November 22, 2006
Litvinenko is no heroic defector
By Tom Parfitt
Watching the furore over the alleged poisoning of the former security officer Alexander Litvinenko from Moscow has proved instructive.
In a satirical book popular in Russia, the president, Vladimir Putin, is portrayed as a ruthless but befuddled hood who prefaces every approach to his subordinates with the gangster intro: "Slish, bratello ...(listen, bro'...)".
The readiness with which we are now willing to paint Mr Putin - and Russia itself - as this kind of pantomime villain now seems rather alarming.
Don't get me wrong, I'm the first critic of some authoritarian trends in Russia. For example, I think the current campaign against minorities, and Georgians in particular, is despicable.
Obviously it's deeply shocking that Mr Litvinenko is fighting for his life. And we know the Soviet Union poisoned people during the Cold War.
But does anyone really believe that the Kremlin tried to bump off a low ranking former FSB officer (who was, incidentally, never a spy, and certainly not a "top spy", as some have decided) who posed not the slightest threat to the country?
The people who are feeding us this line are Litvinenko's cronies: Boris Berezovsky, the businessman who lives in self-imposed exile in London, and Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen separatist leader.
Mr Berezovsky, as we all know, is Machiavelli's Prince in living form, a notorious manipulator who once pulled the strings at the Kremlin. Mr Zakayev is the Chechen rebel envoy who saw no contradiction in serving in the government in exile headed by terrorist mastermind, Shamil Basayev, the architect of the Beslan school siege.
Slightly compromised people, no?
Certainly, it seems clear that Mr Litvinenko was probably the victim of a ruthless attack. But whether it was organised by personal enemies that he made as Mr Berezovsky's stooge before he fled Moscow, renegade special services who see him as a traitor, or someone inside his own circle keen to set up a supreme piece of political theatre, nobody knows.
In pure pragmatic terms, however, the idea that the Kremlin gave an order to eliminate Mr Litvinenko seems highly unlikely. He just wasn't worth it.
After six years living in London, he hasn't made a single revelation of note about the FSB. This is not a heroic defector.