On December 12th, La Russophobe reported on a story from the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten exposing information indicating that one of the people attacking Alexander Litvinenko in Britain in the wake of his killing — namely one Julia Svetlichnaya (together with her colleague James Heartfield) and specifically in a story in the Observer — had been discovered to have surreptitious, undisclosed links to the Kremlin (namely having held a significant position at a state-owned firm), thus discrediting her negative comments about Litvinenko and giving rise to suspicion that she was working as Kremlin shill, helping to deflect blame.
Now, Svetlichnaya has attempted to answer her critics with a post on, of all places, the obscure ZheZhe blog. Far from re-establishing her credibility, Svetlichnaya’s statement appears to confirm that Aftenposten‘s report was largely correct in raising suspicions about her and raises new questions about just who she is and what’s she’s up to; either that, or it confirms that she’s utterly clueless and created an opportunity to justify Kremlin dictatorship out of sheer incompetence. Either way, she’s hardly any basis at all for a defense of the Kremlin in the Litvinenko matter, that’s quite clear. Here’s her statement:
Still, the Kremlin’s expatriate critics were enraged that their cause célèbre had been questioned. Allegations that we were Kremlin agents were first floated in far-off Norway, in an article by Hilde Harbo in the daily Aftenposten (a paper whose claim to fame is that it published Knut Hamsen’s eulogy to Hitler on his death in 1945). Harbo cited a ‘British professor of Russian, who insisted on remaining nameless’ saying that he had information that Julia had been instructed by the Russian Security Services to go to London to spy on Akhmed Zakhayev – which is not true: Julia came to London five years before Zakhayev, in 1994. Julia’s eleven months’ employment with the company Diamond Bridge Advisory Services was somehow twisted to mean that she was in the pay of the Kremlin, though actually it was just agency work. The nameless professor is the veteran Cold War propagandist Martin Dewhirst.
This statement is entirely without substance, and reads like it was written by a Kremlin spin doctor. Svetlichnaya doesn’t actually deny that she was given instructions to spy on Zakhayev, she just says she didn’t go to Britain for the first time for that purpose. She doesn’t say one single word about the links between her previous employer “Diamond Bridge Advisory Services” and the Kremlin, but instead attempts to raise a smokescreen by claiming her she was only doing “agency work” (apparently this means she was a temp) without giving any explanation of what her duties were or which agency placed her (this kind of murky trail is exactly the type the KGB would like to have her leave). She doesn’t indicate whether she told the Observer about her work for the Kremlin-connected company in the course of being interviewed for their story. She makes no attempt to clarify what other Kremlin-connected entities she may have been employed by, if any, or to flesh out her resume in any way. Instead of establishing the facts of her own case, she launches a personal attack on both Aftenposten and its source, an unmistakeable sign of propaganda especially in the context of such a vacuous discussion of the actual allegations.
And then it gets much worse. Svetlichnaya is next permitted by ZheZhe (which did not disclose its own connections to Svetlichnaya, if any, or explain why she chose to publish her views on their obscure forum) to engage in what amounts to propaganda of a recognizably Soviet character. She closes her statement, for example, by writing:
Talking about the Litvinenko case on Question Time, author Martin Amis glumly intoned that here we were seeing the ‘Asiatic side of Russia’. (Who is that more rude to – Asians who are made into a by-word for cruelty, or Russians, who are racially stereotyped?).
In other words, she feebly tries to change the subject from the Kremlin’s complicity in the murder of Litvinenko and her own connections to that Kremlin to Western racism against Russians. La Russophobe thinks she doth protest too much; this is not something a person who was simply interested in getting out the truth about herself would stoop to. She refers to “Cold War hysteria in Britain” and launches an ad hominem attack on exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, stating:
Berezovsky is just one of many expatriate Russians who enriched themselvesin the privatisation of ’s state-owned businesses. Today he presents himself as a political exile, seeking to overthrow Putin. But do not be deceived. Only six years ago Berezovsky financed Putin’s campaign in the presidential elections as he did Boris Yeltsin’s before him. Berezovsky and Putin are fruit from the same tree. Any differences they have are just a turf war, not over principle.
None of this has anything to do with whether her comments in the observer about Litvinenk were (a) accuate or (b) made to assist the Kremlin. Notice the subtle attack on Putin, perhaps designed to throw the unwary reader of her scent like a prisoner running through creek when pursued by bloodhounds. Where were these attacks in the Observer piece, or at any time previously? Is she implying that Aftenposten is a Berezovsky shill, that he planted the story about her there? If not, why even bring up the subject? We have no idea, and she certainly offer no evidence of any kind to that effect. What we do know is that she has no hesitation in making accusations against Berezovsky and Aftenposten which are essentially the same as those she complains about being made concerning herself.
