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Monday, November 20, 2006

There's Only One Way Neo-Soviet Russia Can "Win" an Argument: Commit Murder

Quoting the Associated Press, the Moscow Times reports yet another horrifying escalation in the Neo-Soviet crackdown in Russia. First the Kremlin tried to poison pro-West Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yuschenko and now it has gone after KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko (pictured). Monday morning, this was the lead story on Google news (not just for Russia but for the whole world) fronted by the coverage from ABC News -- and comes only hours after George Bush inked a deal with Vladimir Putin for admission to the WTO. Perhaps when the presidents of the Western democracies start dropping like flies, it will be time to act. Until then, it seems the West will just continue gaping slack-jawed at Russia exactly as it did when the Bolsheviks seized power, hoping that somehow it will all just go away.

British police said Sunday that they were investigating the suspected poisoning of former FSB Colonel Alexander Litvinenko, who fell ill as he was investigating the killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Scotland Yard said it began an investigation Friday. Litvinenko, 43, who was under armed guard in University College Hospital in London, fell ill with symptoms of near-fatal poisoning on Nov. 1, and was initially taken to another hospital. UCH described his condition as "serious but stable."

Detectives were trying to identify what had caused Litvinenko's condition and who was responsible, a Scotland Yard spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with department policy. The spokesman added that no arrests had been made.

Toxicologist Dr. John Henry, who has been treating Litvinenko (pictured at right in his hospital bed), told the BBC. that the former agent had been poisoned by thallium -- a toxic metal commonly found in rat poison. "It points to that in his blood stream," he said.

Media reports and friends of the outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin said he had suffered damage to his kidneys and bone marrow, was vomiting regularly and had lost his hair. Sky News television reported that he had suffered a complete breakdown of the central nervous system.

Businessman Boris Berezovsky said he visited Litvinenko on Friday and doctors told him prospects for the former spy's recovery were "50-50."

"He's in bad shape," Berezovsky said by telephone. "There is very strong damage to his body and he's lost his hair. He has protection now, there are bodyguards outside his room."

The Sunday Times said it interviewed him at his bedside at another London hospital, where he was registered under a false name.

It said he fell ill after having a meal on Nov. 1 with an Italian man who claimed to have information on the killing of Politkovskaya, the investigative journalist who was gunned down Oct. 7 in her Moscow apartment building. Her attackers have not been found.

Politkovskaya wrote articles criticizing abuses by federal and pro-Moscow Chechen forces fighting separatists in Chechnya.

"They probably thought I would be dead from heart failure by the third day," Litvinenko was quoted as saying in the Sunday Times. "I do feel very bad. I've never felt like this before -- like my life is hanging on the ropes."

Litvinenko was quoted as saying the Italian contact he had met with simply "disappeared" after their meeting at a sushi restaurant but said he was not in a position to accuse him of involvement in the poisoning.

Glenn Edwards, operations manager at Itsu restaurant, said detectives had arrived at the restaurant Saturday asking for close-circuit television footage. He added that there was no link between the restaurant's food and the poisoning.

Berezovsky said Litvinenko's family had sought the assistance of the same British toxicology experts who treated Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who was poisoned in the runup to his 2004 election campaign.

Litvinenko joined the KGB and rose to the rank of colonel in its successor, the Federal Security Service, or FSB. He fled Russia and claimed asylum in Britain in November 2000, two years after publicly accusing his FSB superiors of ordering him to kill Berezovsky, at the time a powerful Kremlin insider.

He also has accused FSB agents of coordinating 1999 apartment building bombings that killed more than 300 people. In 1999 and 2000, Litvinenko spent nine months in jail awaiting trial on charges of abusing his office but was acquitted. He then fled to Britain.

The Times of London adds:

Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned on the direct orders of the Kremlin because of his biting mockery of President Putin, according to a former Soviet spy now living in Britain. Oleg Gordievsky, the most senior KGB agent to defect to Britain, said that the attempt to kill Mr Litvinenko had been state-sponsored. It was carried out by a Russian friend and former colleague who had been recruited secretly in prison by the FSB, the successor to the KGB. The Italian who allegedly put poison in Mr Litvinenko’s sushi “had nothing to do with it”.

