Daily Archives: December 5, 2006

Times Blows KGB Cover on Litvinenko Killing

One of the best indicators of just how loopy the russophile contingent really is can be seen in their attempt to argue that since Alexander Litvinenko was a KGB spy who did dirty tricks, he doesn’t deserve sympathy and the West can’t object to his killing much less blame poor old “President” Putin in a “paranoid” conspiracy. To say nothing of the literal fallout on Western soil from the attack, this ignores the fact that Putin himself is a proud KGB spy with a secret resume, who could be as dirty as Litvinenko or dirtier. At least Litvinenko defected to the West; Putin has never even expressed a tinge of regret for his KGB activities. If you believe Putin might have been rehabilitated, then Litvinenko certainly was. If Litvinenko couldn’t have been, neither could Putin, and Putin must be condemned no matter what his role in the Litvinenko killing. But then, logic and fairness were never strong points of the russophile wackos. Similarly, the russophiles are perfectly prepared to believe in a vast conspiracy by exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky to kill Litvinenko, his close associate, just to make Putin look bad, yet they condemn as “crazy” any “russophobes” who dare to make any suggestion of conspiracy on Putin’s part. In a nutshell, this is why Russia is a failed state: because with friends like these, it needs no enemies.

And then of course, there’s this: The Times of London‘s contacts in the British secret services reveal that they have concluded Alexander Litvinenko was murdered in a KGB plot (meanwhile, it was announced that the Kremlin will not allow British investigators to interview Mikhail Trepashkin and the other key witness they were seeking, Andrei Lugovoi, suddenly checked himself into a Russian hospital and likewise will be prevented from communicating with the investigators; Russia also announced that it would not extradite anyone accused by British authorities of complicty in the killing).

The Times of London reports:

Intelligence services in Britain are convinced that the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko was authorised by the Russian Federal Security Service.

Security sources have told The Times that the FSB orchestrated a “highly sophisticated plot” and was likely to have used some of its former agents to carry out the operation on the streets of London. “We know how the FSB operates abroad and, based on the circumstances behind the death of Mr Litvinenko, the FSB has to be the prime suspect,” a source said yesterday. The involvement of a former FSB officer made it easier to lure Mr Litvinenko to meetings at various locations and to distance its bosses in the Kremlin from being directly implicated in the plot.

Intelligence officials say that only officials such as FSB agents would have been able to obtain sufficent amounts of polonium-210, the radioactive substance used to fatally poison Mr Litvinenko only weeks after he was given British citizenship. MI5 and MI6 are working closely with Scotland Yard on the investigation. A senior police source told The Times yesterday that the method used to kill the 43-year-old dissident was intended to send a message to his friends and allies. “It’s such a bad way to die, they must have known,” the source said. “The sheer organisation involved could only have been managed by professionals adept at operating internationally.”

Nine Scotland Yard detectives are in Moscow, and they are determined to question a number of well-connected businessmen, despite a warning yesterday from Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, that speculation over the poisoning is straining relations between the two governments. “It’s unacceptable that a campaign should be whipped up with the participation of officials. This is of course harming our relations,” Mr Lavrov said during a visit to Brussels. He said that he had spoken to Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, “about the necessity to avoid any kind of politicisation of this matter, this tragedy”.

British ministers insist that diplomatic sensitivities will not be allowed to obstruct the scope of the Yard investigation. John Reid, the Home Secretary, who was also in Brussels briefing his European counterparts on the Litvinenko affair, said: “The police will follow the evidence wherever it goes.”

The main figure that the British counter-terror team want to question is Andrei Lugovoy, a former FSB agent. He made three visits to London in the fortnight before Mr Litvinenko fell ill and met him four times at various restaurants and bars. Mr Lugovoy, who is a successful entrepreneur, was briefly imprisoned in Moscow after he left the FSB. After his release his business career thrived and his company is reported to be worth more than £100 million. Two hotels in London in which he stayed had traces of polonium-210, as did a British Airways aircraft that Mr Lugovoy travelled on. He was among three Russians who last met Mr Litvinenko at the Millennium Hotel on November 1, the day that he fell ill. Last night Mr Lugovoy told The Times that he and two business associates, Dmitri Kovtun and Vyacheslav Sokolenko, were ready to meet detectives. The men have all denied involvement in any poison plot. Mr Lugovoy claims that he and his wife and children have been contaminated by polonium-210 and says that he is being “framed” for the killing.

