Saturday, December 20, 2008

Russia is Still Dangerous, Still Communist!

Russia test fires intercontinental missile
Press TV
Fri, 10 Apr 2009
Russia has successfully test-launched a PC-12M Topol intercontinental ballistic missile, Russian news agencies have reported.
According to the agencies, the missile was jointly launched by the Strategic Rocket Forces and the Space Forces from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on Friday.
"The dummy warhead has hit a designated target at the Kura testing grounds on the Kamchatka peninsula with the desired precision," the RIA Novosti quoted Alexander Vovk, aide to the commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces as saying. The spokesman further pointed out that the launch has allowed the extension of Topol's service life to 22 years.
"The launch has been conducted under a program to extend the operating life of Topol missile systems. Its purpose is to confirm the stability of the main flight and technical characteristics of the missile systems during the extension of their operating life," Interfax cited him as saying. The missile was produced in 1987 but remained on combat duty until August 2007. The Topol missile system is the foundation of the Strategic Rocket Forces group and is featured by high maneuverability and quick readiness to launch.
More Moscow Murder
Two critics of Vladimir Putin take bullets in the
Tuesday, January 20, 2009; Page A41
ANOTHER RUSSIAN fighting for human rights and the rule of law has been murdered in Vladimir Putin's Moscow. Stanislav Markelov, a lawyer who defended Chechens brutalized by Russian troops and journalists who wrote about the abuses, was shot in the head yesterday by a masked man carrying a silencer-equipped pistol. An opposition journalist who tried to intervene, Anastasia Baburova, was also fatally shot in the head. This occurred in broad daylight, on a busy street in central Moscow less than half a mile from the Kremlin. It was another demonstration that assassinations are a dominating feature of political life under Mr. Putin's regime.
Mr. Markelov, 34, was killed just after holding a news conference. In recent days, he had been fighting against the early release from prison of a Russian colonel who had been convicted of brutally murdering a Chechen woman. The officer, Yuri Budanov, has become a symbol for many of Russia's gross violations of human rights in Chechnya, since he was one of the few officers ever held accountable. Mr. Budanov's release a year before the end of his sentence prompted protest demonstrations in Chechnya; Mr. Markelov pointed out that Mr. Budanov's release contrasted sharply with the treatment of nonviolent political prisoners such as former Yukos oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was denied parole.
The larger story here is of serial murders of Mr. Putin's opponents, at home and abroad. Ms. Baburova, 25, is at least the 15th journalist to be slain since Mr. Putin took power. No one has been held accountable in any of the cases -- including that of Anna Politkovskaya, a former client of Mr. Markelov who also was murdered execution-style in broad daylight, on Mr. Putin's birthday in 2006. In London, dissident former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned; so was Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who survived. Karina Moskalenko, another opposition lawyer who has represented Ms. Politkovkaya's family, fell ill from mercury poisoning in Strasbourg, France, in October, just before a hearing in the case. Last week in Vienna, a Chechen dissident who had received political asylum was murdered on the street -- shot twice in the head.
It is possible that Mr. Putin and his security services had nothing to do with any of these murders. But it is a fact that the Russian leader has not pressed for justice; on the contrary, he has protected the suspects identified by Scotland Yard in the Litvinenko case. What is indisputable is that Russians live in a political climate in which those who criticize Mr. Putin or the human rights violations of his government can be murdered with impunity. Although some of the killings have occurred in their cities, Western governments have made no attempt to hold Mr. Putin or the Russian government accountable. Their silence helps keep brazen murder a part of Russia's politics.
Russian treason bill could target Kremlin critics
By David Nowak, Associated Press Writer
Wed Dec 17, 3:18 pm ET
MOSCOW – Under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, people who fraternized with foreigners or criticized the Kremlin were "enemies of the people" and sent to the gulag. Now there's new legislation backed by Vladimir Putin's government that human rights activists say could throw Russia back to the days of the Great Terror.
The legislation, outspoken government critic and rights activist Lev Ponomaryov charged Wednesday, creates "a base for a totalitarian state."
Government supporters and Kremlin-allied lawmakers said the bill — submitted to the Kremlin-friendly parliament last week — will tighten up current law. Supporters say prosecutors often have trouble gaining convictions because of ambiguities in the definition of state treason.
The bill would add non-governmental organizations based anywhere in the world that have an office in Russia to the list of banned recipients of state secrets. The government has repeatedly accused foreign spy agencies of using NGOs as a cover to foment dissent.
Critics warned the loose wording will give authorities ample leeway to prosecute those who cooperate with international rights groups.
Under current treason statutes, some NGOs are not considered "foreign organizations," meaning a person who passes a state secret to an NGO might not be considered a traitor.
Some of Russia's most prominent right activists, including Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alexeyeva and Civic Assistance director Svetlana Gannushkina, said the bill in fact gives authorities the power to prosecute anyone deemed to have "harmed the security of the Russian Federation."
It is "legislation in the spirit of Stalin and Hitler," the activists said in a joint statement — legislation that "returns the Russian justice to the times of 1920-1950s."
During the 1930s, Stalin oversaw a sweeping crackdown that came to be known as the Great Terror. Millions were accused of being "enemies of the people," convicted by farcical courts based on hearsay and anonymous allegations, and executed or sent to the vast system of prison camps known as the gulag.
The legislation expands the definition of treason to include damaging Russia's "constitutional order," and "sovereignty or territorial integrity."
The activists believe each proposed addition cynically targets potential threats to the Kremlin, shattering what remains of civil society in Russia.
Activists said expanding the term "constitutional order," would effectively outlaw opposition protests. "Territorial integrity" would forbid anyone from calling for independence or perhaps autonomy, an issue of particular concern in the volatile North Caucasus where Chechnya is located.
