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The verdict was most cleverly pronounced by Max Hastings in the Guardian:
“The president [Putin] may not have personally ordered Litvinenko's murder, but he is overlord of a culture which legitimised it.”
In other words, it was Putin's fault, whether or not he did it.
One of the few sure things about the facts supporting the media verdict is that they have kept changing. In the early days of the affair there was the claim by toxicologist John Henry of Queen Mary's Hospital, who we were told was treating Litvinenko, that “There's no doubt that he's been poisoned by thallium”; then, after it transpired that Professor Henry had never actually treated Litvinenko and had never even seen his medical notes, he faded from the news and instead there were the several solid objects, appearing in X-rays, which we were told had been ingested by Litvinenko. Later, in the small print, a motivated reader could discover that Prof Henry had been asked to comment by an employee of a Russian billionaire living in
Then there was the claim, made by Litvinenko’s close friend, Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev, that at their meeting in the Sushi bar, the Italian ‘academic’ Mario Scaramella had given Litvinenko “very important information about who killed Anna Politkovskaya”. In other reports, Litvinenko fingered Scaramella as the likely murderer on behalf of the Russian secret services. Scaramella himself asserted at his press conference that he had met the deceased at the Sushi Bar in order to hand over the printout of a document from a source connected to the FSB, the Russian security service, containing a ‘hit-list’ containing both their names. Discerning readers would later discover that this was an email authored by Evgueni Limanov, who lives in
A day in the life of Sasha Litvinenko
In his last days, Litvinenko was attended by highly skilled spin doctors, not only Alex Goldfarb, but Lord Tim Bell, whose clients include Margaret Thatcher, Monsanto, and… Boris Berezovsky. According to the Guardian,
For those disposed to study the colourful cast of characters behind the finely spun-curtain, there is not only entertainment but education to be had.
The usual description of the deceased, a “fierce critic of Putin” has become a stock media phrase, vastly over-rating his credibility and concealing the nature of his activities. His ‘criticisms’ included claims that the Russian authorities are the main force behind international terrorism and were involved in 9/11, as well as the accusation that Putin is a paedophile. The vehicle for Litvinenko’s articles was a Chechen separatist website, although an interview in which he accuses Putin of responsibility for the 7/7
Following his allegation that he had been instructed by the FSB to assassinate Berezovsky, he spent some time in prison for ‘abuse of office’, and then joined the latter in
Accounts of Litvinenko’s actions suggest that he felt financially and emotionally unfulfilled in his position. A Russian woman in
A taste of freedom
The character and politics of Litvinenko’s sponsor Berezovsky defy the conventional categories. The end of communism allowed him to make the transition from being a mathematics professor to becoming the owner of
Max Hastings’ Guardian article on November 27th promoted a clearly deliberate inversion of recent history:
“Why, having tasted freedom and democracy, should they [the Russians] wish to return to the murderous practices of Stalinism? How can they acquiesce in Putin's restoration of tyranny? Here is a nation suddenly granted wealth which might enable its people to become prosperous social democrats like us.
“Instead, to our bewilderment,
is institutionalising a state gangster culture which promises repression and ultimate economic failure for itself, fear and alienation from the rest of the world. We hear of few Russians at home or abroad who have achieved wealth through honest toil. Instead, the tools of success in Putin's universe are corruption, violence, vice and licensed theft on a colossal scale.” Russia
Were this a true representation, the opinion polls which show Putin’s support in
Paul Klebnikov: fierce critic of Berezovsky
“That Berezovsky can thus play cozy with
Russia's president [Yeltsin] explains a lot of what is happening in these days. Russia Russiais a bubbling cauldron of criminal organizations-- on a giant scale. Last year some 40,000 people were murdered in Sicily and 70,000 disappeared--probably never to be heard of again. The murder rate in Russia Russiais three or four times higher than in . New York City
“Assassination is a tool of business competition. Scores of business leaders and media personalities have been killed. Ivan Kivelidi, a banker and founder of the Russian Business Roundtable, was murdered last year by poison (an obscure nerve toxin) applied to the rim of his coffee cup. Neither this nor any other of
's most famous contract killings has been solved. Russia
“In this violent world Boris Berezovsky looms like a giant shadow. Berezovsky recently claimed that he and six other top businessmen control 50% of the Russian economy…
“In a recent interview with FORBES Berezovsky said: ‘
is undergoing a redistribution of property on a scale unprecedented in history. No one is satisfied--neither those who got nothing, nor those who got something, since even they feel they did not get enough.’ Russia
“…in addition to his auto dealership Berezovsky controls“’It is no secret that Russian businessmen played the decisive role in President Yeltsin's victory,’ says Berezovsky. ‘It was a battle for our blood interests.’
