Saturday, February 10, 2007

this week's column--sorry for delay in posting


Boyars of Belgravia

Feb 8th 2007

The Kremlin and its critics do battle in London

Get article background

THE weapons in this war are not high explosives, nor even gas pipelines, but stories about them. The battlefronts are seminars, think-tanks and dinner parties in the posher parts of London. Not since Alexander Herzen’s day has Britain's capital been party to such arguing over Russia’s future.

The biggest and richest protagonist is the Kremlin, or, more properly the sprawling mass of business and political interests connected with it. Their aim is simple: to rehabilitate Russia’s reputation. Events (they say) have proved the doomsayers wrong. Far from crumbling, Russia is flourishing. Europe, and the world, need its oil and gas. Critics of Russian policy are crazed cold warriors, hypocrites with double standards, agents of Vladimir Putin’s enemies, or all three.

The critics of the Kremlin fall into two main camps. One is ruled by Boris Berezovsky (below, right), an exiled Russian oligarch. He can't outgun the Russian regime pound for pound, but his money is well targeted for maximum damage.

Mr Putin (he argues) is not only a dictator, but a murderous one. The Russia security services organised a bombing of apartment blocks in Moscow in 1999, with many deaths, to create a climate of fear in which their man, Mr Putin, could take power. They assassinate opponents, among them Alexander Litvinenko, a Berezovsky loyalist poisoned with polonium in a London hotel last year.

The other anti-Kremlin camp salutes Mikhail Khodorkovsky (below, left), a one-time oil tycoon, jailed in Siberia on fraud charges that his supporters say are trumped up. This camp has two main tactics: highlighting its backer’s legal plight, and sponsoring academic and think-tank work undermining the Kremlin’s claim to respectability.


Divided by a common enemy

The two anti-Kremlin camps do not co-operate. Mr Khodorkovsky’s lot regards Mr Berezovsky as the epitome of what went wrong in Russia in the 1990s, and their own man as an emblem of modern business brought down by greedy Kremlin thugs. They shun the Chechen cause; Mr Berezovsky befriends it.

For the Kremlin’s propagandists, Mr Berezovsky is a terrorist sympathiser and Mr Khodorkovsky is a self-serving crook.

The Kremlin has been winning the argument in London’s morally myopic financial world. Russian companies are a spectacularly lucrative line of business for brokers, bankers, lawyers, accountants, and PR-chiks (a wealthy, mainly male species not to be confused with homophonous English “PR chicks”, though the latter benefit too). Pro-Kremlin Russian Londoners have struck up a close friendship with the city's mayor, and sponsor a popular and entertaining winter festival in Trafalgar Square.

Spent well (as with the winter jamboree), or badly (as it otherwise mostly is), the tide of money washing through London is proving the Kremlin’s best ally. “Nobody wants a reputation as a Russophobe these days: it’s bad for business,” says one Sovietologist-turned-banker.

But the opposition camps have their successes. The Litvinenko murder was a disaster for the Kremlin. The British media gleefully unleashed every cold-war cliché—a kneejerk reaction, perhaps, but one that was justified subsequently by Russian officialdom’s sullen and obstructive behaviour towards British investigators.

This week a book called “Blowing up Russia”, written five years ago by Litvinenko and a co-author, Yuri Felshtinsky, is being published in Britain for the first time. It argues that there was official collusion in the Moscow apartment-block bombings. A press conference to launch the book was cancelled at short notice because, it was said, of unspecified threats to Mr Felshtinsky’s life.

The hi-jacking of Shell’s Sakhalin gas fields, and the looming likelihood of a similar raid on the mighty BP, also hurt the Kremlin’s cause. But the mood in moneyed London is still largely positive towards Russia. In thinking London it is increasingly negative. The battle continues.


Unknown said...

In the past, in the communist Poland, we had this joke: "The West is a rotten capitalist, imperialist [whatever] shambles" - and the answer was: "Yes, it's rotten, but the smell is nice ..." ... so it is rotten, but the smell is not that nice anymore ...

Martin said...