“Of course it is state-sponsored. He was such an obvious enemy. Only the KGB is able to do this. The poison was very sophisticated. They have done this before — they poisoned Anna Politkovskaya (the campaigning journalist murdered on October 7) on a plane last year. Who else would know where she was sitting and could poison her food? Probably also it was the KGB that shot her.”

Mr Litvinenko, who fled to Britain in 2001, was a target because of the Kremlin fury at his sarcastic attacks on President Putin, Mr Gordievsky said. “There are three people they hate: Boris Berezovsky, Akhmad Zakayev and Sasha (Alexander) Litvinenko, who was writing article after article for the Chechen press, laughing at Putin.” Mr Gordievsky, a former KGB station head in London, who still refers to the FSB by its former name, insisted that he did not know the identity of the Russian would-be killer. But he assumed that the man was a former associate of Boris Berezovsky, the former oligarch and Yeltsin confidant, who has been granted political asylum in Britain. “He used to be in Mr Berezovsky’s entourage and was imprisoned in Moscow. Then suddenly he was released, and soon after that he became a businessman and a millionaire. It is all very suspicious. But the KGB has recruited agents in prisons and camps since the 1930s. That is how they work.”

The man came to London, posing as a businessman and a friend. He met Mr Litvinenko at a hotel and put poison in his tea. That was before Mr Litvinenko had lunch at a Japanese restaurant with the Italian he knew as Mario, who had arranged to meet him because he said he had information about the murder of Ms Politkovskaya, a close friend. “Why should this Italian do it? I know him. He is a solid, respectable man. And Sasha was already feeling unwell before the lunch. He was poisoned before he met the Italian.” Mario Scaramella, a consultant for a commission investigating FSB activities in Italy, was last night reported to be in protective custody “terrified for his life”.

Mr Gordievsky is a close friend of the victim, who lived in North London and regularly visited Mr Gordievsky’s house in Godalming, Surrey. Talking exclusively to The Times, he painted a sad picture of the former lieutenant-colonel in the FSB. “He is rather lonely, like me. But he has a tremendous respect for me, as a British agent. He used to report to me, asking for my advice.“He said Britain was a solid, intelligent and beautiful state, with no corruption as in Russia, and he was very dedicated to it.”

Mr Gordievsky said he could not go into the details of why Mr Litvinenko had agreed to meet his would-be killer. “His wife, Marina is reluctant to speak about it. It is all very hurtful, as he was a former friend. But now all that has been left to the police, and they have told his family not to talk about it.”

According to Mr Gordievsky, Mr Litvinenko began to feel ill that evening. His wife called an ambulance. The crew thought that he had food poisoning and give him pills. But his condition deteriorated so the next morning they called an ambulance again. “It was only on the tenth day in hospital that the doctors realised it was not food poisoning. When his hair began to fall out they did toxicology tests, and found that his body contained three times the fatal dose of thallium,” he said. Mr Litvinenko lives close to Mr Zakayev, a close friend who suspected poisoning. It was Mr Zakayev who put the details of the case on the internet, Mr Gordievsky said.

Why did it take so long to report the poisoning to the police? “Because British doctors are not familiar with such poisons. He went to the doctor, who gave him antibiotics. His wife and son kept telling the doctor that he had been poisoned, but the doctor said it was just a reaction to the antibiotics. But now he has had very good treatment for the past three days in the hospital.” John Henry, a clinical toxicologist who examined Mr Litvinenko on Saturday, said that the former spy was quite seriously sick. “There’s no doubt that he’s been poisoned by thallium, and it probably dates back to November 1, when he first started to get ill,” he told the BBC. Mr Gordievsky said those planning the murder would have to have had permission from the top.

Mr Litvinenko fled to Britain after being imprisoned for a second time. In May 2005 The Times reported how someone pushed a pram containing petrol bombs at the front door of his London home. The attempted assassination left him “shaken but unhurt”. Mr Gordievsky said he was fourth — now third — on the Kremlin hitlist. The KGB had not been able to reach Boris Berezovsky as he was always surrounded by bodyguards. Mr Zakayev, the Chechen actor whom Moscow wants to extradite on terrorism charges, had no protection at home, Mr Gordievsky said, but was protected by Mr Berezovsky’s bodyguards when he went out. What about Mr Gordievsky’s own safety? “What can I do? They can always get me by shooting. But this is a small community in this country. We look after each other. Prbably that is my only hope.”

