Did the Russian Mafia Kill Alexander Litvinenko?

They’re making a movie about the Litvinenko affair, but if Hollywood hews to the narrative dished out by the British tabloids, then I wouldn’t count on it being a box office hit. After all, the idea that the Kremlin would assassinate such an insignificant "dissident" by poisoning him with $10 million worth of rare polonium – and leaving a radioactive trail a mile wide back to the Kremlin’s doorstep – is so implausible that no one could possibly believe it. Unless, of course, it is presented as "news," rather than entertainment – two categories that are often indistinguishable from each other, at least in the U.S.

The journalistic lynch mob that jumped on Vladimir Putin, tying him to the alleged murder of Alexander Litvinenko, is wiping egg off its collective face as new evidence comes to light. Not that this crowd needs much in the way of evidence to convince them of the Kremlin’s utter perfidy: in the case of Litvinenko’s bizarre poisoning with a radioactive substance, polonium-210, they didn’t need any. All they had to do was print press releases handed out by Boris Berezovsky’s slick public-relations operation and decry the supposed degeneration of Russian "democracy" from the good old days of Boris Yeltsin, when it was possible to steal entire industries without worrying about going to jail.

To really get a handle on the truth about this mysterious affair, what we have to do is look at what Charles Krauthammer and Max Boot are saying – and then draw the opposite conclusion. The two of them, naturally, accuse Putin of murdering Litvinenko, without – of course – bothering with such mundane details as the extremely odd method of utilizing such an unusual weapon, or what the Kremlin could possibly hope to gain. Their fact-free screeds are all supposition, and both evade the central reality of this case: as the Moscow Times points out, "The common thread linking all the players in Litvinenko’s death is that they have all worked for Berezovsky."

Now that the radioactive trail has been followed to Germany, however, the investigation is taking a new turn:

"German investigators are considering the possibility that polonium-210 was smuggled through the country and might be connected to the radioactive poisoning of a Russian security service defector in London. …

“‘Alongside several other versions behind this crime, we are seriously considering the possibility that Litvinenko’s death could have been connected to the illegal trade in nuclear materials,’ a police source told the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung, adding that no clear evidence had been uncovered yet."

On a trip to Germany, Dmitry Kovtun – who met with Litvinenko on the day of his poisoning, along with Andrei Lugovoi, a former "security" man for Berezovsky – shed radioactivity in several Hamburg locations. The German trip was undertaken before the meeting with Litvinenko. Kovtun is now apparently in a hospital in Moscow, along with Lugovoi. The Berliner Zeitung quotes a police source as saying: “‘We know that there has been a demand for nuclear materials in terrorist circles for several years,’ … adding that Litvinenko’s partners could have been involved in smuggling schemes."

Litvinenko, we know, was desperate for cash, and was reportedly involved in a blackmailing scheme targeting several Russian mafia figures and politicians. Now we learn, according to the London Times,

"Sources in Spain last week said he had crossed Russian mafia figures. They claimed he had provided information that helped lead to the arrest in May of nine mafia members, including a senior gang leader with interests in Russia and Spain."

The nine include Alexander Gofstein, a lawyer for the Yukos oil company of Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and Oleg Vorontsov, a former high-ranking adviser to Boris Yeltsin; they are charged with money-laundering. Another figure in this murky drama, scamster and professional Russophobe Mario Scaramella, was recently arrested for… weapons smuggling.

We don’t know the specifics of what exactly happened: a horrible accident that resulted from an attempt to smuggle polonium, a mafia hit against a stool pigeon, or, perhaps, a little of both. What we do know, however, is that the accusations lodged against Putin and his government by major media outlets in the West are completely without any basis in fact, and that coverage of this bizarre affair has been absolutely shameful.

Big Western oil companies, barred from scarfing up Russian energy reserves by Putin’s invocation of "national security," are busy ramping up a campaign to smear the Russian president as the reincarnation of Stalin, and – absurdly – portray the Russian mafia chieftains as "political prisoners" sitting in the "gulag." If only the Russians would let the Westerners in, they would no longer be bothered by accusations of neo-Stalinism, and known criminals – such as Berezovsky and the Chechen terrorist "government-in-exile" being given shelter in Londongrad – would be quickly extradited to face the music. Instead, criminals like Khodorkovsky, Berezovsky, and Leonid Nevzlin, who looted the Russian economy and then stashed their stolen wealth overseas, are treated as if they are Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov rolled into one.

One needn’t approve of Putin or his policies to note that the Russian president and his government are victims of a setup, and a rather obvious one at that. As former Ambassador David Fischer, posted in several Eastern European countries during the Cold War era, remarked, the story being put out by the Berezovsky spin machine "just doesn’t add up." What does add up, however, is that powerful economic and political interests, both here and in Britain, have targeted Putin’s Russia for "regime change" – and are apparently willing to go to any lengths to accomplish their ends.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].