Intelligence officials believe that a sizeable team was sent from Moscow to smuggle radioactive polonium-210 into Britain and to shadow Mr Litvinenko. The judgment by British Intelligence has been strengthened by the knowledge that the FSB has legislative approval for eliminating terrorists and enemies of the state abroad, after the passing of a controversial anti-terrorism law in the summer. The Yard team that arrived in Moscow last night has been told to take as long as it needs. Unlike in orthodox terrorist attacks, there is little chance that the killer is still in Britain and ready to strike again. Detectives have been warned to expect official obstruction from Moscow. Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and his senior officers are being kept briefed daily on the progress of the investigation. The Health Protection Agency said that police have asked them to examine three addresses for traces of polonium-210

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The Outrage in Georgia Continues Apace

The Moscow News reports that Russia has snuffed out the life of yet another Georgian in its ongoing pogrom against the tiny country that dares to seek freedom from Russian domination:

A Georgian woman died in custody in Moscow Saturday awaiting deportation, the Associated Press news agency reports.Police officials said that cause of death was heart failure. Rights groups claimed the death occurred because she was not provided proper medical care. Svetlana Gannushkina, the head of the Civic Assistance group which advocates for refugees said Dzhabelia had been held behind bars for nearly two months and was denied adequate treatment for her diabetes.51-year-old Manana Dzhabelia was detained in early October after more than 10 years living in Moscow. Later she was sentenced to be expelled to Georgia, but she appealed and a Moscow court overturned the deportation ruling on Thursday. For some reason law enforcement officers returned her to the detention center, where she died early Saturday. Russian migration authorities were not immediately available for comment.The case was at least the second death of an ethnic Georgian ordered expelled from Russia after Moscow began deporting hundreds deemed illegal migrants and slapped its small southern neighbor with painful economic sanctions following a spy scandal.

The International Herald Tribune has more on the plight of hapless Georgians being victimized by Russian cruelty, quoting Svetlana Gannushkina:

TBILISI, Georgia: When a Russian court ordered Aida Chakvetadze and her family to return to Georgia 12 years after they fled a bloody separatist war there, their troubles were only beginning. Chakvetadze said that as they prepared to board a train headed for Georgia, her husband and two children were detained by police demanding bribes for their release. They couldn’t pay and missed their train. They eventually made it to the border with Ukraine, where Russian border guards held them for another five hours. “What I felt then was what I felt during the war,” Chakvetadze, 36, said on the verge of tears. “What for?” Infuriated by the brief detention of four alleged Russian spies in September, Russia slapped Georgia with painful sanctions, severing all transport links with its small, impoverished southern neighbor and deporting more than 1,000 Georgians deemed illegal migrants.

Moscow insists the deportations are standard international practice, but Georgian officials and rights groups accuse Russian authorities of acting brutally — and in many cases unlawfully — by locking ethnic Georgians into overcrowded detention cells for days and rubber-stamping deportation rulings with no access to fair trial. Critics say the treatment of Georgians reflects growing xenophobia in Russia, which has seen a spate of killings and violent beatings of dark-skinned foreigners from ex-Soviet republics in the Caucasus and Central Asia in recent years.

“This is political persecution of people of Georgian ethnicity,” said Georgian lawmaker Nika Gvaramia, who heads a parliamentary commission investigating the deportations. “It turns out that all the skinheads, all the nationalists and all the marginal political forces (in Russia) — you have to view them as part of the same picture as official Russia.”

According to Gvaramia’s commission, more than 1,140 Georgians have been deported from Russia since late September as illegal immigrants and about 1,500 others are in the process. Gvaramia said the expulsions were rife with violations not only of international, but even of Russian law. He said many deportees were herded into prison cells equipped with only one chair to be shared among several dozen detainees and held there for up to 12 days deprived of medical care, fresh air and basic hygiene. Two people have died in custody in Russia while waiting to be deported. Georgian officials and rights groups say the deaths occurred because the deportees were not provided proper medical care. Russian migration authorities deny that, saying they died due to poor health. “There were no violations of human rights. We acted in strict accordance with Russian laws,” said Denis Soldatikov, spokesman for the Federal Migration Service. Soldatikov denied that Georgians were purposely targeted, saying of the 24,500 people deported this year only 1,400 were Georgians.

Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the Russian refugee advocacy group Civic Assistance, said many of the illegal immigrants, such Chakvetadze, had flocked to Russia in the early 1990s from bloody separatist wars in Georgia and other parts of the Soviet Union, but a 2002 law effectively delegalized their presence there by terminating the renewal of their temporary residence permits. The October sweep against illegal migrants from Georgia turned up many such people, but it also included notorious incidents of courts ruling to deport Russian citizens with Georgian names, Gannushkina said. “Russia disgraced itself the most scandalous way possible,” she said. “Russia behaved like a very uncivilized state, like in the Middle Ages.” At home, the deportees are in for further hardship.

Chakvetadze settled with her elderly parents and other relatives in a small apartment in a dilapidated and barely heated house for refugees in an impoverished district of the capital Tbilisi. The extended family now shares a living room and two tiny bedrooms among 15 people, with Chakvetadze’s two sons, Levan 14, and Georgy 13, having to sleep on a large wooden trunk covered by a piece of cloth. As a refugee of the separatist war with Georgia’s rebel province of Abkhazia, Chakvetadze is entitled to a meager monthly pension of 14 lari (US$ 8 or €6), but she doesn’t receive even that, since according to Georgian law she must first obtain her own place of residence. Merab Lominadze, head of Georgia’s National Investment Agency, put a rosy spin on the deportations. “We see this as a very positive development — they have returned home, they are finding jobs here, they will be earning money and developing our economy,” he said.

