A former Russian detective who was convicted for his role in the 2006 killing of the investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya has been pardoned by President Vladimir Putin after fighting in Ukraine, his lawyer has said.
Sergei Khadzhikurbanov was given a 20-year prison sentence in 2014 for his role in organising the murder of Politkovskaya, a prominent reporter at the liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta who was shot dead in 2006 in the lift of her Moscow apartment block.
Khadzhikurbanov’s lawyer, Alexei Mikhalchik, told Russian media on Tuesday that his client received a presidential pardon after completing a six-month military contract in Ukraine and had since remained in the armed forces.
Mikhalchik did not specify when Khadzhikurbanov signed up to fight in Ukraine or whether his client initially joined Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner group, a paramilitary unit which first started to recruit prisoners from jail.
“Khadzhikurbanov participated in [the war in Ukraine] as a prisoner under his first contract,” he was quoted by news channel RBC as saying. “He was then pardoned and now participates in [the war in Ukraine] as a military man having signed a [second] contract with the defence ministry,” the lawyer added.
Khadzhikurbanov was one of five people jailed over the murder of Politkovskaya, a fierce Kremlin critic who had extensively covered Russia’s wars in Chechnya.
Investigators at the time did not identify the person who ordered the killing and Politkovskaya’s family has repeatedly criticised the investigation for failing to track down the mastermind behind the murder.
In a joint statement with Novaya Gazeta, Politkovskaya’s two children Vera and Ilya said that they were not informed about Khadzhikurbanov’s pardon.
“For us, this ‘pardon’ is not evidence of atonement and repentance of the killer. This is a monstrous fact of injustice […] Desecration of the memory of a person killed for her beliefs and professional duty,” the statement said.
Since last summer, Russia’s defence ministry and the private military organisation Wagner have recruited tens of thousands of prisoners, including murderers and domestic abusers, to fight in the war in Ukraine.
As part of the deal, convicts were told that if they fought for six months and survived, they would be allowed to go back to normal life without serving the rest of their sentence. According to Russian law, Putin is personally responsible for signing off the pardon notices of the Russian convicts.
Several pardoned convicts have committed violent killings since their release, stoking further concerns that prisoners re-entering society after stints in Ukraine will bring a new wave of murder and domestic violence.
Last week, Russian media reported that Vladislav Kanyus, who was convicted in a high-profile case in 2020 for the gruesome murder of his ex-girlfriend Vera Pekhteleva, has returned to Russia after being recruited by Wagner in Ukraine.
When asked about Kanyus’s release, the Kremlin last week defended the use of prisoner recruits to fight in Ukraine and said convicts who “atone for their crime on the battlefield with blood” should be pardoned.
“They are atoning with blood in storm brigades, under bullets and under shells,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.