Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Death of Alexander Litvinenko, Continued - The Morning After

As might have been expected, 'The Daily Telegraph' thunders that 'The West is losing patience with Putin', quite forgetting that it does not speak on all 'The West's' behalf - whatever 'The West' is these days.
Oddly, it accuses Putin of 'throwing his weight about' - an accusation that might also be levelled fairly at Boris Berezovsky.
Simon Heffer, its resident bumptious blowhard who, for the avoidance of doubt, once wrote that 'President Putin should be put down' asks 'Is Russia licensed to kill in London?'
One can almost see the London fog swirl outside the windows of No 221B Baker Street as Sherlock Heffer dons the deerstalker and speculates,
"The bastards got him. If you seek circumstantial evidence of the guilt of the Russian government in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, ask yourself this. If a Briton – even one who had recently given up his citizenship – were bumped off in this way in a foreign country, isn't it likely that the British Embassy would make formal representations to the foreign ministry of the country concerned?"
Well, beginning a speculative piece with the words 'the bastards got him' does rather indicate that its author has already reached the end of his hypothesis without presenting either its beginning or middle; but as far as the rest of Heff's theory goes, one has no idea.
However, as a rule of thumb circumstantial evidence derives from the victim's circumstances; and these have a habit of being rather more immediate than whether or not diplomatic representations have been made on the deceased's behalf.
"Do we know of any formal protests by the Russian Embassy to the Foreign Office about the murder of Mr Litvinenko? Of course not: because all the FO could tell them is that they almost certainly know more about the circumstances of the assassination than we do."
Hold on, hold on, hold on, Heff - even if one assumes that the Russians are involved, such comment goes way beyond denying them the presumption of innocence; what you have said there is very possibly libel.
At this stage, all that 'we in the West' know is that a crime appears to have been committed and that its investigation is ongoing. We know nothing else.
But at this point he goes berserk -
"Does our Government, which lives in fear of the tyrant Putin because of his control of so much of our future energy supplies, propose to protest about the Kremlin's new habit of sending its murderers to our capital city to kill people with whom it has a quarrel? Or is there, where dear Vlad is concerned, an acceptable level of assassination?"
This is drivel, unfit even as opinion for the pages of any newspaper, let alone one which claims to be reputable. Heffer's energies would be better devoted to asking why so much of 'our future energy supplies' might be dependent on Russia rather than making wild, irresponsible and at this stage spurious allegations against the democratically elected, and domestically overwhelmingly popular, leader of a friendly foreign power.
'The Times' leader entitled 'A British Citizen' is slightly better - but not much.
Its subheadline is 'Putin must prove by deeds he is not linked to Litvinenko’s murder' - again, a denial of the presumption of innocence.
It refers to Litvinenko's deathbed statement, the 'embarrassment' his death would cause Putin and notes,
"Those who should be pressing Moscow hardest to explain its role in this squalid assassination are the British police. This must now be a murder investigation. The hospital discovery that Mr Litvinenko was probably killed with polonium 210, a radioactive isotope, points to a sophisticated plot and to assassins able to obtain a substance not readily available except to those with considerable backing. The suspicion must fall on the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB. It had motive, means and opportunity. In exile in London, Mr Litvinenko, himself a former FSB agent, taunted and mocked the present head of Russia’s spy agency as well as Mr Putin. Goaded into a vendetta against a traitor, they may well have reacted as Henry II’s knights did on imagining their King’s desire to be rid of Thomas à Becket. "
The obituary which appeared on Global Challenges Research concluded that,
"His death will for certain seem to many as a much stronger argument in favour of the anti-Russian charges he had put forward, rather than his statements, publications, and books altogether."
He would seem to have had a political value of nil - if Putin's knights wanted rid of any troublesome priest then a much more fitting target would have been Litvinenko's friend Akhmad Zakayev; or their apparently mutual landlord, Boris Berezovsky.
It continues,
"Two other factors increase the suspicion. First, the Russian parliament recently voted specifically to allow the FSB to undertake assassination missions abroad fighting terrorism. In doing so, it widened the definition of terrorists to include those who gave moral support to Chechen rebels and others seeking to undermine the State. FSB operatives, freed from any constraint, may well have seen Mr Litvinenko in that category.

