Framing the Russians

What in the name of all that’s holy is going on with Russia and the Brits? The British government has recently expelled four Russian diplomats, supposedly in retaliation for the Russkis’ refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi – a suspect in one of the most bizarre murder cases of all time.

It all started with the alleged murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a sometime Russian "dissident" who made a career out of hurling the most fantastic charges against Vladimir Putin. Litvinenko was the Rosie O’Donnell of Russian politics, albeit with much less visibility than the loquacious American television personality: Litvinenko regularly accused Putin of launching terrorist attacks on his own people and trying to cover it up by attributing it to those lovable Chechens. Not very believable.

Litvinenko was an employee of exiled Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky – whose ill-gotten empire included a Russian syndicate of car-dealerships that had more than a nodding acquaintance with the Chechen Mafia – but was being slowly cut out of the money pipeline. Big-hearted Boris, who had initially put him on the payroll as anti-Putin propagandist, was evidently getting sick of him, and the out-of-work "dissident" was reportedly desperate for money. Litvinenko had several "business meetings" with Lugovoi in the months prior to his death, and, according to this report, he hatched a blackmail scheme targeting several well-known Russian tycoons and government officials. Litvinenko was also a partisan of the Chechen cause, and some reports have him converting to Islam on his deathbed.

How he got to his deathbed, however, remains the most baffling aspect of this case – he was poisoned with a massive dose of polonium-210, a radioactive substance used for nuclear triggers, among other things, which could only have been stolen from a large-scale production facility, in all likelihood one owned and operated by a state entity. Russia is a prime source of this substance.

If Litvinenko was poisoned, it was the clumsiest assassination in all of recorded history, because the assassins left a radioactive trail that stretched from Germany to Heathrow airport and from there snaked across Europe, contaminating airliners, hotels, private homes, and god knows where else: hundreds were examined for polonium-210 traces.

The Berezovsky propaganda machine immediately laid the death at Putin’s doorstep. According to the Berezovsky-bought-and-paid-for publicity surrounding this case, Litvinenko was a Russian "dissident’ on a par with Andrei Sakharov, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who represented such a dire threat to the Putin regime that his elimination was immediately required.

This is quite simply nonsense. Litvinenko’s wild conspiracy theories have about as much credibility as the 9/11 Truthers who insist "Bush did it!" Before his spectacular demise, no one in Russia had ever heard of him. When he was alive and churning out his pro-Chechen, anti-Putin screeds, his audience was almost exclusively Western, except for his Chechen fan club. He represented no threat to Putin, or the continued dominance by Putin’s followers of the Russian political scene, and his demise did not benefit the Russians in any way: and yet the British government has openly accused the Russians of being behind a plot to kill Litvinenko.

No evidence is offered to support this contention: no facts are laid on the table, no indictment has been issued, and no one is saying for sure how they know the Russians did it. Moscow was merely presented with a demand for the extradition of Lugovoi. The Russians refused, just as everyone expected, and the Brits responded by expelling the four diplomats. A reciprocal expulsion of British diplomats soon followed – and the new cold war is on.

It’s all so oddly stylized: as if the dancers in this particular bit of Kabuki theater are moving inevitably along a predetermined path – the road to disaster. But one has to wonder: why? What is really behind all this cloak-and-dagger melodrama?

As usual, it’s all about money. The Russians are locking British Petroleum out of the lucrative Siberian oil fields, and London is outraged. Add to this the rise of London as the world headquarters for shady Russian millionaires-in-exile – bidding up the prices of London real estate, and no doubt greasing the palms of the politicians – and we have all the ingredients of a new crusade by the West – to "liberate" some oil from its oppressive masters.

Add to this the desperate need to develop new sources of oil in the face of skyrocketing prices – remember the tax rebellion by independent truckers and shippers that brought England, and much of the continent, to its knees in the autumn of 2000? Outrageously high taxes on oil, and the onerous regulations that surround the whole industry, were the object of the British truckers’ ire, and the Blair government and its media minions railed against the strikers as "Poujadists" – a Marxoid term for middle-class working folks who are fed up with being exploited by blood-sucking bureaucrats and the Euro-crats in Brussels. The British socialist regime doesn’t want a replay of anything like that embarrassing episode, and so the interests of British Petroleum are intimately connected to the policies of the British Foreign Office: socialism, in the present day, has degenerated into a particularly vulgar variety of mercantilism.

This is how a bid by Boris Berezovsky, British Petroleum, and the transatlantic neocon network to humble Putin and reassert control of the Russian economy came to be dressed in the snow-white robes of a campaign for "democracy," "freedom," and "human rights."

The anti-Russia campaign started when Putin declined to join the "coalition of the willing," and you’ll no doubt remember Richard Perle declaring the Russians ought to be kicked out of the G-8 for their impertinence. This was followed by Dick Cheney’s broadsides aimed at the Kremlin. The editorial boards of newspapers in the Anglosphere didn’t need much prodding to add their voices to the chorus, particularly the British tabloids, who, with their usual regard for facts and evidence, took up the Litvinenko affair with shameless shilling for the Berezovsky version of the still-mysterious events surrounding Litvinenko’s death.

