So there you have it. Sounds like Andrei Lugovoi was right after all. The London Daily Mail revealed today that Alexandr Litvinenko was indeed a paid MI6 agent. Says the Mail:
Alexander Litvinenko was receiving a retainer of around £2,000 a month from the British security services at the time he was murdered.
The disclosure, by diplomatic and intelligence sources, is the latest twist in the Litvinenko affair, which has plunged relations between London and Moscow to their lowest point since the Cold War.
Sources also say that Litvinenko was recruited by Sir John Scarlett. Scarlett now heads the Crown’s secret service. Before that he was stationed in Moscow. It’s also said that Litvinenko was working for MI6 at the time of his murder.
Litvinenko’s wife Marina denies that her husband ever worked for MI6. But why would she know? I’ve seen enough Hollywood spy movies to know that wives being clueless about their husbands spy work has some grain of truth in reality. Marina Litvinenko is in Portugual trying to lobby European leaders to put pressure on Russia to extradite Andrei Lugovoi. It’s no wonder she would want to deny the MI6 story even if she did know it. I doubt this revelation will garner any sympathy. Regular murders are one thing. But spy vs. spy killings involving radioactive materials. Well that is another . . .
One thing, however, is clear. Mrs. Litvinenko is indeed worried about her husband’s legacy. So much so that she’s bankrolled it into a Hollywood film. It was announced last week that Hollywood blockbuster veteran Michael Mann has bought rights from the Litvinenko Justice Foundation to make a film about Litvinenko’s murder. I don’t know how much the rights were sold for, but I’m sure it can buy a lot of “justice.” Mann’s version (Johnny Depp is said to making a similar film) is based on, you guessed it, Marina Litvinenko’s book (co-written with Alexander Goldfarb) Death Of A Dissident: The Poisoning Of Alexander Litvinenko And The Return Of The KGB. The film deal news coincides with the book’s release in Portugal. What a coincidence! Marina Litvinenko is in Portugal to “lobby” European leaders at the same time her book comes out there, and news about a movie based on said book is announced. Here in Tinsel Town that’s called a publicity tour. Whichever PR firm handling all this gets a gold star!
This is not to sound like I think Marina Litvinenko and her colleagues at the Litvinenko Justice Foundation (whose founders incidentally include Boris Berezovsky, Goldfarb, and their lawyer Louise Christian) are not interested in finding the killer. After all, you can’t make a good film without an evil villain. And spinning the murder into some elaborate Kremlin plot might be too ephemeral for audiences to follow. Just think of the celluloid confusion Syriana induced. For Alexandr Litvinenko to be fully canonized as an anti-Kremlin dissident (that is if his canonization isn’t complete already) , the evildoer needs to be caught. Because if left in the hands of Hollywood scriptmeisters who knows what kind of elaborate tale will be wrought.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
The Russians are evil and pose a clear and present danger to Britain. That’s at least what being spewed in the British press. Recent days have been a reminder of the frozen relations between Britain and Russia.
First there was the short but tense meeting between British PM Gordon Brown and Russian President Medvedev at the G8. The latter gave the former “short shrift” reports the Financial Times,
Mr Medvedev was in no mood to give ground in the hour-long talks, believing that Mr Brown had deliberately soured the atmosphere by raising the issues, instead of looking exclusively to the future. Russian diplomats were also furious at reports in the British press last week which suggested London was awash with Russian spies. Moscow believes the leak came from MI5, the British security service.
Then there is the belief among the British security service that Russia presents the third greatest threat to British security. The Slavic nation follows Al-Qaeda and Iran. Always a bridesmaid and never a bride. Oh, how we wish for the days of the Cold War. Or are the British suggesting an new Axis of Evil?
Well, one could ignore the British report and the Medvedev-Brown tiff as business as usual. That is if it wasn’t followed by some outlandish assertions regarding the Litvinenko Affair and the FSB’s apparent love for poison.
The BBC’s Mark Urban is claiming that a senior British security official believes that “the Litvinenko case to have had some state involvement; there are very strong indications that it was a state action.” Also thanks to MI5’s deftness, an assassination attempt against Boris Berezovsky was thwarted last June. The supposed assassin, a certain “Mr. A,” was arrested and deported on 21 June 2007. Berezovsky told Newsnight that Mr. A wasn’t put on trial because “British intelligence did not want to reveal the source who had warned them that Mr A was traveling to London.” Ian Flemming couldn’t have plotted it better.
