Daily Archives: May 28, 2008

May 28, 2008 — Contents


(1) EDITORIAL: Russia, the Worst of All Possible Worlds

(2) Opposition Demands Release of Political Prisoners

(3) KBG Will Listen in on your Cell Phone Calls

(4) The National Assembly Declaration

(5) Annals of Litvinenko

NOTE: Russia “won” the Eurovision song contest over the weekend using a song written and produced by Americans and sung in American English. Not long ago Russia won a European basketball title with crucial American help as well. If Russia goes on “winning” like this, America will soon dominate Europe and Russia will become the 51st state! Writing on Robert Amsterdam’s blog, Grigori Pasko states: A joke: “The Russians have a saying — Какая держава – такие и победы. Which translates roughly as ‘What kind of country you have tells you what kind of victories you can expect from it.’ In the past, we felt proud because Gagarin had flown into outer space. Nowadays — it’s because Dima Bilan has taken first place in Eurovision.”

EDITORIAL: Russia — The Worst of All Possible Worlds


Russia: The Worst of All Possible Worlds

The Moscow Times reports more shockingly bad news for Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

In the most recent Global Peace Survey, Russia ranked a jaw-dropping #131 out of 140 countries under survey. Russia has the fifth-highest murder rate on the planet and is involved in turbulent military conflicts all across its southern border. It’s keeping company with Nigeria, North Korea, Columbia and Lebanon, not the other members of the G-8 democracy club.

Russia is shown above in the map colored blood red, with a “very low” score for peace.

Russophile propagandists will point out that the United States didn’t do so well either, coming in at #97 on the list and ending up in the “low” category. But that’s far better than Russia, and the United States is one of the freest countries in the world. So it’s natural that it would have less peace and order than a nation that is ruled as a dictatorship – and yet, where Russia is concerned at least, it doesn’t.

In other words, Russia offers its citizens the worst of all possible worlds. It deprives its people of all the benefits of a free society, yet it doesn’t compensate them by giving them the “peace and order” benefits of an authoritarian society.

And the Russian government’s response was entirely predictable. Think they might be concerned that Russia is in crisis and want to take action? Think again. The Moscow Times quoted Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a think tank that tracks security challenges and Russia’s arms trade: “There exists a huge number of misconceptions about Russia and other countries, and they are reflected here. There is no doubt that this ranking reflects an Anglo-Saxon outlook on things.”

In other words, it’s not Russia that has the problem, it’s the “Anglo-Saxons.” Never mind that the United States didn’t make the top 75 countries on the list, Russians are instantly sure that the only possible explanation for such results is a massive anti-Russian conspiracy.

This is exactly the way the old USSR used to react to bad news. Kill the messenger. That attitude prevented the USSR from reforming, and led to its collapse. It’s quite comical, in fact, to watch the Russophile propagandists try to decide whether they should attack America for coming in low on the list (but, uh-oh, that means the list is reliable, and Russia’s score is even lower!) or attack the list itself (thus exculpating America’s poor result). Or, it would be funny if it weren’t so very tragic. This too smacks of the bad old days of the USSR.

Can we expect anything different than the USSR’s fate from Vladimir Putin’s Russia if it acts the same way?

What Passes for Heroism in Russia

Grigory Pasko, via Robert Amsterdam:

Если Вы хотите прочитать оригинал данной статьи на русском языке, нажмите сюда.

A joke: The Russians have a saying – Какая держава – такие и победы. Which translates roughly as “What kind of country you have tells you what kind of victories you can expect from it.” In the past, we felt proud because Gagarin had flown into outer space. Nowadays – it’s because Dima Bilan has taken first place in Eurovision

If a government official in Russia has done something shameful, has committed a crime related to his position, has manifested blatant incompetence, but at the same time has remained loyal and true to the ruling establishment, then you can be sure that they will not remove him and will not punish him. Furthermore, most likely he will be promoted or transferred to another cushy cash-generating job.

It is precisely to such a conclusion that one can come after analyzing certain personnel reshuffles in the Russian establishment of recent days.

And yet another important conclusion: Putin continues to run the country. And the personnel reshuffles also bear witness to precisely this.

Let’s talk about but a few of the personages on whose example these conclusions are clear and understandable.

