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.

Continue reading

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?

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?

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?

Annals of Litvinenko

The Guardian reports:

The diplomatic tension between Britain and Russia took a new twist last night when a man linked to the murdered dissident Alexander Litvinenko sought political asylum in Britain. Andrei Sidelnikov, 32, was prevented from leaving Moscow last week by the Russian secret service who intercepted him at the airport but it is understood he arrived in London yesterday from Kiev. Sidelnikov, the leader of a small Russian opposition youth movement, is known to have met Litvinenko in a cafe off Oxford Street on October 30 last year, two days before Litvinenko was poisoned with polonium-210. Sidelnikov was tested for polonium-210 but found not to be contaminated. He said he had no role in Litvinenko’s poisoning and offered to assist the Scotland Yard investigation.

Sidelnikov, thought to be close to the exiled billionaire Boris Berezovsky, a leading foe of President Vladimir Putin, said he was making the asylum application because his life was in danger in Russia. Last week, before being barred from leaving Moscow, he claimed he was followed for several days by officers from the FSB, Russia’s biggest security agency. He was also questioned about the murder of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya. “I’ve just landed in London – I’m very happy,” he said yesterday. A friend said yesterday he fled to Britain because of “political persecution” by the Russian authorities.

Without citing any evidence, Russian officials have accused Berezovsky of involvement in the Litvinenko case and other murders of Putin opponents. Sidelnikov said he previously travelled to London four times a year, usually meeting Litvinenko. At their final meeting he said Litvinenko told him he was expecting some documents to come from Moscow offering proof of Russian secret service involvement in the Politkovskaya killing. “I understood he was indeed making his own investigation into her death,” he said. “He told me he was expecting some papers to arrive to him soon with proof of the FSB involvement. He didn’t say who was going to give him such documents.”

Last week, Sidelnikov said he was puzzled about why he was questioned over Politkovskaya’s death. When he was stopped at a Moscow airport he said he was given a letter from the FSB saying he was not permitted to leave Russia. The Kremlin has refused to extradite to Britain the chief suspect in the Litvinenko murder, Andrei Lugovoi, who is now a Russian MP. Moscow is also angry at Britain’s refusal to extradite Berezovsky.

Essel Reviews Litvinenko’s Posthumous Book, Just Published


Last week the Other Russia blog reported that Mikhail Trepashkin, KGB defector and attorney for the commission that investigated the Moscow apartment bombings who was jailed just before Putin sought his second term and after several of the commission members were assassinated, has revealed that the KGB propositioned him several times to participate in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. Recently, an important attempt was made to enter some of Litvinenko’s writings into the public record with the publication of the book shown above, and columnist Dave Essel has our exclusive review. The volume suffers from the same rough-quality translation that plagues the Novaya Gazeta newspaper’s online version, and this speaks volumes about the resources available to the opposition groups — giving the lie to claims that they are rolling in cash from billionaire Boris Berezovsky. And there is nothing in Litvinenko’s text, even in the relatively extreme forum from which his comments are drawn, that could possibly be a basis for the Kremlin to believe he was a threat to Russian security. Yet, he was brutally murdered with Russian-made radioactive poisoning, and his the Kremlin is blocking the extradition and trial of those the British government has discovered participated in the crime.

We take special delight in publishing this review, which nobody in the world can say is a blind tribute to Litvinenko. In fact, we routinely criticize folks who might be seen as being on “our” side of the Russia debate, including even Garry Kasparov (as we did just yesterday). Unlike the Kremlin and its sycophants, we are interested only in truth, not propaganda.


Litvinenko Speaks from the Grave

by Dave Essel


Allegations: Selected Works by Alexander Litvinenko,
translated and edited by Pavel Stroilov, is a collection of – in the main – assorted articles by Litvinenko or interviews with him from a publication/website that I am unfamiliar with: Chechen Press, apparently the website of Chechnya’s ‘government in exile’, plus some transcripts of radio interviews and other items.

It is curious to read a publication containing the words of someone one knows as a hero and martyr. One cannot but have very high expectations, think that one is about to be led to important illuminations, that here at last, from beyond the grave, comes the slapping down that Prostitutin and his ho’s so rightly deserve. But this is real life and not a fairy tale.

What struck me most from this book of Litvinenko’s words is that here is a reasonably good and honest man, albeit one who initially and for some time served as a cop and worse in Russia. Thus I am led to my first proviso: any person prepared to serve as a cop in Russia is by definition someone with a fairly – shall we say – flexible morality. Litvinenko addresses this himself. In a Chechen Press interview, he says: “So I reached my limit when I was ordered to kill a man.” An order to commit extra-judicial murder brought Litvinenko to break with his past, condemn his career, and become righteous.

Everyone prevaricates; few live lives entirely unsullied by compromises or sell-outs. So an order to commit murder for his vile bosses drove Litvinenko to recall and revert to the primal state in which we all start – innate knowledge of what is fair and good.

The articles and interviews in this collection reflect the surprise of a man to whom something new (but always suspected yet repressed) has been revealed. Litvinenko, however, is a plain man, a blunt professional, and no intellectual. Thus his epiphany is in some ways simplistic, though he is for that no less to be praised and admired for it and congratulated.

Unfortunately, this collection is a rocket salvo that misses two targets by striking between them. It has very little or nothing new to tell the informed reader – Litvinenko’s testimonies are now part of received knowledge, incorporated in most serious discussions of the subject “Russia”.

Thus this very important service has already been rendered. On the other hand, this is not a book to be recommended to someone new to Russia as an introduction to the subject since it is too specialised and its field – Caucasus issues – too narrow (even though these issues are of course paradigmatic of the whole ‘Russia problem’) to act as a proper overview of recent chapters of the unhappy march from Tsar Autocrat to Commie yoke to Russian naziism.

Furthermore, Litvinenko as a cop and FSBeshnik was responsibly careful of his information. Indeed he says: “In addition, I still do not want to publicize all the evidence in my possession because the masterminds and perpetrators of these monstrous crimes still occupy key positions in Russia. If I disclosed all the evidence and named all the witnesses, the FSB would promptly destroy them.”

Of course, Litvinenko is right. He is doing the right thing, but it does make for a less interesting read, although with a person such as Litvinenko this is simply not the point. I have less and less confidence that my country (Britain) will do anything right due to its wimpishness resulting from the current dire mind-rotting affliction of moral relativism but I do hope that Litvinenko’s main contribution, a contribution that would have been invaluable, was taken when he offered it – a complete, lengthy and exhaustive debrief to help us, when we find the political will and guts, to fight the evil emanating these days from the swamp that is Moscow.

Litvinenko’s public testimony as presented in this collection is of interest, but it is his detailed insider knowledge that he kept under wraps which was invaluable. I cannot really see much use for this collection other than as a marginally useful compendium for journalists and researchers.

* * *

A note on the translation: Allegations is a translation by a Russian into a second language and reads as just what it is. Mr. Stroilov has made a splendid effort but it is impossible for a non-native speaker to avoid infelicities of phrase (translation-ese), awkward renderings, and the occasional hold-up by a translator’s false friend. This book contains abundant examples of all these, making it that much more difficult a read. It really could have done with an English editor.

* * *

Here is the introduction to the book, penned by Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky:

I usually try to avoid moralising or the use of ethical labels such as ‘good’ or ‘evil’. And yet, some situations or fates simply cannot be described without that. Truth is always naïve and sure of itself; it takes for granted that it will triumph as soon as it is declared. That is why the forces of truth are usually so poorly organised. The lie, on the contrary, is cynical, shrewd, and splendidly organised. It does not labour under the slightest illusion about its own merits or chances of winning an honest victory; it is therefore ready to use any and every means.

The story of my late friend Alexander Litvinenko’s battle with the KGB is a perfect illustration of that. It started with the KGB ordering him to go and murder people – and Alexander calling a press-conference to tell the public about that order. It continued with the KGB persecuting, jailing and slandering the rebel – and Alexander struggling to publicise the truth about his former bosses as widely as he could. And so it ended with a sophisticated KGB operation to murder the reckless dissident, – and Alexander, on his deathbed, naming and defying the murderer.

