Nov 26, 2006

Killing Sasha: Thoughts on the Murder of Alexander Litvinenko

Share
Alexander Litvinenko in hospital bedAlexander Litvinenko in his hospital bed; photo courtesy of The Guardian

(Toledo, OH) The death of Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-KGB operative, was a particularly gruesome crime. Known to his friends as Sasha, he died in London on Thursday night after a three-week illness attributed to poisoning. His hair fell out almost immediately, his internal organs failed, and his body slowly fell into systemic collapse.

Doctors found deadly levels of polonium-210, a radioactive substance, in his body. Traces of polonium were found in locations he had visited shortly before falling ill, and urine samples taken from Litvinenko also showed the poison.

Given the fact that Litvinenko was an ardent critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin, the temptation among many pundits is to assume the worst - that Putin, in classic gangster fashion, simply ordered a hit on one of his enemies. Given the fact that vocal critics of Putin tend to become the victims of unusual acts of violence (consider the 2006 murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the 2004 dioxin poisoning of Ukranian president Viktor Yushchenko), such a scenario is certainly within the realm of possibilities.

While I am in full agreement with the idea that Russia is devolving into a gangsterocracy, I am not convinced Vladimir Putin ordered the hit on Litvinenko. It is equally plausible that elements within the FSB (the successor security body to the KGB) initiated the murder on their own.

It is also possible that rival political factions might have murdered Litvinenko in an effort to embarass Putin, whose term expires in 2008. Russian media sources are floating the specious idea that organized crime elements contracted the murder in an effort to discredit the FSB and, by default, the nation of Russia. Pravda suggests notorious Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky as a prime suspect, and also points the accusatory finger at Chechen exile Akhmed Zakayev

But whatever the real truth - which the world may never know - what is certain is that politics in Russia is a deadly business, and whoever poisoned Alexander Litvinenko with polonium-210 wanted to send that message in a very visible, gruesome manner.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Disagree, Mike. Putin called this one, just like Politkovskaya and Yushchenko.

I like your word Gangsterocracy - where did you hear that?

JD

microdot said...

On the other hand, the multitude of security breaches and thefts of radioactive materials from Russian research facilities make Mikes speculation quite valid.
Of course, Putins reaction to the accuasation, referring to Litvinenko as a "nobody, a non-entity" and referring to the event as being not a violent act seem to be a lot of over acting.
Really, what can the US or Britain do but lodge indignant protests over this? We need good relations with Russia almost more than they need us.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Yet another bit of evidence that Russia is slipping into the gangster mentality like the one that ruled our county long ago.

Let's hope that civility eventually takes hold some day.

Of course, is politics here today any less brutal, except maybe for the outright murders? Sometimes I have to wonder...

Dariush said...

"It is also possible that rival political factions might have murdered Litvinenko in an effort to embarass Putin, whose term expires in 2008. Russian media sources are floating the specious idea that organized crime elements contracted the murder in an effort to discredit the FSB and, by default, the nation of Russia. Pravda suggests notorious Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky as a prime suspect, and also points the accusatory finger at Chechen exile Akhmed Zakayev."

Bingo. And it's not just Russian media sources. British media sources have confirmed that traces of Polonium were found in Berezovsky's London residence. They even managed to get a couple of "no comment until the police finish their investigation" type quotes from The Godfather of the Kremlin.