This column is the biggest load of bullshit ever written.

Lucas, you should be ashamed of yourself for penning this pish.

Who was it that wrote,

"Berezovsky has a disreputable past and has bought respectability in London.”

Er, pal, that was you, in the Comments section here -

You write above,

"The British media gleefully unleashed every cold-war cliché—a kneejerk reaction, perhaps, but one that was justified subsequently by Russian officialdom’s sullen and obstructive behaviour towards British investigators. "

Who was it that wrote an article in the Daily Mail of November 20 entitled 'Putin's agents and a licence to kill'?

Oh, that was you again. Choice snippet -

"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."

In this piece above, how can you justify the sentence -

"The Litvinenko murder was a disaster for the Kremlin."

How? How? On what evidence?

Why not have the guts to write about Akhmad Zakayev's easily disproven lies that Litvinenko converted to Islam before he died? Or that Berezovsky either owned or controlled the properties in which both Zakayev and Litvinenko lived?

Or of Berezovsky's boasts of links to Lord Tim Bell and the Conservative Party, or how Litvineko and Oleg Gordievsky used Gerard Batten as a patsy to make a spurious and unverifiable allegation against Romano Prodi on the floor of the European Parliament (Trofimov, the FSB/KGB general who had told Litvinenko that Prodi was KGB had conveniently been assassinated some months previously)?

Why not have the guts to write that the only person who might have anything to gain from the deaths of all three of Alexander Litvinenko, Anna Politkovskaya and Paul Klebnikov is Boris Abramovich Berezovsky? Two for propaganda, one for revenge?

Why not write that Berezovsky has made it clear that it is his ambitionto overthrow Russia's democratically elected government by force?

You talk such pish.

Edward Lucas said...

Thanks Martin for this robustly phrased and detailed critique of my past articles.

Answering your points in turn

1) Yes Berezovsky has a disreputable past, and yes he has bought respectability in London. I don't contest that. In the most recent article I am just pointing out that he is head of one of the three "camps"

2) You quote accurately from the piece in the Daily Mail. Some people said that this was the knee-jerk reaction of a cold warrior. In this recent article I respond to that criticism by saying that the subsequent reaction of the Russian authorities has proved me right and the critics wrong. If Russia had cooperated fully in the investigation I would have looked silly. They didn't and I don't.

3) Litvinenko's murder was a disaster for the Kremlin. Just look at the coverage in the British press. Although it started off by floating lots of theories, by the end the conclusion was it woz Lugovoi, Kovtun and the mysterious Vyacheslav wot dunnit and that the Kremlin is covering up for them.

4) Are you sure that Zakayev is lying when he says that Litvinenko converted to Islam? I spoke to Alex Goldfarb and Vladimir Bukovsky on the day before the funeral and they both confirmed the story about the conversion. They may have been wrong but you should give your source(s) rather than accusing me of being lazy.

5)Berezovsky hires Tim Bell as a PR man. It's not a secret. I could have mentioned that in the article as well as mentioning the Kremlin's PR firms (and for that matter Khodorkovsky's). But I didn't--the column can only be 600 words long and you can't say everything.

6) These bizarre accusations about Prodi come from Scaramella as far as I know and are also beyond the scope of the article

7) Berezovsky says lots of things, including that he wants to make Russia a democracy. I think his criticism of Putin is the most salient in this context. I am not a cheerleader for him and I would be interested to know what you can find in my writing about Russia over the past 13 years that would support this conclusion.

Finally, may I suggest that you try phrasing your comments in a less intemperate manner?


Blair Sheridan said...

"The British media gleefully unleashed every cold-war cliché—a kneejerk reaction, perhaps, but one that was justified subsequently by Russian officialdom’s sullen and obstructive behaviour towards British investigators. "

FOr my part, I'm not at all sure how prior "bad behaviour" is "justified" after the fact.

Martin said...


To paraphrase PJ O' Rourke, , one can tire of reading torrents of bullshit and lies.

NOW I AM NOT CALLING YOU A LIAR, OK? - you're just someone who takes the Cadburys' and Rothschilds' money for a living, so you have no real vested interest in rocking the business boat.

