By Tatiana Ustinova
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Veteran reporter Sergei Topol was beaten up in central Moscow Wednesday as he was leaving his flat, police said, underlining Russia's position as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.
Rights groups criticize the Kremlin for doing too little to solve a string of journalists' murders and attacks.
"Sergei Topol was beaten around the head by an unknown person and is currently in hospital," said a spokesman for Moscow city police, adding that the attack happened at 930 local time (0630 GMT). Media said Topol is 65.
The attack comes six months after leading Russian journalist Oleg Kashin, 30, was savagely beaten in Moscow sending him into a coma. Kashin worked at popular business daily Kommersant, where Topol had also worked.
Police would not comment on the motive behind the attack on Topol, who published a string of articles in 2008 saying Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, 58, was to leave his wife Lyudmila for 27-year-old Olympic champion gymnast Alina Kabayeva.
At the time Putin dismissed the rumors, telling journalists to keep their "snotty" noses out of his private life. Kabayeva has denied an affair with Russia's paramount leader.
Shortly after the articles were published, Topol's paper, the Moskovsky Korrespondent, was shut down.
The paper's billionaire owner Alexander Lebedev, who has close links to the Kremlin, called Topol's articles "nonsense" and said he shut the daily because it was losing money.
Topol is a well-regarded journalist who famously penned his successful negotiations with Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev in 1995, when he managed to free himself and others from a hostage attack.
There have been 19 unsolved murders of journalists in Russia since 2000, including the 2006 killing of Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
CPJ lists Russia as eighth on its "Impunity Index," a listing of states where journalists are killed regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes.
(Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Amie Ferris-Rotman;)