But Niko Orvelashvili, an independent economic analyst, said unemployment was already sky-high among Georgians — 14-17 percent according to official statistics but estimated to be up to 30 percent — and a further inflow of jobless people who used to earn money in Russia and support relatives at home could cripple the economy. In the western Russian city of Bryansk, Chakvetadze survived by washing dishes, cleaning offices and working as a seamstress; her husband was a shoemaker. In Georgia, they cannot find even one job between them.
“Back there it wasn’t great, but at least we had bread,” she said.

Writing in the Patriot News, former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke condemns Russia’s barbaric, neo-Soviet actions:

While the United States is otherwise preoccupied, the small former Soviet republic Georgia has become the stage for a blatant effort at regime change, Russian-style. Vladimir Putin is going all out to undermine and get rid of Georgia’s young, pro-American, pro-democracy president, Mikheil Saakashvili. Putin is assuming that the United States, overwhelmed by Iraq and needing Moscow’s support on North Korea and Iran, will not make Georgia a “red-line” issue and that the European Union, fearful of endangering energy supplies from Russia, will similarly play it down.

Much is at stake: Putin’s long-term strategic goal is to create a sphere of Russian dominance and hegemony in the vast area the Soviet Union and the czars once ruled. If he succeeds in bringing down the most independent and pro-Western leader in the former Soviet space outside the Baltics, he will have gone a long way toward his goal. Also at stake: President Bush’s “freedom agenda,” stability in the Caucasus and the European Union’s attitude toward a small European country on the edge of the world’s most volatile region.

Putin’s methods are brutal. He has expelled at least 1,700 Georgians since October, cracked down on Georgian-owned businesses, made repeated statements about preserving the Russian market for real Russians and demonized Georgians as a criminal class. He has doubled natural gas prices two years running and cut off all direct rail, air, road, sea and postal links between the two countries. Russia also has waged an aggressive international disinformation campaign to raise doubts about Saakashvili — I have heard astonishing, wholly undocumented charges about his alleged corruption and his “hot-headed” style in Berlin, Brussels and even Washington.

In Tbilisi today, you can hear an ugly word for this that rises out of the depths of 19th-century Russian history: pogrom. In fact, the 38-year-old Saakashvili represents almost everything the United States and the European Union should support. He led the peaceful 2003 Rose Revolution that overthrew the corrupt regime of Eduard Shevardnadze. He then opened the country to Western investment, presided over a dramatic turnaround in a once-hopeless economy and instituted massive reforms of the police and civil service. While these efforts have not been perfect — Freedom House and other nongovernmental organizations have expressed concern about an overly cozy relationship between the government and the main media, for example — Georgia has climbed further up the World Bank’s latest annual reform survey than any other country.

In 2004 Saakashvili peacefully seized control of Ajaria, one of the three areas that, with Moscow’s encouragement, refused to accept Georgian rule after the crackup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ajaria, which lies on the Black Sea, has since become a booming tourist center. Now Saakashvili has his eye on regaining two remaining “frozen conflict” areas in Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where impoverished breakaway regimes, heavily backed by Moscow and Russian troops, claim to be independent countries. Despite international resolutions that affirm the territorial integrity of Georgia, it will be difficult for Saakashvili to regain Abkhazia and South Ossetia, especially without strong Western support. Putin would be happy to fight for them again if necessary and to overthrow Saakashvili if possible.

This is not just a strategic issue. It is also deeply personal: Saakashvili as David and Putin as Goliath. Their face-to-face meetings have been electric with anger. When President Bush brought Georgia up with Putin on the margins of the Asian-Pacific summit in Hanoi last weekend, Putin went into a rant, as he does every time the subject arises. His tirades might be designed to discourage further discussion, but for the most part it is, according to people who have heard Putin, real, irrational anger. Bush’s visit to Tbilisi last year was a triumph; today the main road from the airport into the city is named President George W. Bush Street. Bush and Saakashvili genuinely like each other, and there is hardly a country left in the world where Bush is still so popular. Saakashvili’s best American friends are Sen. John McCain, who has made support of democracy in the former Soviet Union a theme, and George Soros, who helped pay salaries for the bankrupt Georgian civil service system in 2004.

This cannot please Putin. But why the relatively muted international response to Putin’s outrageous behavior? The main reason is Washington’s weakened state as a result of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea. This is Putin’s moment, especially with oil prices high. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, Washington needs Moscow more than Moscow needs Washington. During the 1990s, President Clinton used America’s undisputed primacy to enlarge NATO (Saakashvili wants membership, of course) and conduct successful military actions in Bosnia and Kosovo over Russian objections. Today, by contrast, Russia has threatened to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution that would give Kosovo independence and has spuriously linked Kosovo’s status to that of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The European Union and the United States must make the continued freedom and independence of Georgia a test case of the Western relationship with Russia. Putin must learn that we will not sacrifice the interests of a small country that has put its faith in Western values for the sake of energy supplies or U.N. votes.

