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Photo by Valery Tenevoy on Unsplash.

Anti Putin protests in Russian capital, Moscow.

It was August 1, 1998, Russian President Boris Yeltsin was vacationing in Karelia. He summoned Vladimir Putin, who was the newly appointed director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) to his dacha in Gorky to discuss his expectations from him. Yeltsin wanted Putin to "make the service less politicized" and to restore its prestige and authority. He wanted FSB to be a beacon of fear. Yeltsin offered Putin to return to active service, which Putin outrightly declined. He reasoned out by saying that "It's important that such a power ministry be headed by a civilian." And so he became the first and the last civilian to head the FSB.

It was August 20, barely a month into the appointment of Putin as the FSB director, Anatoly Levin-Utkin a journalist in St. Petersburg was brutally murdered. He was the deputy editor of the newly launched weekly newspaper Yuridichesky Peterburg Segodnya (Legal Petersburg Today).

The dreaded FSB at a protest against illegal arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, January 2021.Photo by Kirill Zharkoy on Unsplash.

He left his office with a bag, which contained papers and photographs for articles in the next issue of the newspaper, which happened to be its third. He carried a thousand Rubles, about $140 with him. As he neared the foyer of his apartment at Rednova street and was busily checking his mailbox, he was attacked by two men from behind. They beat him brutally, shattering his skull in several places. The assailants took everything and left him unconscious to die. He was found lying in a pool of blood by his neighbour who took him to a hospital. At the hospital, the surgeons operated on him twice, but he died on August the 24th, without ever regaining his consciousness.

Utkin was known to write sensational articles, all delving into the city's banks and the competing spheres of influence. He had written an article on Anatoly Sobchak's escape from Russia and the activities of his deputies related to foreign investments. One article namely "Vladimir Putin Became the Head of the FSB Unlawfully" drew the wrath of the Kremlin. The editor in chief, Aleksei Domnin, said that the article had prompted a vociferous response from the "Putin's people." Complaints regarding press coverage were nothing unusual, but the gruesome murder of the journalist did send a shockwave among the media circles in the whole country.

The Russian Riot Police rounds up a journalist in Moscow, during a protest against the illegal arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny in January 2021.Photo by Valery Tenevoy on Unsplash.

The journalists' organizations took up the cause and appealed to the United Nations to press the Russian authorities for an investigation. Nevertheless, the Russian investigators were unable to establish any links to Putin's involvement in the murder. But, it was the first time that Vladimir Putin and Boris Berezovsky names surfaced in various media reports in connection with the murder of the journalist.

It is widely said that Anatoly Levin-Utkin was the first journalist to be killed under Vladimir Putin's purview, moreover he wasn't the last. Looking back in hindsight one can see a strong pattern of unsolved murders that mostly involve journalists, dissidents, activists. It is not surprising that Russia ranks 150th in the World Press Freedom Index. The WPFI is an index that ranks 180 countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists. In Putin's Russia, anyone and everyone who speaks against the government policies is a state enemy. Journalism in Russia is a quagmire and so are the lives of Russian journalists.


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