The author and satirist Viktor Shenderovich gave a brilliant recounting of some of the reshuffles on the air on the radio station «Echo Moskvy» (the text of his broadcast can be found here).

Shenderovich, in particular, talks about how by an ukase of the new president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, the former representative of the president in the Volga Federal District, Alexander Konovalov was appointed to head the Ministry of Justice. The head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) became Patrushev’s former deputy, general Alexander Bortnikov. Shenderovich recalls that Konovalov first became famous already three years ago, when, as procurator of Bashkiria [also known as Bashkortostan—Trans.], he was in charge of the investigation into the mass beatings of citizens in tiny Blagoveshchensk.

“The local OMON shared its experience in Chechnya with the Bashkirs: a thousand people beaten, dozens raped – first-class ‘working with the population’…”, recounts the writer/satirist. “Human rights advocates demanded then the punishment of the guilty and the dismissal of the head of the Bashkirian MVD – they wanted, the bastards, to bleed the vertical [of power] dry! But procurator Konovalov, the Eye of Murtaz [that would be Murtaz Rakhimov, president of Bashkiria—G.P.], when faced with a choice between the law and his bosses, unerringly chose the latter, and rather than the top brass in the police being gotten rid of, participants in a protest rally were dispersed instead. And dozens of OMON Chikatilos [Chikatilo was a maniacal serial murderer—G.P.] remained “unestablished” by the procuracy’s investigation: the honest procurator Konovalov explained that the criminal-cops were wearing masks, and this, as I’m sure you understand, is an insurmountable obstacle for the investigation! For this legal exploit the Bashkirian procurator earned the post of Putin’s representative in the Volga District, from where he has now emerged into Medvedev’s minister of justice.”

In addition to the “Blagoveshchensk affair”, Konovalov, as Shenderovich is quick to recall, was also in charge of a case involving investigating the legality of the privatization of the Bashkirian fuel-and-energy complex, the greater part of the enterprises of which by ukase of president of Bashkiria Murtaz Rakhimov was transferred to structures controlled by his son, Ural Rakhimov. According to the assessment of the Accounting Chamber, this privatizational scheme became an unprecedented incident of the theft of assets under Federal ownership… Konovalov’s running of the investigation ended in a favorable cessation thereof. Favorable – for the Rakhimov family, and not at all for the Federal budget. (Well, you understand our priorities…). As is said in the official biography of the new minister of justice, Mr. Konovalov already in youth achieved serious successes in academic rowing… The ability to sweep things under oneself and in the proper direction, I am convinced, will turn out to be absolutely essential in the future as well.”


Alexander Konovalov, yesterday a member of a rowing crew, today a member of Medvedev’s crew

About the new head of the FSB Russians found out already before his appointment as the new head of this odious organization. Alexander Bortnikov acquired broad fame after the publication of two investigative articles in the magazine «The New Times». In the first case, what was being spoken of was the murder of Litvinenko, the organization of which, according to certain well-founded data, Bortnikov was personally in charge of; in the second case, the journalist Natalia Morari described the role of the FSB general in the work of the Kremlin’s “laundry”, engaged in diverting some serious money from controlled oil companies, through quiet offshores, to «Raiffeisen» bank… Subsequent events unfolded in such a manner that the true face of Mr. Bortnikov became clear to everybody once and for all. The journalist Morari was denied entry into Russia. The ominous shadow of Mr. Bortnikov clearly loomed behind this unlawful prohibition. But inasmuch as the courts of Russia are very independent …of the laws, Morari to this day remains without entry, while Bortnikov has gotten a promotion.


Alexander Bortnikov, yesterday a money-launderer, today Russia’s head spy

About the rather unique concept of honor and conscience among the chekists I can share my own experience. When it was established by a military court that a certain FSB investigator by the name of Yegorkin had falsified the materials of the criminal case unlawfully initiated in relation to me, what did they do with this miserable excuse for a chekist? Why, they promoted him of course. And not just him: various and sundry commendations and awards were also bestowed on other members of the investigative brigade.

We can recall other examples as well, when a personage who had brought scandal upon himself instead of getting a plank-bed in a jail was sent to a nice, warm, and high-ranking job promotion. And even in those extremely rare cases when an official was convicted by a court, a real term of serving punishment was replaced for him by a suspended sentence – that’s how it was with former minister of atomic energy Yevgeny Adamov, who had stolen from the state, in the opinion of the investigation, $40 million dollars.