Zakayev, however, I do call a liar.

Here's why -

1. The imam who is alleged to have prayed with Litvinenko has never been produced. If there is one city in the western world where the services of the imams could beadvertise in the yellow pages, it's London.

2. In her interview with the Mail on Sunday, Marina Litvinenko made no mention of any conversion to Islam. She was the guy's widow - if you were on your deathbed and planning to convert to Islam, you'd tell your wife, wouldn't you? She also reported that he was too weak to speak too much, which pretty much blows whatever Goldfarb, Berezovsky and the film-maker with the bad haircut (I can't remember his name) have yo say about the 'deathbed statement' blaming Putin out of the water.

I await the extended thoughts of Madame Marina Litvinenko with interest. Berezovsky had better be paying her very well indeed to keep her mouth shut, and she is the ONLY figure in this affair worthy of the slightest sympathy. She has my condolences.

3. Madame Litvinenko made it quite clear she wanted a non-denominational funeral.. Wjhat happens? Muslim goons barge in against her wishes. A propaganda stunt or what?

4. It suits Zakayev's propaganda purposes for it to be thought that Litvinenko died a Muslim. Where did the story orginate? 'Chechenpress', the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria's PR arm. Who is the 'Foreign Minister in Exile' of said republic? Zakayev. The portrayal of Litvinenko as a brother Muslim murdered by the Kremlin might just have a tiny wee hint of propaganda value attached to it, don't you think?

5. Goldfarb belongs to Berezovsky, bought and sold. To paraphrase a well-known analogy, he probably doesn't relieve himself without Berezovsky's permission. As for Bukovsky, the same gentleman needs to be reminded that, his own legal difficulties in the former Soviet Union notwithstanding, the UK is not Russia and we have no duty to do anything above and beyond our own laws; and if one wishes to be really cynical, he might be willing to answer a few questions himself on how much of his recent work has been funded by the agencies and associations of Boris Abramovich Berezovsky.

Now on the question of Russian co-operation in the police investifgation - er, at what precisely what point did the Russian authorities assume a legal duty to co-operate with British police enquiries? They didn't have to lift a finger to help, and the very fact they have co-operated, albeit idiosyncratically and not like 'Dixon of Dock Green' giving young toerags a clip round the ear, could be interpreted (by me) as showing a very strong desire to get to the bottom of this business.

Now, on to the curious case of Andrei Lugovoi.

Apart from bearing a stunning resemblance to Lee Dixon of former Arsenal fame, Lugovoi's pretty much the 'prime suspect' (my, how Lynda La Plante us bloggers can become).

You are now going to read the subject matter of a complaint I lodged with the BBC concerning Tim Whewell's segment on Newsnight on February 9.

It reported that Yuri Feltshinsky 'bumped into Lugovoi' at a cashline on Piccadilly on October 12 - a date on which Lugovoi had not previously been thought to have been in London.

The segment described Feltshinksy as being the co-author of 'Blowing Up Russia' - without mentioning that that his co-aouthor was none other tahn Alexander Litvinenko?

Does this mean that Andrei Lugovoi did not kill Alexander Litvinenko? No.

Does this mean that some sections of the British media continue to be exceptionally careless in their reporting of the Litvinenko case?

Absolutely, thouroughly, undisputably yes.

Hm, didn't Lugovoi have some business meetings with (gulp)Boris Berezovsky on the dates on which he was known to have been in London?

Check through the archives, Edward, and I'll think you'll find he did.

My apologies for the intemperacy of my language - however, Edward, I'm afraid history might yet conclude that your work on this case was not of the highest possible standard - indeed, it took the Irish Daily Mail piece to convince me that you weren't part of the Bell-Berezovsky propaganda machine.

I would be very grateful if you could keep comments open - these comments aren't finished; not by a long chalk.

La Russophobe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
La Russophobe said...

I think it's rather clear that the award for "biggest load of bullshit ever written" must surely go to your claim that "Berezovsky has made it clear that it is his ambition to overthrow Russia's democratically elected government by force."