True, the Litvinenko story went beyond sense months ago. So much so, I wouldn’t be surprised if Berezovsky digs up Litvinenko’s radioactive corpse and starts wheeling it around a la Weekend at Bernie’s just to squeeze more press out of it.
Litvinenko is back in the funny papers just in time to draw interest in Andrei Nekrasov’s anti-Putin diatribe, Poisoned by Polonium. I saw the film a few weeks ago and I have to say that it was two of the most excruciating hours I’ve spent in a long time.
The plot is simple. Here we have good matured Sasha Litvinenko, who after becoming disillusioned by the FSB’s brutality in Chechnya and corruption among his colleagues, dedicates his life exposing its corruption and criminality. Conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory follows. The FSB blew up those Moscow apartments in 1999. The FSB conspired to take over the Russian state. The FSB engaged in all sorts of smuggling, extortion and mafiaesque acts. The film clearly uses Litvinenko’s book Blowing Up Russia: The Secret Plot to Bring Back KGB Terror as its Bible and like any biblical tale is full of folklore and prophecy.
The problem with Nekrasov’s portrayal of power, corruption, and brutality in Russia’s secret police is that he lumps the real with the fiction. Real conspiracy with its theoretical musing. There is no doubt in my mind that FSB agents, especially in the 1990s had links to organized crime. Just like I believe that there are elements in the FSB who continue to do so. But to equate the completely outlandish with the probable and then have no evidence to actually prove either makes the viewer walk away thinking that the only nuts in the celluloid jar are Nekrasov and Litvinenko.
Moreover, the film isn’t really about Litvinenko’s poisoning at all. It is merely the cherry on top of a decade long plot by Putin and his gang. Images of a bald, feeble Sasha doesn’t appear until the last 15 minutes or so. Most of the time we see a fit Sasha incessantly rattling away at his ideas. So the viewer learns little about Litvinenko’s actual poisoning. The perpetrator, Putin through his FSB proxy, is merely a logical conclusion of a long string of nefarious deeds. Chief suspect Andrei Lugovoi does makes a short appearance where he speaks nonsense. His presence, however, allows for the film’s only intentional comedic moment. At one point he offers Nekrasov a cup of tea. The filmmaker politely declines.
There are some notable people missing. Sure Berezovsky is there and he always good for a few laughs. Surprisingly, BAB’s chief propagandist, Alexander Goldfarb, is absent. As is a single interview with a British or Russian investigator to corroborate any of Nekrasov’s or Litvinenko’s allegations. Nor is it ever explained how Litvinenko, who was never that high in the FSB hierarchy, was able to know so much. Perhaps what is most disturbing is that Anna Politkovskaya also comes off as a total nut. Not so much from what she says but the fact that she’s looks and moves like a crazy person.
If pressed to say one positive thing about Poisoned by Polonium, it would be that Nekrasov is a master visual propagandist. His film eye is excellent. He has a knack for angled shots that add drama and suspense. His editing of stock footage, news clips, and interviews makes for a visually interesting film even if the content is complete crap.
Even if Litvinenko has slid to the back pages, it seems that there might be another toxic corpse on the horizon to pin on the Russians. About a week ago, British super spook Alex Allan, who chairs Britain’s Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee, was found unconscious in his home covered in blood. He now lies in the hospital in a coma. Given Allan’s position, British investigators haven’t totally ruled out foul play. Such beliefs, whether they are true or not makes from some good kompromat. And if you’re looking for kompromat, look no forward than the Sun, Britain’s newspaper of nonsense.
“Top security expert” Chris Dobson told the Sun for sordid “Did Russians or al-Qaeda poison Britain’s top spy?” that Allen is a prime target simply by virtue of his job to oversee and coordinate “every aspect of [the British” intelligence community.” Dobson continued,
“The nature of his sudden illness, if it is an assassination attempt, points towards the FSB, successors of Russia’s KGB. They are the masters of assassination by poison.
“They were blamed by Britain for the death of Alexander Litvinenko by radioactive polonium poisoning in London in 2006. And anti-Russian Vicktor Yashenko was horribly disfigured by poison which almost killed him during the election which made him President of the Ukraine.
“So Mr Putin, the former KGB colonel who runs Russia, ‘has form’. And he has become increasingly aggressive towards Britain, accusing us of espionage plots against Russia. Al-Qaeda is another suspect.
They would see his death as a great victory, fulfilling Osama Bin Laden’s threat to strike at the heart of the ‘infidel enemy’. What better target than the man whose job is dedicated to wiping them out?”
“He is therefore a prime target. The nature of his sudden illness, if it is an assassination attempt, points towards the FSB, successors of Russia’s KGB. They are the masters of assassination by poison.”
