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Monday, January 15, 2007

Gordievsky Reviews Litvinenko

Writing in the Times of London, former spy Oleg Gordievsky (pictured, left) reviews Alexander Litvinenko's book "Blowing up Russia":

LATE LAST YEAR, THE leaders of Russia made probably the greatest blunder in the whole of their campaign against Alexander Litvinenko. Sergei Ivanov, the Defence Minister, said that he “was just a Russian who meant nothing to us”.

This is exactly what Sasha Litvinenko was fighting — the view of those in power in his motherland who regard Russia as the country of the Ivanovs and Putins and treat the rest of the population with contempt as “just Russians who mean nothing to us”

Litvinenko has become the most prominent victim in this struggle, and it is up to those who survive him to make sure that we eventually emerge as winners. This means — and it forms the epilogue to Blowing Up Russia, by Litvinenko and Yuri Felshtinsky — that one day a presidential decree in Russia must completely disband the most punitive, corrupt and criminal organisations that have survived under different names since Lenin’s Bolshevik times and make up the Russian state security system.

A literal translation of the Russian title of this book is The FSB Blows Up Russia. It first appeared in 2002, and was almost immediately followed by an even more important study, entitled The Lubyanka Criminal Gang, published in the same year by Grani in New York, but not yet available in English. It makes sense to speak about the two together.

When someone suggested to me that one should study Litvinenko’s papers and private notes to find out why he was murdered — and intelligence professionals have no reasonable doubt that the Russian authorities were the instigators of the crime — I advised him to read Sasha’s books. Here one can easily find a clue to the hatred between one “former” lieutenant-colonel (Putin) and a genuinely former lieutenant- colonel (Litvinenko) and why Litvinenko was so suspicious of Putin.

In his books, Litvienko asserts that after Vladimir Putin was recalled from his KGB posting in East Germany, he was quickly infiltrated into the St Petersburg mayor’s office to keep an eye and ear on the new democratic mayor, Anatoli Sobchak. In their second book, Litvinenko and Felshtinsky describe how this “former” run-of-the-mill spy soon became involved in the illegal export of non-ferrous metals to the West, gaining some juicy kickbacks to the tune of $93 million.

They also allege that the chief of the department for the control and investigation of such operations was an FSB colonel, one Nikolai Patrushev.

Patrushev, they claim, was posted to Karelia, and subsequently accused of illegal dealings in Karelian birch. A criminal investigation was opened, so that his pal Sergei Stepashin, the first director of the FSB and later Prime Minister, who also came from St Petersburg security services, quickly transferred Patrushev to Moscow and appointed him to a super-secret and hyper-sensitive post as chief of FSB internal security.

Thus, the authors claim, all the dirty linen of all high-ranking FSB officers was in Patrushev’s hands. But the Karelian prosecutors might have continued their investigations. Soon, on May 21, 2001, the Karelian FSB chief, Vasili Ankudinov, who knew a great deal about Patrushev’s merry days in Karelia, suddenly died at the age of 56. When Putin became President, he invited Patrushev to head the FSB. Both are still in their positions.

One episode that is not discussed in print by Litvinenko and Felshtinsky (for the simple reason that Tsepov was not murdered until two years after the books were published) relates to Roman Tsepov, who was in charge of Sobchak’s security in St Petersburg and who provided bodyguards for Putin, by now deputy mayor. The two became close associates, and it was rumoured that Tsepov regularly handed large sums of money in cash to Putin as gifts from joint ventures that wanted to continue without undue interference. Tsepov’s killing was initiated on September 11, 2004, in the FSB’s St Petersburg headquarters. Tsepov was offered a cup of tea and died of radiation poisoning 11 days later.

All 11 chapters of Blowing Up Russia are devoted to one phenomenon — how the security service of a huge state became a criminal, mafia-type organisation targeted against the population of its own country. With numerous examples the authors attempt to show how terrorist acts were carried out, money was laundered, people killed and shadowy businesses started up and closed down in the interests of Chekists who had managed to place their own man, Putin, at the top of the country’s governing pyramid.

“I have carried out your orders, comrades,” Putin reportedly said during one December 20 annual celebration of the Day of the Spy, that has became a national holiday. “Here I am, leading the country.”

Whether such a declaration, quoted by Litvinenko and Felshtinsky, did take place, I do not know. But what I know for sure, and what Litvinenko demonstrates in his books, is that he developed from a run-of-the-mill KGB operative, known as an oper in Russian, into a fighter against everything that is unlawful and corrupt, whereas Putin degenerated from being an intelligence officer to become the leader of a country where criminal kingpins and former convicts are respected and even worshipped and now constitute the country's official “elite”. They drive the best cars, buy the best houses, acquire profitable companies at home and abroad, and have seats in the Russian parliament, the Duma.

One can only hope that the future does not belong to them, but to brave, decent, kind and loving people — like Alexander Litvinenko.


  • Alexander “Sasha” Litvinenko, an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, was a former FSB (Federal Security Services, the agency that succeeded the KGB) agent, who accused Putin and the FSB of corruption. He died last year, after various meetings in London, one with two Russian men, both former KGB agents.

  • Another meeting was with the Italian academic Mario Scaramella, who is said to have handed him documents on the killers of the campaigning journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

  • A statement from Litvinenko, read out after his death, said to “the person responsible”: “You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.” He was referring to Mr Putin. The Kremlin has dismissed such allegations as nonsense. Mr Putin said “There is no grounds for speculation of this kind,” and that talk of government involvement “has nothing to do with reality”.

  • A postmortem confirmed that Litvinenko was poisoned by radiation from the isotope polonium-210. Traces were found in London and Hamburg, in aircraft and on Dr Scaramella and the agents Litvininenko met.

  • The Russian authorities have not co-operated fully with Scotland Yard’s investigations.

  • Conspiracy theories abound: the 2008 Russian election might make Mr Putin want to eliminate critics, and Litvinenko may have unearthed secrets while investigating the Politkovskaya murder. But the Russian media have poured scorn on such suggestions, saying Litvinenko was a small-time fantasist that it was easier to put up with than to kill and risk international furore.

  • Other theories point to Litvinenko’s dissident allies, to a veteran of Russia’s Spetsnaz special forces, or even to suicide or an accident.
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