Litvinenko in the Observer: He said, she said, he said

by Maria on December 3, 2006

People interested in the Litvinenko affair should take a look at today’s Guardian/Observer. First off, there’s an extraordinary photograph of Litvinenko taken to celebrate his citizenship of the UK. He’s standing in front of the Union Jack, wearing a Scottish bonnet, and wielding Chechen swords and KGB gauntlets. The story is about Litvinenko’s alleged intent to use KGB/FSB documents about Yukos to blackmail unnamed individuals, working with a US-based ex-KGB and associate of Berezovsky. This information is courtesy of a Russian graduate student at the University of Westminster.

And the Italian angle is developing, via UKIP MEP, Gerard Batten, who says Litvinenko told him that ‘Sokolov’, a 1970s Russian agent, “was the key link between senior Italian politicians and the KGB.”

Either the plot is thickening or this story has been news-free just long enough for the disinformation to begin.



Adriana Lima 12.03.06 at 5:47 am

Maria.. Can you share that photo with us?
Adriana Lima


Seth Finkelstein 12.03.06 at 5:56 am

The Illuminati did it!

These multiple trails are exactly their M.O. …


thetruth 12.03.06 at 6:50 am

Arguments that depend on the assertion that a former KGB agent is an innocent victim often look silly with the passage of…oh….15 minutes….


bi 12.03.06 at 7:28 am

I hope at least the photograph is real. Or is it?


Matt 12.03.06 at 11:09 am

Those “KGB gauntlets” look surprisingly like something about of a 1980’s Michael Jackson video.


Jack 12.03.06 at 6:48 pm

Disinformation may have started already. For example, compare the comment from superdestroyer here with the extraordinary wide eyed reporting in yesterday’s Guardian.
The first links to an on-line source of 10 lethal doses of Polonium in the unsuspicious form of an anti static filter for $225, the latter reports anonymous sources saying that Litvinenko was given 100 lethal doses at a cost of as much as £20 million.
You don’t have to see things as darkly as Martin Kelly does to think that things have been pretty well spun from the start.


Alex 12.04.06 at 5:54 am

The Independent on Sunday has some very interesting reporting on Scaramella. Skinny: he’s not a professor at Naples, he’s not an investigating magistrate, and his evidence to the Mitrokhin commission was widely ridiculed. He is, allegedly, on tape promising that he could produce evidence that Romano Prodi was a KGB asset, which was never produced.

And his source was: Alexander Litvinenko! It would seem he was trawling for any plausible dirt in order to save Berlusconi’s bacon, Litvinenko was desperate to get someone to take him seriously…and then there’s the report in yesterday’s Observer that he mentioned a dossier on Yukos to another Russian in London.

Quite possibly, he finally got his wish..


Alex 12.04.06 at 5:55 am

“the unsuspicious form of an antistatic filter”

How would you get the target to eat an antistatic filter?


aaron 12.04.06 at 6:47 am

Can’t you see, the Polish are trying to send us a message.


Daragh McDowell 12.04.06 at 6:48 am

Ultimately we’re talking about spies killing spies here so they amount of smoke being blown up our collective asses is going to be massive. But it helps if we strip it back to first principles: So far the most plausible theories I’ve heard about the spate of recent assassinations (Politokovskaya, Litvinenko and possibly Kozlov) is that this is the start of the succession process in Moscow. Many people are going to see their positions alterred, possibly radically when Putin goes. Some may go up in power, some may go down, but there’s still a high degree of uncertainty about whoever comes next. For some the succession process is literally a matter of life and death. These rather ostentatious killings, complete with a radioactive trail going back to the Lubyanka may be simply a way of informing various contenders to the throne that the Silovniki (Russian slang for spooks) have interests that need to be respected, or bad things start to happen. It may also be designed to push Putin into holding on for a third term by effectively ‘binding him in blood’ to the presidency.

If Litvinenko was fairly low-hanging fruit, and even a petty extortionist it only adds to this scenario. Assassinating him carries very few consequences, except a diplomatic dust-up, while the use of polonium as a murder weapon sends an unmistakable signal to those looking for it.

Of course I could be completely wrong. Its all wheels within wheels.


Walt 12.04.06 at 7:48 am

Is Putin that old? I wouldn’t have expected succession to be an issue in the near future.


John Emerson 12.04.06 at 8:02 am

“The assertion that a former KGB agent is an innocent victim….”

I don’t see that that’s relevant in the slightest. If Litvinenko was actually murdered in London using polonium, there’s a big issue regardless of whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy.


Daragh McDowell 12.04.06 at 8:30 am

RE: 11, no Putin is not that old. In fact he’s rather sprightly compared to the current generation of Euro-executives. But he’s committed himself to serving only two terms, and not changing the constitution to let him run for a third. This would be a major development in the history of Russian politics, as no Russian leader has ever stepped down voluntarily. They’ve all either died or been forced out. This has contributed to a political culture that has absolutely no solid mechanisms for an orderly transfer of power, and lots of people getting extremely nervous about what will happen after (if?) he actually goes.


