Daily Archives: December 7, 2006


The Times of London reports that Russia is attempting to blackmail Britain over assistance in the Litvinenko killing (perhaps the Kremlin killed Litvinenko just so they could make this demand):

Russia demands the handover of Putin’s critics in exchange for poison case help

FSB is off limits, police team is told

Russia named its price yesterday for providing help in the investigation into the death by poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. It demanded that Britain hand over the enemies of President Putin who have been given asylum in London.

The ultimatum came as Russian officials imposed strict limits on how Scotland Yard detectives will be allowed to operate as they began their investigation in Moscow. The strict conditions threatened to deepen the diplomatic rift between Moscow and London caused by the death last month by radioactive polonium-210 poisoning of Litvinenko.

John Reid, the Home Secretary, pledged this week that no diplomatic obstacles would stand in the way of Scotland Yard’s investigation. But yesterday Yuri Chaika, Russia’s Prosecutor-General, told the nine British counter-terrorism detectives that they would not be allowed to question senior officers in the FSB, Russia’s secret service.

Whitehall officials are convinced FSB agents orchestrated the poison plot, but Mr Chaika said: “The issue of the FSB authorities is not on the agenda.”

Andrei Lugovoy, the key figure of interest to the police, who was among the last people to see Litvinenko on the day he fell ill, was suddenly admitted to hospital in Moscow yesterday. He claimed that he was too ill with radiation poisoning to speak, but later from his hospital bed said that he had nothing to hide and was ready to meet the detectives.

Even when doctors decide that he is well enough to talk to investigators, the Prosecutor-General says that his men, and not Scotland Yard, will question Mr Lugovoy. In addition, British detectives will have to seek FSB approval to conduct any interviews in Moscow.

Mr Chaika said that during the interviews the British detectives “may participate with our consent, and we might also withhold our consent”.

Any trial of a Russian suspect would have to be in Moscow, he added.

Russian officials also said that the British team would not be able to interview Mikhail Trepashkin, a former FSB agent who is serving a four-year sentence for disclosing state secrets. Mr Trepashkin claims to have vital information about the plot to kill Litvinenko.

At a press conference yesterday Mr Chaika again promised his full co-operation with the British inquiry, but gave little tangible sign that he will make it easy for Scotland Yard. He denied that the radioactive substance used to poison Litvinenko could have come from Russia, and emphasised that Britain would have to provide evidence to that effect before he would open a formal investigation.

Alexander Sidorov, a spokesman for the Russian prison service, said: “Trepashkin is serving a sentence for treason, therefore we cannot allow him to contact foreign security services.”

Prison officials have moved swiftly to punish Mr Trepashkin for “violating regulations”. A district court is to hear an application today to transfer Mr Trepashkin to a tougher, more secure prison, despite concerns from his lawyer about his deteriorating health.

Meanwhile, in Moscow yesterday a search was carried out at the British Embassy for traces of polonium-210 in the room visited by Andrei Lugovoy when he applied for a visa to visit Britain. Experts said they did not expect to find evidence of the radioactive substance.

In England an HPA spokeswoman confirmed that minute quantities of radiation had been found at the Emirates Stadium in North London at “barely detectable levels”. She reiterated previous advice that there was no public health concern, adding that the levels picked up were lower than natural background activity.

In a clear sign of growing diplomatic tensions, the Prosecutor-General appeared to link the Litvinenko investigation to the demands by the Kremlin for Britain to hand over Boris Berezovsky, the exiled oligarch, who is one of President Putin’s fiercest critics.

British courts have thrice rejected Russian requests for the extradition of the billionaire businessman, but Mr Chaika said that he expected a fresh application “in the near term” for Mr Berezovsky and for Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen separatist leader.

The two men were close friends with Litvinenko.

Last night British diplomats gave a restrained response to Russia’s ultimatum but ruled out any idea of “a swap”.

Last night Litvinenko’s father said his son would be buried on Friday in a sealed coffin in a Muslim ceremony in or near London. Valter Litvinenko said that the family is negotiating with police and the Health Protection Agency on the location.

  • Police in Naples last night seized documents and computers from the home of Mario Scaramella, the self-styled Italian defence consultant who was with Litvinenko when he was poisoned, after prosecutors accused him of “illegally dumping waste”.

    Mr Scaramella claims he has evidence that leading Italian left-wing politicians are agents of Moscow. However he is increasingly seen as a figure of diminishing credibility. His claims to be an academic have so far failed to stand up, since none of the universities with which he says he is associated — from Naples to New York — have endorsed him.