So different was the idea of victory for the two sides that the both would be right to say they have won, in their own way. The KGB wanted to see Alexander dead, and so he is. Their faith in murder as the ultimate solution dominated their actions throughout the conflict: they took for treason Alexander’s refusal to murder, so they became desperate to murder Alexander himself. But if they also hoped to silence him, they did the very opposite. Alexander paid a terrible price, but his long efforts to reveal the true nature of the KGB regime have succeeded. At his deathbed, he finally made the world to open eyes to the truth he fought for. And to him, like to any of us, that truth was more precious than personal survival.

Well, cowards shall never understand a martyr, nor liars a man of honour. A very difficult question about Alexander which I am often asked now is “was he naïve?” Yes and no. He was honest – and is not the very idea of honour seen as naïve today? He believed in the good in people – but what hope would be left in the world if not for that belief? His less naïve colleagues have become murderers and millionaires; naïve Alexander has died like a hero. Which of them have really made a mistake? Yes, he was naïve – naïve enough to fight for the truth to the bitter end.

It much amazed me at a time that the bravest dissidents in today’s Russia, Litvinenko and Trepashkin, both came from the KGB. I still do not quite know how to explain this. Yet, this is a fact beyond any doubt, and these people had truly inherited our traditions.

Alexander’s rebellion, like ours some thirty years before, was rather moral than political. I even doubt he had any clear political beliefs before that. He was simply a good professional, a brilliant detective, who did his job honestly – too honestly, one might say. But whenever he investigated any sophisticated criminal network, the traces would inevitably lead him to an office in Lubyanka next to his own. That was more or less a classical Hollywood story of an honest cop fighting corrupt superiors. When these superiors ordered him to commit a murder, his final rebellion was merely a logical conclusion of that conflict.

So Alexander went public, and that step dramatically altered his fate. Perhaps that is why, once he realised the power of a public stance, he remained passionately faithful to it ever since. For the rest of his life, whenever he learned some new facts or had some new ideas, his first instinct was to publicise them immediately. That was how he became an author – and of course, his passionate approach made him a rather unprofessional one. He never learned caution and discretion which are rightly seen as compulsory in journalism. He was simply too straightforward for it – his idea of a strong move against a scoundrel was to call him a scoundrel to his face. Worse still, he could easily make a claim without backing it with sufficient evidence, just because he believed it was true.

In a sense, that was a conflict of two systems of professional ethics. It is a duty of an author to say no more that he can prove; but it is a duty of a secret servant to report everything of slightest significance to his commander. A newly converted and passionate democrat, Alexander took the public as a substitute for his commander-in-chief, while his instincts remained those of a secret servant. Needless to say, this paradox would often put him in embarrassing situations.

Of course, there were enough of more professional authors around him willing to help, to advice, to restrain. To give Alexander his due, he was also quite prepared to listen and learn, and he always was a bright student. I myself have spent hundreds of hours on telephone with Alexander – normally on his initiative – discussing whatever he was writing at that particular moment. And I guess I was not the only one. As I am looking through his articles today, I come to appreciate how very much of my own influence is there. Yet, sometimes he was simply too quick or too stubborn to be restrained, and then he would publish something he should not have. Then, of course, hostile propaganda – which otherwise preferred to ignore Alexander rather than argue with him – would jump on some small particular and promote it to the best of their ability. They have always been good in that dirty tactics of ‘poisoning the wells’, that is, compromising the sources of undesirable information. Probably, this is a major reason why Alexander’s allegations never received as much public attention as they deserved.

One of the suchlike tricks against Alexander was particularly unfair, undeserved and insulting; and it was played only after Alexander’s death. Indeed, too much has been made of the fact of his deathbed conversion to Islam. Russian commentators would even compare him to the notorious suicide bombers, telling the stories of how Alexander probably killed himself just to discredit Putin… In reality, never being a particularly religious man, he converted for a very personal – and noble – reason. Alexander felt very strongly about the unjust war against Chechnya in which he himself had a misfortune to fight. So, after being betrayed by his own country, he forever associated himself with the Chechen freedom-fighters. That national conversion, so to speak, preceded the religious one. The latter, for all I know, simply served Alexander’s desire to be one day re-buried in independent Chechnya according to the Chechen customs.

Be that as it may, his knowledge of contemporary Russia and its secret services was really unique, both because he spent many years as an insider, and because of his exceptional detective talents. Today, with Alexander no longer on my phone line, I have not only lost a good friend – I have also lost much of my vision.

Now his revelations are before you. Although not everything Alexander alleged should be taken for granted, all of that should be taken seriously. His opinions could be as right or wrong as any. What I can vouch for is that none of his words were lies.

Trepashkin Speaks

Finally freed from captivity after being arrested just before Vladimir Putin’s last bid for the presidency, Mikhail Trepashkin tells his story to the Times of London:

A RETIRED Russian intelligence officer has revealed that a former colleague tried three times to recruit him for a state-sponsored operation to “get rid of” Alexander Litvinenko, the agent killed in London last year with radioactive polonium-210.

Mikhail Trepashkin, a lieutenant colonel who fell out with the Federal Security Service (FSB), formerly the KGB, was released last week after serving four years in prison on charges he believes were politically motivated. In an interview with The Sunday Times, he said he was first approached in early September 2002 by a former colleague of Litvinenko known as Viktor.

Viktor said he had been sacked by the FSB, then rehired to work with a counterintelligence unit. He knew that Trepashkin was in regular contact with Litvinenko, who had fled to London and was working for Boris Berezovsky, the exiled tycoon and outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin. “Viktor told me that a very serious group had been set up to sort out all matters linked to Litvinenko and Berezovsky once and for all,” said Trepashkin in his first comments to the western press since he was freed. “He wanted me to help him track down a relative of Litvinenko who lived in Moscow. I suspected he was planning something nasty to put Litvinenko under pressure. “‘Are you out of your mind?’ I said to him. ‘Are you trying to recruit me to help carry out an assassination? Forget it’.”

In a move that will infuriate the FSB and further strain relations between Russia and the West, Trepashkin, 50, has agreed to make a formal statement detailing his allegations to the European Court of Human Rights in support of Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, who is seeking to force the Russian government to accept responsibility for her husband’s murder. Trepashkin alleges that Russia’s security services had been planning to kill Litvinenko for years. He said that about two months after the September meeting, Viktor approached him again. This time, Viktor told him the FSB was determined to silence both Litvinenko and Yuri Felshtinsky, a Russian historian based in America. Felshtinsky had helped Litvinenko write a controversial book in which they claimed the FSB was behind a wave of apartment block bombings in 1999 that claimed 300 lives and provided the trigger for an invasion of Chechnya. “He told me that a special group had been dispatched to Boston, where Felshtinsky was based, to carry out surveillance,” Trepashkin recalled. “I was left with the clear impression that things were getting serious and that the FSB was preparing something against both men. I warned Litvinenko about it and he took it very seriously.” Viktor asked to meet on a third occasion in early 2003, when Trepashkin was helping an independent commission investigating the allegations of an FSB role in the apartment block bombings.

This time Viktor said his contacts in the FSB wanted Trepashkin to travel to London to meet Litvinenko in a hotel. “He said that all I had to do was get together with him so that other agents could get him in their sights and start 24-hour surveillance.” Trepashkin had received threats to end his investigation into the 1999 bombings and Viktor implied that he would be safe if he co-operated. Trepashkin applied for a visa to visit Britain but said that, as a friend, he would again have warned Litvinenko of the danger. In the event, the visa application was turned down. Litvinenko died last year after apparently drinking tea laced with polonium at a London hotel where he had met Andrei Lugovoi, another former FSB officer.

“Everything Viktor said to me finally fell into place when I heard Litvinenko had been poisoned,” said Trepashkin. “From the first moment, I had no doubt the FSB was behind his killing and I realised that Viktor had not been bluffing. “This could not have been carried out without the help of state structures. Litvinenko was killed out of revenge and to send the message that no one is safe, no matter where you flee, if you throw dirt at the FSB.”

