Monday, November 20, 2006

rant from Daily Mail


CHRIST, how I miss the Cold War, remarks 'M' in Casino Royale, as she and Bond wrestle with the complexities of terrorist finance. The way things are going, she ñ and her real life counterparts ñ might not have long to wait for its return.

The plight of Alexander Litvinenko is not a scene from a film or a story from the past. It is from London in 2006.

A city where foreign killers can stalk the streets and silence an enemy of the Kremlin as coldly and contemptuously as they killed Georgi Markov, the heroic anti-Communist Bulgarian broadcaster, in 1978.

It's not just that the KGB's old habits of disinformation and mischief-making are still with us, but that the organisation's tentacles reach as far and formidably as ever. And who better to supervise this than the taciturn, foul-mouthed KGB Lieutenant-General [actually Lt-Col--the Daily Mail promoted him] Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (retd.)?

Litvinenko, a career security officer first in the KGB, then in its successor organisation the FSB, was a friend of dissident journalist Anna Politkovskaya who was shot dead in Moscow last month.

The two met regularly during her trips to London, sharing their concerns about the authoritarian tendencies of Putin's Russia.

But do those reach as far as murder? In the old days of the KGB, enemies of the Soviet Union were mercilessly hunted down and killed. Leon Trotsky in Mexico with an ice pick. Markov on Waterloo Bridge, with a poisoned umbrella.

Scores of others died from assassins' bullets, mysterious illnesses, convenient car crashes. But after the collapse of Communism, and the birth of a new Russia pledged to democratisation and a pro-Western stance, the grim years of the Cold War seemed consigned to history.

Now, like a zombie crawling out of the grave, the terrifying shadow of the Soviet past is again falling across Europe. Russia might have ditched Communism but the Kremlin has not lost its thirst for power, at home and abroad.

Whereas during the days of the Cold War the KGB was an arm of the Soviet state, with Putin's ascent to power the KGB effectively took over the state. The result is 'Kremlin, Inc', which combines the greed of business with the ruthlessness of espionage and the bluster of a superpower.

RUSSIA makes no secret of its willingness to use assassination against what it calls 'terrorists'. Russian agents killed Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, president-in-exile of the breakaway republic of Chechnya, in a car bomb attack in Qatar in 2004. They were caught, convicted ñ and received a heroes' welcome when they were finally returned to Moscow.

The attempted murder of Litvinenko forms part of a grim pattern of intimidation. At home and abroad, enemies of the Kremlin tend to die in mysterious circumstances. In 2004 Viktor Yushchenko, then a candidate for the presidency of Ukraine, was poisoned, surviving with a hideously pockmarked face.

Miss Politkovskaya, a regular contributor to the foreign media, was shot dead, perhaps by those whose wrongdoing she exposed -- and perhaps also to silence those Russian journalists brave enough to criticise the Kremlin abroad. The attempted assassination of Litvinenko was a further warning to those outside Russia that criticism would not be tolerated.

That is what Boris Berezovsky, the billionaire businessman who dominated Russian political life in the 1990s -- and is now better guarded than most heads of state -- believes. Russia, he says, is practising 'state banditry'. Putin no longer cares 'in the slightest' for western disapproval. 'He thinks having oil he is free to do everything he wants. And he is correct.'

Other defectors and critics of Russia, in London and elsewhere, are nervously wondering who will be next. A past spent serving the Soviet state is no guarantee to a safe future: Putin was Litvinenko's immediate [well not really direct boss, maybe direct order on one or two occasions--EL] boss when both were in the FSB.

There are tantalising clues to the reach of the Kremlin's tentacles across the globe from mysterious, expertly-produced disinformation websites that subtly push the Kremlin line and cases such as that of the Venezuelan drug smugglers who were found to have Russian technicians building a submarine for them.

Ironically, just as the Kremlin's critics in London are being cowed, the Russian presence in Britain has never been stronger ñ with the relative safety of life here being a big reason. Up to 250,000 Russians live in Britain, ranging from illegal cleaners to plutocrats such as Roman Abramovich. The latter kind have London mansions and lavish country estates. They send their children to the best boarding schools.

Yet though they vote with their feet and their wallets for the security and freedom Britain offers, they have no desire to criticise the greed and brutality of the regime at home. 'The people who came as dissidents are the only ones to raise their voices,' says Natasha Chouvayeva, the veteran editor of Londonskiy Kurier, Britain's main Russian-language paper.

