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More on Litvinenko, Gaidar, and Poisongate

Poisongate continues and though there is other news that pertains to Russia, while spoil the fun and turn to something of importance? Well, its not that Poisongate isn’t important, but it certainly appears to be on the verge of jumping the shark.

Still, the Western media’s obsession with the whole story hasn’t abated and it seems people are still interested. So while I’ve been tempted to begin covering other matters, I’m also torn with giving “the people” what the want.

But where to start? There is such a cacophony of articles dealing with either the Litvinenko investigation or Yegor Gaidar’s “poisoning” that is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Be that as it may, here are some reports I find interesting.

The London Observer is reporting that through interviews with individuals close to Litvinenko, Scotland Yard has found that he intended to use the supposed FSB files in his possession to blackmail “individuals and companies that had fallen foul of the Kremlin.” This comes from interviews with Julia Svetlichnaya, a Russian academic who met with Litvinenko earlier this year and received over 100 emails from him, and Yuri Shvets, a former FSB agent now living in Washington who claims to have vital information as to who and why Litvinenko was targeted.

“He told me he was going to blackmail or sell sensitive information about all kinds of powerful people, including oligarchs, corrupt officials and sources in the Kremlin,” Svetlichnaya told the Observer. “He mentioned a figure of ?10,000 that they would pay each time to stop him broadcasting these FSB documents. Litvinenko was short of money and was adamant that he could obtain any files he wanted.” This testimony was corroborated by FBI interviews with Shvets. An associate close to Shvets, on the condition of anonymity told the Observer that “that Litvinenko had claimed in the weeks before his death that he possessed a dossier containing damaging revelations about the Kremlin and its relationship with the Yukos oil company. The associate claimed that Shvets compiled the dossier.”

The plot thickens and the canonization of Litvinenko as a “dissident” appears even more spurious. It looks as if he might have been looking to use his shocking “information” to his own financial advantage.

This news comes on the heels of more strange facts coming to light. The Observer is also reporting that Scotland Yard is examining letters “smuggled” out of Russia that point to a secret FSB squad set up to “knock out all those associated with Berezovsky and Litvinenko.” The letters were written by Mikhail Trepashkin, another intelligence officer who now serving a four year sentence in Russia for being a British spy. How Trepashkin knows this information from jail is unclear. But they came into Scotland Yard possession via Litvinenko’s London friend and family spokesman, Alex Goldfarb. Goldfarb is a chief proponent of the theory that Litvinenko was murdered by order of the Kremlin.

In relation to Goldfarb’s role in the Litvinenko Affair, the Sunday Herald had this to report:

Regardless of what the “truth” in this murky affair turns out to be, there is a feeling in Russia that the UK public has had the wool pulled over it eyes. That is debatable, but what is undeniable and widely unknown in the UK is that media coverage of Mr Litvinenko’s awful illness and demise has, to a large extent, been carefully orchestrated by a group of people with an axe to grind.

As such, from the outset, the public was encouraged to entertain only one possibility: that President Vladimir Putin, a former spy himself, was behind the mysterious poisoning of a man he considered a traitor.

Such a theory appeared to fit in with everything we know about Russia in 2006: that freedom of the media is a scarce commodity; that there has been an alarming upsurge in contract killings; and that Mr Putin is increasingly authoritarian and tolerates little or no political opposition.

It was, therefore, an easy leap to assume he had dispatched a group of killers to take care of a troublesome ?migr? living in London. This widely accepted “Putin/the Kremlin did it” theory may turn out to have been right all along but for the time being it is worth noting there is little evidence beyond the circumstantial to support it.

What anyone interested in this Machiavellian tale of poisoning and spooks should also know is that one man, a sworn enemy of Mr Putin, has almost single-handedly ensured the UK media have given pre-eminence to the “Putin did it” theory.

That man is UK-based oligarch Boris Berezovsky, a businessman estimated to be worth ?540million who was granted political asylum in the UK in 2001.

It was his right-hand man, Alex Goldfarb, who “did a deal” with a national newspaper to provide an exclusive bedside interview with the dying Mr Litvinenko, creating a media feeding frenzy around the story in the first place.

It was the same Mr Goldfarb who persuaded an eminent London toxicologist to stand up on national TV and say Mr Litvinenko had been poisoned with thallium, a claim that later turned out to be false but gave the story “fresh legs.” Never mind that the toxicologist was not actually treating Mr Litvinenko and had not examined his hospital records.

And it was Mr Berezovsky’s retained public relations agency, Bell-Pottinger, which distributed an image that has come to define this complicated story: that of the emaciated, hairless, dying Mr Litvinenko on his deathbed.

With all this in mind, I think Kirill Pankratov’s article, “Toxic Avenger?” published in this week’s Exile, is food for thought in terms of Litvinenko’s significance as a “vitriolic critic of Putin.”

The other half of Poisongate, the sudden illness of Yegor Gaidar, is coming under even more scrutiny, even from Gaidar’s own mother. In an interview with the Irish Times, Ariana Gaidar claimed that her son’s illness was possibly connected with his diabetes and hypertension. This has also been suggested by Seamus Martin, who was a witness to Gaidar’s illness, along with his claims that some of the information given by Gaidar’s people and his daughter, Maria, “are manifestly untrue.” Martin went so far as to charge that “An attempt on her father’s life would help to give [Maria] publicity for her political campaigns, and there is little doubt that she used her father’s illness very effectively.”

Much has been made of the fact that Maria Gaidar, who is the leader of the youth group “Da!,” is a fierce critic of Putin. Last week, she and Yabloko youth leader Ilya Yashin, unfurled a banner on a bridge spanning the river Moskva, that read “Bring Back Elections!” Police detained the two and charged them with holding an “unauthorized picket.” The banner was a protest against legislation that would “which would abolish the 20% minimum voter turnout requirement and ban negative campaigning on television, along with absentee ballots.” Critics see the potential law as a further curtailment of electoral democracy.

Further, Irish police are saying that there is no evidence that Gaidar was poisoned. In regard to what doctors who examined Gaidar have to say, all we know is that Irish health authorities are positive that he was not poisoned by radiation a la Litvinenko. A diagnosis made by doctors in Moscow has yet to be made public. All we have to go on is the information provided by Gaidar’s aides, who claim that he was deliberately poisoned by something.

So like the Litvinenko Affair, the Gaidar Affair is quickly descending into “he said, she said,” not to mention, conspiracy theory upon conspiracy theory.

Thus any hard conclusions as to what the hell is going on with Poisongate still remains up in the air and anyone’s guess.

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