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A strangeness of Russians

The latest weird twist in the Alexander Litvinenko assassination has been the release by prime suspect Andrei Lugovoi of his promised ‘stunning revelations’ about the case. His claim was that Litvinenko was in fact working for the British intelligence services and that MI6 had in fact attempted to recruit him as well

Now what makes this all really puzzling to me is that even if this is all true, far from taking the heat off himself and the Russian security services, he seems to in fact be providing the Russian spooks with an excellent motive for wanting to kill Litvinenko.

Am I missing something here?

20 comments to A strangeness of Russians

  • Freeman

    He’s just taking the standard defensive line: never apologise, deny everything, attack your accusers.

  • He is doing a rather bad job of it then, what with providing a motive for Russia to be behind the murder.

  • This reeks of Putin hanging this guy out to dry. Sounds to me like Alexander was told he wasn’t going to get Russian protection so he flipped and now is looking at some very bad choices. He leaves Russia and he will have to stand trial in England. If he stays, Putin could just make him go away and then there would be nothing to tie the Kremlin to the murders.

    Play with fire and you get burned Alex. I hear Siberia isn’t too bad this time of year.

  • Um, the “Alex” I was referring to above was supposed to be “Andrei”, not “Alex”.

    Preview is my friend.

  • michael farris

    Perry,

    For most of humanity, the ultimate (in some societies only) value is group loyalty.

    This thug is not trying to say he didn’t do it all (in any way that anyone who’s not hopelessly stupid would believe). The meta-message of his ‘revelations’ is that Litvinenko was guilty of the ultimate sin (being disloyal to his group (in this case ‘the Russian nation’) and therefore deserved to die.

    And for his loyalty, that same group (the Russian nation) will protect him from those who corrupted and doomed Litvinenko.

    It’s a different way of thinking than you or I are used to, but it carries a lot of resonance in most of the world.

  • IanP

    I actually think that this story is important.

    Following Litvinenko’s death, the Home Office, security services and the UK press made a big play of the dangers of Polonium 210, followed immediately by more calls from John Reid for more powers.

    One thing that was played down during this time of terror scare tactics was the involvement of the British Embassy in Moscow.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6215168.stm

    This element does need investigating, as does the claim of the MI6 meeting place in London, and if Lugovoi has information to impart, it needs to come out.

    I would hate to think that the British Government would stoop so low as to use the death of a Russian immigrant for political gain, but as we have already seen from the reports of the NI ombudsmen, on the illegal involvement of the security services during the troubles, it is not beyond the bounds of belief.

    It is possible that this was simply part of an MI6 recruitment plan that went wrong (MI6 have previously admitted that following the end of the cold war that the level of competent spooks on the ground has diminished).

    If there is a story here, it needs airing. We need to be able to trust in our security services at this time, not have such suspicions covered up.

  • IanP the notion that MI6 would kill a man in London with Polonium is way beyond absurd. The only reason to murder someone in such a baroque way is to send a loud-and-clear message to others what happens if you do certain things.

    I think William of Occham is the only person needed to figure out who killed Litvinenko.

  • Rone Aone

    There can only be degrees of ignorance about Russia…

  • IanP

    Perry,

    I am not suggesting for one minute that MI6 or any other British agency were responsible for the death of Litvinenko.

    What has however surfaced in Lukavoi’s press conference is the involvement of British services.

    It is that involvement that I feel needs to be aired.

    As to the murder itself, I am of the view that it was probably Kremlin instigated, if not by Putin himself, certainly by one of the many factions working within either the Kremlin or the Duma.

  • Sunfish

    As to the murder itself, I am of the view that it was probably Kremlin instigated, if not by Putin himself, certainly by one of the many factions working within either the Kremlin or the Duma.

    ..who had access to nuclear bomb triggers. Po-210 in quantities useful as a weapon does not grow in the tomato patch. This is a killing that says “I have access to exotic materials and I want to make an example of you.” Not many people have either means or motive to make quite that statement.

    As for the accusation that James Bond did it…that’s not quite as silly as the notion that George W. Bush made Hollywood release 300 to insult Iran. It’s close, though.

  • guy herbert

    What I suspect you are missing Perry is that this is framed as both denial and justification. “Of course I didn’t kill him ;) But he was working for British intelligence, so of course it was a good thing someone did.”

    The literal translation ‘British Special Services’ was used on the report I saw. What I also noted was the same accusation leveled at Berezovsky, implying Boris should get more bodyguards.