's biggest national TV network. His control was solidified shortly after the first chairman of the network was assassinated gangland-style. Berezovsky was immediately fingered by the police as a key suspect, but the murder remains unsolved two years later… Russia
“Berezovsky and friends did whatever was necessary to prevent the Communists from gaining a victory. The Yeltsin campaign is facing allegations of massive financing violations. Legally, each party's campaign was limited to $3 million. The Yeltsin campaign is estimated to have spent at least $140 million…”
Berezovsky used the British courts to sue Forbes for these comments, forcing a retraction. But Forbes showed their confidence in the author of the article, Paul Klebnikov, by making him their
But Berezovsky’s bid to lead
“As scary as possible”
Berezovsky has stated that he currently spends more time on promoting ‘civil rights’ than on his business interests. A spokesman for Berezovsky told the Sunday Telegraph that his Civil Liberties Foundation has donated “about $30 million … to hundreds of different pro-democracy organisations.” The Sunday Telegraph article noted that the Foundation had been generous to one Evgueni Limanov, who was later to send the notorious ‘hit list’ email to Mario Scaramella:
“Details of Mr Limanov's role running a website critical of the Russian government surfaced in the Moskovskii Komsomolets newspaper in 2002.
“It gave an account by a journalist, Oleg Sultanov, who claimed to have worked there ‘undercover’ as part of an exposé on Mr Berezovsky. Although the tone of the piece suggested that the author was no friend of Mr Berezovsky, it gave accurate details as to the precise location of Mr Limanov's office in the
Alps. Mr Sultanov claimed that he was paid a total of $35,000 to help write material that would bring the Kremlin into disrepute.
“He wrote: ‘I was told straight out: think up whatever you want, the most important thing is to make it as scary as possible.’”
Berezovsky’s unnamed spokesman, although apparently unable to refer to any written accounts, played down the size of the donation:
“‘In 2002 we gave around $10,000 or $15,000, I don't remember exactly how much, to Mr Limanov to help him set up his website,’ he said. ‘We gave him the money as a grant and it is absolute nonsense to say he is in the pay of Mr Berezovsky.’”
The oligarch’s concept of civil rights has certainly taken him beyond national and ethnic prejudice.
He was involved in the ‘Orange Revolution’ in
The pro-democracy campaign in
Berezovsky has also been a staunch supporter of the Islamic separatist forces in
Smears for sale
Now briefly to our third man in this drama, the ‘academic expert’ on the smuggling of nuclear materials, Mario Scaramella. British newspapers have carried stories aimed at casting suspicion on Scaramella as a possible FSB double agent; supporting this were the claims that he speaks English with a slight Russian accent, lacks the mannerisms of a typical Southern Italian and has admitted to having eaten in Pizza Hut- something which a real Neapolitan would apparently never do.
'Professor' Mario Scaramella
However insubstantial his credentials, Scaramella was a consultant to the Mitrokhin Commission on Soviet and post-Soviet intelligence links to
“Politicians in Mr Prodi’s centre-left coalition suspect that one purpose of the Mitrokhin commission, which was set up under Mr Berlusconi, was to plant material to discredit the centre-left, especially ahead of the April election. Mr Berlusconi’s party has ridiculed the idea of a smear campaign.
“‘They have tried to upset the country’s democracy,’ said Piero Fassino, leader of the Democrats of the Left, the largest party in Mr Prodi’s government. ‘A campaign of personal denigration and institutional destabilisation has been pursued.’”
Scaramella’s source for the most damaging smear, the claim that Prodi had been a KGB agent, was Litvinenko. Not knowing that they were under surveillance by the Prosecutor’s Office in
In another wiretapped conversation, Litvinenko cited former KGB officer and Western double agent Oleg Gordievsky in support of the allegation against Prodi. RIA Novosti reported Gordievsky’s response:
“Gordievsky denied ever having said Prodi was a KGB agent or that he had been of interest to the Soviet secret services, and said such claims had come from Litvinenko.