In general, the courts in Russia continue to incessantly amaze the world and local public. Moreover, they do this in parallel with the solemnly-intellectual speeches of the new president about the need for an independent judiciary.

By a sentence of the Basmanny Court, the leader of the movement «Oborona», Oleg Kozlovsky, was arrested for thirteen days under the article «Failure to obey employees of the police». Kozlovsky was detained on the sixth of May, when he was heading to a «Dissenters’ March». Judging by the testimony in court, Kozlovsky had been detained by two different policemen in two different places at two different times. In so doing, Oleg supposedly offered resistance to both. In the mind of a normal person, this is called delirium. In the mind of the “independent” Russian court, which convicted Kozlovsky, and not those who had fabricated false testimony against him, this is – a normal state of affairs.

If things keep going this way (and they certainly will), then there’s no way Medvedev will ever be around long enough to see independent courts in Russia.

By the way, there was recently a scandalous incident in the court system as well.

On 8 May, the next day after Medvedev’s inauguration, a judge of the Central District Court of the city of Barnaul, Valentin Poluyanov, adopted a decision on the unlawfulness, invalidity of the elections of the mayor of this city. This is the first such case in the country. In Barnaul there are 510 thousand voters and a mere 249 voting stations. And so, at 83 of them, based on the complaint filed by participants in the elections, the judge organized a recount of the votes, and it became clear that there are more ballots there than voters who voted. The judge, using such terminology as “massive fraud”, adopted a decision on how the mayor had not been elected, elections had not taken place. And how did this all end? Exactly as such things are supposed to end in a totalitarian state. Poluyanov was forced into submitting his resignation. If a person, even a judge, doesn’t have administrative support, then he is helpless. His decision, by the way, was protested in the higher-standing court.

This judicial anti-hero Poluyanov, it goes without saying, is an exception in a judicial system that has long ago rotted to the core. And the premature end to his career is living proof of this.

Today’s Russian power has been surrounding itself for a long time already with controversial personalities. Moreover, not only at the level of the heads of the FSB and of justice, but of lower rank as well. For example, in the leadership of the subdivisions of the «United Russia» party. Recently, it became known that the pop star, lead singer of the group «Smash» Vlad Topalov in the last four years consumed hard drugs. The mass media remind that Topalov is a member of the public council of the «Young Guard» of «United Russia». That is, to speak in the language of the recent past and very near future, he was – a Komsomol ringleader.

Vlad Topalov, yesterday a role model for Russia’s youth, today a role model for drug traffickers

The Putinite-Medvedevite time chooses for itself as heroes people not from the world of scholars, thinkers, writers, inventors, instructors, but from the world of sport and pop-business. The latest hurrah of patriotic hysteria broke out in connection with the victory in the Eurovision competition of a second-rate Russian singer, Dima Bilan. Medvedev immediately congratulated the singer. They immediately bestowed upon him the title of People’s Artist of Russia. One of the streets of the town of Ust-Dzhegut in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, where the singer is from by birth, was immediately renamed after him.

Indeed, if there are no real achievements in the economy, science, production, the resolution of the social problems of the people, then even such achievements as the victory of a mediocre singer in a mediocre contest will be tossed into the propaganda machine.

The times are like that now – mediocre. Like the leaders of the country.

Opposition Demands Freedom for Political Prisoners

The Other Russia reports:

Some of Russia’s most prominent human rights activists have written an open letter urging President Dmitri Medvedev to free political prisoners. The letter was presented at a May 22nd press-conference in Moscow, and was hand delivered to the Executive Office of the president.

Attached to the letter is a paper providing more detail (RUS) on the names mentioned in the letter. The open letter is currently gathering signatures online (RUS).

A complete translation follows.

An open appeal of human rights activists to Dmitri Medvedev

Mr. President!

During the presidential election campaign you repeatedly stressed how important the principles of rule of law were for Russia. We could not help but take notice of your words, which also correspond to what we view as a priority.

In our earnest conviction, politically motivated criminal prosecutions and politically motivated court sentences are in violent contrast with the the principle of rule of law.

This is precisely why we are calling on you to pardon those people, who became, in our opinion, the victims of politically motivated persecution, and to do all that is in your power to ensure that they are granted liberty.