Secondly, the FSB, though politically accountable, has been given an almost free hand by the President, who grew up in that same culture. It had no need to seek permission from the top. It knew that Mr Putin needed to maintain plausible deniability of all its actions. At the same time, it could easily point — as it now has — to the murky world of Russian exiles, some of whom are unsavoury characters and who are widely believed to have had links with organised crime groups while enriching themselves in Russia. "
Good grief! The Russians allow state sponsored killings abroad!
Er, hang on a minute...anyone ever heard of, um...I almost don't want to mention his name...James Bond?
One of the United Kingdom's most popular fictional characters of the last century perpetrates state-sponsored killings overseas. Stuff happens. It's the dirty, nasty nature of the world we live in.
'The Times' continues,
"Mr Putin has been deeply embarrassed by the murder. His open quest to make Russia respected again around the world is not helped by accusations of running a gangster state. He must, therefore, offer British investigators full co-operation and total access to all those they might want to question. A refusal or even prevarication must be taken as evidence of complicity. Nor should Russia be given the impression that this is a small episode that will be forgotten in a few weeks. Any policy of trying to tough it out should be met with an even tougher response from Britain. Mr Litvinenko was a citizen of this country. His murder is an affront to our laws, our democracy and our way of life."
''Accusations of running a gangster state...refusal..prevatication...tough it out...'
Has anyone even asked them yet?
Now, someone who runs an ongoing feature called 'Foreign Criminals of the Day' must be cautious when throwing about accusations of xenophobia...stones and glass houses and all that...
But who should pop up on 'The Times' opinion page but the ubiquitous Edward Lucas, with an almost xenophobic piece entitled 'The one way to fight Putin's menace'.
Samples -
"Vladimir Putin’s thuggish and arrogant rhetoric; the routine use of murder in business and politics; the bullying of neighbours such as Georgia; energy blackmail; authoritarian behaviour by the Kremlin — all have crystallised a growing unease with the wishful thinking that has marked outsiders’ attitudes to Russia in the past 15 years....
Russia no longer needs our money. Nor does it care much for our approval. The past few years have taught Mr Putin that when he needs something from the West, he gets it. Jacques Chirac, of France, is a Russian cheerleader, like Silvio Berlusconi and Gerhard Schröder before him....
The first response must be not to panic. For all its bombast, Russia’s strength rests on sand. Its demographics are disastrous: in the minute you may have taken to read to this point, five Russians died, and only three were born. Its roads and railways are still rickety, its pipelines and powerstations clapped-out. The much touted gas weapon may not be loaded: decades of neglect and under-investment may mean that Russia is an energy beggar, not an energy bully.

Then the West must stick together. Russia expertly plays off one country against another. British eurosceptics must drop their defeatist disdain for a common European foreign policy, especially in the field of energy security. Without it, we risk losing half the continent to the Kremlin’s new empire, one built on pipelines rather than tanks. Europe must dump its self-indulgent anti-Americanism and rebuild its alliance with an administration chastened and looking for friends.

That alliance’s big task will not be military defence, but diversifying energy supplies. We need new pipelines in the Balkans and the Caucasus to bring the oil and gas riches of the Caspian basin and Central Asia to European markets, bypassing Russia’s capricious, greedy and monopolistic oil and gas companies. We must also build more liquefied natural gas terminals, and interconnecting pipelines to hook up national gas grids. It sounds just as boring as the jargon of the last Cold War but it is just as important.