'The later ones don't really care what is happening so long as Russia is stable and good for business.'

Not that western censure presents any problem for Putin. The U.S. has humiliatingly abandoned any attempt to put Russia under pressure, in exchange for Kremlin help in influencing North Korea and Iran. France, Italy and Germany are worried only about gas, not freedom.

And that is the tragedy. The first Cold War presented a clear choice between right and wrong. In the new one, Russia is not handicapped by Communism, but fuelled by money, which trumps truth and decency every time.

Will the Kremlin ever come clean on both the crimes of the Soviet Union, and those of the regime now headed by Putin, who worked for the KGB when it unashamedly went round the world assassinating those who dared dissent?

That moment will come only when Russia is a democratic, and friendly, country, not the authoritarian kleptocratic regime of today. When that day finally comes, as Russia's friends still hope, then both 'M' and Bond can wallow in nostalgia to their hearts' content. And Litvinenko's family will know who tried to kill their beloved 'Sasha'.

Edward Lucas is Central and East European correspondent for The Economist


Cicero said...

Splendid rant indeed Edward!

Even if Putin did not give the order, he is a culpable as Henry II "who will rid me of this turbulent priest?"

Martin said...

Good evening, Mr. Lucas.

My name is Martin Kelly.

Anonymous said...

Well, let's see, what would the US CIA do to a former career agent who left to a foreign country ( say Pakistan), where he published a book disclosing classified stuff that he was entrusted with, betraying the identities of former comrades (in some cases causing them grievous harm), and then launching vile public accusations against the US govt., daily associating with, assisting, and counseling Osama and colleagues, and advocating their cause.
You know what would happen.
Perhaps not posion - just a
hellfire rocket from a Predator drone. Well, thank G-d such Russian planes are not yet flying around London.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. As a rapidly growing market economy and emerging democracy, Russia has a lot too learn from best teachers - the USA and UK. And Russians are good learners.

Anonymous said...


I wonder how many people are going to have to get cruelly murdered before the West will wake up and realize that the Iron Curtain is descending once again across the continent? The weird thing is that some people seem to think Russia's relative weakness compared to the USSR is a reason to do so less, when clearly its both an opportunity (because it's less dangerous) and an imperative (because it prevents consolidation and growth). When will we ever learn?

BTW, Smiths is right, you can set your comments policy to require "word verification" (under the "settings" option). This will block the spam you are getting.

Edward Lucas said...

I don't know about the US, but I would point out in regard to Fisk that a comparable case might be Richard Tomlinson, a renegade MI6 agent who wrote a book exposing his servic's secrets which was published by a Russian publishing house linked to the SVR. He has claimed that MI6 killed Princess Diana among other things.

He was briefly jailed for breaking the official secrets act but is now free. Not beaten up. Not killed. But working in a yacht charter company in the south of France. He is regularly quoted in the British media.

David Shayler and his girlfriend did pretty much the same with MI5, the counterpart to the FSB. They still live in the UK and are regular guests on talkshows and public debates. Shayler is pushing the theory that 9/11 was a hoax. Or maybe a Jewish conspiracy. I forget. But anyway, nobody is trying to kill him.

George Blake, who did MI6 terrible damage when he defected in the 1950s (he was Berlin station chief) is living out his life peacefully in Moscow. Nobody has tried to kill him. or other cold war defectors.

You may try to argue moral equivalence in other areas (Guantanamo etc makes it a bit easier) but I would contest the case strongly on the ground you have chosen.

Anonymous said...

> I don't know about the US, but I > would point out in regard to
> Fisk that a comparable case
> might be Richard Tomlinson, a
> renegade MI6 agent who wrote a
> book exposing his servic's
> secrets which was published by a > Russian publishing house linked > to the SVR. He has claimed that > MI6 killed Princess Diana among > other things.

Had the matter at hand been limited to military or political espionage, publishing scurillous accusations, and like plain-vanilla "betrayal" of the type of cold war-era intelligence game, those cases would make a better analogy. However detestable, such activities do not a death penalty make. And notably persons like Kalugin or Gordievsky had not been targeted, and I'd be extremely surprized if they would be.