So I guess it’s just a matter of picking your poison. Al-Qaeda or the FSB. Or maybe they are just working together! Now there’s a plot for Poisoned by Polonium II.Post Views: 541
By Sean — 12 years ago
It is rather old news to report that Alexander Litvinenko died of radiation poisoning in London. The news, after all, is everywhere. Even CNN has made it the main story on their website. That is until a flood or car crash occurs. The question now inevitably becomes: Who did it? And Why?
Why was Alexander Litvinenko murdered? He was after all a staunch critic of the Kremlin and Putin. His book, Blowing Up Russia: Terror from Within, accused the FSB outright for the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow. He claimed that the bombings were Putin’s Reichstag fire for the second Chechen war. It doesn’t take much logic to believe that Litvinenko had many enemies for such views, beginning with his former comrades in the FSB and ending with the Kremlin itself. This is why so much reporting is ready to point the finger directly at Putin. The murder confirms what many people already believe about Russia.
As to the variety of possible explanations for Litvinenko’s murder, the Times London has presented five theories. They are Putin cleaning house before the 2008 Presidential elections, the Berezovsky connection, the Chechen connection, rouge FSB elements, and natural causes or suicide.
Claiming the first two says more about one’s political views toward the Kremlin than anything else. The first theory suggests that Putin seeks to eliminate all political internal and external opposition before the elections. The second is its binary opposite. It claims that Berezovsky seeks to destabilize Russia by way of undermining Putin’s authority.
I claimed a few weeks ago that Politkovskaya had become a political football, if not a pi?ata. The same is happening to Litvinenko. And it is already starting. In response to the news of his death, Putin said “I am really sorry that a person’s death is being used for political provocation.” Sadly, Putin is guilty of the very same thing he charges his critics.
The suicide or natural causes theory can be dismissed rather easily. There are simply easier ways to off oneself. And I would gather that death by radiation poising could hardly be qualified as “natural causes.”
The other two theories, rogue FSB elements and the Chechen connection, are interesting, but the Times dismisses them under the belief that the FSB is “tightly under Putin’s control” and that in regard to the Chechens, Litvnenko “posed no direct threat to Kadyrov’s regime and his key criticisms were directed against the war launched by Putin.” I still think the rogue FSB is a possibility, though the existence of such high grade poison, polonium-210, suggests that these people had to be pretty high up to have access to it. And the higher you go up the FSB food chain, the more likely they would be directly connected to Putin.
As far as the Chechen connection goes, well it sounds like Kadyrov’s men have their hands full assassinating their own troublemakers. A perhaps more important story that has been overshadowed by Litvinenko’s poisoning is how a few days ago Kadyrov’s Interior Ministry gunned down Movladi Baisarov right on Leninskii Prospekt in Moscow.
Still, four of the five theories are plausible. It is, after all, not beyond the Russian state to assassinate thorns in its side. A recent article in Kommersant listed five high profile poisonings since 1995. Four of them directly implicated the FSB. Nor is it beyond cloak and dagger types to exact revenge against someone they view as a traitor.
More theories steeped in political opportunism are likely to emerge. For example, in a statement to Haaretz, former Yukos CEO and now exile Leonid Nevzlin claimed that “Litvinenko’s murder was tied to the information relating to Yukos contained in the documents.” Nevzlin turned these over to the London Metropolitan Police.
People close to Litvinenko claim that his murder was in connection to his investigation of Anna Politkovskaya’s death.
Litvinenko himself was certain who ordered his death. And he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity of taking a final swipe at Putin. In a posthumous statement published in the Financial Times, he said:
But as I lie here I can distinctly hear the beating of wings of the angel of death. I may be able to give him the slip but I have to say my legs do not run as fast as I would like. I think, therefore, that this may be the time to say one or two things to the person responsible for my present condition.
You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.
You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value.
You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women.
You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.
Did the Kremlin do it? I personally have no idea. But if they did then they are either incompetent or shortsighted. The murder has become international news, generating a PR maelstrom that will only hamper the Kremlin’s position and aspirations. Once again Putin has to deal with uncomfortable question after uncomfortable question lobbed by European media at this weekend’s Helsinki Conference. Further, it makes Putin’s recent editorial, “Europe Has Nothing to Fear From Russia’s Aspirations” in the Financial Times unreadable without a cynical chuckle. Lastly, the Litvinenko assassination conjures more ghosts that I would imagine the Kremlin would like people to forget. So if the Kremlin did order the killing, then their stupidity is beyond measure.