The FSB has denied any involvement in Litvinenko’s death. It says he investigated organised crime, had no state secrets and was too small a fish to warrant any such operation. But while Trepashkin’s testimony is far from conclusive evidence of FSB involvement, it undermines claims that Litvinenko’s former colleagues had forgotten him. According to Trepashkin, Viktor, in particular, despised Litvinenko. He blamed his former colleague for talking him into participating in a press conference in 1998 during which Litvinenko and several colleagues accused their FSB bosses of extortion and ordering contract killings. Shortly afterwards Litvinenko was jailed and Viktor lost his job. According to Trepashkin, Viktor demanded £20,000 compensation from Litvinenko. Trepashkin said Viktor and some serving FSB officers were also concerned about rumours that Litvinenko was going to write another book implicating them in several murders. Trepashkin had resigned from the FSB after claiming he had been prevented from investigating alleged collusion between senior security services figures and Chechen rebels. Litvinenko and other officers said they had been ordered to kill Trepashkin. Instead they tipped him off and invited him to take part in the press conference.

Two years later, when Litvinenko was in London, Trepashkin, who is a lawyer, agreed to represent the relatives of a woman killed in one of the apartment block bombings. He started investigating the explosions, which the Kremlin blamed on Chechen terrorists but which some opposition figures suspected could have been state-sponsored. His work brought him back into contact with Litvinenko. The two often talked on the phone, exchanged information and became friends. “It became apparent to me that there was something very murky about the bombings,” recalled Trepashkin. “I became convinced that the security services had a hand in them.”

When police released an artist’s impression of a man said to have rented a basement flat used in the bombings, Trepashkin claimed he recognised the suspect as Vladimir Romanovich, someone with close FSB links. Two other witnesses supported the claim. Trepashkin said that after he made the allegation, a new sketch was released. Romanovich himself is believed to have been killed in a hit-and-run car accident in Cyprus a few months after the bombings. Trepashkin had also spoken to the landlord who rented the basement of the building in Moscow where a bomb went off. He said the man had been pressured by the FSB to identify falsely a Chechen as the tenant.

Whether or not these allegations are true, there is little doubt that Trepashkin’s former bosses at the FSB took them as a sign that he should be silenced. In October 2003, a week before he was to present some of his findings in court during the trial of a man accused of one of the bombings, Trepashkin was arrested on suspicion of illegal arms possession. He was sentenced to four years for divulging state secrets — making copies of FSB files. Trepashkin, who was declared a political prisoner by Amnesty International, said the evidence against him was trumped up. “They arrested me because the FSB wanted to put an end to my investigation,” he said.

A father of five, Trepashkin spent seven months of his four-year sentence in solitary confinement. In breach of prison regulations, he was denied a TV, radio and newspapers throughout his term. For two years he was not allowed visits by his family and went on several hunger strikes. He was held in a tiny, two-man cell and allowed out for only 30 minutes a day to pace a small courtyard, covered with nets and sheeting to block out natural light. His face was ashen and he wheezed as he spoke. “Once, in the dead of winter, I was locked up for a couple of days in solitary as a punishment for writing a complaint,” Trepashkin recalled. “Outside, the temperature dropped to -35C. Inside, the walls of my cell were covered in ice.”

“I was often threatened and there were times I thought I would not make it out alive, but they didn’t break me. Nor did they manage to silence me. I won’t flee abroad. I see it as my duty to continue speaking out, even if I don’t feel safe.”

Read more about Putin and the Kremlin

Read more on the Trepashkin case on a site set up by the Foundation of Civil Liberties – a non profit political pressure group established by Boris Berezovsky

Trepashkin Gets his Freedom

Locked up just before Vladimir Putin sought reelection, Mikhail Trepashkin has now been released just after Putin has consolidated his grip on the Duma. The Moscow Times reports:

Mikhail Trepashkin, a former Federal Security Service agent, was freed from a Urals prison on Friday after serving four years for divulging state secrets. Trepashkin, who maintains that the FSB set him up after he uncovered evidence of its involvement in the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings, expressed relief when speaking to reporters after his release. “The worst is in the past. Before, I fought on my own, but now I have many more supporters,” Trepashkin said during an impromptu news conference in central Yekaterinburg on Friday, The Associated Press reported. “I’ve served four years for things I haven’t done,” he added.

After resting at a friend’s house in Yekaterinburg, Trepashkin flew to Moscow to meet his wife, Tatyana, and three children. Tatyana Trepashkina said in e-mailed comments Friday that she had “mixed feelings” about meeting her husband, a potential witness in the poisoning death of his former FSB colleague, Alexander Litvinenko. “I myself don’t even know what to expect from Mikhail, though I am hoping for the best,” Trepashkina said, adding that she was currently looking for a clinic in Moscow to treat her husband’s asthma, which he developed in prison.

Before his arrest, Trepashkin turned down offers from London-based Kremlin foe Boris Berezovsky to move there, despite his wife’s pleas. “Now he might agree to go to London,” she said. “Now he probably has no grounds to be so stubborn.” But Gleb Edelev, head of the Yekaterinburg Movement Against Violence and Trepashkin’s friend, said he had no plans to leave the country. “Mikhail has said he is going to sue the authorities for wrongful arrest and fight for the rights of other prisoners, so I would say there is little likelihood he is planning anything like that,” said Edelev, who was one of the first to meet Trepashkin on his release.

Although prison authorities had informed Edelev’s group that Trepashkin would be released around midday Friday, the former FSB agent was actually freed at 8 a.m., when it was still dark, Edelev said. Out of prison and on the street, he made a call from a pay phone to arrange a meeting with his supporters in central Yekaterinburg. He flagged down a passing minibus and traveled alone along the 2 1/2-hour route from the Nizhny Tagil medium-security prison, Edelev said. Last month, a court ordered Trepashkin to serve the last two weeks of his sentence in a higher security prison in Nizhny Tagil, leading friends and family to worry he might not survive. “We couldn’t believe that decision, and we were very scared something would happen,” Edelev said.

Trepashkin was arrested on suspicion of illegal firearms possession in October 2003, weeks before he was to give evidence in a court hearing into the 1999 apartment bombings. The following year, he was sentenced to a four-year term for divulging state secrets. The judge ruled that Trepashkin made copies of FSB files on certain criminal figures and stored them in his Moscow home. Trepashkin, then a lawyer by profession, said the charges had been fabricated.

Some believe the sentence to be FSB revenge for a news conference he held with Litvinenko, at which the two accused the FSB of corruption and operating a department that carries out extra-judicial killings. Litvinenko died in a London hospital in November last year after ingesting a highly radioactive isotope that some said could only have been produced in Russia. Britain charged a former Federal Guard Service officer, Andrei Lugovoi, with Litvinenko’s murder earlier this year. Lugovoi met with Litvinenko in a London bar three weeks before he died.

Citing a constitutional ban, Russia has refused to extradite Lugovoi, who was on the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party’s list for Sunday’s State Duma elections, despite Britain’s insistence that he be handed over to stand trial. Trepashkin had an emotional telephone conversation with Litvinenko’s widow on Saturday, the AP reported. Marina Litvinenko, 44, broke down in tears as she spoke with Trepashkin by phone a day after the former agent was released from jail. Trepashkin has said he was asked in 2002 to join a group of Russian intelligence agents targeting Berezovsky and Litvinenko. He said he warned Litvinenko about the alleged death squad. After the phone call, Marina Litvinenko said Trepashkin had promised to provide a written deposition on his claims to lawyers who have opened a case against the Russian government in the European Court of Human Rights for complicity in her husband’s murder, the AP reported. “He told me that it’s very important to show people that this operation was launched four years ago,” Marina Litvinenko said.

Annals of Litvinenko


Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of Alexander Litvinenko. The New Statesman has a brilliant memoir by one of Litvinenko’s closest friends. Although the British efforts to demand justice have been stonewalled by the neo-Soviet Kremlin, the matter is far from over, as the BBC reports:

The friends and family of the murdered Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko today confirmed they were taking the case to the European court of human rights. Legal papers were filed [Thursday] accusing the Russian government of complicity in the murder and of failing to carry out a proper investigation into the death. Litvinenko died a year ago, three weeks after drinking tea from a pot laced with polonium-210 at a central London meeting with the ex-KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi and his associate Dmitry Kovtun. The UK director of public prosecutions recommended the extradition of Lugovoi on murder charges in May but the Russian authorities refused to comply.

