Daily Archives: February 9, 2007

Litvinenko Labeled "Traitor" by KGB Leader who calls for his Killing

Today La Russophobe is pleased to offer readers a trio of features from the BBC, referred to us by a British reader. Following this post, a second deals with Russian abuse of infants, and following that a third addresses Russian abuse of dissidents. In addition, if you click here you can read the Beeb’s interview with exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky and watch Beeb’s recent interview with a close friend of Alexander Litvineko who has just broken his silence.

But first, to complete a British hat trick, here is the Beeb’s report on Alexander Gusak, Litvinenko’s former KGB boss, who calls him a “traitor” and says he should be killed. So much for the idea that he was “nobody” to the KGB (if you click through, you can listen to the interview live):

Alexander Gusak called him a “direct traitor” for betraying other Russian agents to British intelligence. Mr Litvinenko, 43, who was a vehement critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin, died on 23 November after being poisoned by radioactive polonium-210. His friends claim the Kremlin ordered his assassination – Moscow denies this.

Mr Gusak, a former head of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, has now retired and works as a lawyer. In an interview for BBC’s Newsnight, he was asked if the spy deserved to die. He said: “I consider him a direct traitor because he betrayed what is most sacred for any operative – his operational sources. “For that – and I speak as a lawyer – what Litvinenko did comes under article 275 of the criminal code. It’s called treason. And there are sanctions; prescribed punishments. Up to 20 years in prison. But that’s in accordance with the law.”

He said under the previous regime, Mr Litvinenko would have been executed. “I was brought up on Soviet law. That provides for the death penalty for treason – article 64. I think if in Soviet times he had come back to the USSR he would have been sentenced to death.” Mr Gusak said one of the agents who believed he had been exposed by Mr Litvinenko offered to assassinate the former spy. He said: “I didn’t advise any of them to go and kill Litvinenko, though one of them did say: ‘Listen, he’s done you so much wrong – shall I bring you his head?’”

The ex-spymaster also confirmed claims made by Mr Litvinenko of a plan to kill the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky in 1997. The plot was later exposed by Mr Litvinenko at a London press conference. Before his death Mr Litvinenko accused the Russian president Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder. Police sources have told the BBC that the “most likely poisoner” was Andrei Lugovoi, who met Mr Litvinenko in London on the day he fell ill.

Mr Lugovoi accused the British media of “lies” and said he should be regarded as a witness and not a suspect. Scotland Yard has handed a file on its investigation to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Beeb on Russian Poisonings

At left, you see a photograph of a scowling Grigori Yavlinksy, leader of the Yabloko opposition party, hodling a photograph of murdered dissident journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin. A British reader tips us that BBC radio has a radio broadcast available in which they investigate the series of political murders to which the Kremlin has been linked. Click here to listen. Here’s their print report:

“He complained about fatigue, and red blotches began to appear on his skin. His internal organs began collapsing one by one. Then he lost almost all his hair.”

This was how a witness described the mysterious illness which struck down 53 year old Yuri Shchekochikhin, a member of the Russian Duma or parliament, in June 2003. Within 16 days of falling ill Shchekochikhin was dead. And both colleagues and family suspect he was murdered.

The strange illness of Yuri Shchekochikhin is one of a series of deaths investigated in Russia by File on 4 in the wake of the dramatic radiation poisoning of Russian exile Alexander Litvinenko in London last November. The common factor in these deaths is that in each case people close to the victim suspect that either the state or one of its security arms was involved.

Family frustrated

As a journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin was one of Russia’s top corruption investigators. His colleagues say family members were told by medical staff that he may have died from “an allergic reaction”. But more than three years after his death, his family are said still to be trying to obtain medical records and tissue samples to allow an independent scientific analysis to be done. A friend of Shchekochikhin, Kirill Kabanov, who is a former member of the Federal Security Service, the FSB, was travelling with him shortly before his illness. Kabanov says that among the targets of Shchekochikhin’s investigations were very senior people in the FSB and in other state agencies.

He recalls that with no official help, friends of the dead man mounted an independent assessment of the facts they knew. “We had our own investigation of Yuri’s death,” says Kirill Kabanov. And I personally had to use some of my old contacts from the security services. And the specialist whom I contacted said that with 90% certainty Yuri’s case was a poisoning and most likely he was poisoned with thallium.”

(Thallium was initially suspected by doctors treating Alexander Litvinenko in London before further tests pinpointed the radioactive substance polonium-210 as the poison.)

Asked why doctors should give other reasons for the death and why samples should be unobtainable, Kirill Kabanov again draws on his secret service knowledge. “Yuri Schekochikhin’s treatment and his post-mortem took place at the Central Clinical Hospital. This is the most important clinic in Russia and it’s tightly controlled by the Russian Federal Security Service because it treats top-ranking Russian officials.”