If Bush’s freedom rhetoric has any meaning, let him prove it in Georgia, not just with polite calls for mutual restraint, but with real pressure on Moscow and the assembling of a united front with the European Union to make clear to Putin that he must cease his attempts to destabilize Georgia and overthrow Saakashvili. In the age of Iraq we must show that our nation can continue to have influence elsewhere in the world and that we will not abandon our friends or our values.

Uh-Oh Russia: Here Come the Democrats

A bipartisan FOX television attack was launched on Sunday against Russia by two highly influential members of the U.S. Senate, including the incoming Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee calling for a “confrontation.” The Associated Press reports:

WASHINGTON – Russia under President Vladimir Putin is a “one-man dictatorship” and he should do more to help the U.S. confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday.

Graham joined Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., in urging the Bush administration to stand up to Putin. Their views reflect U.S. concerns over democratic backsliding by the Kremlin and the increasingly assertive steps by energy-rich Russia to counter American influence.

Graham cited President Bush’s statement in 2001 that he got a sense of Putin’s soul during the leaders’ first meeting. “I think Bush misread his soul. I think this guy is taking Russia backward,” Graham said.

“He’s a problem, not a solution, to most of the world’s problems. He could help us with Iran if he chose to. He is becoming basically a one-man dictatorship in Russia. And we need to be tough with him.”

When asked about the death of an ex-KGB spy poisoned in Britain, Biden said he did not know if Putin was involved, “but our relations with Russia have to get straightened out to begin with.”

“Russia is moving more and more toward an oligarchy here,” Biden said. “We have basically been giving him a bye.”

Biden, incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he would consider “laying down markers about whether or not, as (Putin) continues to consolidate power within that economy and in that country … he warrants continued membership” in the Group of Eight leading industrial nations.

The lawmakers spoke on “Fox News Sunday.” Biden also said: “I don’t know whether he’s involved (in the poisoning), but our relations with Russia have to get straightened out to begin with. Russia is moving more and more toward an oligarchy here. Putin is consolidating power,” Biden said, adding that the United States had failed to challenge Putin for several years. “I think that Russia is sliding further away from genuine democracy and a free-market system and more toward a command economy and the control of a single man,” he said, adding that he is “not a big fan of Putin’s. I think we should have a direct confrontation with Putin politically about the need for him to change his course of action.”

Asked if such a confrontation could include pushing Russia out of the G-8 summit of industrialized nations, Biden said no. But, he said, “I would consider laying down markers about whether or not, as he continues to consolidate power within that economy and in that country, whether or not he warrants continued membership,” he said.

Writing in the Japan Times Andrei Piontkovsky, a Russian political scientist, and a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, explains the need for this confrontation: Russians have never stopped waging the Cold War:

WASHINGTON — An old saying in politics in Moscow is that relations between the United States and Russia are always better when a Republican rules in the White House. We are statesmen, and the Republicans are statesmen. Because we both believe in power, it is easy for the two of us to understand each other.

The problem with this saying is the paranoid mind-set behind it, for it implies that the nature of Russian-U.S. relations has not changed fundamentally since the Cold War’s end — that the animosities that exist between the two countries are those of two permanently implacable geopolitical opponents.

Russians, it seems, can only feel good about themselves if they are contesting with the world’s great power head to head. Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin considers the Soviet Union’s collapse “the largest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”

As a result of this mind-set, key elements in the Russian elite have tried mightily — and with some success, especially in recent years — to bring about a deterioration in Russian-U.S. relations. The Kremlin appears to be seeking systematically to obstruct the U.S., even when obstruction does not seem to be in Russia’s national interest.

Thus, Russia sells high-technology weapons, including bombers, submarines, and perhaps an aircraft carrier, to China, which not only shares the world’s longest border with Russia, but also disputes parts of that border. Russia’s assistance to Iran in realizing its nuclear ambitions also falls into the category of self-destructive folly. Not only is Russia building a civilian nuclear reactor in Iran, thereby helping to advance Iranian knowledge of the nuclear process; it is also reluctant to support efforts by the U.N. Security Council to press Iran not to develop nuclear weapons.

Diplomatic obstruction is not the only means Russian elites use to foster antagonism with the U.S. They also seek to inflame domestic public opinion. To maintain their influence, it seems, they believe that they need to create an image of America as Russia’s implacable enemy, which, by extending NATO membership to ex-communist countries, is bringing an existential threat right to the country’s doorstep.

Of course, this demonization is nothing like what we saw during the days of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, Putin still considers it necessary to pose in front of television cameras every few months to report that Russian scientists have developed some new missile that can penetrate any antiballistic missile system that the U.S. may erect.