The bill broadening the definition of state treason is the latest in a series of measures taken since Putin's rise to the presidency in 2000 that have systematically rolled back Russia's post-Soviet political freedoms.
Rights group say that rollback has shown no signs of stopping since Putin, a former director of the KGB's main successor agency, became prime minister and his protege, Dmitry Medvedev, assumed the presidency.
The legislation will likely to be quickly approved by parliament — which the Kremlin needs, Alexeyeva said, because of fears that the country's collapsing economy will spark mass unrest.
"The people ruling the government are afraid of the reaction of its citizens to their inability to cope with the crisis," she said.
In a separate development Wednesday, Russia's upper house of parliament passed legislation that would end jury trials for those facing charges of terrorism and treason. Instead, they would face a panel of judges.
The bill's authors say the change was necessary because they claim juries have acquitted many suspects despite strong incriminating evidence. Critics denounced the bill as a blow to democratic principles.
As president, the widely popular Putin oversaw a series of measures that tightened the Kremlin's control over Russia's political life and civil society. He backed legislation ending popular elections of regional governors and tightened rules for political parties.
The Kremlin also sharply restricted independent media, leaving just a few outspoken radio stations and newspapers with limited audience reach, and has curtailed the work of non-governmental groups.
Since taking over as president in March, Medvedev has called for fighting corruption and ending "legal nihilism" in the courts, but has made no indications that he would ease any of Putin's policies.
Russia Challenges US Hegemony...In Inmates Per CapitaThursday, September 4th, 2008
In his hysterical editorial in today’s Guardian, Edward Lucas calls Russia “deeply corrupt and lawless”.
Unfortunately, exactly the opposite is true: Russia is so saturated with laws and its legal system so harsh that “more than one in 10 of the country’s citizens have been convicted of crimes over the past 15 years“, reports the Moscow Times, quoting a retired Supreme Court judge.
Maybe it’s true what all those cold warriors said about never trusting a Russian: after all, there’s a 10% chance that he’s a felon!
Moreover, contrary to the view that Russia is heading in “the wrong direction” and moving away from the West, the country is actually on track to match America, at least in terms of police efficiency:
In the US, more than 30% of the population are estimated to have a criminal record.
Forget great power rivalry and Eastern European geopolitics: the new cold war competition is unfolding in exactly this sphere.
While the US continues to “incarcerate more people than any other nation, far ahead of more populous China with 1.5 million people behind bars…and [remains] the leader in inmates per capita (750 per 100,000 people)”, Russia is not far behind and rapidly closing the gap (628 per 100,000).
We will bury you yet!
Russia: Evil empire stillPutin: Latter Day Stalin, or Hitler? Georgian President is NOT Saddam!
by Ron Winter
Aug 14, 2008
I asked in my last column what Russia's true intent might be regarding its invasion of Georgia, appropriating portions of that country, taking over at least one port city, then allowing looting and murder of civilians, all based on trumped-up claims of protecting its citizens from rampaging Georgians. Other than using Georgia as a military practice round for its next expansion effort, it seems that Russia didn't really get much from the invasion, unless it was a prelude to something larger.
Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer had an answer right away: the next target is the Ukraine, the gateway to western Europe. Since Krauthammer is one of America's premier commentators on both foreign and domestic affairs, his ability to discern where Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is headed next is well worth considering. (Yes, I know that Putin has a title other than dictator, but we're dealing in reality here. Putin and Putin alone is in charge in Russia which makes him a dictator. Argue with Putin, the former head of the communist secret police and you'll end up dead, which pretty much defines him.)
The Ukraine is an historic target of Russian communists. An estimated 10 million residents of that country were starved to death in the 1930s in late communist murderer Joseph Stalin's drive to take over all of Europe. Stalin created a fake famine by drastically increasing the amount of grain the Ukraine farmers were required to donate to the Soviet system, insuring that there would not be sufficient food stores to feed the Ukrainian populace.
He enforced that decree using troops and secret police to ferret all who attempted to horde enough to feed their families, killing them when they were discovered. It even was a crime to not be losing weight.
Russian communists downplayed the results of the famine, maintaining that "only" six to seven million people died slow, horrible deaths from starvation in 1932-1933, but independent sources have put the ultimate death toll at 10 million. Regardless of the extent of the holocaust that engulfed the Ukraine, the communists gloried in its effects on the population, because it ended resistance to communism.
Western news organizations at the time all but ignored the famine in their unceasing drive to portray communism as the one form of government that would truly make everyone equal.
The comparison to journalists today is obvious, since many of them are trying to portray the Russian invasion of Georgia as analogous to the US response to Saddam Hussein supporting terrorists building bases in Iraq from which to attack the US. The comments in the mainstream media are so ludicrous they would be laughable if it wasn't for the fact that people are dying.
Russia's Dangerous Double ActBy Christian Neef
02/27/2008 02:51 PM,1518,538095,00.html
After Sunday's elections in Russia, Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin are expected to form a governing duo. But why assume that a czar duo can ensure stability? Shared leadership has never worked in Russia.
On Sunday, roughly 109 million Russians will vote on who they want to see in the Kremlin as the country's next president in May. Of course, if voting means selecting, then voting isn't exactly what Russian citizens will be doing. Russia has no televised debates, Clinton tears or Obama hype. And while Europeans may find the American election circus amusing, it unquestionably reflects a fundamentally democratic system. What we are experiencing in Russia, on the other hand, is a one-man play. The outcome of the vote has been clear ever since President Vladimir Putin anointed his confidant Dmitry Medvedev to be his successor. And it has only one function: to legitimize the Kremlin leader's decision. In other words, only one Russian will be voting on March 2: Vladimir Putin.
