Category Archives: litvinenko

EDITORIAL: Does Britain still Remember Chamberlain?

EDITORIAL

Does Britain still Remember Chamberlain?

Simon Tisdall, a columnist for The Guardian in Britain, says Russians think of British Prime Minister David Cameron a “useful idiot” who offers the KGB regime of Vladimir Putin “de facto, unthinking legitimization.”

Tony Brenton, Britain’s ambassador to Russia from 2004 through 2008, says that “Russia’s ruling elite has become immovable and predatory, elections are fixed, corruption is on a par with Nigeria, the legal system is pliable, and the police and security agencies untouchable.” He says its government is a sham:  “While Dmitri Medvedev enjoys the title of president, Vladimir Putin continues to call the real shots.”

But despite that, the British idiot-in-chief recently traveled to Moscow and inked hundreds of millions in trade deals in exchange for ignoring Russian human rights atrocities and the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London.

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Annals of Litvinenko: Nekrasov via Amsterdam

Robert Amsterdam translates an essay by Russian filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov, the director and producer of “Rebellion, The Litvinenko Case, a Cannes featured documentary which opened in London on May 23rd.

One year ago the Crown Prosecution Service named the suspect in the Alexander Litvinenko murder case. It was an important event for those involved and interested in the story; the indictment gave weight to the popular suspicion that the Russian state security apparatus was behind Litvinenko’s spectacular demise six months earlier. Important for me personally was also that on the day the former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi became the official murder suspect, Cannes film festival made a surprise announcement that my documentary about Litvinenko was included in the main programme.

This coincidence had an exaggerated significance in the heat surrounding the Litvinenko affair in Russia. Some commentators declared that there is a cross border cross-cultural conspiracy, between the British political establishment and the French cultural one, against Russia trying to reassert itself as a world power. Some claimed that the “anti-Russian” film in Cannes is a sign of France’s new president harsher attitude to Russia; others said that “the piece of anti-Putin propaganda” was to be shown in Cannes on the instigation of the scheming exiled tycoon Berezovsky.

All that would have been just bygone oddities, if it were not for an important connected problem the Litvinenko case presents, in my view, today. In a way it has reached an impasse. Russia will not extradite Mr. Lugovoi, while the British establishment refuses to be drawn into any more speculation on who might have been behind Mr. Lugovoi who seems to have had neither a motive, nor a possibility to pull off such a sophisticated radioactive poisoning on his own. In the meantime the appetite for speculation in the media has proved strong enough. Two journalists, in America and Britain, recently claimed that Litvinenko was involved in the smuggling of radioactive materials. The claims were not based on any evidence and contained contradictions and inaccuracies. Edward Epstein, for example, suggested in New York Sun that polonium 210 which killed Litvinenko may have been acquired during his trips abroad which date back years, or from equally old “stockpiles”. It is known, however, that the isotope completely loses its radioactivity just after four months. Mary Dejevsky wrote in the Independent that, according to Mr. Lugovoi, no tea was served during his fatal meeting with Litvinenko at the Millennium hotel, even though in Lugovoi’s many interviews, including the one in my film, he admitted that Litvinenko had actually drunk tea at that meeting. The tea factor is important because in Litvinenko’s own accepted version the poison must have been put into a tea pot before he arrived at the meeting and was offered to drink from the tea pot already on the table.

There is no need to expatiate on the reasons why different versions of Litvinenko’s death are tainted by world politics. But it is useful to recap some revealing paradoxes. The Russian government categorically denies that its secret services could be involved in any way, and Mr. Lugovoi rejects British accusations with indignation. In his turn, Lugovoi accused the London based exile Berezovsky and even the British secret service of poisoning his former fellow KGB officer Litvinenko. That’s what came across internationally. Yet inside Russia the emphasis is on portrayal of Litvinenko as a traitor, an enemy, an ally of Islamist terrorists and the helper of the inveterate anti-Putin provocateur Berezovsky. In terms of today’s Russian ethics such accusations amount to a death sentence to be executed by a patriotic volunteer. That explains why Mr. Lugovoi, completely unknown before the Litvinenko affair, has thereafter made a meteoric political career.