Why Putin’s advisers and public-relations managers encourage him to make these banal triumphalist announcements is difficult to fathom unless one comprehends the sense of grievance that almost all Russians feel at the loss of Great Power status. That trauma burns even deeper among Russia’s rulers, where it has generated a powerful and persistent psychological complex.

For them, the U.S. and the West remain the enemy. Descartes famously said, “I think, therefore I am.” Russia’s rulers appear to live by the credo, “I resist America, therefore I am great.”

Consider the words of Vitaly Tretyakov, the editor of the weekly Moscow News, on the recent U.S. elections. According to Tretyakov, “the coming to power of a Democrat as president in America is incomparably worse for us than the savage imperialism of today’s Republican administration.”

Whereas “the Republicans’ actions are not aimed at us, but instead at Islamic terrorists and rogue states,” under a Democratic president, Russia would likely “become a prime focus of antagonism, due to our authoritarianism, our lack of democracy, stifling of freedom, and violation of human rights.” Thus, for Tretyakov, “bad Bush and his Republicans are better for us than the very bad Democrats.”

Tretyakov is hardly alone. On the contrary, his morbid logic is a perfect reflection of the paranoid vision that has taken hold in the Kremlin.

But what if these people get their wishes, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization collapses and Islamists triumph? Who then will stop their advance toward Russia’s southern borders from Afghanistan and Central Asia? The problem with diplomatic paranoia is not that someone is after you, but that you are unable to tell the difference between a real enemy and an imagined one.

UK’s Telegraph Lays Russia Bare

A phenomenal editorial in the UK’s Telegraph captures Russia in a nutshell, condemning the idiots of appeasement who have lead us to our current predicament. It is time they too be condemned.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky has not been killed with a dose of polonium-210 but there may be occasions on which he feels that his fate is little better. He has now served three years in a Siberian penal colony and, after a Moscow court on Friday refused to hear his appeal against sentence, he must contemplate another five years of misery there.

Krasnokamensk, where winter temperatures can fall as far as minus 40C, is 3,000 miles away from Moscow, where Khodorkovsky had enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle. The dramatic reversal in his circumstances is the direct result of his political opposition to President Vladimir Putin. Although he was sentenced for tax evasion and fraud, there seems little doubt that Khodorkovsky might still be living the high life of a Russian multi-millionaire had he not become a public enemy of the President. An infuriated Kremlin exacted revenge on the former oligarch by bankrupting the company he headed, Yukos, and sending him to the steppes. That this treatment was meted out through the courts should have sent out the starkest of messages to the west. If the courts were prepared to follow the will of the President rather than the writ of the law, then nothing and no one was safe.

Yet there were plenty of people who chose to view Khodorkovsky’s punishment as an exceptional case. They chose to believe that Mr Putin was a reasonable man who had just been pushed too far by a hot-headed rival. They closed their eyes to the unfortunate deaths that befell journalists who asked too many questions, or those who protested too loudly about the abuses committed by the pro-Moscow Chechen government. Largely, they persisted in their blind optimism because of the money to be made in Russia.

But now, even those who have struggled most fervently to cling to the idea that President Putin is a modern leader with whom the west can do business, rather than an old-fashioned Kremlin commissar who cannot be trusted, must be feeling queasy. The extraordinary death of Alexander Litvinenko is the work of professional assassins with access to the most deadly of radio-active materials. Whatever efforts Moscow makes to point the finger at others who might have perpetrated such a crime, the overwhelming suspicion is that the commission to kill came straight from the Kremlin.

If the reports on Mr Litvinenko’s ghastly death, his shady associates and meetings in hotel rooms and restaurants, read more like the early novels of John le Carre than accounts of what we expect to happen in contemporary London, it is because President Putin’s regime is still behaving as it did during the Cold War. Glasnost may have been celebrated but, as we report today, Russian spies are still alive and well and working in Britain. The difference is that now they are not only spying on Britons but on those who have left Russia for a more congenial life here, many bringing their newly minted fortunes with them.

Mr Putin has staged some lavish public relations exercises to try to show the world that he presides over a very different country to that of his predecessors. There have been glitzy galas at the Royal Albert Hall and family-friendly fairs in Trafalgar Square. And Russia is now, economically, a world away from the country of Krushchev. Its rich supply of natural resources has seen the economy grow at an average of 6 per cent a year for the last seven years.

But Putin remains at heart the KGB man he once was, and he now presides over an old-style autocracy that will brook no opposition. Later this week the law school at Pennsylvania University will host a symposium on “Human Rights and Political Prisoners in Russia”, taking as its base the apparently politically-motivated prosecution and punishment of Khodorkovsky. The likelihood is that Western governments and the business people who have invested heavily in Russia will not take part, nor will they wish to learn of the verdict. They have too much resting on the regime behaving itself.

