Poisonous Propaganda

Justin Raimondo is taking the holiday weekend off. His column will return Monday.

The continuing propaganda campaign directed at Vladimir Putin‘s Russia has taken a bizarre turn with the alleged “poisoning,” in a London restaurant, of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent now associated with exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky. According to the story being put out by Litvinenko and his friends, a meeting with Italian researcher Mario Scaramella was swiftly followed by Litvinenko’s sudden collapse. The diagnosis: thallium poisoning. As far as much of the news media, and certainly the numerous Russophobes in the punditocracy are concerned, it’s no mystery as to who’s responsible: according to their “logic,” since Litvinenko is a vehement critic of the Putin administration, Putin and his KGB were clearly responsible. Case closed

A recent Washington Post editorial on the subject is typical: the Post admits “there’s no concrete evidence as yet that the FSB or Mr. Putin is behind the poison attacks,” but these people don’t need evidence, either concrete or circumstantial, just as they didn’t need it in the case of Anna Politkovskaya. Although there is nothing but speculation connecting the Russian government to Politkovskaya’s death, Western reporters and pundits were virtually unanimous in declaring Putin the culprit. According to one would-be Sherlock Holmes, the fact that Politkovskaya was shot by some thug in the elevator of her apartment building on Putin’s birthday proved that the wily former KGB chieftain masterminded her demise.

The same quality of “evidence” is on display in the Litvinenko affair. The stricken man opposed Putin and wrote a book accusing the Russian government of being behind the 1999 terrorist attacks carried out in Russian cities, for which Chechen terrorists were blamed. Therefore, Putin was behind this purported assassination attempt. As an indication of Litvinenko’s credibility, he also claims that the KGB secretly funds al-Qaeda and orchestrated the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Litvinenko, in short, is a raving lunatic, who just so happens to enjoy the patronage of a very wealthy man with a very big grudge against Putin and Russia in general: Boris Berezovsky, the exiled oligarch who used his Communist connections to buy up whole sectors of the Russian economy dirt cheap during the rigged “privatizations” of the Yeltsin era, and fled the country when faced with charges of corruption. With much of his vast fortune still intact, Berezovsky has become Putin’s nemesis, allying himself with Chechen terrorist leaders, what passes for Russian liberals, and American neoconservatives in a popular front for regime change in the Russian Federation.

Litvinenko claims that, on the day he fell ill, there were two meetings where the poison might have been transmitted to its intended victim. One was his meeting with Scaramella, which took place at a London sushi restaurant, Itsu, where he supposedly received “documents” that implicated specific FSB agents in the death of Anna Politkovskaya – and projected yet more assassinations, with both Litvinenko and Scaramella on the KGB’s hit list. In spite of this, several news accounts have openly implicated Scaramella in the plot, which seems distinctly odd and adds to the murkiness of this unlikely affair. The whole thing reads like a fifth-rate cloak-and-dagger thriller.

The plot thickens – or, rather, coagulates – when we get to another meeting Litvinenko had on Nov. 1: with Andrei Lugovoi and some character known only as “Vladimir.” According to an article posted on the Jamestown Foundation‘s Web site, before falling into Berezovsky’s orbit, Lugovoi, a former FSB major, was a bodyguard to several Kremlin big shots, including Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar. He really made his mark, however, in connection with the escape from custody of former Aeroflot chairman Nikolai Glushkov, a Berezovsky protégé, jailed on charges of money-laundering. Glushkov and several others were charged with stashing over $252 million of Aeroflot’s cash in Swiss accounts controlled by Berezovsky. Lugovoi was the warden of the prison Glushkov escaped from, and was compromised by certain phone calls overheard by the FSB. He was arrested and subsequently released under somewhat mysterious circumstances, although other accounts report he was “acquitted.” Whatever.

In spite of the numerous interviews Litvinenko appears to have given to the media – a veritable public relations tsunami, in which his absurd conspiracy theory is being touted as unimpeachable fact – he is supposedly too sick to be making statements and finds himself unable to answer queries about what transpired at this meeting, or even where it occurred. Via Alex Goldfarb, president of a Berezovsky front group masquerading as a “human rights” organization, Litvinenko claims “through the agony of his illness, Mr. Litvinenko could not recall details of the meeting.” Goldfarb has also suggested that Litvinenko was stricken when poison was poured into drinks at the meeting with Lugovoi and “Vladimir.”

The cockamamie narrative being woven around the sudden and very mysterious illness visited on Litvinenko is a direct takeoff on the Yushchenko “poisoning,” which goes unsolved to this day in spite of having Ukraine’s full investigative capacities allegedly focused on exposing the plotters. That way it’s so much easier to blame the KGB.

I won’t reiterate my skepticism – to put it mildly – when it comes to the “official” story of how Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin, a most unlikely candidate for an assassin’s arsenal. Go here, here, and here for an extensive investigation into the continuing mystery of Yushchenko’s disfigurement, but I want to make a larger point.

The attempt to portray the Russians as mad poisoners intent on assassinating their political opponents no matter where they try to find refuge is a powerful propagandistic theme that, although unsupported by any facts, winds its way through the media narrative on the wings of pure supposition. These people don’t care about facts: it’s all speculation, unsupported by evidence that passes the most perfunctory smell test.

If ever there was an attempted frame-up, then the Litvinenko “poisoning” is it. They won’t really ever know what poisoned Litvinenko, and they can’t detect enough thallium in his system, or indeed much of anything. Here is yet another link in the long chain of manufactured incidents meant to provoke a confrontation with Russia. An aggressive propaganda campaign aimed at the Russians has been in high gear for quite some time, and it appears to be reaching a crescendo with this Litvinenko nonsense.

The Russophobes’ lobby includes all sorts of unlikely bed partners, including neoconservatives playing footsie with Chechen “freedom fighters” in the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya. What do avidly pro-Israel neocons and radical Islamists have in common? Hatred of Putin and his Russian nationalism is apparently enough to get them to work together.

U.S. intervention in Russia’s internal affairs is deeply resented by most Russians, i.e., those not on the American payroll, but this matters little to the Russia-haters in our midst. Their message is not directed at the Russian people, who support Putin and his policies overwhelmingly: it is aimed at Western elites, who can be prodded into taking a harder line against those resurgent Russkies, flush with oil money and failing to toe the American line when it comes to Iran and Syria.

Here is an issue that both wings of the War Party – by which I mean the leadership of the two major parties – can agree on. Liberal internationalists of the Clintonian mold and those few neocons still left standing can all get behind the regime-change agenda when it comes to Putin’s Russia.

Just what we need – more enemies. The War Party has a long list of potential candidates, including not only Russia but also China. If one gives out, there’s always another that pops up to take its place. And isn’t it funny how that works…


In my column on the Abkhazian and South Ossetian struggles for self-determination, I mistakenly stated that the inhabitants of South Ossetia are mostly ethnic Russians. This is incorrect: they are Ossetians, a distinct ethnicity whose language is related to Farsi. I should have said that, while they have their own ethnic identity, the Ossetians have been historically sympathetic to Russia.

I also want to thank all of you who helped us get through our recent fundraising drive. Now that was a real cliffhanger! I always start out these things with a sinking feeling of despair, and, this time, that almost seemed as if it might be justified. It was getting pretty hairy there for a while. In the end, however, you, our loyal readers and supporters, came through. I can’t thank you enough, but I’ll try: I pledge, here and now, to make Antiwar.com live up to your highest expectations, and I know I speak for the entire staff. Our gratitude to our readers is expressed each and every day as we work hard to bring you the best, most up-to-date foreign policy news and commentary on the Internet.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was 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].