The basic problem of Western attitudes towards Russia today is that since the fall of the Soviet Union, no code has evolved to interpret the resulting culture, which is no more acceptable in terms of democratic values than Soviet communism. Xenophobic and extreme imperialist language, for example, that would not be out of place in a Nazi rant, is a part of today’s Russian political and ideological mainstream, and is notably the trademark of the leader of the Ultra-Nationalist party (an ally of the ruling “United Russia”) which gave electoral shelter to Mr. Lugovoi. On the international stage the Russian leadership and its friends in the West, such as the former German Chancellor Schroeder, insist Russia is a democracy, yet inside Russia the cultural establishment promotes the idea that the Russians are fundamentally disappointed with the notion of democracy and support the now overt authoritarianism.

There are those among Russia watchers in the West, who take the view that while Russia is clearly not a democracy of the Western type it should be judged on its own terms and therefore considered making a clear progress since the era of the Soviets and that of Yeltsin. Yet in practice judging Russia “on its own terms”, means applying lowered criteria to the understanding of Russian life, and denying the majority of Russians the empathy of contemporary humanism. It is widely accepted that Russians are better off now, but as a Russian I can testify that the theoretical comparisons with the Soviet and Yeltsin times do absolutely nothing to alleviate the daily material and moral pains of ordinary Russians, which most people in the West would simply raise in arms against. In Moscow, which is possibly the most expensive city of the world, 20 percent of citizens live on less than 90 Pounds a month (the government’s “survival minimum”), and that is just the official statistic, and that’s just in Moscow. Other estimates paint a picture which is probably more accurate: half of the Russian population lives in what in the West would be called abject poverty. But what’s probably even worse is the sense of total arbitrariness of the power of the corrupt officialdom, which has gravely increased since Yeltsin years and which is a part and parcel of the destruction of the post-communist civil liberties, undertaken by Putin.

The definitions such as “democratic on its own terms” are a self-delusion which allows some Western observers relay uncritically what is by and large authoritarian propaganda. Characteristically Russian establishment today borrows catch phrases from the times of Stalin’ purges to describe today’s questionable optimism: “Life’s become better, life’s become merrier”. It has been the main task of Russian official ideologues, such as Vladislav Surkov, to create a notion of Russian own type of democracy (“sovereign democracy”), and the main practical trait of that project was the use of censorship to suppress any free discussion on the subject.

The notion of a special Russian democracy is based on the paradoxical acceptance that the majority of Russians don’t care about the rule of the majority. To take the Russian leadership’s word on that is not just gullible, it’s arrogant and undemocratic. The West has to use its historic experience and logic to deny “another democracy” a status of respectability. An authoritarian oligarchy has no right to speak on behalf of Russia as long as it keeps a paranoid grip on the nation’s media, culture and the interpretation of history. It is precisely for that reason that those who see the Litvinenko case in the context of a putative new cold war between equally guilty adversaries are wrong. To see how the lack of real democracy in Russia is responsible for mega-corruption and the break down of the rule of law leading to the epidemic of political murders and state robbery – does not mean being prejudiced against Russia. It means caring for the Russian people. That is the essence of the Litvinenko case.

Annals of Murder Inc.

The Associated Press reports another massive blow to the Putin regime from the world’s only superpower. First the President openly demands NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, and then the House openly accuses Putin of state-sponsored murder:

The U.S. House of Representatives has endorsed a resolution suggesting that the Russian government might have had a hand in the 2006 radiation poisoning death of former Federal Security Service officer Alexander Litvinenko in London.

The resolution, endorsed Tuesday, asks U.S. President George W. Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to press Russian officials to cooperate with British investigators probing the death Litvinenko, who fled to Britain in 2000 and took British citizenship. He died in November 2006 from radioactive polonium-210 he had ingested.

The resolution is merely an expression of the sense of the U.S. Congress. But it is likely to annoy Russia as Bush prepares to meet with President Vladimir Putin on Sunday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. U.S.-Russian tensions are high as the U.S. pushes a missile-defense plan for Europe that Russia has opposed.

Democratic congressman Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tuesday that Litvinenko’s death raises “disturbing questions about how elements of the Russian government appear to deal with their enemies.”

The resolution also calls on Bush and Rice to urge Russian cooperation “to ensure the security of the production, storage, distribution and export of polonium-210 as a material that may become dangerous to large numbers of people if utilized by terrorists.”