Muscovites are calling it a historic vote. "Medvedev -- this is the most stable, quietest and least surprising option" to succeed the president, says Mikhail Leontyev, a journalist closely aligned with the Kremlin. According to Leontyev, Russia's future duo of leaders -- Medvedev as president and Putin as prime minister -- represents an "absolutely organic" solution. The historic aspect of what Putin aims to achieve with this procedure, writes Leontyev, is the attempt to break out of a vicious circle: namely to finally settle the power issue without triggering some sort of violence, and without allowing Russia to descend into a new era of confusion.
The question remains whether this solution is truly a guarantee of stability. If there were a genetic code for each nation, say the Russians, theirs would be characterized by the yearning for absolute power. Whether it was Ivan the Terrible, Czar Alexander or Josef Stalin, Russia has always been fixated on a single person, the "vozhd," or leader. And it has never been terribly important to Russians that the man running the Kremlin came to power by legal means or was voted into office. In the mid-1930s, Stalin had no official title whatsoever, and yet he was the country's strongman. He was a man the people worshipped, even those whose fathers might have lost their lives in Stalin's torture chambers. Indeed, there is only one thing that the Russians don't like to see in their leaders: weakness.
Transfers of power have always been difficult. Almost all Russian national crises arose because the country never had an effective mechanism for a smooth transition from one administration to the next. The 15-year "smuta," or "period of confusion," was filled with bloodshed and false czars, new administrations and counter-administrations. It was triggered in 1598 when the dynasty in power at the time suddenly died out and Russia had no one to serve in its place.
The February revolution in 1917 also led to the abrupt end of a dynasty. Weakened by the events of the war, the last of the Romanovs abdicated the throne. The Bolsheviks took advantage of the ensuing vacuum to seize power. Finally, in 1991, the task of dissolving the Soviet Union was made all the more complicated by the fact that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, his legal successor, were mortal enemies.
At other times, the transfer of power was often little more than a classic palace revolt. Voluntary resignations of the country's highest office were practically non-existent. Even Josef Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev, the ailing general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, failed to make good on their announced intentions to resign (Stalin in 1941, after the beginning of the war, and Brezhnev in the 1970s). Only Yeltsin gave up his office without a fight, in 1999, to his secretly chosen heir: Vladimir Putin.
Of course, things are more civilized at the Kremlin today, and they have been moving in this direction since the days of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. He began his career with a traditional-style murder of his main rival. In 1953, after Stalin's death, Khrushchev had Interior Minister Lavrentiy Beria shot to death in a Moscow basement. Other rivals, however, were merely downgraded -- a choice that eventually saved Khrushchev's life when he himself fell out of favor.
Putin is leaving the Kremlin voluntarily, which is truly a first in Russian history. The fact that Gorbachev and Yeltsin also cleared their desks voluntarily doesn't really count. Both men were politically washed up, and Yeltsin was also in poor health. Putin, on the other hand, is at the height of his popularity. He is so popular, in fact, that the Russians wouldn't have held it against him if he had amended the constitution so that he could remain president. The majority of the people see him as the prototype of the good czar, a man perfectly in tune with the Russian spirit.
But he isn't resigning. He is merely becoming prime minister, a solution that suddenly seems ideal all over the country. The West is also breathing a sigh of relief. Even German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier calls the shift at the Kremlin a sign of stability. "We can assume," Steinmeier said, "that Putin will not lose his power with the change in his responsibilities."
But what exactly does it mean, this promise of double leadership? The tandem, in Russia's case, is a product of fear, designed to ensure that the transfer of power occurs as smoothly as possible. Putin's abrupt departure would jeopardize the delicate balance established in recent years among the various groups within the Russian elite. Behind the scenes, money is the deciding factor. Almost nowhere else in the world are politics and business so tightly interwoven as in the new Russia.
Putin's biggest concern during the last four years has been to preserve his power. Partly for this reason, the country is not nearly as stable as the scenario of a harmonious transfer of power is meant to convey. Yes, Russia has acquired international authority once again, and its economy is growing. But the same economic boom is also taking place in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, countries with even more impressive growth figures. What we see in Russia is pseudo-stability, a Moscow newspaper wrote, likening the country to a house that someone has cleaned up, all the while sweeping the dirt under the sofa. [Read entire article at:,1518,druck-538095,00.html]
The Russian bear is back in a big way
In supporting the Iranian nuclear program, Moscow starts to flex its muscles once more
Adil Syed
Published on 29 October 2007
Does Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran signal the formation of a new strategic alliance between the ex-Soviet republic and the Islamic revolutionary state? Upon initial consideration, the answer seems apparent given that U.S. post-9/11 interventionist military policies have irked the governments of both countries. But looking past the political theatre, it is painfully obvious that Russia is demonstrating diplomatic maneuvering not seen since the height of its power during the Cold War. The association with Tehran will last only so long as it is in Russia’s national interest, and Russia is only using Iran as a stepping stone on its rising path back to its role as a great power on the international stage.
Putin’s visit was hailed in the Iranian press as a victory for the country’s position on the nuclear issue. Iran’s leaders have been desperate to gain international support in light of the two rounds of imposed sanctions by the UN Security Council which have put the squeeze on Iran’s tanking economy. Putting aside historical animosities, which had peaked after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1975, Putin was received by both President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Islamic Revolution Leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei—a sure demonstration of Tehran’s determination to court Russia’s support. The question is, at what price?
Notwithstanding the urge to exploit any opportunity to stick it to the United States, Russia’s foreign policy is a complex creature. Spurred on by the skyrocketing price of oil in the past five years, Russia is on-track to re-establishing itself as an international superpower. With the U.S. facing formidable challenges in Iraq, the scent of injured prey has emboldened even the most reluctant of predators. Russia’s primary objective concerning Iran is to prop up the regime, and while Moscow is defending Tehran’s nuclear program (supposedly for civilian purposes), even Putin wants to prevent the mullahs from getting their hands on “the bomb.” Russia’s alliance with Iran is in line with its national interests; the possibility of Iran as an independent nuclear power is not.
