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In shift, Kremlin reopens cases of Russian reporters' unsolved murders

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"It seems like this new tone is coming from the very top. There is a perceived seriousness on the part of the Kremlin to deal with these cases, and perhaps that's because the president is concerned with Russia's image abroad," says Ms. Ognianova.

Earlier this week Mr. Bastrykin told journalists that police were closing in on the killer of human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, whose body was found by a roadside in Ingushetia a year ago. She was the last human rights-oriented journalist to operate in Chechnya, which is run with an iron fist by Moscow-installed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. "We have unmasked the killer. We know his name. We hope to detain him soon," he said.

Rights groups unimpressed

Could the moves signal that Russia's political balance is shifting toward the more liberal policies reportedly favored by Mr. Medvedev?

Russian human rights workers say they have heard all this before, and are not impressed.

"We are used to these empty declarations that get pronounced from time to time," says Lev Ponomaryov, a veteran Russian human rights campaigner. "What happened here is that an international organization appealed to Medvedev, and our superliberal president ordered his subordinates to tell them something. Why should we pay attention to this?"

Next week Moscow activists will mark the fourth anniversary of Ms. Politkovskaya's murder, a case that has seen two botched trials and a string of unfulfilled pledges from prosecutors.

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