Russia's supreme court this morning ordered a new investigation into the murder of the campaigning journalist Anna Politkovskaya, in a move her lawyer said gave Russia's heavily criticised authorities a fresh opportunity to catch her killer.
The court sent the case back to Russia's prosecutor general for further investigation, upholding a complaint from Politkovskaya's family. The move follows a bungled trial earlier this year, which saw four people accused of involvement in her death acquitted by a jury.
Today Politkovskaya's lawyer, Karinna Moskalenko, cautiously welcomed the supreme court's decision. It comes almost three years after Politkovskaya – a journalist, writer and a polemical critic of Vladimir Putin, and his proxies in Chechnya, was shot dead in the hallway of her Moscow apartment block.
"Whether the general prosecutor will use this opportunity, we don't know. We can only hope,'" Moskalenko told the Echo of Moscow radio station this morning. She added: "So far, this hasn't happened. Three years have passed since this tragic event, and the truth still hasn't been uncovered."
Politkovskaya's paper, Novaya Gazeta, also welcomed the judgment. "It is a very important step on the way towards investigating this crime," it said. "We are pleased there are still some people in Russia who recognise the law. We hope this will lead to a detailed examination of the case," it added.
Russia's authorities claim they have been unable to identify who ordered her killing. They have also failed to catch her assassin – who slipped into Politkovskaya's building and then shot her four times as she emerged from the lift. Investigators have named the hit-man as Chechen Rustam Makhmudov. They say he has fled abroad.
In June, Russia's high court ordered a retrial in the case of Makhmudov's two brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim, who were charged with involvement in Politkovskaya's death together with a former Moscow policeman, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, and Lt Col Pavel Ryaguzov, an officer in Russia's FSB spy agency.
A jury acquitted all four in February. Defence lawyers described their three-month trial as an embarrassing fiasco, and said the investigation into Politkovskaya's killing was shoddy and inadequate. The defendants are currently being re-tried at the same military court in Moscow – this time without a jury.
Politkovskaya's children, Ilya and Vera, have repeatedly pressed for a full and proper investigation into their mother's murder. They acknowledge that there was insufficient evidence to convict the four defendants, accused of providing logistical support to her killer, but have said publicly they believe the four were "involved" in her death.
During the investigation, much relevant material simply vanished, including a photo of Makhmudov, who apparently fled to western Europe using a false passport. Video footage showing the assassin entering Politkovskaya's block also disappeared. Critics say shadowy officials, possibly with connections to Russia's intelligence agencies, have deliberately frustrated the inquiry.
During her fearless reporting career Politkovskaya, 48, reserved her most vicious criticisms for Ramzan Kadyrov – Chechnya's Kremlin-appointed president. Kadyrov has denied involvement. Over the last three years, however, several other of Kadyrov's enemies have met brutal deaths – most recently the human rights activist Natalia Estemirova, who in July was abducted from her home in Grozny, Chechnya's capital, and shot.
Politkovskaya, a close friend of Estemirova's, was relentlessly critical of Putin, whose rise to power followed the Russian army's second bloody entry into Grozny in late 1999. Putin dismissed Politkovskaya three days after her murder as "insignificant", adding that she was "well known only in the west". Later, however, he described her as a "rather sharp critic" of Russia's government, "which is good".