    Britain wants to interview

    Andrei Lugovoy Former KGB officer. Worked for a TV station in Moscow run by Boris Berezovsky. Briefly jailed, on release set up business offering bodyguards for wealthy Russians.

    Mikhail Trepashkin Former FSB officer. Investigated 1999 bombings of Moscow apartments, which President Putin blamed on Chechen separatists. Mr Trepashkin claimed FSB was behind the explosions.

    Russia wants to extradite

    Boris Berezovsky Russia’s first billionaire. Mr Berezovsky, 61, fell out with Mr Putin and sought asylum in Britain. Employed Litvinenko and other dissidents. Wanted by Kremlin for alleged corruption

    Akhmed Zakayev Foreign Minister of the Chechen government in exile, he is accused by Russia of terrorist attacks. Mr Zakayev, 50, lived next door to Litvinenko and saw him hours before he fell ill

  • Cold War Espionage Redux

    The Moscow News reports that the spy-for-a-spy cold war game is heating up, which of course is not surprising, though it is totally disgusting from the point of view of Russian hopes for a better life.

    Moscow has continuously denied four Israeli nationals convicted in Russia permission to serve their prison terms at home, unless Israel extradites Jewish Russian-born entrepreneur Leonid Nevzlin, once the second-in-command of Yukos and business partner of the jailed Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, leading Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth wrote Tuesday in a report headlined “Putin’s Israeli Hostages”.

    According to the paper, four Israeli jewelers and diamond dealers convicted of illicit diamond smuggling in Russia are currently held in a Moscow prison. The authors of the story insist that the four men are effectively held hostage as Russia, seeking extradition of Leonid Nevzlin, refuses to allow them to serve their terms at home, in violation of diplomatic accords signed by the two countries.

    The wrongdoings attributed to the Israeli nationals were decriminalized after the four were convicted. In talks with Israeli officials and families of the convicts the Russian officials reportedly hinted at the possibility of “the exchange”.

    Moscow and Tel-Aviv signed the extradition agreement two years ago. Russia has already used it once when Israel extradited a Russian-Israeli suspect on condition that if convicted he would serve his prison term in Israel. Russia honored its commitments under the treaty.

    But ever since the Israeli jewelers were found guilty in Moscow two years ago numerous requests made by Israel to let them return home have been flatly rejected by Russia. Even personal requests made by top Israeli ministers were ignored, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

    One of the convicts has recently wrote a letter to his relatives where he claimed that in October 2005 he and his inmates were visited in their cell by an unidentified man who informed them that their task was to bring Nevzlin back to Russia and assured them that if they agreed to help Russian law enforcers they would be discharged from prison; if not they would have to serve their entire terms in Russia.

    The NEWSru Israel website asked Leonid Nevzlin who currently lives in Israel to comment on Yedioth Ahronoth’s report. “I have heard that those convicts were warned that if Israel refused to extradite Nevzlin they could abandon hope for early release or transfer to an Israeli prison. I also know that my extradition has many times been discussed at meetings between top Israeli and Russian foreign ministry officials but those conversations were never officially recorded,” the entrepreneur said.

    Nevzlin also pointed out to an inaccuracy in Yedioth Ahronoth’s report. “In truth, there is no permanent extradition pact between Russia and Israel saying that criminals shall serve their sentences at home. Such an accord was achieved once, on the Zhuravlyov case (Multiple murder suspect Andrei Zhuravlyov, aka Terrazini, was extradited to Russia in 2002, after the court said he had obtained Israeli citizenship unlawfully). As to the jewelers’ case a separate agreement was drawn up,” Nevzlin said.

    Nevzlin said he had no reason to doubt the facts unearthed by Yedioth Ahronoth. “I view [Russia’s actions] as a hostage-taking in spite of the fact that those people had been arrested before I moved to Israel. In fact, what we deal with here is blackmail where innocent Israeli are being used as bargaining chips,” Nevzlin said.

