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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Latynina on Litvinenko

In her November 25 broadcast on the Ekho Moskvy radio station, Yulia Latynina explored the Litvinenko killing, as reported by BBC Monitoring:

The death of former Russian intelligence officer, Aleksandr Litvinenko, has once again changed the political landscape in Russia, Russian Ekho Moskvy radio commentator Yuliya Latynina has said. During the course of her one-hour weekly commentary, Latynina frequently quoted a British police statement that Litvinenko's death is the work of "state-sponsored terrorism", though she said she cannot say who actually gave the order to kill him. Elsewhere in the commentary, she spoke of the "moral fear" that the incident had engendered in the Russian opposition, and said that its effect would be to divide the nation. She concluded the programme by saying that if the Russian authorities do not respond appropriately to Litvinenko's death the "atmosphere of the witch-hunt" would engulf the country. The following is an editorial report of parts of Latynina's "Access code" broadcast on Ekho Moskvy on 25 November:

Latynina began by noting that whereas this is the top story on newscasts around the world leading Russian TV companies Channel One and NTV are leading their bulletins with a story about a bomb at the Moscow State University. She then focused on Scotland Yard's statement that the killing of Litvinenko is "state-sponsored terrorism". She repeated this sentence a number of times during the programme. She went on to say that regimes can now be divided into the following categories: those who torture their enemies with polonium-210 and those who do not.

This is another case of Russians waking up in a different state, she observed, just as they did after the arrest of Khodorkovskiy, Beslan and the abolition of direct gubernatorial elections.Furthermore, this has happened three times in recent months: after the anti-Georgian purges, the murder of Politkovskaya and the poisoning of Litvinenko, she said. "This is happening too often," she concluded. She reminded viewers of her scepticism about the Litvinenko poisoning, when the story broke two weeks ago, but indicated that there is no doubt about what happened to him now."This is state terrorism, Scotland Yard has announced," she intoned again.

"Why did this happen? I really don't know if Putin gave the order for this or not. If he did, then it is to do with the third-term and a fundamental change in Russian foreign policy," she observed. If he did not, she continued, then what is being decided by him in this country, if Litvinenko can be liquidated with polonium-210 without the need to ask for his instructions.It would show just what is meant by the hierarchy of power in this country, she added.

Irrespective of whether Putin actually gave the order, the system is such that instructions of this kind are possible, she declared. Latynina then went on to speculate on the Kremlin mind-set in the light of Litvinenko's death. It is important to realize, she said, that this happened because among other things the world in which the Kremlin and President Putin live is very different from the world where Condoleezza Rice lives.

"This is a paranoid world. It is the world where the Jews poisoned Arafat, Saakashvili liquidated Zhvania, where comrade Nevzlin wants to kill Putin, and where Bush personally sentenced Saddam," she continued. She characterized the reaction from the Russian state to accusations about the Litvinenko death as follows: "You forgive Saakashvili for Zhvania and you forgive the Jews for Arafat and you raise a cry against us".

"One of the causes of Litvinenko's death is a fundamental divergence between the West's conception of the world and the conception of the world held in the Kremlin," she concluded at the end of the first section of the programme. She began the second part by saying that in the light of Litvinenko's death, the British police will more than likely revisit the case of Stephen Curtis, the Yukos executive who died in a helicopter crash.

She then said that one hypothesis of Litvinenko's death is that an operative of the rank of major wanted to earn some stars for his epaulettes.

A caller took her to task for rushing to judgment in assuming the Russian state or special services were behind Litvinenko's death. She countered by quoting Scotland Yard's statement that this was "state-sponsored terrorism".

She then identified one key question regarding the murder: "Who could obtain polomium-210?" She thought it unlikely that the exiled enemies of the Kremlin could have got hold of this substance.

Latynina then turned to the impact of Litvinenko's death, saying that it would produce "mortal fear" among the opposition. She noted how guarded opposition politicians such

Vladimir Ryzhkov and Irina Khakamada are in commenting on the Litvinenko case. "They are fully aware that they could be next," she said.

She added that the nation will be divided over the death: some will think it is the "enemies" of Russia, while there will be others who do not believe this and as a result are enemies themselves, and "can be liquidated as the agent of enemies".