Yet the positions of those businesses that have staked fortunes in the country look increasingly precarious. Quietly last month BP’s Russian joint venture, TNK-BP, settled a bill for back tax that the Russian government had demanded but which the company had insisted was unjustified. This is just the first of several unexpected tax bills which have landed with the company, and with Shell and the other oil giants that thought the pull of Russia’s resources outweighed the political risks.

They cannot now be feeling so sanguine. There are threats that if they do not comply with this demand for tax or that demand for compensation for some perceived offence, then their licences may be redrawn. Blackmail? None of the brave corporate chiefs is going to say so. They are well aware that it was an unreasonable, and resisted, tax demand on Yukos that started the process which eventually sent Khodorkovsky to the prison camp.

Companies such as BP and Shell now have too much invested in Russia to pull out and they may feel that they will have the backing of the British government should they encounter difficulties. Mr Putin, however, has already made clear that he cares little for the opinion of fellow leaders. When he temporarily turned off the energy supplies to the Ukraine at the beginning of this year, he demonstrated his preference for being seen as a bully rather than beneficent.

Whatever the Kremlin says about the death of Alexander Litvinenko, it should awaken a wider acknowledgement of the nasty realities of Putin’s regime.

UK’s Telegraph Lays Russia Bare

A phenomenal editorial in the UK’s Telegraph captures Russia in a nutshell, condemning the idiots of appeasement who have lead us to our current predicament. It is time they too be condemned.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky has not been killed with a dose of polonium-210 but there may be occasions on which he feels that his fate is little better. He has now served three years in a Siberian penal colony and, after a Moscow court on Friday refused to hear his appeal against sentence, he must contemplate another five years of misery there.

Krasnokamensk, where winter temperatures can fall as far as minus 40C, is 3,000 miles away from Moscow, where Khodorkovsky had enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle. The dramatic reversal in his circumstances is the direct result of his political opposition to President Vladimir Putin. Although he was sentenced for tax evasion and fraud, there seems little doubt that Khodorkovsky might still be living the high life of a Russian multi-millionaire had he not become a public enemy of the President. An infuriated Kremlin exacted revenge on the former oligarch by bankrupting the company he headed, Yukos, and sending him to the steppes. That this treatment was meted out through the courts should have sent out the starkest of messages to the west. If the courts were prepared to follow the will of the President rather than the writ of the law, then nothing and no one was safe.

Yet there were plenty of people who chose to view Khodorkovsky’s punishment as an exceptional case. They chose to believe that Mr Putin was a reasonable man who had just been pushed too far by a hot-headed rival. They closed their eyes to the unfortunate deaths that befell journalists who asked too many questions, or those who protested too loudly about the abuses committed by the pro-Moscow Chechen government. Largely, they persisted in their blind optimism because of the money to be made in Russia.

But now, even those who have struggled most fervently to cling to the idea that President Putin is a modern leader with whom the west can do business, rather than an old-fashioned Kremlin commissar who cannot be trusted, must be feeling queasy. The extraordinary death of Alexander Litvinenko is the work of professional assassins with access to the most deadly of radio-active materials. Whatever efforts Moscow makes to point the finger at others who might have perpetrated such a crime, the overwhelming suspicion is that the commission to kill came straight from the Kremlin.

If the reports on Mr Litvinenko’s ghastly death, his shady associates and meetings in hotel rooms and restaurants, read more like the early novels of John le Carre than accounts of what we expect to happen in contemporary London, it is because President Putin’s regime is still behaving as it did during the Cold War. Glasnost may have been celebrated but, as we report today, Russian spies are still alive and well and working in Britain. The difference is that now they are not only spying on Britons but on those who have left Russia for a more congenial life here, many bringing their newly minted fortunes with them.

Mr Putin has staged some lavish public relations exercises to try to show the world that he presides over a very different country to that of his predecessors. There have been glitzy galas at the Royal Albert Hall and family-friendly fairs in Trafalgar Square. And Russia is now, economically, a world away from the country of Krushchev. Its rich supply of natural resources has seen the economy grow at an average of 6 per cent a year for the last seven years.

But Putin remains at heart the KGB man he once was, and he now presides over an old-style autocracy that will brook no opposition. Later this week the law school at Pennsylvania University will host a symposium on “Human Rights and Political Prisoners in Russia”, taking as its base the apparently politically-motivated prosecution and punishment of Khodorkovsky. The likelihood is that Western governments and the business people who have invested heavily in Russia will not take part, nor will they wish to learn of the verdict. They have too much resting on the regime behaving itself.

Yet the positions of those businesses that have staked fortunes in the country look increasingly precarious. Quietly last month BP’s Russian joint venture, TNK-BP, settled a bill for back tax that the Russian government had demanded but which the company had insisted was unjustified. This is just the first of several unexpected tax bills which have landed with the company, and with Shell and the other oil giants that thought the pull of Russia’s resources outweighed the political risks.