Similarly, we must give unflinching support to the countries in Russia’s viewfinder, such as Poland, Georgia and the Baltic states. They face hate campaigns in the Russian media, meddling in their energy supplies and arbitrary sanctions on their exports. All too often, the EU says that problems its new members have with Russia are “merely bilateral”. In future, the message must be: “If you mess with Estonia you mess with the whole of Europe.” These are brothers-in-arms and know a lot more about Russia than we do, and we have been slow to recognise it.
We must continue to expand Nato and the EU. Enlargement of both bodies has been an unsung triumph, spreading peace and security. The next phase will be more difficult, because the countries concerned are weaker and poorer. But that makes it all the more necessary. If our doors are not open, then the only choice available is Russia. It is a tragedy that this week’s Nato summit in Riga is hamstrung by division and timidity on the question of enlargement.
Thirdly, the West must recover the moral self-confidence that ultimately proved far more important than our guns and missiles. We believed in our system: it was not just richer and freer than theirs, but kinder, fairer, cleaner, healthier, more innovative, more tolerant and more truthful. It had flaws, certainly. But it also had the built-in capability to remedy them. In a market democracy, the crooked and cruel stand a better chance of being fired or jailed than they do in an authoritarian state-run economy.

So the most powerful weapon we have now is to to make our own system truly worth admiring. Integrity in public life would not only contrast with the Kremlin’s sleaze, but also immunise us against its bribes. Speedy justice, efficient government and public-spiritedness are lacking in Russia — and just what we need to make our system envied at home and abroad. It will be a long slog: but so was the last one."
If one reads his blog, one will find a fourth.
This morning, Tim Worstall, owner of the world's largest scandium trading business and a guy who knows Russia quite well, notes,
"Po 210 isn't an easy thing to get hold of. Not an easy thing to find at all. So where did it come from?"
Very good question...guess you can buy anything when you've got enough money...
November's a good time of year for a Putin smear - winter's on the way in, gas prices are on the way up...
It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Litvinenko might have been complicit in his own demise. He was a man well acquainted with the concept of calculated risk.
However, given that our newspapers are screaming for the President of Russia's head, let's throw another McGuffin into the mix.
"Former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko was delivered to hospital with acute poisoning, online site NEWSru.com reports. Radio Ekho Moskvy, referring to the head of the Civil Liberties Foundation Alexander Goldfarb, at present moment, says there is no threat to Litvinenko’s life. Though, he had been in a very grave condition for several days before. According to Litvinenko, he was contacted by a person, who offered to have a meeting at a restaurant and wanted to hand him over some materials, particularly, on Anna Politkovskaya’s murder. After the meeting Litvinenko turned out to be in hospital. Meanwhile, he said he would definitely pass the documents he received from the intelligencer to Novaya Gazeta, where Politkovskaya worked, as soon as he would be released from hospital, Ekho Moskvy says. The known dissident and human rights activist, Russian defector Litvinenko, was invited to a London restaurant by an Italian citizen, Mario Scaramella, who claimed he had some important information about a recent murder of Politkovskaya, NEWSru.com writes. According to the intelligence, Mario Scaramella is a close associate of the FSB deputy chief Viktor Komogorov and visited the FSB headquarters in Moscow several times. In a couple of hours after the dinner, Litvinenko felt very sick and was delivered into a London hospital with extremely dangerous poisoning caused by an unknown toxin. He balanced between life and death for several days. "
"According to the informal information, obtained by the MK from a source in the Russian secret services, Litvinenko came to Russia a short time ago and testified on Politkovskaya's case to the same State Office of Public Prosecutor inspector who in due time brought criminal case against Litvinenko. However, the State Office of Public Prosecutor categorically denies the fact of interrogation. If the visit of Litvinenko to Russia really took place, that means that Litvinenko can really possess valuable information on the Politkovskaya’s case and has been promised to keep freedom, at least temporarily, MK writes. In this connection Litvinenko’s meeting with Skaramella might have had absolutely different character, the paper marks."
Did Litvinenko return to Russia? Was he promised liberty (or immunity) from prosecution in return for information on who really killed Anna Politkovskaya?
Wouldn't such a development really irritate the emigre dissident circles he moved in?
Or perhaps some in those circles might have their own reasons for the truth concerning Politkovskaya's death not to come to light...
Some of whom have the money to buy just about anything at all? And who might have access to his house, where Po210 has been found?
Just a thought...

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