Most bizarre of all, though, is Svetlichnaya’s statement that
Unfortunately for us many Russians leapt upon our interview as evidence that Litvinenko’s deathbed accusation that he had been killed on the orders of president Vladimir Putin could be discounted. Our accounts of our interviews with Litvinenko were widely reproduced in patriotic Russian websites, newspapers and on television. Neither of us, though, would ever vote for, nor support Vladimir Putin, whose government is illiberal and autocratic.
This language is so opaque that it gives the unmistakeable flavor of the intelligence services. First of all, plenty of non-Russian Russophiles also “leapt on the evidence.” Would it constitute “support” for Vladmir Putin to discredit those who attack his regime in the West? Well, Svetlichnaya’s statements to the Observer sure did that all right, so if that’s what it means then she’s lying. Is it “supporting” Putin to take any job connected to the Russian government? It seems not, since apparently Svetlichnaya has done that at least once too. She makes no attempt to clarify what she would and would not do on behalf of the Russian government (would she assist the security services in getting information about those who, they believe, threaten Russians security? would she help get the story out concerning such enemies of the state and struggle to improve Russia’ s image in the West? she won’t say). The first sentence almost seems to imply that Putin’s involvement in killing Litvinenko cannot be discounted, yet she doesn’t clearly say so, nor does she comment on the Observer article, which was taken up not only by “Russians” but by non-Russian Russophiles as evidence of an anti-Russian conspiracy. One could perhaps pass off all this ambiguity as merely incompetent writing if it were not for the naked Russophile propaganda that the post also contains.
Another question which remains unanswered, and indeed perhaps the most important one, is what business Svetlichnaya had talking to Litvinenko in the first place. The abstract for her dissertation does not indicate a subject that has anything to do with Litvinenko and she has not explained why she was speaking to him, what she hoped to accomplish and why, or how she got access to him — a major cause of the suspicion regarding her, and her post on ZheZhe does nothing to dispel it. One also must ask how she hooked up with her collaborator James Heartfield, an avowed Marxist who uses a pseudonym (he was born James Hughes), and why he was necessary for the Litvinenko interview. But she doesn’t care to explain that either.
It’s also quite disturbing that Svetlichnaya’s comments are totally devoid of links to source material documenting her claims.
La Russophobe feels that ZheZhe owed it to readers to disclose its connections to Svetlichnaya, if any, and to explain why she chose their blog to tell her story (was she rejected at more prominent outlets?) and to explain why it didn’t feel it was necessary to require her to make a clear statement answering the specific charges concerning her Kremlin connections before agreeing to print what amounts to propaganda. Aftenposten says that Svetlichnaya refused to speak to them in connection with the preparation of their story. Svetlichnaya ignores this claim. Svetlichnaya states that a columnist for the Sunday Times wrote about the Aftenposten allegations knowing they were false, but she totally fails to provide the slightest shred of evidence to support this libelous claim. In fact, she doesn’t even give a link to the allegedly offending Times article, and the only link provided by ZheZhe itself, as ZheZhe itself states, contains no reference to Svetlichnaya.
Without this information, there is an unfortunate appearance of impropriety and/or complicity on the part of ZheZhe which may not even be warranted, since ZheZhe has reported fairly on the Litvinenko matter up to now, correctly predicting that the Kremlin might use the incident as leverage to extradite Berezovsky and Zakhayev (as La Russophobe has previously reported). At the very least, however, ZheZhe has been unacceptably reckless in the manner they presented this story, betraying their readers and the blogosphere (indeed, they may well have been played for fools by Svetlichnaya). Its actions tend to confirm stereotypes about the blogosphere in the mainstream media, that we will go to print with material they would properly spurn. The blogosphere’s power rests in our willingness to print what the mainstream media would improperly reject, and we are undermined by giving the converse impression. La Russophobe is disturbed by the nature of ZheZhe’s post, however, and will be watching the blog closely to decide whether she needs to reconsider the wisdom of linking to its material.
These concerns may have no meaning to ZheZhe’s editors, however, since it may well be the case that they (like the editors of the eXile) have no wish to be taken seriously: The blog proclaims at the top of its sidebar, as if they’re proud of it: “Because we strive for impartial objectivity we make no claim to the validity of information provided on this site or in the content that we provide links for.” In other words, they print stuff and random, couldn’t care less whether its reliable or not, and say right at the beginning that their content is unreliable and they don’t stand behind it. Well, you’ve got to give them points for honesty on one point, anyway. La Russophobe had originally blogrolled ZheZhe because they represented that they would focus on opening an English-language window to the Russian blogosphere, and this is necessary work. However, it seems she was misled not only by ZheZhe’s intentions in this regard but as to their committment to accuracy. Hence, she’s delisted them and apologizes to any reader she may have misled. In the future, she will avoid recommending blogs with so little track record.
Her advice now regarding ZheZhe is: steer clear or caveat emptor.