Meanwhile, the Moscow Times reports that the Kremlin has formally buried the Staravoitova killing, the first one that occurred after Putin rose to power as head of the KGB:

The Federal Security Service has suspended its investigation into the 1998 murder of liberal State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova without finding the person who ordered the killing, the slain politician’s former aide said. Ruslan Linkov, who was injured in the attack on Starovoitova, said the FSB’s St. Petersburg branch had notified him that the investigation was being suspended and would only be reopened if new leads appeared or if suspects emerged from hiding, Interfax reported. Linkov expressed outrage that the FSB had closed its investigation without locating former Duma Deputy Mikhail Glushchenko, whom one witness identified in court testimony as the person who ordered Starovoitova’s murder. Glushchenko, who represented the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party in the Duma and is thought to be a leader of the Tambov crime group, reputedly lives abroad. Starovoitova was killed in the stairwell of her apartment building in 1998.

The Sunday Film Review

The JB Spins blog has seen the new Litvinenko film, and tells the tale:

“Who lost Russia?”

That is a question that will soon be asked with increasing regularity. The appointment of Vladimir Putin as Prime Minister in 1999 essentially ended Russia’s experiment with democracy, which he soon replaced with a Stalinist personality cult. The assassination of dissident Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko, via a radioactive Polonium-210 mickey slipped into his tea, served as a wake-up call to many of the nature of the Putin regime and would inspire Andrei Nekrasov’s damning documentary Poisoned By Polonium (French trailer here), opening in New York this Friday.

Initially an interview subject, Litvinenko became Nekrasov’s friend. Both had something in common: conflict with Russian/Soviet intelligence services. As a student, Kekrasov had been persecuted and expelled for not informing on classmates to the KGB. Litvinenko was the dissident whistleblower who had publicly accused the succeeding FSB of widespread corruption. (In fact, the film explains the Soviet KGB simply morphed into the Russian FSB, with no distinction made in the history of the two on its official website.)

Much of Nekrasov’s footage of Litvinenko is intimate, to the point of eeriness. Early in Polonium, the dissident looks into the camera and says: “If anything should happen to me, I beg you to show this tape to the world.” While there was independent television in Russia, Litvinenko did appear on air to accuse the FSB of committing extortion and assassinations with the foreknowledge and consent of Putin. Using his late friend’s information as a starting point, Nekrasov connects the dots between Putin and SPAG, a shady German conglomerate with ties to the Russian mob, the Stasi, and the Columbian drug cartels. He also shines a light on the French government’s collaboration with the Putin regime—not exactly a shocker there.

However, the Russian war on Chechnya looms largest in Polonium’s catalogue of Kremlin crimes. We hear the former FSB Colonel and other critics, like journalist Anna Politkovskaya (who was conveniently executed in her apartment elevator mere weeks before the Polonium incident), pointedly accuse the government of complicity in the 1999 apartment bombing and the Nord-Ost Moscow Theater hostage crisis, which were used as provocations for military action against the breakaway republic.

In truth, one of the more awkward sequences of Polonium is an attempt to explain his deathbed conversion to Islam as a sort of ecumenical spiritual impulse, with Nekrasov taking great pains to distinguish Caucasus Islam from more virulent Middle Eastern variants. While we can never really know Litvinenko’s motivations during those excruciatingly painful final honors, it seems more plausible that his conversion was simply his final expression of solidarity with the Chechen people he had come to make common cause with.

If the occasion of Polonium were not so tragic—the death of a friend—one would argue Nekrasov was remarkably fortunate in the scenes he was able to document. After an interview, one of Litvinenko’s killers actually offers the filmmaker a cup of tea (thanks, but no thanks). Again, maybe not so fortunate but certainly effective, we see Nekrasov discover his home has been mysteriously ransacked after he starts Polonium.

Nekrasov seems to represent the left wing of Putin’s opposition, so he deserves credit for including a wide spectrum of criticism of the current regime. Particularly notable is some refreshingly insightful commentary from philosopher André Glucksmann, who cautions critics of Putin’s crony capitalism to give proper credit to the Russian capitalists also struggling for free expression and democracy.