She went on to consider how the Russian authorities might respond to the situation. A way of apologizing for Litvinenko's killing might be to purge the Federal Security Service (FSB), she suggested. This would also be a way of distancing the Russian authorities from what happened, she said. "This could include the sacking of [FSB chief Nikolay] Patrushev and [Kremlin aide Igor] Sechin," she added. She predicted that if this does not happen, there will be "an unavoidable increase in the number of these terrible things".

She suggested that these could include "massive terrorist attacks" in South Ossetia or the killing of Khodorkovskiy. "This would cut off Russia from the civilized world," she observed.There could also be political spy trials against human rights activists or campaigns to put pressure on foreign companies, Latynina suggested. She concluded the programme as follows: "Finally, one of the main and practically inevitable consequences is the mounting atmosphere of the witch hunt: an atmosphere in which every person will be forced to choose who he really is. Does he think that everything that goes on is done by the enemies of Russia to put Putin in an awkward position and ruin Russia, and that this is being done by Nevzlin or Berezovskiy? Or will he call a spade a spade and say that Russia is going down a path on which stands the signpost to a Dictatorship, a road with one end, including for the current authorities? If he does, then this man will himself risk being an enemy and be subject to liquidation. And it will be very easy to say who liquidated him: The enemies, of course!"

Latynina also dealt with Litvinenko in her weekly Moscow Times column:

Alexander Litvinenko died last week in a London hospital from polonium-210 poisoning. I won't waste time on the rumors that Litvinenko was poisoned by enemies of President Vladimir Putin. Or that Litvinenko, like the noncommissioned officer's wife in Gogol's play "The Inspector General," "flogged" himself.

On a number of occasions in the last few years, we went to bed in one country and woke up in another. The first was the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003. Then came the Beslan school siege in 2004 and the subsequent elimination of direct gubernatorial elections.

After Ukraine's Orange Revolution in late 2004 and early 2005, we went to sleep in a country that was not terribly intelligent, and whose president personally bullied its neighbors and worked as a tub-thumper for Viktor Yanukovych. We awoke in a country surrounded by malicious imperialist enemies.

But in the last two months, we have awoken in a different country three times: following the government's anti-Georgian campaign, the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the death of Litvinenko.

These events are just signs along the road to a place filled with prison camps. By a strange coincidence, they followed major economic changes. As recently as last summer, the Kremlin seriously thought that Europe would let Russia buy into its gas distribution networks and that it would invest in developing gas and oil fields in this country. But there was no rush to invest, and there was no question of letting Russia buy into distribution networks.

The great political illusion exploded. And as happens any time an illusion explodes here, the leadership responded with personal annoyance and finger-pointing at external enemies. With the illusion gone, only the road and its ominous signs remained.

Litvinenko's death could have three consequences. First, an apostate has been silenced, potentially sending a warning to anyone who might betray the security services. At shooting ranges where intelligence agents hone their skills, pictures of Litvinenko used to hang on the targets. Perhaps when the great illusion fell apart the pictures were swapped for the original.

Second, his death could turn Russia into a rogue state. In the final analysis regimes are not divided into parliamentary and presidential. They are divided into regimes that are capable of poisoning the opposition with polonium-210 and those that are not. I doubt that President Vladimir Putin will find it easy to explain to his buddy, U.S. President George W. Bush, that Politkovskaya was whacked by renegade thugs. Were the people who slipped Litvinenko the polonium-210 no more than thugs, too?

If Russian agents carried out the operation to eliminate Litvinenko, they did so with no more elegance than we saw in the case of Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who was killed in 2004 in a car blast in Qatar.

There was no need for elegance in the Litvinenko case, however. The polonium seems to have been left like a spy's calling card -- not to prove to the world that Russia is run by the security services, but to prove this to Putin.

Putin has surrounded himself with friends who were not trained to run businesses or to run the country. They were trained to carry out special operations. They were trained to eliminate enemies of the regime. And when there aren't any real enemies, they have to be created.

For some reason, as more enemies of the regime are eliminated, their number continues to grow. And Putin is left alone, surrounded by enemies from whom only his friends can save him.

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