So could a cover-up have taken place?

“Recently,” says Kabanov darkly, “very few people in Russia find the courage to tell the truth.”

Bodyguard’s death

There are similar suspicions surrounding the death of another man, Roman Tsepov, aged 42, in St Petersburg in September 2004. Tsepov had been running a security agency since the nineties. He had even guarded the man who became Russia’s president seven years ago, Vladimir Putin. After a business trip to Moscow Roman Tsepov fell ill and his condition went downhill dramatically, as his physician, Dr Pyotr Pirumov, recalled, in an account given to the agency for Journalistic Investigations in St Petersburg.

“It was poisoning without a poison… It was as if his immune system was switched off.” Again in under three weeks after falling ill the patient was dead. No clear cause of death was issued. And when we called Dr Pirumov he seemed nervous about the case and declined to grant an interview. But File on 4 has now learned that a few weeks after Alexander Litvinenko’s death, the files on Roman Tsepov were requested from St Petersburg by the General Prosecutor’s Office in Moscow and the case is now being handled from there. A claim made by a Moscow investigative journalist, Igor Korolkov, of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, only deepens the mystery.

Massive contamination

“My source at the prosecutor’s office in St Petersburg told me that a post mortem on Roman Tsepov showed he was contaminated with a radioactive element,” says Korolkov. “And the quantity of this element in Tsepov’s body exceeded the norm by one million times.” Suspicions that the state, or its security or armed services could have had a hand in high profile killings are dismissed by the deputy chairman of the Duma security committee, Mikhail Grishankov.

He is a member of the pro-Putin United Russia Party and is also a former member of the FSB. “Russia is now very different from what it was like back in the 1930s and 1940s,” says Mikhail Grishankov. And the myths formed in the West back in those times, are a hangover of the Cold War. And this speculation about the alleged connection of the Russian security services – I see it as an attempt to bring these Cold War skeletons back to life!”


The Beeb on Cruelty to Russian Infants

The BBC has done a nice investigation of the “gagged baby” story that La Russophobe reported several days ago. Here it is:

Mobile phone video of babies in a Russian hospital with sticking plaster apparently covering their mouths made headlines around the world but the plight of the otkazniki – the infants abandoned by their mothers in hospital – goes much deeper. For Maxim Gareyev, editor of Yekaterinburg’s parenting newspaper Yeka-mama, the story which broke at Hospital No 15 was no great surprise. “We get confidential letters and private messages from officials and others about babies being maltreated in hospitals but nobody wants to speak out because they don’t want to lose their jobs or they fear for their reputations,” he told the BBC News website. Mr Gareyev has little to say about the “gagging” case, pointing out that city prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation.

But what he can talk about is the circumstances of the babies, because it is something he knows well from both his newspaper’s own reporting and his charity work to help them. Babies officially taken into care by the state on the grounds that their parents are unfit to rear them are usually out of hospital and in a children’s home within a few days of birth, says Mr Gareyev. But otkazniki are often left behind in hospitals for months, awaiting a vacancy. If a carer is not found, they will be packed off to orphanages at the age of three. And their experiences during those first years of life may mark them permanently.

Nowhere to go

The reported events at Hospital No 15 are a first for Carel de Rooy, the Unicef representative in Russia and Belarus, but the issue of otkazniki is one that he has long been pushing for the Russian authorities to address. “Hospital staff are trained to care for the sick – they are not trained to deal with the cognitive and emotional development of babies,” he told the BBC News website. “This has serious implications both for the development and long-term health of the child.” Given the potential for damage to these babies’ make-up, why do they get left in hospital? The answer, Maxim Gareyev explains, is lack of resources.

“We simply do not have enough children’s homes in Sverdlovsk [the region around Yekaterinburg] and Russia in general,” he says. “These babies get left in hospitals but there are no funds or trained medical staff or special facilities for caring for them. “Of course, the hospitals make space for these babies but the problem is that in the first year of life a baby needs to be cuddled, it needs to be talked to, if it is to develop as a human being.”

Overworked nurses

Charities have stepped in to do what they can for the babies. Olga Bizimova, a 27-year-old married mother of two, became a volunteer in Yekaterinburg’s Little Stork group because she felt sorry for them. “We buy disposable nappies and baby food,” she told the BBC News website.
“We visit our local hospital. We give the babies a bath, we dress them and, if we get permission, we take them out for walks. Then we come back and we play games and feed them.” She also once visited Hospital No 15, which treats infectious diseases, and she had the impression that it was a “good, clean hospital where the kids are looked after well. The only problem was that the nurses in charge of them had an awful lot of work to do looking after sick children and simply did not have the time to look after the abandoned babies too,” she says.

