Russia’s prosecutor general said Monday that 10 people had been arrested in the contract killing of Anna Politkovskaya, the prominent journalist and Kremlin critic. Those arrested included a Chechen crime boss and career officers from the country’s police and intelligence services, he said.
The announcement, at once tantalizing and murky, pointed to a possible official role in a crime that drew international condemnation. But it raised more questions than it answered and was denounced by Politkovskaya’s former editor as a whitewash designed to deflect blame from those who had ordered the journalist’s death.
The controversy arose because the prosecutor, Yuri Y. Chaika, suggested that the motive for killing had not been to silence Politkovskaya, whose efforts to uncover corruption and brutality under President Vladimir V. Putin had brought her international acclaim but scorn from officials here.
Rather, the prosecutor said, the killing was designed to discredit the Kremlin, by raising suspicions that it had been involved, and ultimately to destabilize the Russian state. That now-official theory is markedly different from one broadly accepted by her peers, who have said she was killed in retaliation for her work or to prevent additional articles from being published.
Among those arrested, the prosecutor said, were a police major and three former police officers, who were working with a criminal gang led by a Chechen. Also arrested, he said, was a former officer in the FSB, the principal successor to the KGB.
Chaika added that the killing had been ordered from abroad, although he refused to name the man suspected of being the mastermind or disclose his whereabouts, and provided no evidence to support the claim. The prosecutor would not release the names of any of the suspects.
His description of the motive aligned neatly with Putin’s first public statements about the killing last year and with a pattern of government contentions that foreigners were trying to undermine Russia and the Kremlin, and to tarnish their reputations.
It was swiftly criticized as an act of political convenience by Dmitri A. Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, the independent newspaper where Politkovskaya worked.
Muratov said that he thought the 10 suspects were involved in the killing, but that Chaika’s description of their motive had been tailored to the Kremlin’s orders. He labeled the official version “a nightmare.”