    On Fighting the Good Fight: Part I

    Robert Amsterstam (Mikhail Khodokovsky’s lawyer) points to a recent column in the Los Angeles Times spelling out specific steps the West can immediately take to resist the rise of the neo-Soviet Union. This is one key part of fighting the good fight. The other key part is to identify the russophile propagandists, and the just-plain-idiots, who argued for the past few years that we should tolerate the Putin regime as a “necessary transitional figure.” These people led us astray and must now be called to account, not only to deter them from future misconduct but to make us less susceptible to their siren song. The Times article comes from a fellow at the Council on Foreign relations and Amesterdam excerpts it as follows (see the following post for a continuation of this discussion):

    There are a lot of ways to make a man’s death look like an accident, suicide or a street crime. That wasn’t the intent of whoever murdered former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London. By using such an exotic murder weapon — a radioactive isotope known as polonium-210 — his killers sent a message: Don’t mess with the powers that be in Russia.

    The identity of his murderers is likely to remain unknown, but in all probability Litvinenko was poisoned because of his campaign against Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and the KGB’s successor, the FSB. He is only the latest to pay with his life for offending Russia’s ruling clique. The list of prominent people murdered in the last few years includes crusading journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya (whose death Litvinenko was investigating), politicians, executives and government officials. Others, such as Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, have narrowly survived assassination attempts or have been exiled or silenced with threats of violence or legal charges.

    Alleged tax evasion has been a favorite tool of intimidation. Wielding such dubious accusations, the Kremlin was able to consign Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, to a Siberian prison camp and to expropriate his giant oil company, Yukos. Whatever the state of his taxes, Khodorkovsky’s real sin was to bankroll opposition to Putin. …

    Western governments can also signal to Western companies and financial markets that investing in Russia is not a good idea. Russia’s oil and gas industry, its major exporter, remains dependent on expertise and capital from abroad; a slowdown of such investment would be costly for Moscow. Russia is financially dependent on the West in another sense: Putin’s cronies (and probably Putin himself) are thought to stash their ill-gotten gains in havens such as Switzerland. If the U.S. Treasury Department and foreign financial watchdogs were to launch investigations and start tossing around phrases such as “money laundering” and “asset freezes,” Kremlin insiders would feel the heat.

    This is something that could be done behind the scenes. At the same time, public pressure could be applied to deny Putin the international legitimacy he so obviously craves. President Bush could stop holding summit conferences with him and stop including him in high-profile meetings such as the G-7.

    Above all, what’s needed is a change of mind-set in Washington. We need to stop thinking of how to cozy up to Putin and start thinking of how to frustrate his illiberal imperial designs.

    On Fighting the Good Fight: Part II

    The Free Market News continues the discussion on how to deal with the rise of the Neo-Soviet Union:


    Tuesday, December 05, 2006

    SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador—A few years ago, I had a chance to do some in-depth research into the war that Vladimiro Montesinos, Peru’s de facto spymaster, was waging against a small group of journalists, former spies and an exiled businessman intent on bringing an end to Alberto Fujimori’s regime. It was not a pretty affair—the dictatorship killed, tortured, imprisoned or caused various critics to flee the country before it came crumbling down.
    As I delved into the cloak-and-dagger world of Montesinos’ dirty war, I learned three lessons, all of which came back to me last week as I read the spooky saga of Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian defector who died after being poisoned in London with a byproduct of uranium.

    First, in a struggle between a ruthless regime and a small bunch of committed defectors, the former is a pretty good judge of the strength of its enemy. Second, no matter how impotent the critics seem in the early stages of their effort, the combination of former spies who defy their old bosses, a businessman able to fund them, and a safe haven abroad can be lethal to the regime. This applies even when the “safe” haven proves to be not so safe for some of the opponents. Third, the struggle for liberation is inevitably tainted with moral ambiguity because the most effective information usually comes from regime insiders who are themselves part of what they denounce, and because motives such as revenge, opportunism or greed often coexist with the desire for freedom. The moral ambiguity of the people involved in the just cause, of course, does not detract from the need to pursue it.

    I don’t know if Litvinenko was poisoned under Russian President Vladimir Putin’s orders, but what is important here is not so much whether that was the case as the perception that Putin is capable of doing such a thing. His background as a spy in the Soviet-era KGB, the fact that his regime has done away with most democratic checks and balances, and the evidence that many of his critics, including journalist Anna Politkovskaya, have been murdered recently point to that possibility. Russia has returned to the time of the czars, with organized crime now playing the role of the aristocracy, ordinary citizens playing the role of the serfs, and defectors from the KGB and its successor, the FSB, playing the revolutionaries determined to bring down the old order.