As a first step, we call on you to pardon the following citizens of the Russian Federation:

Danilov, Valentin Vladimirovich. CC RF [Criminal Code of the Russian Federation] Article 275, sentenced to 13 years standard confinement regime. [Wikipedia entry on Danilov’s case]

Sutyagin, Igor Vyacheslavovich, CC RF Article 275, sentenced to 15 years standard confinement regime. [Wikipedia entry on Sutyagin’s case]

Reshetin, Igor Andreevich , academic of the Space Technology Academy, general director of the TsNIIMash-Export closed joint-stock company (sentenced to 11.5 years maximum security regime), his deputy chief of security Alexander Rozhkin, chief economist Sergei Vizir, and Mikhail Ivanov, the head of one of the departments of the TsNIIMAsh Federal State Unitary Enterprise – sentenced from 5 to 11 years incarceration. [Read more about the TsNIIMash case and its victims from the Novaya Gazeta (ENG)]

Khodorkovsky, Mikhail Borisovich, sentenced to 8 years incarceration in standard confinement.

Lebedev, Platon Leonidovich, sentenced to 8 years incarceration in standard confinement.

Pichugin, Aleksei Vladimirovich, sentenced to life imprisonment.

Aleksanyan, Vasily Georgievich, Executive Vice-President of YUKOS with presidential powers. On 04.06.2006 Moscow’s Simonov district court discerned material evidence of an offense in Vasily Aleksanyan’s actions, and gave consent to the Prosecutor-General’s Office to start a criminal prosecution of the Executive Vice-President. Later that same day, Vasily Aleksanyan was detained, and the Russian Federation’s Prosecutor-General’s Office charged him on two articles of the Criminal Code: legalization [or] money laundering (part 4 article 174.1) and appropriation or embezzlement, that is, stealing another’s property (article 160). On 04.07.2006 the Basmanny regional court sanctioned the arrest of Vasily Aleksanyan. He is currently hospitalized under guard.

Bakhmina, Svetlana Petrovna, a deputy chief of the Yukos legal department, arrested 12.07.2004. Sentenced to 8 years standard confinement regime.

Murtazalieva, Zara, born 1983, insurance broker, 3rd year student of the Linguistics University of Pyatigorsk, a native of the Naursky region of the Chechen Republic, was arrested March 4th 2004 in Moscow. Convicted of intending to commit a terrorist act, and sentenced to 8.5 years. [Read More about Murtazalieva’s case from the Memorial Human Rights group]

Talkhigov, Zaurbek Yunusovich, born 1977, native of the village of Shali, in the Shali region of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Was sentenced to 8.5 years incarceration for attempting to aid in the release of hostages from the Theater Center at Dubrovka in October 2002. [Read more about Talkhigov’s case from the Caucasian Knot / Memorial]

By Russian law, the President of the RF may pardon a prisoner without requiring him to admit his own guilt.

We are familiar with the prosecuting circumstances of every one of the listed prisoners, and have solid grounds to assert that political considerations determined their prosecutions.

We have brought forth a far from complete list of Russian political prisoners, selecting those that have the longest [prison] terms and whose prosecution received the greatest public attention. It is clear that other prisoners, who we consider to be political, did not make the list. In particular – members of the Other Russia coalition (at the present moment – 14 people), a series of businessmen, and others.

We hope that the procedure of pardon extends to them as well.

Mr. President, by starting your presidential term with the pardoning of political prisoners, you will open a new page in Russian history, restoring the hope of an independent judiciary, which is so lacking in Russia.

L.M. Alekseeva, Moscow Helsinki Group
S.A. Gannushkina, “Civil Assistance” Committee
S.A. Kovalev, A. Sakharov Foundation
L.A. Ponomarev, “For Human Rights” Movement
Yu.A. Ryzhkov, academic of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Yu.B. Samodurov, A. Sakharov Museum and Civic Center
A.K. Simonov, Glasnost Defense Foundation
E.I. Cherniy, Public Committee for the Protection of Scientists
G.P. Yakunin, Public Committee for the Protection of Freedom of Conscience

Appeal supported by:
N.Yu. Belykh, chairman of the federal political advisory committee of the Union of Right Forces party
Vaclav Havel, former president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize
Andre Glucksmann, philosopher
Rudolph Bindig, honorary member of the PACE, former deputy of the [German] Bundestag
Lord Frank Judd

Next for Russia’s KGB: Legal Cell Phone Eavesdropping

Other Russia reports:

Draft legislation introduced into the Russian Parliament could give the country’s security services the right to listen in on mobile telephone calls. As the state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported on May 20th, the legislation would also allow security service, militsiya and customs agency officers to ask service providers to cut the line of communication if there is a danger to the life or health of a citizen. The line may also be disconnected in cases where the state, military, economic or ecological safety of the country is threatened.