Blacklisted: the men wanted by Moscow

Oleg Gordievsky

Former deputy head of the KGB at the Soviet Embassy in London and a highly successful double agent for MI6. He joined the KGB in 1963 and was posted to Copenhagen, where he became disenchanted — a fact noticed by MI6, which recruited him. He was the KGB’s Resident-designate in London in 1982, but he was suddenly ordered back to Moscow and arrested in 1985. Although suspected and interrogated he was allowed to go home and contacted MI6, which managed to smuggle him out.

Boris Berezovsky

Fugitive billionaire living in a Surrey and wanted in Moscow on massive fraud charges. A mathematician who began selling cars under perestroika and after the collapse of communism became Russia’s first billionaire. He became close to President Yeltsin and used his influence to increase his holdings in Aeroflot and several oil properties. Helped to finance Yeltsin’s second election campaign, then backed Putin in 2000 but the latter resented Berezovsky’s interference and opened investigations into his business dealings

Ahmad Zakayev

Former actor who became Minister of Culture in Chechnya — and at the start of the first Chechen war a general in the Chechen army. A political moderate, he negotiated with Russia to end the first war, and then became deputy prime minister. He was wounded in the second Chechen war and was granted political asylum in Britain in 2003. Now lives in London and is acting vice-premier of Chechnya’s underground government. Was accused by Russia of planning the Moscow theatre siege. A court turned down an extradition request, saying he was at risk of torture.

Leonid Nevzlin

A right-hand man of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former owner of the Yukos oil company and now in a Siberian labour camp. He has been charged in Russia of a plot to kill individuals who posed a danger to Yukos. He claims that Putin is taking revenge for supporting his political opponents. Lives in Israel.

Vladimir Gusinsky

Former theatre director who became one of Russia’s most powerful media magnates. Fell out with the Kremlin when NTV, his independent television station, became critical of the Chechnya war. In 2000 Gusinsky was accused of embezzlement and money laundering and was forced into exile in Israel, where he holds citizenship

The Telegraph continues:

Darkness had just fallen on Saturday when the UAZ four-wheel drive sped down Moscow's Lenin Avenue and drew up outside one of the grey blocks of flats that line the Russian capital's streets. A Chechen officer, a high-ranking member of the FSB spy agency, emerged from the back of the car. Moments later Movladi Baisarov lay dead, his body riddled with bullets fired by the Chechen special forces and Russian intelligence officers who had ambushed him

According to Russian authorities, Mr Baisarov was killed after he attempted to detonate a hand grenade. But such is the atmosphere in Russia these days, there are many who question the official explanation. Like Alexander Litvinenko, Mr Baisarov had many enemies within the FSB and in the Kremlin-backed Chechen government. He had emerged as a leading critic and rival to Ramzan Kadyrov, the 30-year-old Chechen prime minister.

Liberal commentators in Russia have linked Mr Kadyrov to last month's murder of the country's most prominent investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who dedicated her career to highlighting the abuse of human rights in Chechnya, where Moscow has fought two brutal wars to suppress a separatist movement. Mr Kadyrov has denied the accusations, suggesting that the murder was carried out to besmirch and weaken him.

Whether or not the three cases are connected, former Soviet spies say there is no doubt that the Russian intelligence services have grown increasingly powerful under the stewardship of President Vladimir Putin.

"All three of these cases involve people who had many enemies within the intelligence apparatus," said a former KGB officer. "This may be a coincidence but there can be no doubt that the FSB is both more powerful and more prepared to flex its muscles than for about 25 years."

President Putin is a former KGB officer who served in Dresden during the Cold War. Determined to regain Russia's superpower status — at least in the energy sector — the president has increased funding for the intelligence services fivefold since he came to power six years ago.

He has also surrounded himself with former fellow spies. Up to two-thirds of government officials are said to be drawn from the security and intelligence services and the most powerful faction in the Kremlin, known as the Siloviki, is dominated by former KGB officers.