The media has been rife with declarations that the cold war is back, and the spy-jinks we’re being told about – the Brits apparently planted a recording device inside a rock, and positioned it on a Russian street to unknown purposes – are like something out of a John Le Carre novel. Le Carre, you’ll remember, writes of multi-layered conspiracies, like those Russian wooden dolls that contain several smaller dolls within, and this model is pretty much what we’re looking at when it comes to the Litvinenko affair. The Russians, for their part, have their own convoluted tale to tell, with Lugovoi accusing the Brits of running an extensive spy network within Russia, and at least one other person coming forward to confirm that, yes, they were recruited by the Brits to spy on the Motherland. What’s important to realize, however, is that, whatever the credibility or motives behind these charges and counter-charges, the very real geo-political consequences of this row are becoming increasingly serious – and dangerous.

The Americans are selling their "missile shield" technology to the former Warsaw Pact nations, purportedly as a defense against an imminent Iranian attack. Putin disdained this rather shoddy excuse, wondering aloud if the Americans really thought anybody believed that. The snickering can be heard all the way to Moscow. Yet it isn’t funny: Russia is a nuclear-armed power, and is flush with cash. Russian nationalism is resurgent, and rising resentment over the loss of their empire is just barely being matched by a rise in living standards. Putin is wildly popular at home, widely detested in the West, and has met his tormentors’ accusations with some charges of his own directed at Washington in particular, which he accuses of trying to dominate the world.

The real danger emanating from Russia isn’t revanchist expansionism, or the bogeyman of neo-Stalinism: Putin is no more Stalin than Bush is Hitler, and Russia, with its shrinking population and shaky economic base, is not about to reclaim Eastern Europe. The Russians merely want to regain the security guaranteed by the agreement between Mikhail Gorbachev and George Herbert Walker Bush that allowed the West to station troops in the former East Germany – on the condition that NATO didn’t expand into Eastern Europe.

The West broke its word, and the past few years have seen the abandonment of the arms control measures pioneered by Ronald Reagan, Gorbachev, and Bush I, with the West gathering at the very gates of Moscow, threatening to fund another "velvet revolution" aimed at overthrowing the Russian regime just as Western-backed movements did in Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere in the formerly Soviet "near abroad."

The hostility to Russia is not rooted in much of anything happening on the ground in Russia, but is due, rather, to the politics of interventionism here in the U.S., and in Western Europe. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that Communists ruled the Kremlin roost. Lenin, Stalin, and their successors not only killed millions of their own people, and locked many of the rest up in the gulags, but also sought to spread their repressive police state apparatus to the four corners of the earth. Russia, today, is very far from being a totalitarian state: considering the horrific toll taken on the people and culture of the Russian people, the openness of the Russian political system and the rising prosperity is surprising. Russia has come a long way since the implosion of the Communist empire: there are those who have an economic and political interest in provoking a nationalist backlash and pushing the country back into some form of authoritarian-collectivist rule. If I were indeed trying to accomplish just such a thing, I would engage in the very sorts of provocations engaged in by Washington and London.

We are now hearing that a "hit man" was sent, supposedly by the Russian government, to knock off Berezovsky in his London digs. It’s nonsense, of course, part of the propaganda war. According to the Independent, an unnamed individual was purportedly arrested last month and deported:

"One reason why the man was not charged was because he was not armed. And although intelligence had led the security agencies to believe that a plot was being organised against Mr Berezovsky, there was not enough presentable evidence to put before a court, according to security sources. It is believed the would-be assassin planned to murder Mr Berezovsky at the Hilton hotel in Park Lane."

Translation: it’s a frame-up, and a clumsy one at that. As the Independent piece put it,

"The timing of the first reports about the alleged murder plot against Mr Berezovsky, in yesterday’s Sun newspaper, raised suspicions. They came 24 hours after Britain expelled four diplomats – presumed to be intelligence agents – over Russia’s failure to hand over the prime murder suspect in the Litvinenko case."

The very idea that the Russians would poison Litvinenko with a rare radioactive isotope, rather than, say, shoot him in the back of the head, is so ludicrous that it doesn’t even bear consideration. What seems far more likely is that this was a case of a smuggling operation gone horribly wrong, one in which Litvinenko, Lugovoi, and the various dubious characters loitering in the general vicinity of this case were all involved with, in one way or another. At some level, a decision was made to turn what was an accidental spill of radioactive polonium-210 into an opportunity to create a narrative that would whip up worldwide hostility to Russia and Putin.

Is the West really intent on recreating the image of Russia as a looming threat? If so, one can only wonder at the enormity of such folly, especially when we face a real threat in the form of an Islamic insurgency against the US, its allies, and its interests worldwide. The Russians are threatening to suspend cooperation with Western intelligence agencies in the fight against terrorism – and little wonder, when the West is now accusing the Russians of nuclear terrorism on British soil.

It won’t be long, now, before Russia is officially declared a sponsor of terrorism, and subjected to economic and political sanctions – and even targeted for "regime change." That’s always been the unspoken item at the top of the West’s agenda in recent years, and now they can come out with it openly. Just like the tall tales of Saddam’s "weapons of mass destruction," the story of Putin’s WMD – in the form of a nuclearized tea-cup in a London restaurant – is phony from beginning to end. The only problem is that, if we ever find out what really happened, or didn’t happen, in the convoluted Litvinenko "murder" case, it will be far too late.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, 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].