Polonium is by necessity a mixed bag of footage, but Nekrasov cuts it together remarkably effectively. At times the film is flat-out chilling, as when Putin cold-bloodedly tells reporters: “Mr. Litvinenko is unfortunately not Lazarus.”

Altogether it is a cold, hard, slap-in-the-face warning about the Putin’s neo-Soviet regime, yet highly watchable throughout. In his footage, Nekrasov shows an interesting visual sense and captures some extraordinarily telling moments on film. This is an important documentary, well worth seeking out. It opens Friday in New York at the Quad, hopefully rolling out to more cities soon thereafter.

Putin & Litvinenko at the Movies


Opening March 21st at the Quad Cinema in New York City, the Russian film Poisoned by Polonium. Featuring never-before-seen interviews with journalists, politicians and Alexander Litvinenko himself, this documentary unveils the real story behind the killing which shocked the world. Director Andrei Nekrasov’s new film also connects Litvinenko’s assassination with a series of political scandals involving the famed Russian apartment bombings, the war in Chechnya and Putin’s rapid rise to power. The film was a selection at the Cannes Film Festival and has been written up by the New York Times, the Telegraph and Radio Free Europe.

Putin’s KGB and Bin Laden’s Al Quaeda

In a lengthy interview with FrontPageMag Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile in London and the editor and translator of Alexander Litvinenko’s book, Allegations, has the following to say about the connections between Vladimir Putin’s KGB and international Islamic terrorism:

FP: Our thoughts and prayers are with Alexander and with his family. Against all odds, let us hope that his killers will one day be brought to justice. Let’s start our discussion with the FSB’s links to Al-Qaeda.

Stroilov: Alexander revealed, in his articles and interviews included in the Allegations, that at least two notorious Al Qaeda terrorists are secret agents of the FSB – one of whom, Aiman al Zawahiri, is bin Laden’s second-in-command.

As the former leader of the terrorist organisation Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al Zawahiri was on international lists of most wanted terrorists for many years. In 1997, he suddenly re-surfaced in Russia, where he undertook a special training course at a secret FSB base in Dagestan. After that, he was sent to Afghanistan, and joined Al Qaeda as bin Laden’s number two. Meanwhile, the FSB officers who had supervised him in Dagestan were promoted and re-assigned to Moscow. It was from them that Alexander learned about al Zawahiri.

These and other facts of FSB involvement in international terrorism, revealed by Alexander, have tremendous implications. Contrary to the view of many in the US, Russia is anything but a reliable ally of yours in the ‘war on terror’. The Kremlin is playing a treacherous double game: while enjoying the West’s support as ally, it secretly supports and manipulates the Al Qaeda through FSB agents of influence.

He also discusses the FSB’s efforts to infiltrate the governments of Europe:

FP: Tell us about the Prime Minister of Italy, Romano Prodi (also former President of the European Commission) and his relations with the KGB.

Stroilov: Romano Prodi was described to Alexander by a senior KGB/FSB colleague, three star General Trofimov, as ‘our man in Italy’. He told Alexander that Prodi had ‘collaborated with the KGB’ and ‘carried out KGB missions’. Moreover, after 1996 the FSB had restored its relations with the old KGB agents of influence in the West. So, Gen. Trofimov and Alexander himself reckoned that Prodi might still be dangerous.

In February 2006, Alexander was interviewed about that by Mario Scaramella, a consultant to the Guzzanti Commission of Italian Parliament, which investigated the KGB’s activities in Italy. The video-record of that interview was kept secret at the time, and intended only for a closed-doors parliamentary investigation. (After Alexander’s death it was made public, and the transcript of it is included in the Allegations.)

However, two months later Alexander encouraged Gerard Batten, Member of European Parliament for London, to make his accusation against Prodi public. Gerard did that on 3 April 2006 in his speech to the European Parliament. The Parliament declined to investigate the matter, as Gerard insisted it should do; nor did Prodi himself ever comment on it as long as Alexander was alive. However, just eight days after Litvinenko’s death, Italian left-wing newspapers ‘revealed’ how Sen. Guzzanti and Scaramella were ‘plotting’ to discredit Prodi by alleging he had links to the KGB. Prodi himself, in a clumsy imitation of fury, announced he would instruct his lawyers to take legal action over these allegations. In event, no such legal action was taken.