Speaking on the anniversary of her husband’s death, Litvinenko’s widow, Maria, accused the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, of protecting and endorsing her husband’s killer. She said: “By doing so, Mr Putin has tainted his office, his government and himself with this horrendous crime. He turned a murderer into a national symbol. “At the very least, this makes him an accessory after the fact. And it adds credence to my husband’s last statement alleging that it was Mr Putin who ordered his murder in the first place.” Mrs Litvinenko said she still hoped the British authorities would succeed in extraditing Lugovoi to face justice in London. “It’s still a very personal case for me. I lost my husband and I want to know who was behind the killing,” she said. “I promise we will find who is responsible for this. Without this knowledge, we just cannot feel we are safe.”

The solicitor, Louise Christian, said a US nuclear expert had traced the radioactive isotope used to poison Litvinenko to the Avangard plant in Russia. She said the expert believed that it was “almost certain” the Russian state was behind the poisoning because the substance was kept in such high-security conditions. “We believe that, if the Russian government were serious about this matter, they would be cooperating with the British investigation and the request for extradition,” she said. Christian warned that the European court action would be a “long and drawn-out procedure” which could take many years. The London-based Russian exile, Boris Berezovsky, whose £500,000 donation started the Litvinenko Justice Foundation, insisted he would never give up the fight. “Western governments know perfectly well that Mr Putin’s regime carried out this nuclear terrorist attack in London in November last year,” he said. “But they chose not to back British sanctions with their own. Appeasement will only encourage Mr Putin’s criminal habits. “If he gets away with this murder, I predict he will continue his terror campaign.”

Alexander Litvinenko’s father, Walter, branded his son’s murderers “gangsters” who thought they could “get away with anything”. “As a reward, the chief executioner of my son, Mr Lugovoi, has now been given a seat in the Duma,” he said. “The main executioner, Mr Putin, is afraid to leave his position, as he wants to maintain his power in order to cover up this crime.” He also called on European and western leaders to take the situation in Russia “extremely seriously, because the gas and oil they buy from Russia may turn into something rather more sinister”.

“I trust my son did not die in vain, and the truth and justice for which he was fighting will prevail in the whole of the world, including Russia,” he said.

A reader points out the travesty that is state-controlled propaganda outlet Russia Today’s coverage of this matter:

Can you fathom the sheer propaganda lies implicit in this. It makes me so angry! You need to publish this one just so your readers can see how contemptuous RT really is.

1. They slander AL (“a spy for the British”) – even if he was he doesn’t deserve to get murdered. What by that logic should we do with the many (as many as at the height of the cold war) Russians now engaged on serious espionage in the UK. Murder them?

2. They challenge allegations in European Court of Human Rights that the polonium can only have come from a Russian state facility, without basis.

3. They defend Lugovoi, shamefully one-sided.

4. They pretend that the British government and public take two contrary positions on this (rubbish, they don’t — recall how RTR manufactured British headlines!)

5. They try to imply these things happen elsewhere, especially in America (the Kennedy reference – this is called a “Tu Quoque” – divert criticism by implying that others were guilty over seperate unconnected events and therefore they can’t criticise now.)

6. They imply no one is ever going to know the truth (ie “so give up”)

7. They state brazenly that it is no longer a news story (“the public’s interest has definitely moved on”) in the hope that this will become part o the public psyche and turn from a fictitious statement into fact.

Trash, drivel, bilge, and nonsense.

. . . but sophisticated even if brazen. It is an old communist trick they have used successfully on their own people since 1917. The trouble is we are NOT fooled. The truth is evident to every person in the world that has access to a free press. Which of course is by Putin and cronies don’t like it and won’t let Russia have one.

Who are the foreign nationals who work for this outfit? They deserve to be pilloried.

Litvinenko’s Widow Speaks out Against the Kremlin

Marina Litvinenko, Alexander’s widow (pictured), writing in the International Herald Tribune:

Today leaders from around Europe will gather in Lisbon to meet with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, for the EU-Russia summit. I can only imagine there is much to discuss, from the state of democracy in Russia to energy matters, to Kosovo to Iran. But there is one more glaring issue, which simply cannot be ignored at the meeting – the murder last year in London of my husband, Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive Polonium 210. He was murdered by the most cruel method imaginable.

Horrendous though it was, this was not even just the murder of one man – it was an act of nuclear terrorism on Europen soil. A mass radioactive poisoning took place in the center of London. Hundreds of others were exposed. Restaurants, hotels, aeroplanes and offices were contaminated. Several people including myself have an increased risk of developing cancer due to the exposure that we received.

In the eleven months since my husband’s death, there has been a real and full investigation by British police. This was finished in January and the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was enough evidence to charge Andrei Lugovoy with my husband’s murder. The British Government then requested Mr Lugovoy’s extradition from Russia. Russia has refused to extradite him. In retaliation, Britain has tightened the visa regime for Russian officials and expelled four diplomats believed to be Russian intelligence officers in London. I am assured by British officials that they will continue to press Russia to give up the suspected murderer who must stand trial in Britain.

In the meantime Mr Putin has taken a defiant position. He spoke on national television in rejection of the British request using the most rude and uncivilized language. He advised “the British to get a brain change.” He dismissed the Scotland Yard’s evidence as insufficient. Effectively he has given Mr Lugovoy his personal endorsement in the eyes of the Russian people and the world. His propaganda machine went on to turn Mr Lugovoy into a kind of national hero. So, the accused murderer is now running for the Russian Parliament. Mr Putin’s standing up for Mr Lugovoy adds credence to the allegations that Russia has something to hide. Indeed, Mr Lugovoy had no motive for killing my husband and only the highest level of the Russian government could authorize access to Polinium-210, one of the most toxic substances in the world.

Perhaps the real reason why Mr Lugovoy cannot be allowed to stand trial is that he would name those who provided him with Polonium and sent him on his mission to London? Where does this leave me and my son? We need to see justice. I owe it to my husband to demand that justice is done. I also owe it to the good people of Britain, the London police and the British government, who all stood by me, to do my utmost that our common quest for justice is not ignored by the outside world. That is why I will be in Lisbon as the EU-Russia summit begins. I have a direct message for President Putin: this will not go away as long as I live.

I will also have a serious message for EU leaders: it should be impossible for you to sit around a table with Mr Putin without demanding that he co-operate with Britain. I know that the EU has made statements on the Litvinenko case before, but we have now moved beyond words. The EU needs to take action and move from statements to sanctions in solidarity with Britain.

Parliamentarian Lugovoi

Well, as if any further proof that Andrei Lugovoy is dirty were needed, now comes news that he’s the beloved of Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Apparently the Kremlin has decided that the best way to obstruct the British investigation into the killing of Alexander Litvinenko is to put Lugovoy into the parliament, where he’ll be totally immune from prosecution. It’s pretty clear, given this move, that the Kremlin understands how totally bogus it’s claim is that the constitution forbids Lugovoy’s extradition; clearly, they know they need a backup plan. Reuters reports:

The Russian wanted by Britain on suspicion of killing Alexander Litvinenko is to stand as a leading candidate for the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party in parliamentary elections in December. Former intelligence officer Andrei Lugovoy would receive immunity from prosecution as a member of parliament were the LDPR party to receive the minimum 7 percent of the vote required to enter the state Duma. Britain wants to try Lugovoy for the murder of Litvinenko, who died an agonising death in a London hospital last November after receiving a dose of radioactive polonium-210. The two men met each other on the day Litvinenko fell ill.

LDPR party head Vladimir Zhirinovsky revealed that Lugovoy was his candidate in an interview on Saturday with Moscow regional television’s Channel 3. His appointment as No. 2 on the LDPR’s list of candidates is expected to be confirmed when the party publishes its election list on Monday. Zhirinovsky, a political veteran know for his outspoken nationalist views, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper in an interview this month he expected his party to win at least 20 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections.