    The mode of discourse is a conspiracy-theoretical one in which all dissidents are pawns of foreign enemies of the state, traitors who deserve anything that happens to them.

  • nick g.

    Maybe this is mainly for domestic consumption, as the above commenter noted, so that the average Russian in the street will think, “But if we did do it, he deserved it anyway!” If he had any links at all, no matter how tenuous, to any element of British Intelligence, that might be game, set, and match, as far as the average Russian is concerned.

  • I doubt they’ll kill Lugavoi unless he becomes a liability, as they will already know exactly what really happened unless they have amnesia.

    His line may conceivably have a certain plausibility to Russian ears (or it could be a domestic message of some sort), being familiar with the workings of the Russian body politic, but is unlikely to have much mileage in it outside.

    What surprised me is he missed out trying to implicate the Duke of Edinburgh ;-)

    Maybe if Putin decides Lugavoi needs to become less able to, as they say, make like a birdie, they’ll go with that angle to cover that.

  • Old CIA director Porter Goss advised the same line: “Admit nothing, deny everything and make counteraccusations.” Freeman’s right, there’s nothing here but the expected–and Putin himself frequently follows up smears on Russia by outlandish speeches fingering the accusing countries.

    Of course the accusations against you Brits are absurd. It’s nearly as shut a case as the O.J. case was here in the States. We simply don’t have the acquittal, which the Russians accomplish by denying your investigators the ability to interrogate the necessary subjects. Instead, the Russkies are parroting Renault, but much more nastily: “We’ll round up the usual suspects. Don’t you worry about it.”

    H Lime

  • IanP, in what way should the actions of our spooks be aired? If they were indeed trying to recruit a Russian spy (which Lugovoi clearly is) to work for our side, is that not what we pay them for? It obviously did not work but I cannot fault them for trying.

    Surely we should be disturbed if MI6 was not taking action to build up assets against a very obviously dangerous and hostile government (i.e. the Kremlin) that things nothing of brazenly murdering people in the UK.

  • Sigivald

    To me, it sounds more like “Sure, Russian State Security killed him, but not because he was critical of President Putin, rather because he was a double agent. You’ve seen spy movies, we all know double agents are fair game for assassination. This wasn’t about silencing a critic, just standard Spy Stuff.”

    The idea being, perhaps, not to deny the murder but to present a less offensive motive?

    (Or Lugavoi’s just pimping a book deal.)

  • Paul Marks

    There is some confusion in the reporting – both in the United Kingdom and in the United States.

    Litvinenko was never a “spy”, he was in the domestic arm of the F.S.B. investigating corruption.

    To try and put it in American terms he was like an F.B.I. man assigned to investigating dodgy goings among politicians and administrators.

    M.I.6. (or, to use the other name, the Special Intelligence Service) might be interested in such a man WHEN HE WAS IN POST.

    However, on finding out all sorts of nasty things (for example about the Chechen war) L. made lots of noise in Russia and then (when it became clear there was no way of bringing Putin and co to justice in Russia – indeed if he stayed he would join all the journalists and others that Mr Putin has simply had murdered for finding out nasty things about his doings) came over here to Britain (where he continued to complain and other such).

    The intelligence value AS AN AGENT of an exile who is openly hostile to his government is ZERO.

    Certainly he may be asked questions about information he may have – but as he was talking and writing about this all the time even asking him questions may not be bothered with.

    As for him being a agent of M.I.6. – I point out again that he would be last type of person that any Western intelligence ageny would choose. Well known exile, openly hostile to Putin regime. Operational usefulness – zero.

  • I think Sigivald’s version makes the most sense.

  • Nick M

    I’m with H Lime and others here.

    Anybody who saw Ivanov’s performance in the UN in the pre-war Iraq debate when he wittered on and on about how Russia had always been a lawful, peace-loving nation and respector of international law etc ad nauseum must be aware that the Putin regime will tell the most outrageous porkies.

    I have quite frankly never seen a more brazen display.

    And Sergei Ivanov is Putin’s annointed succesor. He is by all accounts an even bigger bastard than his boss and even more narrowly nationalistic. No wonder that the Poles and Czechs were so keen to join NATO…

    Paul,
    I agree with your analysis. “high profile” and “spy” form an oxymoron. But, I’ll pick one nit. It’s the “secret” intelligence service, not “special”. I suppose that strengthens your argument even more.

    Am I the only one who after years of saying “Russian” finds myself going back to using “Soviet”?

  • Paul Marks

    Sorry Nick.

    Why did I type “special” not “secret”?

    Still there is no reason for you to know – as I do not.