Beyond that, agencies leading an investigation will have the right to ask mobile telephony providers for information on their users, including their IMEI numbers, an identity feature built into every mobile device.

The bill was introduced to Russia’s lower house, the State Duma, and would need to clear three readings before heading to the Federation Council, the upper house, and ultimately the president’s desk.

A similar bill was put forth in the legislature of the Russian Republic of Tatarstan. Authorities there said the draft law is “aimed at lowering the number of crimes connected with stolen instruments of cellular communication.”

At the present, mobile telephone providers have the option to refuse requests from the security services, and may decide whether to cooperate on a case by case basis. If the company denies a request, officials are forced to go through the judicial system and appeal before obtaining records or listening in on conversations.

The Russian Declaration of Independence

The Other Russia reports:

The National Assembly, a gathering of political forces put together by the Russian opposition, has released a draft declaration on the state of Russian politics (below). The Assembly will met in Moscow on May 17th and 18th, bringing together delegates from 85 organizations and 66 Russian regions. Political groups include the United Civil Front, the Union of Right Forces, Yabloko, and the Communist Party.

A list of the nearly 700 delegates is available here (RUS). The delegates were chosen at three separate conferences previously held in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Even before the conference started, reports were coming in that delegates were being pressured not to attend. In the southern city of Barnaul, a man claiming to be a major and calling from a number registered with the militsiya threatened Dmitri Kolesnikov and journalist Yevgenia Berseneva, and told them not to leave the city. Roman Mishurov, another delegate, was pulled off a train from Samara to Moscow and detained under an alleged suspicion that he was carrying counterfeit money. In another southern city, Orenburg, Konstantina Korsakova and Yevgenia Kasaurova reported being constantly followed and threatened over the phone.

UPDATE: The declaration has been adopted by delegates on May 17, 2008.

Political Declaration of the National Assembly of the Russian Federation

We, the deputies of the National Assembly, representing Russian civil society, and the widest spectrum of parties and movements of the non-parliamentary opposition,

on the basis of principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

following the provisions of the Constitution of the Russian Federation,

acting for the sake of the interests of Russia’s people and their future,

do declare:

The ruling political regime in Russia is illegitimate. The political, administrative, [and] judicial authority of Russia has been usurped by the henchmen of oligarchic clans and members of a group of secret services, who have occupied key posts in the political machinery of the country. Major national resources have been put in the service of the regime – environmental, financial, informational. On a vast scale, the ruling regime appropriates government property, budgetary resources, national assets and property of the citizens.

The Constitution of the Russian Federation proclaims: “Man, his rights and freedoms are the supreme value. The recognition, observance and protection of the rights and freedoms of man and citizen shall be the obligation of the State,” [and] “the only source of power in the Russian Federation shall be its multinational people.” However, the ruling regime has deprived the Russian people of their fundamental civil and political rights – to personal immunity [(translation note: or protection against unreasonable search and seizure)], to freedom of conscience and free expression of one’s convictions, to freedom of movement and travel on the territory of one’s own country, to the freedom of peaceful assemblies and associations, to an independent and impartial judicial defense, to the right of participation in governing the country, to government by the people. Free political competition, the democratic electoral process, representative bodies, an independent judicial system, and independent mass media have been destroyed. The institutions of federalism and local self government have been diluted. The democratic procedures have been reduced to fiction.

The elections of deputies to the State Duma on December 2nd 2007 and of the president on March 2nd 2008 were neither free, nor competitive, nor fair. The citizens of Russia were subjected to unprecedented bribery, arm-twisting and intimidation. The results of the voting were widely and glaringly falsified. Unlawfully usurping the powers of government, the ruling regime accomplished a take-over of political authority that belongs to the Russian people. The organs of state power, formed as result of such a special operation, as well as any decisions adopted, and all appointments made by these bodies, contradict the Russian Constitution in the rudest way and are therefore unlawful.

