Litvinenko, Russia, the Press and British-Russian Ructions

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on – Winston Churchill

I have avoided writing about the entire Litvinenko affair and its fallout, if you’ll excuse the last word. I find it all so depressing.

It’s depressing due to the possibilities contained therein. If the Russian state, or even just a rogue arm of it, if responsible for the murder, we’ve entered a frightening new (or old) phase of state development, in which critics can be murdered abroad. It matters little that I think that Litvinenko was patently loony (sorry, but “Putin responsible for 9/11” or, “Putin expelled from KGB for paedophilia?”) – murdering citizens of other countries (of which I am a citizen, particularly) is still not something I want the Russian Government to be getting up to, to say the least.

Is it possible that the government is behind the murder? Yes. Does that mean that they definitely did it? No.

Nearly as depressing for me is the possibility that the Russian government had nothing to do with it, meaning that the …ahem…forceful editorials produced by Edward Lucas and, today, Sir Oleg Gordievsky, are symptomatic of something rather worrying in the press, and not just that of Britain. Although I’m certainly not of one mind with Tony Blair, I have to wonder, “Is there, indeed, a pack mentality?” And, if so, does it mean that a mistaken meme will be played out endlessly, doing damage even after it is refuted?

In the last case, I refer to a particular annoyance of mine that took place during the Orange Revolution: the idea that Russian spetsnaz troops – wearing Ukrainian uniforms – had landed in Kyiv, ostensibly to either shoot protestors, or to simply evacuate Kuchma and his circle to Russia. I was instantly skeptical, mostly due to the inanity of the allegations, especially that 1000 fully armed troops had been flown in on two planes. Clearly, that was impossible. But that didn’t kill the story – far from it. Yulia Tymoshenko published an editorial (available here) baldly stating that the troops were here. Mykola Ryabchuk and Boris Tarasyuk went charging out to confront the nefarious Russians, having been tipped off where they were…only to go strangely quiet afterwards. A former U.S. Congressman from Colorado and Jane’s Intelligence Digest also chimed in.

But they all got it wrong: Oleksandr Turchinov, installed after the OR as head of the SBU, scotched the story, as did Tymoshenko (sottissimo voce) Taras Kuzio, here.

Or did they get it wrong? One as to ask oneself, “Did they believe the story they were telling?” If they did, then it was a simple, though large, mistake and an apology would have been all that one could reasonably expect. If, however, the rumour was floated, bellowed and kept alive in order to score purely political points, only to be quietly abandoned when the purpose was served, then we have a different kettle of fish, don’t you think?

Anyway, the Ukrainian “party” Братство liked the technique so much that they decided to use it, too!

Essentially, Russia was being accused of committing an act of war.

This is similar to the Litvinenko case. Whether a state-backed murder of a British citizen would be considered a criminal act or an act of war is one for the international lawyers. However, Georgia and Estonia have also accused Russia of acts of war, albeit limited or even cyber types of war.

Is it possible that Russia is waging a multi-front “war” against the states it sees as enemies. Alas, yes. Does this mean that it’s definitely doing this? No.

Is it possible that there is a group of people who will take action to blacken Russia’s image in the West? Yes. Does it mean that it’s happening? No.

How are we, the hoi polloi, to know where the truth lies? And, is it akin to Lenin’s idea of truth, i.e. that there’s a politically useful “truth” – the truth as the Party, or whoever, needs it – quite different from real truth? Is it a case of правда versus истина?

I’m afraid that we can’t know.

And then there’s the issue of bias. I’ll admit upfront that I am not convinced of Russia’s guilt in any of the aforementioned cases. To say that I’m not convinced does not mean that I cannot be convinced. However, after the Kyiv spetsnaz debacle, I began to look at sensational articles and editorials in the Press – Ukrainian and elsewhere – with a rather more jaundiced eye.

For example…

Gordievsky’s piece:
http://comment.independent.co.uk/commentators/article2776145.ece

Well, Sir Oleg will not be accused of mincing words! He states unequivocally that the Russian state and Putin himself were behind the murder. A strong statement and, for all I know, a true statement. But I demand more than his editorial to convince me, sorry. Apart from what seems to be a mix-up of actual executors in the 1978 Markov assassination (surely it was the Bulgarian state security service that did the job, assisted by Soviet KGB labs,) he leaves me a bit cold with his assertion that his “friend” Litvinenko’s often wacky “criticism” of the Kremlin and Putin was read by “too many.” How many would that be, considering how few had ever heard of him, until he died?

Daniel Finkelstein, from The Times:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/leading_article/article2087443.ece

He sees the murder as “a brazen attempt to silence a Kremlin critic.” Again, I’m not convinced that Litvinenko was silenced because he reamed Putin. A phrase that really jumps out if his criticism of Russia “parading of a constitutional ban on the extradition of Russian citizens.” Why use that word, parading? The intent looks to be to make it all seem rather cheap and tawdry of the Russians to remember that there is such a clause in the constitution.

That said, I’ll go on record to say that I would like Lugovoi extradited to stand trial in a British court. The outcome of that trial would sertainly go a long way towards convincing me of Russia’s guilt or innocence in the Litvinenko case. Why? Mostly due to the fact that I do believe in the British courts. Unfortunately, extradition seems now less likely than ever.

(note to self: less rambling, please)

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