Besides its strategic benefits, the alliance also has positive economic repercussions for Russia. The ever-present threat that the U.S. could invade Iran is proving profitable for Russia’s weapons industries. Already, Iran’s leaders have purchased a $700 million air defense system from Russia. These are not going to be the last petrodollars finding their way to the Kremlin.
After having witnessed seven years of his administration, we should recognize that Putin, for better or for worse, is a shrewd politician. Despite the appearance of friendship, Putin is all too familiar with the irrationality of Islamic revolutionaries, and in light of Iran’s geographical proximity to Russia, will not support Iran’s presupposed determination to build a nuclear bomb.
The degree to which Russia has control over Iran’s nuclear program is uncertain; however, demonstrations of support such as Putin’s visit to Tehran pose an obstacle to the West. If the West is truly concerned about the prospects of a nuclear-capable Iran, it will have to come to terms with Russia’s re-emergence as a great power and its determination to exercise its strategic and economic muscle in the region. In short, the U.S. is going to have to play ball. The merits of Russia’s re-ascendance are not immediately apparent, but it is about time we re-evaluate the U.S. leadership in the nuclear standoff and consider whether it is capable of diplomatically resolving this issue under the administration of George Bush, the bumbling “decision-maker.”
Beware the Russian bear
Diane Francis, Financial Post
Published: Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Potemkin villages were fake settlements erected in 1787 by a Russian official of the same name in order to fool Empress Catherine II into thinking her armies had made important conquests.
Seems little has changed. These days, former president Vladimir Putin and his band would fool the world into thinking Russia is a superpower, a free-enterprise economy and a democracy.
Last week, Putin's poodle, Dmitry Medvedev, "won" 70.2% of the election vote. In one of his first acts as President, he cut Ukraine's natural gas supplies without justification.
With the hotly contested U.S. primary process as a backdrop, Putin and Medvedev could simply be a subject of derision were their intentions and actions not so serious. They are bully-boys, a theme they underscored when they donned twin leather jackets at a heavy metal concert on the election's eve.
It's all laughingly machismo.
But democratic activists --Ukrainians, Georgians, Polish, Czechs and eventually Western Europeans -- who occupy what Russia likes to call its "near abroad," are not laughing. Neither should Petro-Canada, Magna, Barrick or other companies in Canada and elsewhere doing business in Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Europe.
Central and eastern Europe comprehend the signs, but others are naive, frightened or co-opted by Russia's sham democracy and fake capitalism.
Russian "prosperity" is an oxymoron based on oil prices.
Russia has nearly 10 times Canada's population, but the same size economy. The Kremlin has as much oil profits on hand as Abu Dhabi, but GDP per capital has gone from $2,000 in 1998 to only $9,000 today.
The Europeans are being naive. They clamour to get deals with its oligarchs and Kremlin-controlled "corporations" such as Gazprom, which have hidden agendas.
Take Medvedev and his so-called credentials: He's a pal of Putin's, a lawyer and political hack appointed to the chairmanship of Gazprom before the presidency. But he is praised by certain European leaders as progressive.

As Europe sleeps, it is becoming totally dependent upon Russian energy. As Iran is isolated and drawn into the Russian camp, Europe is deprived of alternatives.
Only a spokesman for Angela Merkel, Germany's Chancellor, gently chastised Moscow after the election of Medvedev, saying timidly that "democratic and constitutional principles were not always complied with" in the election. Then he announced she would pay her respects in Moscow to meet the new leader.
And as she was being feted, Ukraine's supplies were shut down by one-third without justification. The Russians claim this to be a pricing dispute, but its tactics are aimed at punishing Ukrainians for exercising their independence by having a real democracy, a real economy, by joining the World Trade Organization and by preparing to join NATO.
It's also about the fact that the Ukrainians want to buy gas directly and remove the Russian intermediaries who rake off huge amounts of the proceeds on behalf of persons unknown.
Businessman Convicted Of Russian C. Banker`s MurderKozlov was shot dead in September 2006 as he left an amateur soccer match in MoscowReuters
October 28, 2008
A Russian businessman was found guilty on Tuesday of ordering the murder of a top Russian central banker who led a campaign against money-laundering and corruption.
The state prosecutor said Alexei Frenkel had acted out of revenge when he ordered the killing of Andrei Kozlov, the 41-year-old deputy head of Russia's central bank who had revoked Frenkel's banks' licences.
Kozlov was shot dead in September 2006 as he left an amateur soccer match in Moscow.
It was one of the highest-profile killings of then President Vladimir Putin's presidency, reviving memories of Russia's wild capitalism and contract killings of the 1990s.
The jury found Frenkel guilty of ordering Kozlov's killing after deliberations of more than five hours at the Moscow City Court. Along with Frenkel, six others were convicted of charges related to the murder.
Kozlov, in a crusade against money-laundering and corruption, revoked the licences of dozens of banks, the court was told.
"The motive for the crime was revenge," said state prosecutor Gulchekhra Ibragimova, adding that Frenkel had lost four of the banks he controlled due to Kozlov's tough actions.
"Kozlov was an enemy of shady dealers like Frenkel," she told journalists outside the court. "I believe the verdict is just."
Ibragimova said sentences would be pronounced at the end of this week.
The jurors decided to ask the court to mitigate the sentences of two of the seven found guilty, because they had cooperated with the investigation and admitted their guilt.
Defence lawyers said one of the two had bought the pistol with which Kozlov was killed, while the other was the driver of the killers' getaway car.
Defence lawyers said they would appeal the jurors' decision.
Frenkel, who strongly denied all accusations, had ordered a driver to pick him up at the court, apparently confident he would be acquitted, Russian media reported.