When Mrs Bizimova was at No 15, she was warned that some of the babies could have infectious diseases. The city has a children’s home specially equipped for treating such children but it is currently full, she says. Carel de Rooy notes that the situation of children infected with HIV/Aids in Russia is particularly serious, with some babies “lingering in hospitals for 18 months or more”.

Culprits

About 730,000 children are growing up in Russia without their biological parents, of whom only 10% are orphans in the true sense of the word, according to Unicef. Almost 75% of them grow up in families through guardianship, foster care, patronage or adoption but that leaves about 186,000 children growing up in institutions. For volunteer Olga Bizimova, the main reasons why mothers give up their babies are lack of money and living-space along with problems such as alcoholism. Mr de Rooy agrees that Russia’s economic growth has “unfortunately not translated into support for the poorest families”. But he also calls on the state to allow mothers more time to decide about keeping their children and invest in training for families, which “costs less in the long run than care in state institutions”. Maxim Gareyev finds a positive in the investigation at Hospital No 15: hospital staff have been given a “good scare” which will make them more careful about babies, he says. Yet he is worried that a successful prosecution may only mask the longer-term problem of babies left neglected in hospitals. “I for one could not bring myself to condemn outright any nurse that is convicted – it is not the job of hospital staff to care for babies full-time,” he says.

“I am afraid that she may be used here as a scapegoat when the real culprit is our state.”

Austria Slaps Quota on Odious Russian Tourists

La Russophobe wishes she had a rouble for every time she’s heard from a Russophile maniac that Europe sides with Russia against the United States, and/or that Russians can bribe their way out of any problem. Meanwhile, Americans can travel to Austria in any number without a visa, but Russians? Let the Guardian fill you in:

To many resorts they would be viewed as dream guests: tourists prepared to spend huge amounts of money, day and night. But hoteliers in the luxury Austrian ski resort of Kitzbühel think otherwise. According to a memo leaked to the local press, they have voted to limit the number of Russian visitors to 10% of the total number of guests at any one time. According to outgoing tourism chief Renate Danier, the deal reached by 16 out of 20 of Kitzbühel’s four- and five-star hotels states that only a limited number of Russians are welcome in the Tyrolean resort. She told reporters: “We have so many bookings from international travel agents that we have a limited ability to take any more guests. We want international variety and not to be 50% Russian.” The agreement states that the quota is necessary to retain the “international mix” for which Kitzbühel is well known. It adds that Russian guests are “naturally welcome” but that Kitzbühel wants to avoid becoming a Russian “stronghold”. The number of Russian and Ukrainian guests to the Tyrol has been rising each year since the millennium, boosting profits while other resorts fight to keep guests despite low snowfall. Many resorts now accept the rouble, with menus written in Cyrillic and some resorts laying on Russian-speaking shopping scouts. They are known for their big spending – Gucci skis and Chanel skiwear abound, while Maybach cars cruise the streets. Last year Yelena Baturina Luzhkova, wife of the mayor of Moscow, reportedly ordered “kilos of caviar” in a single evening.

The Russians are also notorious for their ability to party hard, as well as for drunkenness and unruly behaviour. But tourism experts believe that the underlying anger of the 9,000 locals stems from the Russian-fuelled property boom. Russians are increasingly buying ski chalets and hotels for £15m or more, driving prices up and pushing locals out of the market, despite the fact only EU citizens have the right to buy property in Kitzbühel. The owner of Chelsea football club, Roman Ambramovich, has reportedly put in a bid for a luxury hotel, while Mrs Luzhkova is said to have bought a golf course on which she plans to build a hotel. Politicians are coming under pressure to deal with the issue as property prices have almost doubled since 2005. “It’s time to act before locals are pushed out,” said Kitzbühel’s mayor, Klaus Winkler. Sepp Schellhorn, president of the Austrian Hoteliers Association, condemned the Russian quota as “absurd” and “shortsighted”. “This is not in line with the wishes of those who promote Austria or the Austrian economy,” he said.

But the head of Sporthotel Mayr-Reisch, Rupert Mayr-Reisch, said: “We’ve learned from other resorts, like St Moritz. You get a bit of a nationality imbalance when one nation gets the upper hand. It’s more pleasant when there are not too many people from one country in the same hotel.” However, Mr Schellhorn said that it was ridiculous to speak of a mix of nations: “Think about it: Kitzbühel has a large number of Germans, but no one has ever thought of trying to limit their numbers.”

Now, dear reader, how do you think Russians will react to this news? Will they (a) blame an evil foreign conspiracy of “russophobes” or will they (b) seek to find out why Austrians hate them so much and try to reform or will they (c) laugh it off like little schoolboys, as if it matters not?