Mario Scaramella was arrested as soon as he returned to Italy on Christmas of the same year. He is still kept in prison without a trial, and may stay there for the rest of his life. For the Italian legal system enables the prosecution to keep him in jail for three months on some particular charges, then drop those charges, put forward some new ones, and jail him for another three months. So it goes on and on for a year now, against the background of a perpetual propaganda campaign against Scaramella. Indeed, he is one of the first political prisoners in the emerging Gulag of the EUSSR.

Now do you see why Mr. Litvinenko isn’t alive any more?

Putin’s KGB and Bin Laden’s Al Quaeda

In a lengthy interview with FrontPageMag Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile in London and the editor and translator of Alexander Litvinenko’s book, Allegations, has the following to say about the connections between Vladimir Putin’s KGB and international Islamic terrorism:

FP: Our thoughts and prayers are with Alexander and with his family. Against all odds, let us hope that his killers will one day be brought to justice. Let’s start our discussion with the FSB’s links to Al-Qaeda.

Stroilov: Alexander revealed, in his articles and interviews included in the Allegations, that at least two notorious Al Qaeda terrorists are secret agents of the FSB – one of whom, Aiman al Zawahiri, is bin Laden’s second-in-command.

As the former leader of the terrorist organisation Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al Zawahiri was on international lists of most wanted terrorists for many years. In 1997, he suddenly re-surfaced in Russia, where he undertook a special training course at a secret FSB base in Dagestan. After that, he was sent to Afghanistan, and joined Al Qaeda as bin Laden’s number two. Meanwhile, the FSB officers who had supervised him in Dagestan were promoted and re-assigned to Moscow. It was from them that Alexander learned about al Zawahiri.

These and other facts of FSB involvement in international terrorism, revealed by Alexander, have tremendous implications. Contrary to the view of many in the US, Russia is anything but a reliable ally of yours in the ‘war on terror’. The Kremlin is playing a treacherous double game: while enjoying the West’s support as ally, it secretly supports and manipulates the Al Qaeda through FSB agents of influence.

He also discusses the FSB’s efforts to infiltrate the governments of Europe:

FP: Tell us about the Prime Minister of Italy, Romano Prodi (also former President of the European Commission) and his relations with the KGB.

Stroilov: Romano Prodi was described to Alexander by a senior KGB/FSB colleague, three star General Trofimov, as ‘our man in Italy’. He told Alexander that Prodi had ‘collaborated with the KGB’ and ‘carried out KGB missions’. Moreover, after 1996 the FSB had restored its relations with the old KGB agents of influence in the West. So, Gen. Trofimov and Alexander himself reckoned that Prodi might still be dangerous.

In February 2006, Alexander was interviewed about that by Mario Scaramella, a consultant to the Guzzanti Commission of Italian Parliament, which investigated the KGB’s activities in Italy. The video-record of that interview was kept secret at the time, and intended only for a closed-doors parliamentary investigation. (After Alexander’s death it was made public, and the transcript of it is included in the Allegations.)

However, two months later Alexander encouraged Gerard Batten, Member of European Parliament for London, to make his accusation against Prodi public. Gerard did that on 3 April 2006 in his speech to the European Parliament. The Parliament declined to investigate the matter, as Gerard insisted it should do; nor did Prodi himself ever comment on it as long as Alexander was alive. However, just eight days after Litvinenko’s death, Italian left-wing newspapers ‘revealed’ how Sen. Guzzanti and Scaramella were ‘plotting’ to discredit Prodi by alleging he had links to the KGB. Prodi himself, in a clumsy imitation of fury, announced he would instruct his lawyers to take legal action over these allegations. In event, no such legal action was taken.

Mario Scaramella was arrested as soon as he returned to Italy on Christmas of the same year. He is still kept in prison without a trial, and may stay there for the rest of his life. For the Italian legal system enables the prosecution to keep him in jail for three months on some particular charges, then drop those charges, put forward some new ones, and jail him for another three months. So it goes on and on for a year now, against the background of a perpetual propaganda campaign against Scaramella. Indeed, he is one of the first political prisoners in the emerging Gulag of the EUSSR.

Now do you see why Mr. Litvinenko isn’t alive any more?