Litvinenko's Murder Left Polonium `Crawling Walls,' Mixed CluesReview by George Walden
Sept. 30, 2008 (Bloomberg) -- The lurid London murder of former Russian secret agent Alexander Litvinenko with polonium-210 looks set to equal the tale of Jack the Ripper as a generator of inconclusive theories that open the way for ever more books.
"The Terminal Spy'' by Alan S. Cowell of the New York Times is the latest installment.
Cowell, who served as London bureau chief during the final stages of the affair, doesn't present any breakthroughs about the likely hit men in the 2006 killing. By the end of his analytical though vividly written account, the main suspects remain two men who deny involvement in the death, former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi -- whose extradition Britain awaits in vain -- and his friend, former Russian army man Dmitry Kovtun.
What Cowell brings to the forensic feast is a more intensive examination of key aspects of the affair. He's especially beguiling on the history and properties of polonium-210, a substance so radioactive that it spread a trail of contamination across London and Hamburg, a city Kovtun passed through. Released into the atmosphere, polonium ``crawls the walls,'' nuclear scientist Vilma R. Hunt tells the author.
Litvinenko, who defected from Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, has been portrayed as a heroic whistleblower on the agency's excesses. Cowell's assessment does little to support that image: It's fascinating to learn that Litvinenko's father, a Soviet government physician, worked in penal colonies in the Far East. Litvinenko was himself involved in nefarious enterprises, notably the interrogation of suspects during the Chechen war.
Braggart, Hustler
The former FSB agent maintained that he became a defector partly because of that war's ferocity. Cowell is less sure. His subject emerges in these pages as a braggart, a hustler and -- according to a colleague who worked with him in Chechnya --someone not above inflicting pain, Cowell reports.
Yet Litvinenko was also a mystic and a fantasist, we're told -- a ``lost soul'' who turned to Islam on his deathbed, according to Julia Svetlichnaya, a Russian graduate student who knew him.
Cowell follows leads to Moscow, where he discovers that Litvinenko and Vladimir Putin once met when both were lieutenant colonels in the FSB. It was 1998, and Putin -- in spite of his middling rank -- had just been named the agency's director.
Litvinenko tried to alert his new boss to intelligence officers involved in gangsterism, Cowell writes; Putin's response was to put Litvinenko under telephone surveillance.
Weak Case
Yet the case against Putin is muted in two respects. Cowell questions the allegation in Litvinenko's book, ``Blowing Up Russia,'' that Putin was involved in dynamiting apartment blocks in Moscow and Dagestan in 1999 as a pretext for a new assault on Chechnya. Cowell also voices doubts that Putin ordered Litvinenko's murder.
Putin's offense, rather, was to have created a climate in which the killing became possible, the author argues. This is essentially the conclusion that Steve LeVine of BusinessWeek reaches in his recent book, ``Putin's Labyrinth.''
In July 2006, for example, a few months before Litvinenko's death, Putin signed a decree permitting his secret services to assassinate anyone abroad whom they deemed to be terrorists or extremists. It takes little imagination to see how someone somewhere might have decided to stretch the law to an FSB defector who in Russian eyes was colluding with Chechen leader Akhmed Zakayev, another man granted asylum in London. Seen in Moscow as a terrorist, Zakayev was Litvinenko's friend.
Despite all of Cowell's good work, the central mystery remains: If Litvinenko was as inconsequential as Putin himself later suggested, why did he merit such an appalling and politically risky death?
For more enlightenment, we await the next book.
Also see:
Russian Is Accused of Poisoning Ex-K.G.B. AgentBy ALAN COWELL and STEVEN LEE MYERS
May 23, 2007
LONDON, May 22 — The British authorities on Tuesday accused a Russian businessman, Andrei K. Lugovoi, of murdering Alexander V. Litvinenko, a former K.G.B. agent and foe of the Kremlin poisoned six months ago in London with a radioactive isotope, polonium 210.
Mr. Litvinenko’s death was one of the most stirring dramas since the cold war, with the police tracing a trail of nuclear contamination from London to Moscow. Mr. Lugovoi is the first to be formally accused.
The precise nature of the evidence against him was not made clear on Tuesday, though investigators had linked him and an associate, Dmitri V. Kovtun, to nuclear traces stretching from luxury hotels and offices in London to Hamburg, Germany, and to British Airways planes that had flown to Moscow. Each man has denied killing Mr. Litvinenko.
Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service said it would seek the extradition of Mr. Lugovoi, a former K.G.B. bodyguard who now owns security and other businesses, from Moscow. But Russia’s prosecutor general ruled out extradition, suggesting instead that Britain hand over the files for a trial in Russia. The Russian prosecutor general’s office also is investigating Mr. Litvinenko’s death.
Mr. Lugovoi, who proclaimed his innocence on Tuesday, had known Mr. Litvinenko for several years. Both had worked in the 1990s in Moscow for Boris A. Berezovsky, now the self-exiled Russian tycoon living in London who was once among Russia’s richest and most powerful men.
Mr. Litvinenko, 43, died on Nov. 23, 2006, after weeks of debilitating illness. He became ill on Nov. 1, the day he met Mr. Lugovoi and Mr. Kovtun at the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel, across from the American Embassy, in Grosvenor Square. At the meeting, Mr. Litvinenko drank tea, which his associates have since asserted was laced with polonium.
The murder accusation did not mention Mr. Kovtun or a possible motive. From his deathbed, Mr. Litvinenko accused President Vladimir V. Putin of responsibility for poisoning him — a charge the Kremlin has dismissed as ridiculous.
The British accusation is likely to further strain relations between Britain and Russia, already damaged by Britain’s refusal to extradite Mr. Berezovsky, who had been Mr. Litvinenko’s main employer until mid-2006. Mr. Berezovsky offered no comment on Tuesday.
Sir Ken Macdonald, Britain’s director of public prosecutions and the leader of the Crown Prosecution Service, an official body that weighs police evidence before prosecutions, said the service had “carefully considered” a police file presented to it in late January after two months of investigations led by Peter Clarke, the chief of Britain’s counterterrorism police.
