12/07/07 - News section
We must be tough with Private Putin
by EDWARD LUCAS
How they must be trembling in the Kremlin. Britain is talking tough: a "withdrawal of cooperation" in education, social affairs or trade. Probably the first public expulsion of Russian diplomats since 1996.
Officials will dress this up as a strong response. But in truth it is preposterously feeble.
We have seen nuclear terrorism on the streets of London. The assassins used polonium-210, a rare radioactive isotope produced in a Russian government research institute.
They killed a UK citizen and endangered dozens more. Now Russia is brazenly refusing to extradite the prime suspect.
It is clear that Britain now officially accepts what many have been saying for months: that the FSB, the secret-police heirs to the KGB, connived in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
If the skull and crossbones were flying over the Kremlin, it could hardly be clearer: Russia under Vladimir Putin is a pirate state that unashamedly flaunts its contempt for the law.
It is no exaggeration to say that the FSB runs Russia: its former chief, Mr Putin, is the president. Its ruthless and greedy tentacles stretch across all corners of that vast land, high finance to the depths of organised crime.
It has throttled Russian democracy. It is gobbling up business. Now it is hunting down the Kremlin's foes abroad.
We should be responding to this outrage with a series of tough measures that will hit the Kremlin and its cronies hard.
Britain's first step should be the expulsion of not just a symbolic few, but every one of the dozens of FSB operatives here.
They range from a handful who are "declared", working openly at Russia's embassy and Edinburgh consulate as liaison with British counterparts.
The more sinister ones pretend to be cooks and drivers there.
At the Aeroflot check-in back to Moscow they can meet their deep-cover colleagues: those pretending to be businessmen and students.
Some expulsions may, indeed, have already happened. Sources say they were kept quiet in order not to escalate the row with Russia.
If so, that was typical official spinelessness: we should be trumpeting our fury from the rooftops of Whitehall, not sparing the Kremlin's blushes. We should stop giving Russia's rulers visas to come here.
They enjoy the spoils of power at home while they invest in Britain, their wives shop here, and their children go to our finest private schools. They must realise that welcome is cancelled for accomplices in murder.
British banks and businesses must realise the risks of gobbling Russian bait. The heads of Britain's biggest companies recently paid grotesque homage to Mr Putin at an economic forum in St Petersburg in June.
They included BP and Shell, seemingly undeterred by having had their best assets in Russia snatched by the Kremlin's business allies.
Tony Blair had just warned British firms about the political risks of Russia. Yet scandalously, our captains of industry toed the Kremlin line, that Mr Blair's warning was the "emotional outburst of an ex-prime minister".
Not since British trades unionists went to the Kremlin in the 1980s to praise the peace-loving Soviet leadership and denounce the "war-mongers" Thatcher and Reagan have I felt more ashamed. The bleak truth is that we again have a fifth column in this country.
During the last Cold War it was the communist trade unionists, who with their "peace movement" allies used the Kremlin's secret funding to undermine our democracy and our defences.
Now the fifth column wear pinstripes, not overalls. The 30 silver roubles that fuels their treachery is not smuggled, but highlighted in the top line of their annual report and accounts.
Selling lorryloads of stolen goods in the streets of the City of London would be stopped even by our paperwork-swamped
No compromises: Vladimir Putin police. Yet Russian companies that have looted their rivals and defrauded their shareholders are allowed to raise money on the London Stock Exchange.
Our American allies now deny visas to dodgy tycoons and have toughened the rules for Russian companies wanting to list their shares in New York. But London's financial markets have become a colossal car boot sale for the crony capitalists of the Kremlin.
The grim pattern is repeated across Europe. Our influence on Russia is swamped by the Kremlin's clout inside the West.
Its energy companies' investments create a formidable bridgehead. Germany's gutsy Chancellor, Angela Merkel, longs to be tough with Mr Putin, a man she loathes. But her own party's influential business backers are holding her back.
We must stop Gazprom and other statebacked Russian energy companies buying our companies until Russia abides by the rule of law. That day is a long way off.
Russia's increasingly menacing nuclear posturing gives the lie to any idea that a replacement for Trident is no longer necessary.
We need to upgrade our electronic security: the cyber-assault on Estonia in May was a grim warning of what awaits those who annoy the Kremlin.
Networks of thousands of computers - known as "botnets" - hijacked by organised criminals crashed many of that brave little country's most crucial websites, cutting off the outside world.
American and Nato specialists have been working intensively to learn the lessons of that attack. We risk being dangerously complacent.
The BBC must urgently investigate the scandalous pusillanimity of the Russian service, once an emblem of British liberty and now unwilling to interview Cold War heroes such as Oleg Gordievsky on the Litvinenko case for fear of losing their transmitters in Russia.
It is worrying that Gordon Brown's close advisers include no one with real knowledge of Russia, now the world's largest rogue state.
Britain has the chance to lead Europe in resolute resistance to the Kremlin's xenophobic and authoritarian regime. Let us hope our new prime minister does not flinch from the challenge.
Edward Lucas is the author of a forthcoming book, The New Cold War And How To Win It
©2007 Associated New Media