Russia's top prosecutor accused opposition forces outside the country of masterminding the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, as he announced on Monday that 10 people had been detained in connection with the killing.
Yury Chaika, Russia's prosecutor-general, said the arrests included former and serving officers of the security services who had tracked Politkovskaya's movements and provided information to the organisers of the killing, a criminal group which he said was led by a Chechen crime boss.
The murder of Politkov-skaya, who was shot dead outside her Moscow apartment last October, tarnished the image of President Vladimir Putin's regime. Observers feared her killers would never be found amid increasing attacks on Russian journalists and a clampdown on the press.
The arrests marked the first time existing employees of Russia's vast law-enforcement agencies had been implicated in a contract killing in Russia despite constant speculation on their involvement in such crimes.
But Mr Chaika's insistence the killers were ultimately acting on the orders of anti-Kremlin forces seeking to "discredit" the Putin regime and "destabilise the situation in the country" directly echoed earlier statements by the Russian president. Just days after the killing, Mr Putin hinted he believed unnamed fugitives from Russian justice were behind the crime and said her death was much more damaging to Russia than her reporting.
Journalists at Novaya Gazeta, Ms Politkovskaya's paper, said they were bewildered that Mr Chaika had made such a sweeping conclusion before the case had got to court. "We are disconcerted that Mr Chaika has essentially just repeated the words of the president," said Roman Schleinov, head of the newspaper's investigations desk. "Either the president predicted the case so well that he knew everything beforehand or Mr Chaika is fixing the case to suit the president."
"Blaming troubles on an external enemy is exactly what happened during Soviet times," Mr Schleinov said. "But it seems to me the problem lies a little closer to the country itself."
Boris Berezovsky, the exiled oligarch, made his third public call for the overthrow of Mr Putin's regime in an open letter in the Sunday Times of London over the weekend.
Most of Politkovskaya's friends and colleagues have said they believed the killing was ordered by those seeking revenge for her reporting on human rights abuses in Chechnya and on corruption. Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, frequently criticised in her articles, was yesterday quoted by Russian news agencies as saying he thought the arrest of the ethnic Chechen crime leader was "correct".
Mr Chaika also said prosecutors believed the group behind Politkovskaya's killing was involved in two other high-profile contract killings in Russia: the 2004 shooting of Paul Klebnikov, the US investigative journalist, and the murder of Andrei Kozlov, deputy chairman of Russia's central bank, last September.