The key distinction of this case is that (along with Berezovsky) he has aided, abetted, supported, comforted, and openly and publically assisted Chechen terrorists and their Western reps.
This is the common thread between
him, Politkovskaya, and Yandarbiev in Qatar. Hence my mention of Osama with whom (or other terrorism) none of the renegade UK agents you list had anything to do.

The feeling of most Russians towards such individuals affiliated with hostage-takers and mass murderers of schoolchildren is simply visceral hate: should it be proven that Putin gave the order, his popularity in Russia will only increase (however hard that might be given its present level). In fact, many would think that bullet or bomb is charitable on them; rat poison (if that's what it is) would be just about right.

Tom Adshead said...

I think it's an overstatement to assume that Litvinenko was targeted by the FSB on Putin's orders. Things are probably more complicated than that.

First, there are lots of people in Russia who go about killing other Russians, and not all of them work for the state. Second, those that do, don't necessarily work for the FSB. Third, even if they do, they could be freelancing for private interests.

My personal guess is that this was done by the GRU, or the Chechens. Or Chechens working for the GRU. Or the GRU working for Chechens.

There's a picture of Chechnya and the Caucasus in general, which sees it as basically a battleground for corrupt elements in the Army and the FSB, and that the FSB has basically lost. This explains Baisarov's death last week.

It's not the Army itself, in my opinion. It's local elements, who have allied with local bandits, to basically plunder the region. You can do this by letting your soldiers die, but continuing to claim their wages. Or you can help local bandits to kidnap people. Or you can demand 50% or more of any money allocated to rebuild private housing. This is a lot of money. Berezovsky and Litvinenko would know a lot about these flows, and it would be quite easy for the GRU to try to kill them to stop the information getting out.

Actually, this is the Politkovskaya link. I am sure that she investigated the kickbacks on housing grants, and that would be plenty of cause to silence her. What is interesting is that there was an arrest of the relevant local official last week - this was not widely reported (I saw it in Kommersant), and was criticised later by Kadyrov as an attempt to attack his government's reputation. So someone is doing something in this area.

I don't really see a link to Putin, apart from the fact that he made Kadyrov a Hero of Russia.

Blair Sheridan said...

How can three unproven allegations (Yushchenko, Politkovskaya, Litvinenko) be used as proof of an established pattern? Maybe I'm too skeptical, but whatever happened to the idea of proof of a crime before conviction?

Penny said...

Hey, blair, you're not "too skeptical", you are disingenuously suspending all logic and rational skepticism, but, you knew that. As a Putin apologist, I've seen your posts on other sites. Your games playing is obvious.

Could it be, blair, that with the '08 elections looming, Putin is doing what fascists do best, snuffing out all public critics, serially murdering journalists, putting a formidable nemesis, Khordorkovsky, in Siberia, systematically removing the press from public hands?.....please, blair, spare us your insipid apologia as to how these dots don't connect.

Hey, fisk, when we have dead NYT's journalists on the streets of Manhattan, Exxon nationalized and Katie Couric on the White House payroll, then, your ludicrous attempt at equivalence can rise above empty moonbat rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

that's right...this is a rant..and waht a analysis, no disicpline, just finger pointing and good old British Russophobia..... listen - Who cares about a traitor who speculated all these things about Russia - it's like accusing US/Israel of planning 9/11.... Litvinenko and Politkovskaya were utterly useless for the west when they were alive...all the things they wrote and said were utterly marginal in their political use...but dead, they are very useful for the west, very useful...hey, at the very least, they gave mr Lucas something to rant there you have works on big and even on small levels!

Anonymous said...

Yushchenko is a weak and incompetent leader...most people even in Ukraine know he is a western stooge....sympathy votes were essential for him...CIA helped him...after all, he was in constant contact with them.

Anonymous said...

More finger-pointing from our press. This article pays more attention to turns of phrase than to a disciplined analysis. Litvinenko has built a reputation as a renegade and irresponsible person - how would you take somebody who accused Israel and USA of planning 9/11 ? The piece - yet another in the thousands carrying on the tradition of British Russo-phobia - provides no analytical evidence but only personal bias. Who benefits form this blown up publicity? Not Russia, but those who oppose it. Why are these tragic murders coinciding with Russia's economic and diplomatic re-emergence? The Cold War propaganda machine still lives. Politkovskaya, an old Kremlin critic, had marginal political influence even less since radical leaders in Chechnya have been eliminated and 350 fighters have turned themselves in 2006. She and Litvinenko have had no influence on the perception of Russia when alive and spent a lot of time in the West.
Did not the US try to poison Castro ? Litvinenko was probably in close contact withy British and US there you go...but in any case, I think even the baseless speculation that it is the Russian secret services that killed him might be useful not only for the west but even for the Russian secret services: it send s agood message - do not betray your country or not even the MI6 or the CIA can protect you.