Lugovoy was not immediately reachable for comment as his mobile phone was switched off. He has previously said Britain’s accusations against him were part of a smear campaign by enemies of the Kremlin and British secret services to discredit Russia. Britain has sought to bring Lugovoy to trial in London, but Russia has refused the demand, saying its constitution does not allow the extradition of its citizens. Russian prosecutors said earlier this year that they could prosecute Luguvoy themselves if Britain provided enough evidence of his guilt. Britain and Russia expelled four diplomats each this year in the dispute over tracking down Litvinenko’s killers. Relations between Moscow and London have been further strained by Britain’s hosting of anti-Kremlin emigres wanted by Russia, including Boris Berezovsky.

The Sunday Book Review

We previously mentioned that Yuri Felshtinsky, author with Alexander Litvinenko of the book Blowing Up Russia, was recently featured on C-SPAN discussing his book.

The video is now available on C-SPAN’s website.

Click here to watch the program.

Piontovsky on Lugovoi

Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Andrei Piontovsky exposes the insane behavior of Russians towards Andrei Lugovoi:

In the latest interview given by former security services officer Andrei Lugovoi, whose extradition on suspicion of murder is being sought by Britain, there was a remarkable moment that doesn’t seem to have been fully appreciated.

Lugovoi, who was somewhat reserved but, at the same time, beaming with pride, mentioned that when he is seen in public, he usually finds himself surrounded by people who want to shake his hand, congratulate him on his valor or ask for his autograph.

“Well, haven’t you thought about a career in politics?” the interviewer asked. It is a pity he did not pursue this topic in more detail because it certainly deserves the attention.

Surprisingly enough, Lugovoi seems not to have questioned why Russians were so eager to get his autograph. Were they showing solidarity with a victim unjustly hounded by the Crown Prosecution Service?

Give me a break! When did Russians ever ask victims for their autographs? I have myself been attracting the interest of the Prosecutor General’s Office for several months now and have yet to encounter a single autograph hunter. In Russia, you get asked for your autograph if you have made it, if you are a proper hero — a hockey player, a cosmonaut or a war hero.

The list of unspeakable crimes allegedly committed in the course of Alexander Litvinenko’s brief life grows longer every day. The animosity toward Litvinenko among self-righteous Russian patriots has reached a very high level; they relish the fact that this traitor received such a severe form of punishment as payback for his sedition. Of course, this should not be interpreted to mean that these patriots agree with the Crown Prosecutor Service’s official accusations of who stands behind the Litvinenko killing.

A new species of “homo putinicus” has been created in large part thanks to the meticulously professional work of the television propaganda machine. Consequently, homo putinicus feels a great sense of pride in Lugovoi’s achievements.

At the same time, it feels deep indignation regarding the fierce campaign in the West unleashed against Lugovoi by the slanderers of Russia. Homo putinicus fiercely defends its position on these issues without the slightest understanding of its inherent self-contradiction.

This entire episode speaks to the mystery of the Russian “holistic” mentality, on which Slavophiles and Eurasians expounded at such length for so many years and which has proved so difficult for foreigners to understand.

But returning to the interviewer’s question: Is this not the ideal solution to the problem of President Vladimir Putin’s heir, which is threatening to divide the nation’s elite?

If we compare two potential presidential candidates, Lugovoi in 2007 and Putin in 1999, the number of obvious similarities is astounding: the same modest social background; the same KGB alma mater; a similar style of speaking, which at times includes the use of criminal jargon; the same mentality; and the same hatred toward “enemies of the people.”

In addition, there is another, highly significant shared circumstance: Both of them at the start of their political careers were largely indebted — perhaps even totally indebted — to Boris Berezovsky. Moreover, both Lugovoi and Putin subsequently had serious fallouts with Berezovsky.

Would the sybaritic, globe-trotting Lugovoi really want to take over the reins and put on Monomakh’s Cap? After all, the job of president is very difficult and exhausting. Look at how Putin’s face changed over the course of the last eight years as president. Lugovoi’s face has also changed markedly during the last eight months of news conferences.

Whatever the case may be, Lugovoi and Putin are two living portraits of Dorian Gray — two faces of the new Russia that is “getting off its knees.”

On the Trail of Litvinenko’s Killers

Contributor Jeremy Putley refers us to the following item in the London Review of Books. Jeremy writes: “I find this article interesting, as having been written by a professor emeritus of theoretical physics who knows the subject better than most. Professor Dombey hypothesizes that polonium-210 was first tried out, experimentally, on the Chechen prisoner, Lecha Islamov, murdered by his jailers in 2004, and then used on Roman Tsepov also in 2004. When Putin is eventually succeeded by an honourable president in Russia (at an unknowable future date) perhaps the truth about Putin’s murders will then become known.”

The word ‘radioactive’ was first used in public on 18 July 1898, when Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre, reported to the French Academy of Sciences on the progress of their work on becquerel rays – what we would now call ionising radiation. The Curies had subjected pitchblende, a black mineral composed largely of uranium dioxide, to repeated heating, then dissolved the residue in acid. The process yielded a substance four hundred times more radioactive than uranium; they named it polonium, after Marie Curie’s country of origin. Later that year, they isolated radium.

The hazards of working with radioactive materials initially seemed restricted to occasional fatigue and skin burns but in November 1925 Nobus Yamada, who had worked in the Curies’ laboratory on the preparation of polonium sources, fainted suddenly a few days after his return to Japan. He died eighteen months later. In the summer of 1927, the Curies’ daughter Irène wrote that Sonia Cotelle, a Polish researcher who had also been working with polonium, ‘was in very bad health’: she had stomach problems and had suffered ‘an extremely rapid loss of hair’. Cotelle continued work despite this for a few more years until a glass containing polonium shattered in her face. She died two weeks later. Yamada and Cotelle are the earliest known victims of polonium poisoning.

On 1 November last year, the Russian exile and former intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko began vomiting after drinking a cup of tea at a London hotel. He was taken to a local hospital. His symptoms – hair loss and blistering in the mouth – seemed to indicate radiation poisoning, but a Geiger counter showed no signal. He was transferred to University College Hospital, where he was placed in intensive care and underwent further tests. Amit Nathwani, the consultant haematologist in charge of his case, established that his bone marrow function had failed: another symptom of acute radiation poisoning. He died on 23 November.

Litvinenko’s murderers should not have carried out their operation in London. Almost anywhere else, the death would have been merely suspicious and its cause would have remained unknown. But UCH is not only a leading teaching hospital; it is also associated with University College London, which has a Department of Medical Physics with a strong radiation physics group. A network of haematologists, radiation experts and toxicologists was assembled from UCH and other major London teaching hospitals, in an attempt to isolate the cause of the illness, and when radiation poisoning was suspected, the police sent Litvinenko’s blood and urine samples for analysis to the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston.

Three distinct forms of radiation are emitted by radioactive substances: alpha radiation, which is composed of helium nuclei; beta radiation, which consists of electrons; and gamma radiation, electromagnetic radiation of higher energy than X-rays and carrying no electric charge. Alpha radiation, which is emitted by polonium and radium, is stopped by a thin layer of matter – skin, for example – while beta and gamma radiation can penetrate tissue. Geiger counters detect beta and gamma radiation; but the detection of alpha radiation requires specialised equipment such as that used at Aldermaston. The polonium discovered by the Curies is a mixture of isotopes: more than 20 polonium isotopes are now known, ranging from polonium-184 to polonium-218. The polonium that killed Litvinenko, however, was not refined from pitchblende, but was the pure isotope Po-210, obtained by neutron irradiation of bismuth-209 in a nuclear reactor. Aldermaston suspected Po-210 when they detected a weak gamma signal of the right energy. Polonium sticks to metal and a silver disc was used at Aldermaston to collect an enriched sample, which produced alpha particles with an energy of 5.3 million electronvolts, the signature of Po-210 decay: this definitively identified the poison.