“I have today concluded that the evidence sent to us by the police is sufficient to charge Andrei Lugovoi with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko by deliberate poisoning,” Sir Ken said in a statement. “I have further concluded that a prosecution of this case would clearly be in the public interest.”
The statement called the killing an “extraordinarily grave crime.” Some of Mr. Litvinenko’s associates expressed surprise that only one person had been accused.
“I am almost in a state of disbelief that only Lugovoi was charged and not a group of at least three people,” said Yuri Felshtinsky, an associate of Mr. Berezovsky and the author with Mr. Litvinenko of a 2002 book, “Blowing Up Russia.”
“Only the Russian secret service could have executed this coup with nuclear material on British soil,” he said in remarks distributed by his publisher. “The hand of those around Vladimir Putin was clearly visible in the murder.”
Some other recent studies have speculated that Mr. Litvinenko was killed by vengeful former secret service associates for his perceived betrayal of his comrades in the 1990s when he sought to expose alleged corruption in the F.S.B., the domestic successor to the K.G.B. Mr. Litvinenko had cast himself as an anti-Putin crusader and whistle-blower.
Mr. Lugovoi did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. His lawyer, Andrei M. Romashov, said Mr. Lugovoi had not been notified of any charges.
Later, in remarks reported by Russian news agencies, he denied any role in Mr. Litvinenko’s death. “I believe the decision is a political one,” he said, according to the official Russian Information Agency. He expressed “my distrust of evidence collected” by British investigations and suggested he would soon make statements that would be “a sensation for public opinion in Britain.”
In an interview with The New York Times in March, Mr. Lugovoi said he considered himself a victim of the poisoning that had killed Mr. Litvinenko. “Intentionally or accidentally, we had been assaulted,” he said.
Mr. Lugovoi and Mr. Litvinenko had been recruited in different sections of the Soviet-era K.G.B. Mr. Litvinenko reached the rank of lieutenant colonel as an interrogator in Chechnya and an investigator of organized crime in Moscow for the F.S.B.
Mr. Kovtun, Mr. Lugovoi’s associate, also declined to comment when reached by telephone. Although he faces no charges, he complained that the British had not notified him or Mr. Lugovoi of any resolution in the case. “It’s not clear to us,” he said.
British police officials and prosecutors, who spoke on condition of anonymity under civil service rules, said the evidence had been insufficient to charge Mr. Kovtun.
From the start of the investigation, Russia has said its laws forbid any extradition of Russian citizens. However, the Crown Prosecution’s statement on Tuesday noted Russia’s signature to a 1957 convention on extraditions and an agreement pledging to cooperate “in the sphere of extradition” signed by prosecutors of both countries in 2006, only days before Mr. Litvinenko died.
Marina Y. Gridneva, a spokeswoman for the Russian prosecutor general’s office, said that “a citizen who has committed a crime on the territory of a foreign state can be prosecuted with evidence provided by the foreign state, but only on the territory of Russia.”
But Genri M. Reznik, one of Russia’s leading defense lawyers, said he could not recall such a case. Referring to the eventual trial of the man accused of killing her husband, Marina Litvinenko insisted that she was “absolutely sure that it has to be here in London, in England.” In a statement, Mrs. Litvinenko said, “It is important to me that my husband didn’t die in vain.”
She met with the Russian ambassador in London, under an arrangement made before the announcement on Tuesday. The purpose of that encounter was not clear.
Broadening the legal campaign, Mrs. Litvinenko’s lawyer, Louise Christian, said she had complained to the European Court of Human Rights about Russia’s handling of inquiries into Mr. Litvinenko’s death.
British officials showed unusual alacrity in demanding that Russia comply with the extradition request. The Russian ambassador, Yury V. Fedotov, was called to the Foreign Office. “This was a serious crime,” the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said Tuesday in Japan. “We are seeking, and we expect, full cooperation from the Russian authorities in bringing the perpetrator to face British justice.”
Russian Police Arrest 10 in Politkovskaya Case
Charles Ganske
August 28, 2007
Moscow - Today Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika announced that ten suspects had been detained in connection with the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. On October 7, 2006 an unknown assailant shot Politkovskaya dead in her Moscow apartment building. The baseball-cap wearing gunman was caught on video tape as he left the building.
Perhaps most disturbing for both Russians and foreigners is the fact that the suspects include one police major, one Lieutenant Colonel from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), and three ex-cops. The other five men detained in connection with the plot are ethnic Chechens, one of them a lawyer in Moscow, who were allegedly part of a gang engaged in contract killings. Russian Prosecutors believe that the Chechen group could have been involved in the murders of Russian Central Bank Deputy Chairman Andrei Kozlov and Forbes magazine Russia editor Paul Klebnikov in 2004.
According to The Moscow Times:
Novaya Gazeta, where Politkovskaya worked and which is conducting its own investigation, said in a statement that the arrests were made from Aug. 15 through Aug. 23.
Politkovskaya's son Ilya, 28, said in e-mailed comments that the family was "not surprised by this news" about the arrests.
Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov called prosecutors' conclusions "convincing," Interfax reported.
"Our names of those who organized the murder coincide with the official investigation," said the newspaper's deputy editor, Sergei Sokolov. "But the identity of the person who ordered the murder does not coincide."
As a writer for the liberal Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Politkovskaya was a strong critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and of pro-Kremlin Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, accusing both of human rights abuses. The coincidence of her murder with Mr. Putin's birthday was widely seen in Russia as an intentional act by the perpetrators of the crime.