Having destroyed the imperfect, but none the less functioning legal order in the country, the regime has made complete lawlessness the norm. A caste of corrupt bureaucrats has been created, [and is] protected by the full powers of the repressive state apparatus.

At the same time, the nation’s military system is crumbling, which leads to the degradation of Russia’s armed forces, the weakening of the country’s defense capabilities, and loss of its real sovereignty.

In the present-day world, the regime’s social and economic policies secure the role of a backwards raw-materials exporter for our country. The authority of favoritism is incapable of modernizing the economy, society, [or] the state. The monopoly of privileges, the plundering of public funds, national assets, [and] environmental resources has made members of the highest ranks of power billionaires, at the same time as uncontrollable inflation decimates the incomes and savings of millions of Russian citizens. The pension system is on the verge of bankruptcy. The collapse of the residential, social, and transport infrastructure forces a substantial part of our fellow citizens to struggle for survival. Citizens of Russia ended up deprived of the capability to receive necessary medical service and public education.

The result of policies of discrimination and segregation of citizens became the aggravation of social, multi-ethnic and interfaith conflicts. Many Russian citizens have turned into social outcasts in their own country over social, ethnic and interfaith reasons.

The ruling regime suppresses attempts by citizens to defend their rights and freedoms with the help of propaganda, bribery, arm-twisting, threats, crude police and judicial arbitrariness, violence, terror, [as well as] taking away freedom, property, health and life itself from Russian citizens.

We, the deputies of the National Assembly, call on the citizens of Russia to strive with us for:

  • The emancipation of all political prisoners.
  • The dissolution of all the illegitimately formed bodies of power, including the State Duma.
  • The implementation of universal free and competitive elections with the participation of all existing political parties and organizations.
  • The formation of bodies for representing the people and an Executive Branch [that are] responsible before the Russian people and that carry out the will of Russia’s subjects.
  • The equitable distribution of national wealth, produced by free people.
  • The transformation of Russia into a legal, democratic, secular federal republic.

Annals of Litvinenko: Nekrasov via Amsterdam

Robert Amsterdam translates an essay by Russian filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov, the director and producer of “Rebellion, The Litvinenko Case, a Cannes featured documentary which opened in London on May 23rd.

One year ago the Crown Prosecution Service named the suspect in the Alexander Litvinenko murder case. It was an important event for those involved and interested in the story; the indictment gave weight to the popular suspicion that the Russian state security apparatus was behind Litvinenko’s spectacular demise six months earlier. Important for me personally was also that on the day the former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi became the official murder suspect, Cannes film festival made a surprise announcement that my documentary about Litvinenko was included in the main programme.

This coincidence had an exaggerated significance in the heat surrounding the Litvinenko affair in Russia. Some commentators declared that there is a cross border cross-cultural conspiracy, between the British political establishment and the French cultural one, against Russia trying to reassert itself as a world power. Some claimed that the “anti-Russian” film in Cannes is a sign of France’s new president harsher attitude to Russia; others said that “the piece of anti-Putin propaganda” was to be shown in Cannes on the instigation of the scheming exiled tycoon Berezovsky.

All that would have been just bygone oddities, if it were not for an important connected problem the Litvinenko case presents, in my view, today. In a way it has reached an impasse. Russia will not extradite Mr. Lugovoi, while the British establishment refuses to be drawn into any more speculation on who might have been behind Mr. Lugovoi who seems to have had neither a motive, nor a possibility to pull off such a sophisticated radioactive poisoning on his own. In the meantime the appetite for speculation in the media has proved strong enough. Two journalists, in America and Britain, recently claimed that Litvinenko was involved in the smuggling of radioactive materials. The claims were not based on any evidence and contained contradictions and inaccuracies. Edward Epstein, for example, suggested in New York Sun that polonium 210 which killed Litvinenko may have been acquired during his trips abroad which date back years, or from equally old “stockpiles”. It is known, however, that the isotope completely loses its radioactivity just after four months. Mary Dejevsky wrote in the Independent that, according to Mr. Lugovoi, no tea was served during his fatal meeting with Litvinenko at the Millennium hotel, even though in Lugovoi’s many interviews, including the one in my film, he admitted that Litvinenko had actually drunk tea at that meeting. The tea factor is important because in Litvinenko’s own accepted version the poison must have been put into a tea pot before he arrived at the meeting and was offered to drink from the tea pot already on the table.