More than 95 per cent of the world’s Po-210 is made in one place: the nuclear weapon assembly plant of Avangard in the formerly closed Soviet nuclear city of Arzamas-16, now called by its original name, Sarov. Russia exports about eight grams of Po-210 a month to Western countries, where it is used in minute quantities in devices that remove static charge in industrial processes. Po-210 is enormously radioactive: one gram emits 140 watts, enough to power two light bulbs; the isotope can be used as a lightweight power source in spacecraft. One picogram (one millionth of a millionth of a gram) of Po-210 has an activity of more than 100 alpha particle counts per second, so even unimaginably small amounts will register radiation on an alpha-particle counter. The investigation into Litvinenko’s death found a trail of the isotope extending from Moscow to London via Hamburg. In May, Scotland Yard announced that Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB and FSB agent, was wanted for murder and the Crown Prosecution Service began extradition proceedings against him. Russia has refused extradition on the grounds that its constitution does not allow it, and has claimed that Litvinenko killed himself or was killed by his patron Boris Berezovsky.

It is clear, however, that only a state-sponsored group or rogue elements within a state-sponsored group, could have had access to Po-210, and there can be little doubt that in this case the state was Russia. It is well known that the KGB specialised in poisoning: Laboratory No. 12 was founded in 1921 to carry out research in this area. The KGB has poisoned people in Britain before. In 1978, the Bulgarian journalist Georgi Markov was killed with ricin, injected by means of a specially adapted umbrella. In April 2005 Boris Volodarsky, a former Soviet military intelligence officer now living in the West, wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal in which he listed some recent poisonings that he claimed had been carried out by the FSB. These included the use of a dioxin-based poison on Viktor Yushchenko during the presidential election campaign in Ukraine in 2004, and the 2002 killing of a Chechen-based militant known as Khattab by means of a poisoned letter. Ivan Rybkin, who stood for the presidency against Putin in February 2004, disappeared for several days during the campaign and when he reappeared claimed the FSB had drugged him; in September 2004, the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in Moscow shortly before Litvinenko became ill, lost consciousness after drinking tea aboard a flight to Beslan (she later asserted that FSB agents on the plane had poisoned her); and the Russian MP and human rights activist Yuri Shchekochikhin died suddenly in 2003 from a mysterious illness which caused his skin to fall off and his internal organs to swell up – probably the result of radioactive thallium poisoning.

None of this, needless to say, proves that Putin ordered Litvinenko’s assassination, as Litvinenko claimed on his deathbed. However, a new law – passed by the Duma in June 2006 – gives the FSB authority to send commandos abroad to assassinate ‘terrorist groups’, and this power is to be used only at the discretion of the president. In Death of a Dissident, Alex Goldfarb and Marina Litvinenko present further evidence which, they claim, shows that Putin was personally responsible for targeting the London-based group of Russian exiles centred on Boris Berezovsky. Some of it is compelling, in particular their argument that the real-time monitoring of phone calls between Russia and London (as distinct from calls being recorded and listened to later) could only have been authorised at a very high level: in the Russian system that means the presidential office. They also claim that the use of such an unusual method of assassination would have been intended to make clear to Russian exiles in London the extent of the power of the Russian state.

The use of Po-210 as a poison requires a detailed understanding of its properties. During the Cold War, both Soviet and American scientists explored the effects of Po-210 on animals and humans. In the US, the Atomic Energy Commission sponsored experiments at the University of Rochester on the use of injections of Po-210 to treat patients with terminal cancer, and also studied its effects on animals. In the Soviet Union more detailed studies were made of Po-210 as a poison. Its ‘devastating effects were studied in the 1960s at a Moscow institute where the isotope was administered to dogs, rabbits and rats’, according to Boris Zhuikov, the head of the radioisotope laboratory in the Nuclear Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in an interview with the Washington Post. ‘If someone hates, really hates,’ he added, ‘then it’s a good material’ to use: ‘This is real suffering.’ Although alpha particles do not penetrate skin, if an alpha emitter is ingested it can be lethal. In March, the Radiation Protection Division of the Health Protection Agency published a paper, ‘Polonium-210 as a Poison’, which estimated that 20 micrograms was required to kill a man weighing 70 kg. A little more than this was probably used to kill Litvinenko.

But theoretical knowledge wouldn’t have been sufficient. Tests on animals would be useful in establishing the dosage for humans, but are not finally reliable. A senior radiation expert, one of those consulted by the Health Protection Agency over the Po-210 contamination in London, told me that tests would have been carried out on humans as well as animals in order to determine the efficacy of the poison. An assassination attempt, especially one to be carried out overseas, would require a carefully tested poison: the amount of Po-210 would need to be enough to kill but not to cause a major public health incident. Just as the KGB developed the ricin capsule in the Markov case, the best method of administering Po-210 would have had to be studied. It is not yet known how this was done: it could have been a drop of liquid from a fountain pen or a grain of specially prepared sugar dissolved in Litvinenko’s tea.

So who was Po-210 tested on? In April 2004, it was reported that Lecha Islamov, a Chechen guerrilla commander serving a nine-year prison sentence, had died after being admitted to hospital in Volgograd with a mysterious illness. ‘Sources close to the convict,’ ran a report in the Chechnya Weekly, ‘told the online newspaper Vremya Novostei that they suspect he may have been poisoned by Russia’s security agencies . . . Islamov’s symptoms – including hair loss and massive blisters – were said to be inexplicable to the doctors who have been trying to treat him.’ Islamov’s relatives said that he’d told them his jailers had summoned him several days before his death for an ‘informal conversation’, during which he was given a snack and some tea. ‘He began to feel ill within five minutes,’ they said, ‘as he was being taken back to his cell.’

A second possible precedent for the use of Po-210 as a poison was discussed on the BBC’s File on 4 in February. Julian O’Halloran reported that in September 2004 a man was taken to Hospital No. 31 in St Petersburg, which used to be a clinic for the Communist elite. ‘The man, who had a background in security, had fallen ill two weeks earlier. At first it looked like food poisoning, but after a brief apparent recovery, the man’s symptoms grew much worse, leaving his doctors utterly perplexed.’ One of the doctors said that the patient ‘was very feeble. He stopped vomiting and the diarrhoea became less frequent, but there was still no sign of toxic infection. It was a poisoning without a poison. What we didn’t like from the start was the low level of white blood cells. It was as if his immune system was switched off.’ The patient was Roman Tsepov, who was, O’Halloran continued,

in the security and bodyguard business. In the 1990s, he’d guarded the city’s powerful mayor and even the local man who, seven years ago, became Russia’s president: Vladimir Putin. Tsepov was reputed still to have friends in very high places. In September 2004 he was 42, busy and active, when he fell ill after a trip to Moscow . . . Hospital tests showed that Tsepov’s white blood cells, vital in fighting infection, had dropped to a seventh of their normal level. His physician, by now desperate, concluded the bone marrow was being destroyed.

Tsepov died soon afterwards; no cause of death was ever established.

If Tsepov and Islamov were victims of Po-210 poisoning, then – given that the isotope’s half-life is 138 days – the three and a quarter years since Islamov’s death would have reduced the level of Po-210 in his body by a factor of around 600, rather less in Tsepov’s case. If the dose of Po-210 administered was around 30 micrograms, then at least 50 nanograms would still be present in their bodies: enough to be detectable in tissue samples using alpha radiation spectrometry. So, in principle, it would be possible to establish whether polonium has killed others – but the Russian authorities would first have to allow the bodies to be exhumed.

Norman Dombey is a professor emeritus of theoretical physics at the University of Sussex.