Penny said...

Just guessing, elroz, that you're too dense to notice your criticism of the lack of analysis by the press is then followed by your own speculative, off the wall, ranting.

It's the pattern, elroz, of assassination of critics, 13 dead journalists, heavy handed interference in the affairs of neighbors, Yukos dismantled, rigged how trials, human rights violations in Chechnya, nuclear material and expertise given to the Iranian extremists for the purpose of thwarting stablity in the ME, the press muzzled, human rights groups dismissed.....I guess you've not noticed the pattern of events in Putin's Russia.

As an apologist of Putin, a defender of his re-Stalinization of Russia, your reference to Litvinenko as a "traitor" is telling. People don't get murdered in the civilized world for their opinions or dissent. Or sent to rot in Siberia after a state rigged show trail.

Why are these tragic murders coinciding with Russia's economic and diplomatic re-emergence?

Because the murders are a the classic pattern of the behavior of an emerging fascist thug consolidating his power by silencing his critics. Putin & Co plan to remain in power in '08.

Here's a question: Why are apologists for fascist thugs so challenged mentally and morally?

Anonymous said...

One at a time:

1. Assassination of critics is WRONG. I'll be totally appalled if this starts happening. L. was not a critic - he is a former assassin himself (by own admission), a brutal thug, a traitor, and, far more importantly, an ally, friend, supporter, advocat and collaborator of Zakaev-Basaev Chechen terrorists
responsible for some of the worst war crimes since WWII.

2. 13 Dead journalists - who ?
Some like Paul Hlebnikov were strongly pro-Putin. So, if the murder of anti-Putin journalists is the work of Putin fascist thugs, then the murder of pro-Putin journalists is the work of anti-Putin antifascist thugs?
And many, like List'ev and Xolodov, were killed way before Putin, in the 1990-s. Should we hang those on the "democrats" who led Russian govt. then?

3. Heavy-handed interference?
Russia, like every country, has the right to trade or not with anyone, including on the basis of other country's political leanings. This is practiced everyday by all world nations, incl. US and UK. BTW, Russia did not actually refuse to sell oil or gas to anyone (like US to Cuba), just demand the market rate.
How dare they not to subsidize govts. unfriendly to Russia?

Truly, accusing Russia of such interference is utterly preposterous on the part of two countries who invaded a faraway land who did them no wrong on the flimsiest of pretexts. Had Russia applied that stnadrad, Georgia would be in ruins long time ago.

4. Yukos dismantled for non-payment of taxes. Politically motivated and selectively enforced, true. But if you are caught and tried for robbery, the fact that many (most?) robbers are never caught would not be a valid defense.

5. Show trials no more rigged than Enron or Martha Stewart.

6. Human rights violations in Checgnya were horrible and grievous, on both sides. Such is the nature of insurgency wars, unfortunately. Russia has, in some cases though not often, brought perps to trial (e.g., Budanov case). The Chechen side never did.
At least Russia fought this war in its defense, on its own land. And the Chechen terrorism has effectively been halted, after all. Which is more than one can say of the US/UK misadventure in Iraq.

More to follow.

Anonymous said...

7. Nuclear stuff given to Iran - I violently disagree with this, and this is my major problem with Putin's govt. I think this is a grave mistake. That said, Russia
was building reactors in Iran since USSR times in 1980-s, and Bushehr project was started by Yeltsin, not Putin.

8. TV is largely under control, true. Print and net media - no, there are lots of newspapers of every possible orientation, I'd say more diverse than in the US. Lots of different viewpoints are expressed, some quite critical of the government. A simple search of "" and many other news sites hosted in Russia will reveal that. The control really is through $$ like in the West -
the owner/sponsor has a say in what is published.