There is no need to expatiate on the reasons why different versions of Litvinenko’s death are tainted by world politics. But it is useful to recap some revealing paradoxes. The Russian government categorically denies that its secret services could be involved in any way, and Mr. Lugovoi rejects British accusations with indignation. In his turn, Lugovoi accused the London based exile Berezovsky and even the British secret service of poisoning his former fellow KGB officer Litvinenko. That’s what came across internationally. Yet inside Russia the emphasis is on portrayal of Litvinenko as a traitor, an enemy, an ally of Islamist terrorists and the helper of the inveterate anti-Putin provocateur Berezovsky. In terms of today’s Russian ethics such accusations amount to a death sentence to be executed by a patriotic volunteer. That explains why Mr. Lugovoi, completely unknown before the Litvinenko affair, has thereafter made a meteoric political career.

The basic problem of Western attitudes towards Russia today is that since the fall of the Soviet Union, no code has evolved to interpret the resulting culture, which is no more acceptable in terms of democratic values than Soviet communism. Xenophobic and extreme imperialist language, for example, that would not be out of place in a Nazi rant, is a part of today’s Russian political and ideological mainstream, and is notably the trademark of the leader of the Ultra-Nationalist party (an ally of the ruling “United Russia”) which gave electoral shelter to Mr. Lugovoi. On the international stage the Russian leadership and its friends in the West, such as the former German Chancellor Schroeder, insist Russia is a democracy, yet inside Russia the cultural establishment promotes the idea that the Russians are fundamentally disappointed with the notion of democracy and support the now overt authoritarianism.

There are those among Russia watchers in the West, who take the view that while Russia is clearly not a democracy of the Western type it should be judged on its own terms and therefore considered making a clear progress since the era of the Soviets and that of Yeltsin. Yet in practice judging Russia “on its own terms”, means applying lowered criteria to the understanding of Russian life, and denying the majority of Russians the empathy of contemporary humanism. It is widely accepted that Russians are better off now, but as a Russian I can testify that the theoretical comparisons with the Soviet and Yeltsin times do absolutely nothing to alleviate the daily material and moral pains of ordinary Russians, which most people in the West would simply raise in arms against. In Moscow, which is possibly the most expensive city of the world, 20 percent of citizens live on less than 90 Pounds a month (the government’s “survival minimum”), and that is just the official statistic, and that’s just in Moscow. Other estimates paint a picture which is probably more accurate: half of the Russian population lives in what in the West would be called abject poverty. But what’s probably even worse is the sense of total arbitrariness of the power of the corrupt officialdom, which has gravely increased since Yeltsin years and which is a part and parcel of the destruction of the post-communist civil liberties, undertaken by Putin.

The definitions such as “democratic on its own terms” are a self-delusion which allows some Western observers relay uncritically what is by and large authoritarian propaganda. Characteristically Russian establishment today borrows catch phrases from the times of Stalin’ purges to describe today’s questionable optimism: “Life’s become better, life’s become merrier”. It has been the main task of Russian official ideologues, such as Vladislav Surkov, to create a notion of Russian own type of democracy (“sovereign democracy”), and the main practical trait of that project was the use of censorship to suppress any free discussion on the subject.

The notion of a special Russian democracy is based on the paradoxical acceptance that the majority of Russians don’t care about the rule of the majority. To take the Russian leadership’s word on that is not just gullible, it’s arrogant and undemocratic. The West has to use its historic experience and logic to deny “another democracy” a status of respectability. An authoritarian oligarchy has no right to speak on behalf of Russia as long as it keeps a paranoid grip on the nation’s media, culture and the interpretation of history. It is precisely for that reason that those who see the Litvinenko case in the context of a putative new cold war between equally guilty adversaries are wrong. To see how the lack of real democracy in Russia is responsible for mega-corruption and the break down of the rule of law leading to the epidemic of political murders and state robbery – does not mean being prejudiced against Russia. It means caring for the Russian people. That is the essence of the Litvinenko case.