In his statement to the media, Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika declared that forces outside of Russia had ordered the killings of Politkovskaya, Kozlov and Alexander Litvinenko, in order to blacken Russia's international reputation. "It was in the interest of those people and structures that aim to destabilize the situation in the country, change the constitutional order and create a crisis in Russia," he said. Mr. Chaika added that the conspirators wanted "a return to the former system of rule under which money and oligarchs decided everything."
Several Russian and Western media outlets have claimed that Chaika was speaking about the exiled Russian oligarchs Boris Berezovsky and Leonid Nevzlin. But at this time, Russian prosecutors have declined to name the alleged mastermind behind the plot, citing the need for confidentiality in an ongoing investigation. However, at the same press conference, Chaika insisted that the Prosecutor General's office would continue to pursue the extradition of Berezovsky from Great Britain on previously filed criminal charges. Meanwhile, in the biggest news bombshell of the day, the FSB held a separate press conference to announce that one of their own, Lieutenant Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov, had been arrested in the case.
Here at Russia Blog, we have declined to speculate on the outcome of these criminal cases before hard evidence is presented - unlike the many media outlets that immediately accused the Russian government of "getting away with murder" and of being "the enemy" last year after Alexander Litvinenko's sensational and public death from radiation poisoning.
In terms of motives, it's no secret that Anna Politkovskaya was a staunch critic of the Putin Administration. It's also not a secret that in his book, Godfather of the Kremlin, Paul Klebnikov had publicly accused Boris Berezovsky of ordering the contract killings of his business rivals during the Nineties, and of having direct connections to terrorist groups operating in Chechnya. A few months before he was gunned down, Klebnikov had written an article for Forbes titled "Millionaire Mullahs" about the overseas holdings of Iran's clerical dictatorship - assets that the authorities in Teheran clearly would not want to see frozen by the U.S. or its allies.
The point is, without knowing all of the facts, anyone can produce theories and make accusations, but the rule of law demands due process and the presumption of innocence until someone is proven guilty. The fact is that the number of business-related murders and killings of journalists in Russia has actually declined since the 1990s - but the deeply planted culture of impunity from that era is not easily uprooted. In the last few years, as several former senators and governors, oligarchs, and others who thought they were above the law have gone to jail, President Putin's administration has begun to address the problem, but his successors will have to carry on the fight against corruption.
UPDATE: According to Sean's Russki Blog, a Russian tabloid has published the list of suspect names - and there are eleven, not ten suspects.
Alexei Berkin, Dmitri Lebedev, Tamerlan Makhmudov, Dzhabrail Makhmudov, Ibrahim Makhmudov, Oleg Alimov, Mohamed Dimel’khanov, Akhmel Isaev, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, Dmitiri Grachev, Pavel Riaguzov
Over at Pajamas Media, blogger AJ Strata is proposing his own theories about who may have been behind the wave of high-profile murders.
Also See:
Dead SilentBy Maia L. FedyszynPosted October 25, 2006
What the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya means for RussiaThirteen journalists have been murdered in Russia since 2000, making Russia the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists to work in (behind only Iraq and Algeria). None of these murders have been solved, including the most recent killing of Anna Politkovskaya, a gutsy, strong-minded reporter highly critical of Russian president Vladimir Putin and his regime’s policies in Chechnya. Sadly, her death will further limit free speech in Russia, as more and more journalists who seek the truth will put down their pens in order to spare their lives.
Politkovskaya, a 48-year-old mother of two grown children, was killed by four gun shots to the heart and head after returning home from grocery-shopping on October 7th. The attack was the third assassination this month of a prominent Russian figure who dared criticize Putin or his policies. As a writer for the Russian independent paper Novaya Gazeta, Politkovskaya gained renown for her highly condemnatory exposés of the Kremlin’s shady political undertakings and human-rights violations. At the time of her death, she was finishing a report on the brutalities inflicted upon young Chechens by Russian-backed forces.
Speculations and conspiracy theories abound regarding the identity of the murder’s mastermind: Some say that the Kremlin sent hit men Politkovskaya’s way, while others believe that Chechnya’s Russian-backed Prime Minister was responsible for the killing. A large number of Russians, however, believe that Politkovskaya’s murder was not the work of an enemy, but rather of a sympathizer as a means of inciting public protest against the Kremlin’s role in Chechnya and discrediting Putin and Prime Minister Kadyrov. Putin himself holds this view, stating, “Many people hiding from Russian justice have long been nurturing the idea of sacrificing somebody in order to create a wave of anti-Russian feeling in the world.”
The notion that a prominent journalist was killed by her own supporters is hard for Americans to swallow, yet the theory holds water. Politkovskaya was killed two days after Prime Minister Kadyrov celebrated his 30th birthday, the age at which he becomes eligible to run for president of Chechnya. Kadyrov’s rivals could have killed Politkovskaya as a means of shedding some light on the Prime Minister’s more egregious transgressions, thereby hurting his chances of winning the presidency. On the other hand, her murder may have simply been a henchman’s perverse attempt at a birthday gift for Kadyrov or Putin, whose birthday was the day of the murder. While Putin has affirmed that Politkovskaya’s murderers will be tracked down, the world should not hold its breath. Political crimes have a way of going unsolved in Mother Russia.
Regardless of who killed Anna Politkovskaya, this latest murder serves to highlight the fact that journalists in Russia can and will be killed simply because of their personal viewpoints. In fact, killing of journalists has become so commonplace in the country that murder seems to be viewed as an acceptable means of achieving political goals. Such flagrant disregard for freedom of speech (not to mention human life) is largely the result of the country’s increasingly restrictive, narrow-minded, and authoritarian political atmosphere. Since being elected in 2000, President Putin has reined in the press to such an extent that now 85 percent of Russians get their news from either government-controlled or -sponsored news channels. Nonconformists like Politkovskaya, meanwhile, have been banished from the air. These journalists must rely on an ever-diminishing number of independent newspapers to express their views.