The FSB Killed Litvinenko: It Was State-Sponsored Terrorism

The senior British official was unequivocal. The murder of the former KGB man Alexander Litvinenko was “undeniably state-sponsored terrorism on Moscow’s part. That is the view at the highest levels of the British government”. This official had access to the latest police and intelligence findings, and he was reflecting the views of senior Home Office counter-terrorism officials, Scotland Yard detectives and others with close knowledge of the murder investigation. All confirmed last week that they believe the plot to poison Litvinenko in London last year was ordered by the Russian secret service, the FSB. After a police investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service wanted to charge Andrei Lugovoi, a former FSB officer, with the murder; and it was Moscow’s refusal to allow his extradition for trial, once the scandal had become an affair of state, that led to the expulsions. Now, however, British officials are saying that the police investigation implicates the FSB itself. They point to the estimated £4.5m cost of the radio-active polonium210 used to kill Litvinenko. They confirm it has been traced back to Russia – probably to the nuclear centre at the closed city of Sarov. They also point out that last summer the Russian parliament gave Putin the right to order the FSB to carry out assassinations of “enemies of the Russian state”. They are careful to refrain from claiming he actually ordered the killing. “Yes, the road leads to the FSB, but where the road goes once it’s inside the FSB is not something the police are really aware of,” said one of the officials.

The Times of London, July 22nd.

Bloodthirsty Kremlin’s Onslaught Against British Dissidents

Contributor Jeremy Putley points out that The Observer now reports that not only did British police warn Boris Berezovsky that he was an assassination target a month ago, they also warned Maria Litvinenko and Akhmed Zakayev. So it appears that not only was the Kremlin stonewalling the Litvinenko investigation, it was also plotting to commit other Litvinenko-like acts against other British-based Russian dissidents. If true, this would be an act of war by Russia against Britain, and it seems to be true. In the wake of the announcement of these threats, Russia is backing down, seeking raprochment.

Police tracking the would-be killer of business tycoon Boris Berezovsky feared two other London-based Russian dissidents were also assassination targets, The Observer can reveal.

Scotland Yard warned the widow of murdered ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko and the exiled Chechen envoy, Akhmed Zakayev, that there was an increased threat to their personal security shortly before the alleged attempt to kill Berezovsky at the Hilton hotel in Mayfair, London, last month. Police were so concerned they placed a squad of uniformed officers around Zakayev’s house in north London five days before Berezovsky’s alleged assassin was picked up. They also phoned Marina Litvinenko to urge her to take greater security precautions. Berezovsky was told to leave the country for a while after the suspected assassin was flagged entering the UK early last month, a move that saw police take action to protect a number of high-profile critics of the Kremlin living in the UK.

Alexander Goldfarb, a close friend of Alexander Litvinenko and another outspoken critic of the Kremlin, said uniformed officers were outside Zakayev’s house when he attended a party there on 16 June, shortly after arriving with Marina Litvinenko from Hamburg where the two had been promoting their book about the poisoning of the former KGB agent. ‘There were about eight officers outside,’ Goldfarb said. ‘When we asked what was happening we were told there was a security alert. And just after we landed, Marina’s driver said the police had phoned six times to talk to her while she was away. They detained this guy [the alleged assassin] on the twenty-first. It seems they had a lot of intelligence about what was going on and that the attempt to kill Berezovsky wasn’t an isolated event.’

Police fears of a heightened threat to Zakayev and Marina Litvinenko emerged as Berezovsky gave further details of the plot to kill him. In an interview with a Russian news agency, he said he was told the assassin would be someone he knew who would shoot him in the head. ‘He wouldn’t attempt to hide from police, he would explain his actions by saying he had some kind of business claims against me,’ Berezovsky said. ‘In that situation – where a person had alleged business claims, where he didn’t attempt to run away or hide – there’s the possibility that he would be sentenced to 20 years in prison. According to English law, they’ll let you out after 10 years with good behaviour. He would get money [for carrying out the assassination], his family would get money; in other words, he would be completely taken care of. And he wouldn’t be serving his time at [Moscow's] Matrosskaya prison; he’d be here in an English prison… He could eat well, watch television, exercise, learn a trade.’

The latest lurid claims have again drawn attention to the murky world inhabited by Berezovsky and his London-based acolytes. Moscow has consistently denied having any part in Litvinenko’s death or an assassination attempt against Berezovsky. There is speculation Berezovsky leaked details of the alleged attempt to kill him to the media to antagonise Moscow, once the British authorities had returned the suspected killer to Moscow. There have been reports the man was tracked by the security service, MI5, as he toured London in an ultimately futile attempt to buy a gun only to be arrested by police and handed to immigration officials.

The timing of the story has also been seen as suspicious, coming in the middle of a row over Britain’s attempts to charge a Russian businessman, Andrei Lugovoi, with Litvinenko’s murder. The Russian authorities have refused to hand Lugovoi over, prompting Britain to expel four officials last week. In reply Russia expelled four British diplomats. However, in a sign that Russia wants to calm the increasingly fractious row, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has suggested the Kremlin now wishes to see a line drawn under the affair. Lavrov told the Interfax news agency: ‘Russia is interested in having relations with Britain brought back to normal.’

Bloodthirsty Kremlin’s Onslaught Against British Dissidents

Contributor Jeremy Putley points out that The Observer now reports that not only did British police warn Boris Berezovsky that he was an assassination target a month ago, they also warned Maria Litvinenko and Akhmed Zakayev. So it appears that not only was the Kremlin stonewalling the Litvinenko investigation, it was also plotting to commit other Litvinenko-like acts against other British-based Russian dissidents. If true, this would be an act of war by Russia against Britain, and it seems to be true. In the wake of the announcement of these threats, Russia is backing down, seeking raprochment.

Police tracking the would-be killer of business tycoon Boris Berezovsky feared two other London-based Russian dissidents were also assassination targets, The Observer can reveal.

Scotland Yard warned the widow of murdered ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko and the exiled Chechen envoy, Akhmed Zakayev, that there was an increased threat to their personal security shortly before the alleged attempt to kill Berezovsky at the Hilton hotel in Mayfair, London, last month. Police were so concerned they placed a squad of uniformed officers around Zakayev’s house in north London five days before Berezovsky’s alleged assassin was picked up. They also phoned Marina Litvinenko to urge her to take greater security precautions. Berezovsky was told to leave the country for a while after the suspected assassin was flagged entering the UK early last month, a move that saw police take action to protect a number of high-profile critics of the Kremlin living in the UK.

Alexander Goldfarb, a close friend of Alexander Litvinenko and another outspoken critic of the Kremlin, said uniformed officers were outside Zakayev’s house when he attended a party there on 16 June, shortly after arriving with Marina Litvinenko from Hamburg where the two had been promoting their book about the poisoning of the former KGB agent. ‘There were about eight officers outside,’ Goldfarb said. ‘When we asked what was happening we were told there was a security alert. And just after we landed, Marina’s driver said the police had phoned six times to talk to her while she was away. They detained this guy [the alleged assassin] on the twenty-first. It seems they had a lot of intelligence about what was going on and that the attempt to kill Berezovsky wasn’t an isolated event.’

Police fears of a heightened threat to Zakayev and Marina Litvinenko emerged as Berezovsky gave further details of the plot to kill him. In an interview with a Russian news agency, he said he was told the assassin would be someone he knew who would shoot him in the head. ‘He wouldn’t attempt to hide from police, he would explain his actions by saying he had some kind of business claims against me,’ Berezovsky said. ‘In that situation – where a person had alleged business claims, where he didn’t attempt to run away or hide – there’s the possibility that he would be sentenced to 20 years in prison. According to English law, they’ll let you out after 10 years with good behaviour. He would get money [for carrying out the assassination], his family would get money; in other words, he would be completely taken care of. And he wouldn’t be serving his time at [Moscow's] Matrosskaya prison; he’d be here in an English prison… He could eat well, watch television, exercise, learn a trade.’

The latest lurid claims have again drawn attention to the murky world inhabited by Berezovsky and his London-based acolytes. Moscow has consistently denied having any part in Litvinenko’s death or an assassination attempt against Berezovsky. There is speculation Berezovsky leaked details of the alleged attempt to kill him to the media to antagonise Moscow, once the British authorities had returned the suspected killer to Moscow. There have been reports the man was tracked by the security service, MI5, as he toured London in an ultimately futile attempt to buy a gun only to be arrested by police and handed to immigration officials.

