If I Did It!
On December 5, the Times said that "Intelligence services in Britain are convinced that the [polonium] poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko was authorised by the Russian Federal Security Service."
The columnist Charles Krauthammer believes that Putin was responsible for the murder of the KGB-turncoat Alexander Litvinenko. We will probably never know the truth, but Putin's most damning critics do have a way of dying off. Some of them say some pretty fantastic things, but they are dead; so maybe Americans should become familiar with what Putin's critics said instead of just accepting unsupported claims that Putin's dead critics were crazy people. Here is Litvinenko's BBC obituary.
Mr Litvinenko wrote a book called Blowing Up Russia: Terror from Within. The book alleges that the Federal Security Service (FSB), not Chechen rebels, coordinated the 1999 apartment block bombings that killed more than 300 people in Russia. In 2003, the Russian authorities confiscated Litvinenko's book when it was en route to Moscow from the publisher in Latvia.
Litvinenko claimed that Putin had the reporter Anna Politkovskaya killed. Politkovskaya had written books critical of Putin and of the Russian regime's policies in Chechnya. Here is Politkovskaya's BBC obituary.
Litvinenko most famously claimed that "al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri was trained by the FSB in Dagestan in the years before the 9/11 attacks." Here is a 7-18-05 article in Moscow News that gives some background about this allegation that the FSB trained al-Zawahiri. Litvinenko was the source of this story which was first reported in a Polish paper called Rzeczpospolita, according to Litvinenko's Wikipedia entry.
Another critic of the war in Chechnya, Galina Starovoitova, a Russian politician and ethnographer, was shot in her home on November 20, 1998. Two days before her death, "Litvinenko and seven other FSB officers asserted at a press conference in Moscow that FSB leadership had decided to return to the practice of political assassinations."
Some writers have dismissed Livitenko as crazy; some allege that he was a nuclear smuggler for al-Qaeda-affiliated Chechens. Maybe. Or maybe these writers are just disseminating old-fashioned KGB/FSB smears.
The Russian propaganda apparatus has tried to depict its war in Chechnya as part of the War on Terrorism. In fact, the Chechens were nationalist, not Muslim extremist, opponents of Russian rule. The late President of Chechnya, Maskhadov, was a former Soviet military officer who even supported the U.S. war to topple Saddam. Bin Laden did not.Wikipedia has some background about Litvinenko's charges against Putin and about the fate of other Putin critics.
According to Litvinenko's Wikipedia entry, Litvinenko also claimed that the terrorists who took over the House of Culture, a Moscow theater, were working for the FSB.
Yuri Shchekochikhin, a journalist and lawmaker, also died of a mysterious poisoning that was said to be thallium, although the Russians tried to prevent his family from having an independent autopsy. He also published articles critical of Moscow's Chechen policies.
Shchekochikhin's Wikipedia entry notes that "Shchekochikhin was a member of the Sergei Kovalev Commission, which investigated allegations that the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings had been orchestrated by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) to generate support for the war.
I think that we should listen to people who were murdered for their outspokenness in Putin's Russia.
Here are some excerpts from Krauthammer's 12-8-06 article in the Washington Post:
The poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, renegade Russian spy and fierce critic of Vladimir Putin's government, is everywhere being called a mystery. There is dark speculation about unnamed "rogue elements" either in the Russian secret services or among ultranationalists acting independently of the government. There are whispers about the indeterminacy of things in the shadowy netherworld of Russian exile politics, crime and espionage.
...Do you think Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist who was investigating the war in Chechnya, was shot dead in her elevator by rogue elements? What about Viktor Yushchenko, the presidential candidate in Ukraine and eventual winner, poisoned with dioxin during the campaign, leaving him alive but disfigured? Ultranationalist Russians?
Opponents of Putin have been falling like flies. Some jailed, some exiled, some killed. True, Litvinenko's murder will never be traced directly to Putin...Too many cutouts. Too many layers of protection between the don and the hit man.
Moreover, Russia has a long and distinguished history of state-sponsored assassination, of which the ice-pick murder of Leon Trotsky was but the most notorious. Does anyone believe that Pope John Paul II, then shaking the foundations of the Soviet empire, was shot by a crazed Turk acting on behalf of only Bulgaria?
If we were not mourning a brave man who has just died a horrible death, one would almost have to admire the Russians, not just for audacity but for technique in Litvinenko's polonium-210 murder. Assassination by poisoning evokes the great classical era of raison d'etat rub-outs by the Borgias and the Medicis. But the futurist twist of (to paraphrase Peter D. Zimmerman in the Wall Street Journal) the first reported radiological assassination in history adds an element of the baroque of which a world-class thug outfit such as the KGB (now given new initials) should be proud.
Some say that the Litvinenko murder was so obvious, so bold, so messy -- five airplanes contaminated, 30,000 people alerted, dozens of places in London radioactive -- that it could not possibly have been the KGB.
But that's the beauty of it. Do it obvious, do it brazen, and count on those too-clever-by-half Westerners to find that exonerating. As the president of the Central Anarchist Council (in G.K. Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday") advised: "You want a safe disguise, do you? . . . A dress in which no one would ever look for a bomb? Why, then, dress up as an anarchist, you fool!"
The other reason for making it obvious and brazen is to send a message. This is a warning to all the future Litvinenkos of what awaits them if they continue to go after the Russian government. They'll get you even in London, where there is the rule of law. And they'll get you even if it makes negative headlines for a month.
Some people say that the KGB would not have gone to such great lengths to get so small a fry as Litvinenko. Well, he might have been a small fry, but his investigations were not. He was looking into the Kremlin roots of Politkovskaya's shooting. And Litvinenko claimed that the Russian government itself blew up apartment buildings in Moscow and elsewhere in 1999, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, in order to blame it on the Chechens and provoke the second Chechen war. Pretty damning stuff.