They cannot now be feeling so sanguine. There are threats that if they do not comply with this demand for tax or that demand for compensation for some perceived offence, then their licences may be redrawn. Blackmail? None of the brave corporate chiefs is going to say so. They are well aware that it was an unreasonable, and resisted, tax demand on Yukos that started the process which eventually sent Khodorkovsky to the prison camp.

Companies such as BP and Shell now have too much invested in Russia to pull out and they may feel that they will have the backing of the British government should they encounter difficulties. Mr Putin, however, has already made clear that he cares little for the opinion of fellow leaders. When he temporarily turned off the energy supplies to the Ukraine at the beginning of this year, he demonstrated his preference for being seen as a bully rather than beneficent.

Whatever the Kremlin says about the death of Alexander Litvinenko, it should awaken a wider acknowledgement of the nasty realities of Putin’s regime.

UK’s Telegraph Lays Russia Bare

A phenomenal editorial in the UK’s Telegraph captures Russia in a nutshell, condemning the idiots of appeasement who have lead us to our current predicament. It is time they too be condemned.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky has not been killed with a dose of polonium-210 but there may be occasions on which he feels that his fate is little better. He has now served three years in a Siberian penal colony and, after a Moscow court on Friday refused to hear his appeal against sentence, he must contemplate another five years of misery there.

Krasnokamensk, where winter temperatures can fall as far as minus 40C, is 3,000 miles away from Moscow, where Khodorkovsky had enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle. The dramatic reversal in his circumstances is the direct result of his political opposition to President Vladimir Putin. Although he was sentenced for tax evasion and fraud, there seems little doubt that Khodorkovsky might still be living the high life of a Russian multi-millionaire had he not become a public enemy of the President. An infuriated Kremlin exacted revenge on the former oligarch by bankrupting the company he headed, Yukos, and sending him to the steppes. That this treatment was meted out through the courts should have sent out the starkest of messages to the west. If the courts were prepared to follow the will of the President rather than the writ of the law, then nothing and no one was safe.

Yet there were plenty of people who chose to view Khodorkovsky’s punishment as an exceptional case. They chose to believe that Mr Putin was a reasonable man who had just been pushed too far by a hot-headed rival. They closed their eyes to the unfortunate deaths that befell journalists who asked too many questions, or those who protested too loudly about the abuses committed by the pro-Moscow Chechen government. Largely, they persisted in their blind optimism because of the money to be made in Russia.

But now, even those who have struggled most fervently to cling to the idea that President Putin is a modern leader with whom the west can do business, rather than an old-fashioned Kremlin commissar who cannot be trusted, must be feeling queasy. The extraordinary death of Alexander Litvinenko is the work of professional assassins with access to the most deadly of radio-active materials. Whatever efforts Moscow makes to point the finger at others who might have perpetrated such a crime, the overwhelming suspicion is that the commission to kill came straight from the Kremlin.

If the reports on Mr Litvinenko’s ghastly death, his shady associates and meetings in hotel rooms and restaurants, read more like the early novels of John le Carre than accounts of what we expect to happen in contemporary London, it is because President Putin’s regime is still behaving as it did during the Cold War. Glasnost may have been celebrated but, as we report today, Russian spies are still alive and well and working in Britain. The difference is that now they are not only spying on Britons but on those who have left Russia for a more congenial life here, many bringing their newly minted fortunes with them.

Mr Putin has staged some lavish public relations exercises to try to show the world that he presides over a very different country to that of his predecessors. There have been glitzy galas at the Royal Albert Hall and family-friendly fairs in Trafalgar Square. And Russia is now, economically, a world away from the country of Krushchev. Its rich supply of natural resources has seen the economy grow at an average of 6 per cent a year for the last seven years.

But Putin remains at heart the KGB man he once was, and he now presides over an old-style autocracy that will brook no opposition. Later this week the law school at Pennsylvania University will host a symposium on “Human Rights and Political Prisoners in Russia”, taking as its base the apparently politically-motivated prosecution and punishment of Khodorkovsky. The likelihood is that Western governments and the business people who have invested heavily in Russia will not take part, nor will they wish to learn of the verdict. They have too much resting on the regime behaving itself.

Yet the positions of those businesses that have staked fortunes in the country look increasingly precarious. Quietly last month BP’s Russian joint venture, TNK-BP, settled a bill for back tax that the Russian government had demanded but which the company had insisted was unjustified. This is just the first of several unexpected tax bills which have landed with the company, and with Shell and the other oil giants that thought the pull of Russia’s resources outweighed the political risks.

They cannot now be feeling so sanguine. There are threats that if they do not comply with this demand for tax or that demand for compensation for some perceived offence, then their licences may be redrawn. Blackmail? None of the brave corporate chiefs is going to say so. They are well aware that it was an unreasonable, and resisted, tax demand on Yukos that started the process which eventually sent Khodorkovsky to the prison camp.