    Few people inside or outside of Russia have paid much attention to these journalists and informants, or to Boris Berezovsky, the businessman who funds part of the effort to expose the autocratic regime from London. And yet Putin and his secret service clearly understand how dangerous these people are precisely because they possess those things I mentioned in relation to Peru’s secret war: a combination of inside information, journalistic zeal and funding; a sanctuary in London where most exiles can expect to endure for as long as necessary; and the moral ambiguity necessary to be effective. Many of Putin’s enemies, including Litvinenko and businessman Berezovsky, were once part of that system which they have spent so much energy fighting against.

    Of course, this will be a long struggle. The Putin government and the mafias that operate under its tolerant eye are mighty, the war on terror provides the Kremlin with cover, and the European Union is heavily dependent on the natural gas supplied by Gazprom, the Russian state monopoly. But if that small group of committed critics is able to withstand the “nuclear” attacks (in the case of Litvinenko, quite literally) coming from the government in Moscow or the mafias, it will eventually prevail. That is not to say that what will replace the current government will be Jeffersonian democracy. It simply means that the crimes being committed by the current autocrats in Moscow will be punished—as they have been in Peru, where Montesinos is in jail—thanks to the persistent activities of Putin’s seemingly isolated enemies. What these people have been trying to tell us will eventually become common knowledge: that, almost two decades after renouncing communism, Russia is a lawless society intent on continuing a tradition of brute force against anything that gets in its way.

    Gates to Europe: We Told You So!

    The International Herald Tribune reports the President Bush’s nominee to replace departing Defense Secretary Donald Rumseld, Robert Gates, has signaled a change of course in U.S. Russia policy in testifying before Congress over his appointment, firing a big “we told you so” from his years in the Reagan administration at the Europeans over their dependence on Russian gas and oil:

    Defense secretary nominee Robert Gates said Tuesday that Western Europe finally is learning the validity of American warnings two decades ago that they would regret letting Russian natural gas fuel their economies.

    Gates, nominated by President George W. Bush to replace Donald H. Rumsfeld, made the comments in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in response to a senator’s request for his evaluation of today’s Russia under President Vladimir Putin.

    While Russia is freer than was the Soviet Union, “There are a number of areas of concern in terms of Russian behavior, particularly over the last two or three years,” Gates said.

    Gas is an example, he said. Russia is the world’s largest natural gas exporter, and the European Union relies on Russian gas for almost half its gas needs.

    “When they attempted to punish the Ukrainians by turning off the gas pipelines, they sort of forgot that the gas pipelines to Western Europe go through the Ukraine, and the Europeans began to have some shortages,” Gates said.

    During the administration of President Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s, “we tried very hard to persuade the Europeans that it was not in their interest to become dependent on Russian gas — Soviet gas in those days,” Gates said.

    The Americans told their European allies, he said, “that the potential for political manipulation of the supply was very real. That was 20 years ago, and we’re now seeing that as the Russians try to use it on some of their neighbors in the near-abroad, clearly it has begun to raise some concerns on the part of the Europeans.”

    Gates built his career in the CIA on knowledge of the Soviet Union and holds a doctorate in Russian and Soviet history. He was in the top echelons of the CIA during the Reagan years, even advancing to acting director for a while. Later, under President George H.W. Bush, the current president’s father, Gates became the only rank-and-file CIA employee to become the agency’s director.

    About Putin’s Russia, Gates said he thinks “what Putin is trying to do quite frankly is to re-establish Russia’s great power.”

    “I think we in the West really probably don’t fully appreciate the magnitude of the humiliation not only of the loss of the Cold War land the loss of Eastern Europe but in effect the destruction of the Russian Empire itself, three to four centuries in the making,” he said.

    Not only is Putin trying to restore Russia’s pride, he said, but “I think he has a lot of popular support at home for the things he’s trying to do.

    “He’s got the money to do it, thanks to the price of oil, and I think he’s basically trying to make Russia a force in the near-abroad.”

    Even the Bush administration, which went to great pains to nurture friendship with Russia early in President George W. Bush’s tenure, has complained that Putin has overstepped himself in both domestic and foreign affairs.

    In the Ukraine incident, Russia cut off the former Soviet republic during frigid weather in a price dispute and eventually forced Ukraine to pay double what it had expected.

    Several weeks ago, Russia slapped economic sanctions on the Caucasus republic of Georgia and began deporting Georgians from Russia. Like Ukraine, Georgia has courted the West, especially the United States. Russia acted after Georgia arrested four alleged Russian spies.