Here's just a few reasons:

(1) Your childish use of profanity and repeated attempts at personal abuse of an author you are plainly jealous of and utterly inferior to in terms of professional accomplishments.

(2) Your failure to quote a single such statement from Mr. Berezovsky much less to prove a single such act.

(3) Your failure to examine the possibility that you yourself are biased (how much money do you earn from Kremlin-related entities, just for instance?).

(4) Your totally ignoring the vast ocean of evidence regarding corruption in Russian presidential elections.

(5) Your totally ignoring the fact that Putin has both destroyed opposition political parties and obliterated independent TV media.

(6) The generally pathological and frenzied content of your diatribe-like comments, including your apparent (quite crazy) belief that you know everything about a regime thousands of miles away and run by a proud KGB spy. Did it ever occur to you for a moment, just for a moment, to stop and wonder what the consequences will be for the West if it is listens to your advice and you are wrong?

But thanks for your remarks, it's not often that one gets such an up-close-and-personal view of how dictators manage to consolidate their power. Lucky for you, I guess, that you are not consigned to live under the Russian regime that results.

You'd really like to take all the people who dare to disgree with you and toss them in a Gulag, wouldn't you? Or would you just shoot them? Polonium, maybe?

Edward Lucas said...

Thanks for all the comments

I did meet Kasparov recently. His analysis is interesting, but I am not sure how much weight he carries in Russia. In response to Martin's comments

1) Yes the Economist's big shareholders do include the Rothschilds and the Cadburys. But so what? It's not a secret. There are other shareholders too, including the FT (owned by Pearsons) and also a lot of the journalists (including me). So we have an interest in maintaining our reputation, and none in taking orders from outside.

2) Just because Marina Litvinenko did not make any mention on conversion to Islam in the mail on Sunday does not prove you right. you have some circumstantial evidence which casts doubt on the conversion. I have two direct sources that confirm it. You may be right, and Bukovsky may be lying. But I would tend to trust him on most things given his heroic past and generally high credibility. I don't think you can sustain your charge that I am being lazy in my reporting

3) Russia is not legally bound to cooperate with the British police investigation, but don't you find it odd that they didn't? If the Kremlin is right and Litvinenko was killed by chechens, or Berezovsky, or whoever, then why don't they make every effort to clarify the role of Lugovoi, Kovtun, et al? It seems to me quite plausible that Lugovoi's past business dealings with BAB were the perfect way of getting close to Litvinenko and poisoning him.

I have no idea what the rights and wrongs of the BBC report are as I didn't see it. But I would point out that almost all journalism has elements of laziness and carelessness in it, and it is a mistake to assume that this is part of a conspiracy when the report is one that you disagree with. A free press is a messy press.

comments will remain open on this, as on everything else on this site


La Russophobe said...


I'd fault Kasparov. The fact is that he hasn't been willing to issue public soundbites confrontational enough to generate widespread coverage. His recent interview in the Wall Street Journal is here:

It's an illustration of this. He fails to say what he should be saying and seems afraid. I'm beginning to lose faith in him, his time is clearly running out. It begins to seem he's another Yavlinsky, who in the the end won't risk all to make a change. Still, in my recent poll, he leads all five other contenders:

La Russophobe said...

OULEMATU: You mean because Russia isn't worth risking your life for? This is a question fo great interest to me, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.

You're absolutely right that the West is not paying sufficient attention to Russia's outrages. But this isn't a new development. Exactly the same thing happened with Hitler and Stalin. We seem often to be a bunch of blockheads. This is why I'm so intense in calling for action! Hopefully, you will join the struggle.

I wouldn't worry too much, though, about us "pouring money" into Russia. I don't think that's happening. There's a bit of marginal interest in the energy sector, but Russia seems to be doing all it can to block that. In a large sense, the Russian economy is reviled by investors and utterly mistrusted by thinking people, as Edward properly says. In the end, Russia's alienation of Western capital combined with its inability to grow on its own will bring the country down. But meanwhile we're in for a very bumpy night.