If Politkovskaya’s life served as a glimmer of hope that an open, independent press was still up and running in Russia, her death was a sharp blow to Russian democratic freedom of expression. Not only does her murder exemplify the Russian government’s growing disregard for democratic rule, it discourages other free-thinking journalists from questioning the regime’s increasingly repressive policies. A fellow journalist confided, “I admit I am scared. Anna’s murder made me realize that, in Moscow, writing about the wrong things can get you shot.” As the Kremlin’s misdeeds and injustices multiply, fewer and fewer journalists have the courage to expose the truth. Given Politkovskaya’s tragic fate, how can journalists possibly bring themselves to follow in her footsteps?
The death of one of Russia’s most fearless truth-tellers will undoubtedly have dire consequences for both Putin and his people. Russia’s reputation abroad will be damaged as Moscow’s heavy-handed political maneuverings are exposed to the international community. The greatest victims, however, are Russian citizens themselves. Instead of receiving open, unbiased reporting on their government’s rule, Russians will be spoon-fed nationalistic half-truths, which will encourage a dangerous mixture of lawlessness and suppression to seep back into Russian society—if, that is, it hasn’t already. Even more alarming is the fact that many Russians seem to accept this lack of free press: In a recent survey, only 19 percent of Russians cited freedom of the press as a priority, as compared to 76 percent who considered the right to free education and healthcare paramount. If Anna Politkovskaya’s life had not been taken so prematurely, she may have been able to convince her fellow Russians about the power and importance of true governmental accountability.
MI5 foils hitman's plot to assassinate Russian tycoon in London hotelBy David Williams and Stephen WrightLast updated at 11:02 19 July 2007
Russia sent an assassin to Britian to execute the exiled billionaire Boris Berezovsky, it was claimed yesterday.
The extraordinary plot, said to have been foiled by Scotland Yard and the security services, yesterday plunged the diplomatic crisis between London and Moscow to a new low.
After a week-long surveillance operation in London, a man was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder, questioned and thrown out of the country.
The hitman, who used a child as part of his 'cover', is said to have been held at London's Park Lane Hilton Hotel, where he is alleged to have been preparing to shoot the 61-year-old Russian oligarch in the head.
Mr Berezovsky, who was exiled in London after criticising the policies of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, claimed he was advised by Scotland Yard to leave the country while investigations took place.
He and other Russian exiles in UK were under constant threat of assassinations sponsored by Moscow, Mr Berezovsky alleged.
Disclosure of the apparent plot could not come at a more sensitive time for the strained relationship between London and Moscow.
This week, Britain expelled four Russian diplomats following Russia's refusal to hand over Andrei Lugovoy, the suspected killer of dissident Alexander Litvinenko.
Russia says it is planning a 'targeted and appropriate' response to the expulsions and will decide in the next few days whether it will expel up to 80 members of the UK embassy staff in Moscow. Observers questioned the timing of the leak about the 'le Carre-like plot'. They suggested it was designed to further strain relations between the countries.
Officially, British authorities declined to comment on the latest allegation. But a Whitehall source said: 'Boris Berezovsky is a highprofile critic of the Russian government. Our experience is that the Russians are prepared to take action against their critics.'
When Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced that four diplomats would be expelled, he referred pointedly to 'the UK Government having a wider duty to ensure the safety of the large Russian community living in the UK'.
The plot to kill Mr Berezovsky is said to have been foiled by the arrest of a man at the Hilton on June 21. He is said to have been questioned about a plan to shoot Mr Berezovsky in the head at close range during a meeting at the hotel.
It is understood that a surveillance operation on a man entering Britain through Heathrow was triggered after previous intelligence about his possible intentions.
He was tailed for a week and the surveillance is said to have 'confirmed the intelligence' that the man posed a threat to a leading Russian living in exile.
He was detained on suspicion of conspiracy to murder, questioned and then handed over to the Immigration Service where his visa was revoked. He was informed he could not apply to come back to the UK for at least ten years.
Mr Berezovsky said he had received information about the alleged plot from sources within Russia's Security Service. Later, Scotland Yard advised him to leave the country, he added.
He claimed the Russian source told him: "Someone who you know will come to Britain, he will try to connect to you, and when you meet him he will just kill you and not try to hide."
The killer would tell police that the murder was not political but 'just because of business reasons', Mr Berezovsky said.
"And in this case he will get 20 years, he will spend just ten years in jail, he will be released, his family will be paid and so on."
Mr Berezovsky was a friend of Mr Litvinenko, the ex-KGB man poisoned with radioactive element polonium 210 in London.
He had previously intervened in the deadlock over Mr Litvinenko's death by offering to go to a third country for a fair trial to counter Russia's claims that he was involved.
He called on Mr Lugovoy, the prime suspect, to say that he would do the same.
Mr Berezovsky said: "Three weeks ago the police informed me that they were aware that an assassin had been sent from Russia to kill me.
"I was advised by the police to leave the country if I could. I went overseas for a week and then the police informed me that I could return.
"I have been asked by the police not to go into detail about the assassination attempt and therefore I will not do so.
"I have, over the years, received many threats to my life via letter and fax, and in 2002 my local police force advised me that people had been sent to kill me.
"All of these threats bear the hallmarks of Russian security service activity and, of course, President Putin changed the law last year to empower agents to commit murder overseas, following an assassination by Russian agents in Qatar."
Yuri Fedotov, Russia's ambassador to London, insisted that Moscow was not involved in any alleged plot against the tycoon, who Britain has refused to extradite.
However, he said he was not surprised Mr Berezovsky should be targeted.
"I have nothing that could confirm it, but on the other side it does not surprise me. Because Mr Berezovsky takes each and every opportunity - and if there is no opportunity, takes invented opportunity - to expose himself, to make a public figure."
Asked whether the Russian government could be involved, he added: "It is excluded."
Shocking news! Who will survive, who will not!