She was shot dead in her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006.
Two natives of Russia’s North Caucasus region of Chechnya, Rustam Makhmudov and Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, were subsequently handed life sentences after a jury found Makhmudov guilty of shooting Politkovskaya, while Gaitukayev was convicted of organizing the assassination. Gaitukayev later died in prison.
Another defendant in the case, former Moscow police officer Denis Pavlyuchenkov, was sentenced to 11 years in prison after he confessed to organizing the surveillance of Politkovskaya before she was murdered.
Khadzhikurbanov pleaded not guilty and insisted that the charge against him was based on, what he called, Pavlyuchenkov’s “false” testimony.
Politkovskaya’s murder occurred on Putin’s birthday, prompting speculation that it was meant as a “gift” to the president.
Novaya gazeta issued a statement by its staff and Politkovskaya’s children, Ilya Politkovsky and Vera Politkovskaya, calling the clemency handed to Khadzhikurbanov “a fact of a monstrous injustice.”
“For us such a “clemency” is not the indication of redemption of guilt and repentance of the murderer. It is a monstrous fact of injustice and lawlessness, desecration of the memory of the person who was killed for her beliefs and professional duties,” the statement said.
Russia’s policy of freeing violent criminals, including murderers, who serve a tour of duty in Ukraine has outraged many many families of victims. Russia permitted mercenary groups and the Defense Ministry to recruite criminals for the war effort in Ukraine amid a lack of manpower.
In their statement, Politkovskaya’s family and Novaya gazeta’s editors said they were not informed beforehand about the murderer being pardoned, saying it was typical of the state’s dismissive attitude toward the case.
“They [still] do not inform us about their search for other murderers [of Politkovskaya], namely those who ordered the killing. That is because they do not search for them. Because they cover them up,” the statement said.
In 2018, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia “had failed to take adequate investigatory steps to find the person or persons who had commissioned the murder.”
Politkovskaya was born in New York in 1958, the daughter of a Soviet diplomat from Ukraine.
She was the laureate of numerous Russian and international awards including an Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism in 2001, a PEN Freedom to Write award in 2002, an Olaf Palme Prize in 2004.
In 2007, she became the first person ever to receive a posthumous UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.