Thu, Oct 12, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Reporter's killing damaged Russia: Putin

DISGUSTING DEED On an official visit in Germany, the Russian president vowed that what he called a cruel crime would not go unpunished, whatever the motive

THE GUARDIAN , BERLIN AND MOSCOW

Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed on Monday to pursue the killers of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, calling her murder a "disgustingly cruel crime" which would not go unpunished, whatever the motive.

Putin said the killing had inflicted much greater damage on his government than any of the journalist's sharply critical writing.

The Russian president was speaking after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on a visit to Dresden, where he used to work as a young KGB officer.

Merkel said she had made clear to Putin that press freedom was part of the democratic process.

"It was again made clear by the Russian president that everything will be done to clear up this murder -- I think this is very important and a necessary signal to make clear that the freedom of those who report and write is a very important attribute of countries in which democracy develops," Merkel said.

Analysts said that Merkel was treading a diplomatic tightrope -- broaching these issues while attempting to preserve good relations with Russia, a key partner in business and international affairs.

"Angela Merkel will have to be careful," said Alexander Rahr, a Russia expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations and a coordinator of the forum.

"She needs Russia as a firm ally against Iran, North Korea and Lebanon. She doesn't want to risk alienating them," he added.

In the Russian capital, hundreds of mourners attended the burial of the journalist who was shot dead at the weekend.

The anti-Kremlin reporter made her name exposing corruption and brutality in Chechnya.

Approximately 1,000 mourners crammed in to a memorial hall at Troyekurovskoye cemetery to file past Politkovskaya's open coffin. Many wept and laid flowers.

The US, British and German ambassadors to Moscow attended the funeral, but senior government figures were absent. Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician, said they were "cowards who did not dare to come." "Politkovskaya had no enemies except criminals and members of the authorities -- it's among them that the killer and those who gave the orders must be sought," he added.

"Anna Politkovskaya was a tireless defender of human rights and freedom of speech. We hope very much that the Russian authorities will conduct a thorough investigation into her death," British Ambassador Anthony Brenton said.

In Dresden, both leaders expressed shock at the nuclear tests in North Korea and pledged further cooperation on international priorities such as Iran.

Merkel, who is to take the reins of the EU presidency in January, said the EU would maintain its close ties with Russia.

Russia is a vital economic partner for Germany, providing a third of its natural gas. In turn, Germany -- Europe's biggest economy -- accounts for about a tenth of Russia's foreign trade.

Business links between the two countries were given a boost by former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Putin -- who were known for their matey rapport.

Among their projects was a massive gas pipeline scheme that will pass under the Baltic Sea, taking gas directly to Germany.

Putin worked in Dresden as a spy from 1985 -- a stint which ended with the collapse of East Germany's communist regime. He has given little away about his years in East Germany.

The 32-year-old spy is said to have lived with his young family in a three-bedroom apartment in a socialist housing block. Through secret service channels, he was even able to order a stereo from the esteemed West Berlin department store KaDeWe -- an unusual luxury in the communist East.

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