Anna Politkovskaya, gunned down over the weekend in Moscow, was the 13th Russian journalist killed since Vladimir Putin became president and one of the bravest. We may never know who killed her because politically motivated crimes have a way of never being solved in Mr. Putins Russia.
There is no question about whom Ms. Politkovskaya held responsible in years of unflinching reporting from Chechnya: the Russian Army and Mr. Putin himself. When he finally got around to acknowledging her death yesterday it was in a cold-blooded statement that the authorities will take every step to investigate objectively the tragic death of the journalist Politkovskaya.
Ms. Politkovskaya was 48, the mother of two grown children. She lived alone, in part because of the dangers of her job. On Saturday, she was about to deliver a major report to her newspaper about torture in Chechnya when a killer ambushed her and fired four shots from a silenced Makarov pistol, one in her heart and three in her head.
Police investigators seized all her research materials from her home and her office at Novaya Gazeta, one of the few independent newspapers still functioning in Moscow. We hope they lead to arrests, and not a cover-up. It is hard to be optimistic.
The murder of Ms. Politkovskaya like the murder last month of Andrei Kozlov, the deputy chairman of the Russian Central Bank who was trying to reform the banking system had the stench of a political assassination. It would be hard to imagine that Mr. Putins Kremlin, swollen with oil riches and power, could not find those who ordered her murder or so many others.
It is also hard to fathom why a president with Mr. Putins hunger for respect would allow his country to sink so steadily in the worlds esteem. Yet the former K.G.B. officer has presided over a systematic degrading of Russians freedoms.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Russia has been the third deadliest country for journalists over the past 15 years, after Iraq and Algeria. Despite the active hostility of the state, and the clear and ever-present danger, reformers have continued to speak up. Ms. Politkovskaya believed, as did Mr. Kozlov and many others, that Russia could become a freer country. We hope that her terrible death will rally those who share her faith.