Companies such as BP and Shell now have too much invested in Russia to pull out and they may feel that they will have the backing of the British government should they encounter difficulties. Mr Putin, however, has already made clear that he cares little for the opinion of fellow leaders. When he temporarily turned off the energy supplies to the Ukraine at the beginning of this year, he demonstrated his preference for being seen as a bully rather than beneficent.

Whatever the Kremlin says about the death of Alexander Litvinenko, it should awaken a wider acknowledgement of the nasty realities of Putin’s regime.

UK’s Telegraph Lays Russia Bare

A phenomenal editorial in the UK’s Telegraph captures Russia in a nutshell, condemning the idiots of appeasement who have lead us to our current predicament. It is time they too be condemned.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky has not been killed with a dose of polonium-210 but there may be occasions on which he feels that his fate is little better. He has now served three years in a Siberian penal colony and, after a Moscow court on Friday refused to hear his appeal against sentence, he must contemplate another five years of misery there.

Krasnokamensk, where winter temperatures can fall as far as minus 40C, is 3,000 miles away from Moscow, where Khodorkovsky had enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle. The dramatic reversal in his circumstances is the direct result of his political opposition to President Vladimir Putin. Although he was sentenced for tax evasion and fraud, there seems little doubt that Khodorkovsky might still be living the high life of a Russian multi-millionaire had he not become a public enemy of the President. An infuriated Kremlin exacted revenge on the former oligarch by bankrupting the company he headed, Yukos, and sending him to the steppes. That this treatment was meted out through the courts should have sent out the starkest of messages to the west. If the courts were prepared to follow the will of the President rather than the writ of the law, then nothing and no one was safe.

Yet there were plenty of people who chose to view Khodorkovsky’s punishment as an exceptional case. They chose to believe that Mr Putin was a reasonable man who had just been pushed too far by a hot-headed rival. They closed their eyes to the unfortunate deaths that befell journalists who asked too many questions, or those who protested too loudly about the abuses committed by the pro-Moscow Chechen government. Largely, they persisted in their blind optimism because of the money to be made in Russia.

But now, even those who have struggled most fervently to cling to the idea that President Putin is a modern leader with whom the west can do business, rather than an old-fashioned Kremlin commissar who cannot be trusted, must be feeling queasy. The extraordinary death of Alexander Litvinenko is the work of professional assassins with access to the most deadly of radio-active materials. Whatever efforts Moscow makes to point the finger at others who might have perpetrated such a crime, the overwhelming suspicion is that the commission to kill came straight from the Kremlin.

If the reports on Mr Litvinenko’s ghastly death, his shady associates and meetings in hotel rooms and restaurants, read more like the early novels of John le Carre than accounts of what we expect to happen in contemporary London, it is because President Putin’s regime is still behaving as it did during the Cold War. Glasnost may have been celebrated but, as we report today, Russian spies are still alive and well and working in Britain. The difference is that now they are not only spying on Britons but on those who have left Russia for a more congenial life here, many bringing their newly minted fortunes with them.

Mr Putin has staged some lavish public relations exercises to try to show the world that he presides over a very different country to that of his predecessors. There have been glitzy galas at the Royal Albert Hall and family-friendly fairs in Trafalgar Square. And Russia is now, economically, a world away from the country of Krushchev. Its rich supply of natural resources has seen the economy grow at an average of 6 per cent a year for the last seven years.

But Putin remains at heart the KGB man he once was, and he now presides over an old-style autocracy that will brook no opposition. Later this week the law school at Pennsylvania University will host a symposium on “Human Rights and Political Prisoners in Russia”, taking as its base the apparently politically-motivated prosecution and punishment of Khodorkovsky. The likelihood is that Western governments and the business people who have invested heavily in Russia will not take part, nor will they wish to learn of the verdict. They have too much resting on the regime behaving itself.

Yet the positions of those businesses that have staked fortunes in the country look increasingly precarious. Quietly last month BP’s Russian joint venture, TNK-BP, settled a bill for back tax that the Russian government had demanded but which the company had insisted was unjustified. This is just the first of several unexpected tax bills which have landed with the company, and with Shell and the other oil giants that thought the pull of Russia’s resources outweighed the political risks.

They cannot now be feeling so sanguine. There are threats that if they do not comply with this demand for tax or that demand for compensation for some perceived offence, then their licences may be redrawn. Blackmail? None of the brave corporate chiefs is going to say so. They are well aware that it was an unreasonable, and resisted, tax demand on Yukos that started the process which eventually sent Khodorkovsky to the prison camp.

Companies such as BP and Shell now have too much invested in Russia to pull out and they may feel that they will have the backing of the British government should they encounter difficulties. Mr Putin, however, has already made clear that he cares little for the opinion of fellow leaders. When he temporarily turned off the energy supplies to the Ukraine at the beginning of this year, he demonstrated his preference for being seen as a bully rather than beneficent.

Whatever the Kremlin says about the death of Alexander Litvinenko, it should awaken a wider acknowledgement of the nasty realities of Putin’s regime.