9. Human rights groups are alive and well - Amnesty and all re-registered and operating. But certain limitations and restrictions were imposed on FOREIGN-sponsored groups, rightfully so. US law, for example, requires extensive disclosure of foreign-funded organizations, and restricts (and often totally prohibits) their activities. For example, foreign funding of political activities and campaigns is illegal.
That is entirely proper.

Personal invectives I'll leave without response - let the readers make their own opinion who is thug here.

Yes, I see the pattern of events in Putin's Russia. That pattern is the reestablishment of normal country after the chaos and gangland nightmare of 1990-s, a country that has laws (albeit imperfect), where laws are actually enforced (albeit not evenly), where the govt. listens and answers first to its citizens and not to foreign lobbies and their paid agents (albeit not as well as it should), where traitors are prosecuted (albeit not always fairly), crime is suppressed (albeit not with clean hands), and terrorists are taken out (albeit not as quickly as one would like).

This hurts a lot of people who made their fortunes by catching fish in murky waters, from Berezovsky and Co to UK escort service operators who find recruiting "meat" a lot tougher these days. I also understand that they'd like to go back 10 years very much. Tough luck.

And to those who, G-d forbid, think of starting to foment a new disorder in Russia by actions not just empty talk, may I remind the words of Litvinenko's father about many big nuclear bombs and missiles that those people have.

Anonymous said...

FISK: "Reestablishment of a normal country." What an outrageous lie! Russia's problem with the absence of law and order is greater now than it was under Yeltsin, as documented by numerous international studies. What's worse, it has totally antagonized the West and is now facing a renewed cold war it cannot possibly even wage much less win (with aid to Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, Venezuela and Cuba) whereas under Yeltsin the West was friendly, and the vast population still languishes in poverty with an average wage of $300 per month. Population decline has continued apace under Putin and wealth disparity has gotten far worse. This is to say nothing of the plain insanity of having a proud KGB spy presiding over a nation destroyed by the KGB.

Frankly, I'm quite amazed that you can simply ignore the recent news that Litvinenko was killed with a super-sophisticated radiation weapon that could only have come from Russia's arsenal, as well as Russia's insane hypocrisy. Suppose a Georgian defected to Russia and then the Georgians killed him on Russian soil. How would Russians react? This ridiculous neo-Soviet double standard destroyed the USSR and it will destroy Russia too. Comments like yours are far more dangerous to the nation's survival than those of any "enemy".

What folks like you will never understand is that it isn't a defense of Russia to say that America is doing it too. How you can dare to be so stridently anti-American and then justify Russian conduct by reference to America is beyond me (or any thinking person). Why can't you simply defend Russian conduct on its merits? Is it because there is no defense? Do you ever hold Russia to the "American standard" when an American virtue (like economic vitality) is at issue? Again, it's a ridiculous, empty double standard, exactly the kind that destroyed the USSR.

Penny said...

"That pattern is the reestablishment of normal country"....depends upon how one defines "normal", don't ya think, fiskie? Russia has never been and is unlikely on its present course to emerge a normal country. It sure isn't one now. But, then, one man's fascist thug is another man's hero. So carry on, fiskie, you've got lots more water to carry for Putin.

Edward Lucas said...

A few points. On 9/11 I am reluctant to give much weight to Stephen Jones, whose previous work has included some fairly crackpot stuff. Of course it may be that the CIA has doctored his wikipedia entry to make him look mad.

I really cannot agree with Fisk that this is "reestablishment of a normal country". The diversity and pluralism of the media is declining, not growing, and the internet is not as free as it once seemed. Some opposition is tolerated--but only if it doesn't threaten the Kremlin. It will be interesting to see how the russo-optimists deal with 2008. If there is a real (ie contested) election then pessimists like me will have to admit that the constitution does stand for something and authoritarianism may just be a phase. But so far, I don't see any reason to believe that it won't be a fix.

Conflating all Chechen resistance with Basayev/terrorism/war crimes is a smear. Rather like saying that all Palestinians are terrorists, or all Israelis are brutal occupiers. There are lots of shades of culpability. If you believe that the Chechens had no right to armed resistance at any point, then you can justifiably argue that all their leaders are nothing more criminals and bandits. But that is a hard one to argue consistently (and remember that the Kremlin itself negotiated with Maskhadov's envoys at Sheremetyevo airport not so long ago).

I am not sure I want to cross swords with Elroz as he thinks that killing "traitors" sends a "good message". Litvinenko was, I believe, a British citizen.