But perhaps the remembrance generated by Litvinenko’s murder is really what connects this strange and sordid tale to a much larger political struggle.
As Boris Kargalitsky states in a comment on Eurasian Home,
Raising the ghosts of the past would be the most disadvantageous tactics for the Russian administration under the circumstances. Litvinenko, residing in London, was not a thorn in the side for the Russian authorities, all the more that his version of the explosions in Moscow in 1999 is just one in series and not the most convincing. But when the former KGB agent becomes victim of an attempt, his imputations gain credibility and the whole affair moves to the front burner. The Kremlin’s foes will not miss a chance to use the poisoning of Litvinenko as one more argument against the authorities and to put it in line with such cases as the murder of Politkovskaya and the residential houses explosions in 1999. Moscow will again be seen from the West as a capital of the “evil Empire”. But what’s the Kremlin’s use in all that?
It is only in “first approximation” that the renowned critics of the present regime seem to be the only victims of the current events. If we consider the situation in more detail, we will find that the authorities are extremely vulnerable to such developments. The blows hit the commentators of the Big Game, living the opposition leaders safe and sound. As a result the opposition gets its martyrs and the authorities are brought into challenge. Under these circumstances the pro-Kremlin analysts have all reasons to assure that Litvinenko’s poisoning and the journalist’s murder are mere provocations and that the opposition itself and Boris Berezovsky in person have organized the affairs in order to discredit the Kremlin’s ruling elite.
For all that it’s difficult to think of Mr. Berezovsky trying to kill his closest associate in London. However vicious he might be, he is not crazy. Mr. Berezovsky perfectly understands that once Scotland Yard finds out something, he won’t get away with it.
The 1999 explosions in Moscow reflected the struggle for power within the ruling elite. The current murders and murder attempts have the same nature. Neither President Putin nor Mr. Berezovsky would contract such murders – for both of them the possibility of the backlash of the event is higher than possible revenues. I reckon there are other stakeholders at a lower level who pursue their own interests and use their own methods.
Intensification of the struggle for power is the result of their activity. The less stable the situation in the country is the more there is ground for the drastic changes in political life of the country. And undermining Russia’s position in the world will permit the political elites to retain control over the new President, making him a hostage of those who have led him to power. Dirty and ineffective political tricks will make the successor more dependent on forces behind the Kremlin’s throne.
The Big Game is on and it’s not the presidential post that is at stake. It is the leverage of control over whoever gets this post.
The “Big Game”. Thus we’ve come full circle back to the first two theories put forward by Putin and his enemies. Both Litvinenko’s and Politkovskaya’s murders are part of a wider struggle within the Russian elite for control in 2008. Perhaps, then, looking only at the top echelons of both the Kremlin and the opposition is diverting attention away from the unknown, yet influential players positioned in the elite’s middle levels. This I think is the most frightening theory of them all.Post Views: 1,482
By Sean — 10 years ago
The Litvinenko Affair continues to be the story that just won’t go away. Perhaps for good reason. The British and Russians have done a lot of diplomatic posturing as a result. So much so that it’s appropriate to say that Litvinenko’s death was the beginning of a renewed souring between the two nations. Now 18 months later, it is still difficult mention Britain and Russia in the same sentence without conjuring Litvinenko’s ghost.
There is no need to recount the official narrative of the story. Anyone who’s been following knows its Hollywood-esque spy vs. spy twists and turns well enough already. But more people are beginning to ask questions about this celluloid narrative; questions that strive to cut through the smoke and smash the mirrors of conventional wisdom.
Edward Jay Epstein’s article in the New York Sun pioneered of this questioning. Now Mary Dejevsky of the Independent is following Epstein’s lead. She asks: “The [conventional] explanation is neat, self-contained and entirely plausible. But is it the truth, or anything like the truth?” Dejevsky then plots out five clusters of questions:
Consider the questions that remain open almost 18 months after Litvinenko’s death. There are a great many of them; some overlap, but they are roughly divisible into five clusters.
The most obvious relate to the polonium-210 that was identified as the cause of his illness just before he died. Then there is the role of Andrei Lugovoi. The Crown Prosecution Service says it has enough evidence to charge with murder, but the only third party to have seen the papers, Edward Epstein, says the case is extremely thin. Third, there are the mysterious activities of Litvinenko himself. The fourth cluster of questions concerns the part, if any, played by the British secret services, and, last, the role of the exiled Russian oligarch, the enigmatic Boris Berezovsky.
Her attempt to provide soluble answers follows. Check it out.Post Views: 454