While it would be an exaggeration to suggest that the pervasive terror of the intelligence services in Soviet times has returned, Russians are again looking over their shoulders.

The Kremlin says that the increased power and funding of the intelligence services is a response to the conflict in Chechnya and the war on terror. But Siloviki hawks have also used the FSB and other agencies to enforce increasingly repressive domestic legislation and punish recalcitrant ex-Soviet satellites.

One of the most extreme allegations surrounds the pro-Western president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, who was allegedly poisoned when dioxin was slipped into his borscht in the run-up to elections in 2004.

Though Mr Yushchenko survived and was carried to power on the back of the Orange Revolution, his face remains heavily disfigured as a result of the attack. Mr Putin has centralized power both in the Kremlin and the intelligence services to such an extent that many Western critics say that democratic progress under Boris Yeltsin, his predecessor, has largely disappeared. The independent media has been silenced, power devolved from the regions, parliament turned into a pliant tool of the Kremlin and advocacy groups critical of the authorities curtailed.

Many are now too scared to openly speak against the government or campaign against flourishing corruption as the state again assumes control of leading companies, particularly in the energy sector where Siloviki officials have been given plum positions. Some of those who have spoken out have paid the ultimate price and some murders at least have born the hallmarks of the FSB. Yuri Shchekochikhin, Mrs Politkovskaya's editor at Novaya Gazeta, one of the last bastions of free press in Russia, died in 2003 after he, too, was poisoned with dioxin. In the past two months the number of contract killings of prominent officials has soared — the reforming deputy head of the central bank, a prominent mayoral candidate in Russia's far east and another leading journalist all among the victims.

The word on the diplomatic grapevin is that more of the same should be expected as the Siloviki and their allies seek to tighten their hold on big business ahead of the 2008 election, when Mr Putin is required to stand down.


winsc2 said...

The London Times has a number of articles as well as the one your cite above and is well worth a look at...

Britain will be plunged into its worst crisis with Russia since President Putin came to power if a Scotland Yard investigation into the poisoning of a former Russian security agent leads back to the Kremlin, diplomats said last night.

La Russophobe said...

WINNY: Well, surely not Britain alone but the whole world. In the end I suppose it is rather fitting that the nation which warned us about the first Iron Curtain will expose the second as well. If only we beyond your shores would listen more closely this time.

La Russophobe said...

Here's the link to Winny's article, the TOL has a wealth of information about this topic and there are more than 500 stories on the Google wire.,,13509-2461837,00.html

Penny said...

I hope Scotland Yard nails Putin in this. Unfortunately, it won't stop the sniveling, morally equivocating EU from accepting their gas supplies from Russia. There will be a brief collectively muttered condemnation from European capitals, then, business will resume as usual with this Stalinesque killer.

The only way to stop Putin is to grind to a halt his oil, gas and commodites revenues, sadly, that won't happen. The Russian sheeple won't overthrow this creep on principle, they might act if their economy fell apart and their subsidies were threatened.

Putin is a thuggish, not even first rate, gangster. The Russian sheeple that will probably award him a third term are just as culpable and deserve their fate. Sheepishly watching him systematically eliminate all opposition, their own history should be a lesson to them. What absolute moral cravenness.

winsc2 said...

One of the investigators of the Moscow bombings which Livinenko accused the FSB of arranging was Yuri Schekochihin. State Duma deputy and a member of the Public Commission on the bombings, Yuri died of apparent poisoning in July 2003

It occurred "as a result of an yet un-known poison (there is no official confirmation about the poison), that made his body literally decompose in ten days. All his skin went off and the vitally important internal organs collapsed".

The Times writes: "British intelligence is aware of other thallium attacks elsewhere in Europe involving Russian agents"

Same poison?

Same poisoners?

See also for Andrei Nekrasov's film "Disbelief" about the bombings, and about the persecution of Mikhail Trepashkin the former FSB officer who was framed when he tried to investigate the bombings on behalf of the victims.

winsc2 said...

Whoops... missed your own reference to Yuri Schekochihin's dioxin poisoning at the tail of the Telegraph article.

Still, readers may at least find the links in my last comment interesting.