“He said he met Scaramella on the request of the Mitrokhin Commission, a parliamentary body set up by former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi to investigate the activity of Soviet and post-Soviet spies in
, and that Scaramella, who advises the body, had done his best to obtain compromising information on Prodi… Italy
“Gordievsky said Litvinenko had merely said what Scaramella wanted to hear, because he was in desperate financial straits and hoped to benefit from such cooperation.
“He added that Litvinenko had also discredited Prodi among some European MPs, who he said had asked him to confirm Litvinenko's allegations.”
A consideration of the characters and careers of the others involved in this tangled web would also make diverting reading: Akhmed Zakayev, wanted for terrorist offences by Russia, a member of the Chechen separatist ‘cabinet’ which includes Shamil Basayev, the man who has admitted being the organiser of the Beslan school siege; Andrei Lugovoi, former security chief for Berezovsky in the 1990s, who met Litvinenko in a hotel room on the day of the poisoning; Leonid Nevzlin, former CEO of the Yukos oil company and associate of Berezovsky, who met with Litvinenko in Israel…
Back to the future
One positive aspect of this affair is that the Latin phrase ‘cui bono’, meaning, who stands to gain, has come back into vogue. But it is worth looking beyond ‘cui bono’ for the death of Litvinenko (assuming that it was a murder rather than an accident) and considering who stands to gain by the portrayal of Russia as an authoritarian state run by a ‘regime’ rather than a government – as distinct from our civilised Western democracies - and by the isolation and weakening of Russia. Further, as some have asked, is this the onset of a new Cold War?
Berezovsky has ambitions which are relevant to British and US interests. He sees his interests in a weakened and isolated
To consider the comparison with the Cold War, we need to look at what was special about the period of about 45 years from the end of World War Two. This was a time in which there was a relatively stable and institutionalised conflict between blocs, with regular spy scandals, a massive arms race, sanctions and blockades, and frequent wars on the periphery (
Before the Cold War, and even before 1917, it was the norm for the great powers to struggle overtly and covertly over resources and spheres of influence, making and breaking alliances along the way. A scandal, a diplomatic incident or an assassination could provide the pretext for the outbreak of war.
Crimean War: Russian forces destroying the Ottoman fleet at Sinope, 1853. Painting by Ivan Aivazovsky
Indeed, under the continued dominance of the
But things have been changing again since Putin became president. Key factors include the rise of
“‘Because of the political situation in
Ukraine, we will have to take a pause,’ Yanukovych told reporters in after talks with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and NATO ambassadors. ‘We have to convince society.’” Brussels
If he really wants to do this, he has a long way to go. The article cited an opinion poll showing that 60% of Ukrainians are opposed to NATO membership.
And now, as Max Hastings bemoans in the Guardian:
“…we must confront a defiant new
, fortified by possession of a substantial part of the world's oil and gas reserves in an era when energy competition will be critical… Russia
“At the heart of Putin's policies is a determination to restore the old
Soviet Union's might and influence. It is hard to see how these would be exercised towards ends that the west would consider benign.”
In his 4th December speech confirming the renewal of Britain’s Trident nuclear missile system, Tony Blair named four other countries as being ‘major nuclear powers’: the USA, Russia, France and China. Taking it for granted that, to the extent that the Trident system is a deterrent, it is a deterrent against major nuclear powers, Blair argued:
“It is written as a fact by many that there is no possibility of nuclear confrontation with any major nuclear power. Except that it isn't a fact. Like everything else germane to this judgment, it is a prediction. It is probably right. But certain? No, we can't say that.”
Blair continued by referring to the attempt of
Trident II D5 missile launch
We were left with the need for Trident as an insurance policy against the possibility of some future military confrontation with one or more of the existing ‘major nuclear powers.’ And as recent events have shown, to imagine that is not utterly fanciful.
References and further reading:-
The Scotsman: http://news.scotsman.com/uk.cfm?id=1787322006
Financial Times: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/c1eb2990-8158-11db-864e-0000779e2340.html
International Herald Tribune: http://iht.com/articles/2006/12/08/news/poison.php
RIA Novosti http://en.rian.ru/world/20061207/56613662.html
Justin Raimondo: http://www.antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=10116