Alex 12.04.06 at 9:40 am

13: Gorbachev resigned, although by that time it was no longer relevant. Yeltsin resigned of his own volition.


lemuel pitkin 12.04.06 at 10:39 am

Glum-looking fellow, isn’t he?

Speaking of photos, those who haven’t checked out Maria’s own photo should do so. (Especially shallow males like me.) By far the comeliest of the CT contributors…


Daragh McDowell 12.04.06 at 11:48 am

14: You have no idea what you’re talking about. Gorbachev resigned after the country he was president of ceased to exist. Yeltsin’s resignation was a result of plummeting popularity, his deteriorating health condition, and the very real possibility of impeachment. The cabal of oligarchs such as Berezovsky, Abramovich et al who helped him buy the presidency in 1996 (and who probably manouevred Putin into the presidency to replace him) had lost confidence in him, and wanted him out. Yeltsin may have been able to choose a dramatic time to announce his exitm, but he knew his tenure as President was effectively over.

Look beneath the surface alex. Just because people resign it doesn’t mean they’re doing so willingly. Look at Rumsfeld, or Powell for that matter. The significance of Putin leaving the presidency would be that even though there is absolutely nothing stopping him from pursuing a third term, he has apparently chosen not to. I can assure you that such a situation has NEVER occurred in the history of the Russian state, going right back to Knyaz’ Vladimir of Kievan Rus’ in the middle ages.


Alex 12.04.06 at 12:03 pm

I’ll bite: Impeachment by who?


Daragh McDowell 12.04.06 at 12:22 pm

The parliament of the Russian Federation, which had already tried to several times. At this point of time the Executive was a lot weaker in Russia than it was today, and the Duma was still a fractious mix of generally anti-government blocs, with no overarching ‘party of power’ bringing them all together.
Lets remember as well that Yeltsin was unable to carry out the most basic duties of his office for months at a time due to increasing illness in his second term. He was also losing the support of his own inner circle, who knew he was on the way out and were looking for a malleable successor.
In 1998-99 Yeltsin’s political blood was in the water and the sharks were circling. It was a graceful exit at a time of Yeltsin’s choosing, rather than an unceremonious boot out the door.


Matt 12.04.06 at 12:47 pm

If anything Daragh McDowell is underselling the intrigue at the end of the Yeltsin era. It seems fairly clear that Berezovsky was instrumental in bringing Putin from Petersburg to lead the FSB, in part becuase he thought he could control him, and then helped convince Yeltsin to step down and hand power to Putin w/ a promis that the massive corruption that Yeltsin and his family were involved in wouldn’t be looked in to (and it hasn’t been.) Berezovsky himself has strongly implied that he helped start the second Chechen war to make this more possible and there’s good reason to think that the ’99 apartment bombings were part of this plan. Putin then managed to out-flank Berezovsky and force out his former patron leaving himself with the real power. (That said, I think it’s a real question how much power Putin personally has, as many times he’s backed down from confrontations with generals, governors, Luskov, and others whom I would have expected him to crush if he could, rather cutting deals and the like. So, maybe his actual hold on power is less strong than it seems.)


Alex 12.04.06 at 6:31 pm

The parliament….bwaaaahaaahahaaa! There was indeed a pro-presidency group, the Medved/Unity/Our Home in Russia/whatever it was called that week. There was also the Communists, who are on record as being terrified by the prospect of winning in ’96. Not a credible entity.

What is the precise difference between “a graceful exit at a time of Yeltsin’s choosing” and a voluntary transfer of power, anyway? I recall a good deal of breathless PR about how Yeltsin/Putin was the first voluntary transfer, etc, etc. The same is clearly being floated for Putin, and no doubt will be for his successor.

The presidential administration (ex-Central Committee: same people in same building), the extractive industry kings and the military/spooks: the Russian state.


John 12.06.06 at 7:32 am

How exactly do you administer Polonium 210 as a poison? As you can read here while only micrograms are enough to kill you, the poisoner has no easy way to deliver it.

Where do you get it from? Polonium 210 has been used for antistatic material and smoke detecors, but modern practice is to substitute Americium which is much safer. You can buy samples by mail order in the US, but the samples are tiny and sealed in epoxy, so its difficult to extract. Again as mentioned here the only plausible source is to make it in a reactor, and then it is probably going to be contaminated with Bismuth which should show up in the autopsy.

The most plausible answer is to say that the murder was carried out by an agency of the Russian government but in such a baroque way that not only does the evidence point back to them, but they have probably killed the agents who did this. It looks to me like a classic mixture of hubris and incompetence.

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