The timing of the story has also been seen as suspicious, coming in the middle of a row over Britain’s attempts to charge a Russian businessman, Andrei Lugovoi, with Litvinenko’s murder. The Russian authorities have refused to hand Lugovoi over, prompting Britain to expel four officials last week. In reply Russia expelled four British diplomats. However, in a sign that Russia wants to calm the increasingly fractious row, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has suggested the Kremlin now wishes to see a line drawn under the affair. Lavrov told the Interfax news agency: ‘Russia is interested in having relations with Britain brought back to normal.’

Zaxi Blog on the Russo-British Firefight

Zaxi blog on the Russo-British firefight:

You know it has all gone a bit pear-shaped for the Kremlin when Germany throws in the towel.

Britain broke something of a European convention by expelling four Russian diplomats for Moscow’s decision to harbor the presumed killer of Alexander Litvinenko. It may be argued that London’s response was too meek. London could have justifiably mothballed an entire Russian embassy section for potentially helping Andrei Lugovoi smuggle polonium into London. It might have recalled its Moscow ambassador – the hounded man must surely welcome a respite from the Kremlin youth mob that blots his every step. Yet its suspension of fast-track visas for bureaucrats was a delightful exposure of Russia as a criminal state. True: the City still props up its cash trough before Kremlin Inc. But it should also now get a notch harder for London Stock Exchange listings regulators to justify wearing their blinders.

Moscow allowed itself a few days of fulminations before issuing a tit-for-tat response capped by a droll decision to freeze anti-terror cooperation. Russians watching their television news in that span could hardly escape a feeling of having just been violated by an “immoral” monarchy that refuses to honor their young constitution. “The so-called Litvinenko case” was a plot against Russian soul and sovereignty – “a provocation planned by the British authorities.”

However Britain’s new government took a far more fundamental step than just standing up to Kremlin debauchery. It also demanded that a Europe that strikes self-serving bilateral deals with Moscow while mumbling a few chorus lines about democracy do the same.

And Europe did what Europe does best. It stalled.

The Foreign Office sought an immediate European Union statement denouncing Russia’s refusal to extradite Lugovoi. Nicolas Sarkozy’s new France was rearing to go. But the EU presidency now rests with Portugal and its foreign minister clung to the phrase “a bilateral issue” like a white flag before an advancing Red Army.

In fact the heart of this European matter rested elsewhere – namely Berlin. As The Guardian wrote: “German foreign ministry officials reportedly believed Britain had overreacted by expelling four diplomats.”

Germany’s Angela Merkel holds an abridged encyclopedia of evidence against Russia in the case. Lugovoi’s cohort Dmitry Kovtun scattered Po-210 traces at both his ex-wife’s and former mother-in-law’s Hamburg homes before landing in London. Kovtun also submitted a radioactive passport photo to Hamburg city hall while applying for a permanent residency permit that was officially stamped on October 30 – two days before he and Lugovoi met Litvinenko for poisoned tea.

This is not just circumstantial evidence – this resembles DNA evidence on a smoking gun.

But Merkel had until now betrayed her East German roots by allowing the admittedly daunting weight of local industrialists to quash her nascent efforts to stare down Russian intimidation. The Hamburg evidence was buried. The most vocal German on Litvinenko has been the disgraceful Gerhard Schroeder – the sellout ex-chancellor who lobbies Kremlin interests from his payoff post as head of the Nord Stream pipeline shareholder’s committee controlled by Gazprom.

Merkel initially received Gordon Brown in Berlin with a message that could have been read by Schroeder from his Gazprom script – that Britain’s actions were leaving it exposed and isolated from Europe. Yet somehow Brown – forever damned with the contrast of his Hugh Grant predecessor – managed to swoon Merkel. She dropped her “bilateral” charade and the EU expressed its “disappointment” with Russia on the following day. And it vitally stressed that the standoff “raises important questions of common interest to EU member states.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband will go for gold in Brussels on Monday by trying to compel EU foreign minister to detain and hand over Lugovoi should he ever step on EU soil.

This momentum must carry for the Kremlin’s divide and conquer strategy now roiling Europe to finally crack. There is precious little evidence to go on that it will. E.ON and ENI have until now run the Moscow strategy desks in Berlin and Rome. A bone tossed to Total in the Shtokman gas field is still expected to appease Paris.

Thus the Brown-Merkel-Sarkozy troika – at this critical juncture – was in dire need of a razor-sharp US signal that it too was shelving the Russian appeasement strategy for the Europeans’ Kremlin gambit to be worth its immense risk.

And thus US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dusted off her old hymn sheet and reminded the world once more that “Russia is not the Soviet Union” and should not be “abandoned.”

What a shame that the face of US diplomacy is represented by perhaps the last Washington survivor to still believe that Vladimir Putin’s Russia must not be challenged but contained. Rice has been true to her message from the start and her measured tone – no matter how horribly mistimed in this case – has tempered the potential mayhem that could have erupted had Vice President Dick Cheney been let loose.

But Rice needs to honestly ask herself if her “not the Soviet Union” mantra is still really true.

Moscow may no longer export global communism but it has published one teacher’s guide calling Stalin “the most successful Soviet leader ever” and another accusing the US of building “a global empire.” Both state and private enterprises are making membership in the Kremlin’s United Russia party compulsory for employees to win promotions on the job. Former KGB agents not only run almost all major state companies but also – according to a study by the eminent Kremlinologist Olga Khryshtanovskaya – comprise 78 percent of Russia’s 1,016 leading politicians. Elections have been scrapped: the president remains the only federal official still directly chosen by Russians after parliament axed single-mandate votes that allowed liberals to win a handful of house seats. Regional governors have been appointed since about the day the Kremlin swallowed the last independent national television network. And of course the Soviet echoes ring just as boldly on the international arena. Moscow’s withdrawal from the CFE treaty that defined post-Cold War peace in Europe is just the most emblematic example. The United Nations’ forced abandonment of the Kosovo independence resolution is only the most recent and regretful.

Perhaps the only things separating the Russia of today from the Soviet Union of Brezhnev besides open borders are IKEA stores and Moscow Echo radio. It is a “mini-USSR” that can provoke a “mini-crisis” – a Soviet consumer society fed on oil.

Europe’s new leaders and the “new Europe” states are settling to this uneasy reality. It was Russia that pulled down the old curtain and it is now up to the United States to accept that the farcical play about democracy has come to a close.

The Sunday Slam, Part III: More Evidence of the Kremlin’s Lies About its Constitution

La Russophobe has already explained in detail how the Kremlin is lying brazenly about the content of the Russian Constitution, claiming it prevents the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi for trial on charges of murdering dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London. Now lawyer Robert Amsterdam heaps yet more evidence on the pile:

The Former Secretary-General of the Council of Europe writes a letter to the Financial Times arguing that in fact Russia is legally able to extradite Andrei Lugovoi.

Article opens door to extradition of Lugovoi

From Prof Daniel Tarschys

Sir,

The claim that the Russian constitution prevents the extradition of the former Russian agent Andrei Lugovoi is contestable.

It is true that one article in its bill of rights and freedoms contains what seems to be a blanket guarantee against the extradition of Russian citizens, but a subsequent article opens the door for extradition of indicted persons on the basis of federal law or international treaty.

On December 10 1999, the Russian Federation ratified three international treaties on extradition (Council of Europe conventions ETS 024, 086 and 098).

The special reservations and declarations attached to these ratifications do not seem to vindicate the refusal to extradite Mr Lugovoi, but any objections to the UK request should at any rate be based on these texts rather than on the Russian constitution.

Daniel Tarschys,
Professor in Political Science,
University of Stockholm,
Stockholm, Sweden

It’s just amazing that Russia can be so fully neo-Soviet as to think it can get away with telling these ridiculous lies about the Constitution. Even if there was some textual provision which restricted the Kremlin’s action, and there isn’t, it would be child’s play to change that provision if Putin wanted to do it. If he wanted to, he could have the whole Constitution abolished or altered to give him power for life, and it could be done in minutes. The Russian people are just that heedless of freedom and their own future. The Kremlin’s argument about Lugovoi offends the intelligence of every thinking person just as the USSR used to routinely do. If Russia keeps it up, it will meet exactly the same fate.