Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile in London and the editor and translator of Alexander Litvinenko’s book, Allegations. He was a friend of Litvinenko’s.
Left to right: Walter Litvinenko, Pavel Stroilov, Ahmed Zakayev, Vladimir Bukovsky, Oleg Gordievsky and Gerard BattenFP:
Pavel Stroilov, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Stroilov: I am very honoured, though I would have much preferred to see the author of the book, Alexander Litvinenko, here in my place. Alas, he cannot speak for himself anymore, so our sad duty is to act as his posthumous spokesmen.
While Alexander was still alive, he made a number of extremely important allegations. If nothing else, his horrible death itself proves that those allegations should be taken very seriously and investigated most thoroughly.
FP: Our thoughts and prayers are with Alexander and with his family. Against all odds, let us hope that his killers will one day be brought to justice.
Let’s start our discussion with the FSB’s links to Al-Qaeda.
Stroilov: Alexander revealed, in his articles and interviews included in the Allegations, that at least two notorious Al Qaeda terrorists are secret agents of the FSB – one of whom, Aiman al Zawahiri, is bin Laden’s second-in-command.
As the former leader of the terrorist organisation Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al Zawahiri was on international lists of most wanted terrorists for many years. In 1997, he suddenly re-surfaced in Russia, where he undertook a special training course at a secret FSB base in Dagestan. After that, he was sent to Afghanistan, and joined Al Qaeda as bin Laden’s number two. Meanwhile, the FSB officers who had supervised him in Dagestan were promoted and re-assigned to Moscow. It was from them that Alexander learned about al Zawahiri.
These and other facts of FSB involvement in international terrorism, revealed by Alexander, have tremendous implications. Contrary to the view of many in the US, Russia is anything but a reliable ally of yours in the ‘war on terror’. The Kremlin is playing a treacherous double game: while enjoying the West’s support as ally, it secretly supports and manipulates the Al Qaeda through FSB agents of influence.
As Alexander writes: “It is possible to destroy the whole international terrorism tomorrow, along with Russian Mafia. All you need to do is disband the Russian special services.”
FP: Ok just a second. Alexander states that, “It is possible to destroy the whole international terrorism tomorrow, along with Russian Mafia. All you need to do is disband the Russian special services.” His point is well taken. The FSB does a lot to bolster Islamo-Fascism. And the FSB’s involvement here is significant, dangerous and reprehensible -- and we must be honest about it. But to imply that the threat of radical Islam toward the West would dissipate if the Russian special services were disbanded is a bit of an exaggeration, don’t you think? Alexander is making a strong point with a bit of hyperbole, correct?
Stroilov: Yes, in a sense he is. I don’t think that terrorism would disappear immediately if you just close down the Kremlin and Lubyanka. However, that would certainly do the terrorists more damage than anything you have done yet, and that would open you the way to a final victory.
Indeed, that would be much more than just cutting the enemy supplies. For the war against terrorism is all about intelligence: the most horrible terrorist is absolutely toothless without secrecy. Overthrowing the KGB regime in Russia would mean investigation of its crimes which, in turn, would give you such intelligence about the international terrorist networks which you could never obtain elsewhere. Litvinenko, an FSB officer who was not even involved in supervision of international terrorists, revealed information of tremendous importance about leaders of Al Qaeda. Can you imagine how much more information you would have if only you could interrogate those directly responsible, and search in their secret archives? If, as Alexander wrote, the ‘Kremlin is the centre of world terrorism’, taking over the Kremlin would mean capturing the enemy headquarters. You would know everything: names, chains of commands, communication channels, supply channels, hiding places, etc, etc.
On the other hand, imagine what would happen if the truth about Moscow’s hand in organisations like Al Qaeda is made public. It is hardly a very fresh idea that ‘winning hearts and minds’ of the Muslims is the key to victory in the whole ‘war on terror’. To put it mildly, I strongly doubt that revelations about Al Qaeda leaders’ intimate relations with Moscow would boost their popularity. Rather than being ‘lions of Allah’, as they call each other, they would be exposed as moles of Putin. After that, suicide bombers would probably think twice before obeying their orders. But thinking twice is no good in suicide bombers’ profession.
If you are serious about the global war, let us try and think strategically. The most important strategic target in that war is the Kremlin. That is not only the best way to start winning it, but, as far as I can see, the only way. Paraphrasing Alexander, we can say it is impossible to destroy the international terrorism even in a century unless you disband the Russian secret services first.
FP: Russian special services are aiding international terrorism. But Islamist terror is also, on some realms, targeting Russia – and has also hit Russia. How do we make sense of all this?
Stroilov: It is not the first time when Russian people and Russian special services find themselves on opposite sides. In fact, Russia is exactly the place where the FSB hand in terrorism, Islamist or otherwise, can be seen most clearly. The ‘Nord-Ost’ story is only one example, and not the brightest one. In 1999, the FSB blew up four apartment blocks in Russia, and then were caught red-handed attempting to blow-up the fifth. After that, they announced that the bomb was a fake (the expert technicians simply mistook sugar for an explosive mixture), and the whole operation was a training exercise. Before that, in mid-1990s, one FSB officer was killed trying to blow up a railroad bridge, and another one was convicted by court for blowing up a bus in Moscow.
Alexander Litvinenko was well-known precisely for his investigation of the FSB terrorism in Russia, particularly the 1999 apartment blocks explosions. A big part of the Allegations is about it, and even more details are given in Blowing-up Russia. Terror from within by Litvinenko and Yuri Felshtinsky.
The FSB is at war with Russian citizens, and that is more than just a figure of speech. They resort to any means in that war. They have created the terrorist threat in Russia, and then ‘defended’ us from it – in exchange for our obedience.
FP: Tell us about the Prime Minister of Italy, Romano Prodi (also former President of the European Commission) and his relations with the KGB.
Stroilov: Romano Prodi was described to Alexander by a senior KGB/FSB colleague, three star General Trofimov, as ‘our man in Italy’. He told Alexander that Prodi had ‘collaborated with the KGB’ and ‘carried out KGB missions’. Moreover, after 1996 the FSB had restored its relations with the old KGB agents of influence in the West. So, Gen. Trofimov and Alexander himself reckoned that Prodi might still be dangerous.
In February 2006, Alexander was interviewed about that by Mario Scaramella, a consultant to the Guzzanti Commission of Italian Parliament, which investigated the KGB’s activities in Italy. The video-record of that interview was kept secret at the time, and intended only for a closed-doors parliamentary investigation. (After Alexander’s death it was made public, and the transcript of it is included in the Allegations.)
However, two months later Alexander encouraged Gerard Batten, Member of European Parliament for London, to make his accusation against Prodi public. Gerard did that on 3 April 2006 in his speech to the European Parliament. The Parliament declined to investigate the matter, as Gerard insisted it should do; nor did Prodi himself ever comment on it as long as Alexander was alive. However, just eight days after Litvinenko’s death, Italian left-wing newspapers ‘revealed’ how Sen. Guzzanti and Scaramella were ‘plotting’ to discredit Prodi by alleging he had links to the KGB. Prodi himself, in a clumsy imitation of fury, announced he would instruct his lawyers to take legal action over these allegations. In event, no such legal action was taken.
Mario Scaramella was arrested as soon as he returned to Italy on Christmas of the same year. He is still kept in prison without a trial, and may stay there for the rest of his life. For the Italian legal system enables the prosecution to keep him in jail for three months on some particular charges, then drop those charges, put forward some new ones, and jail him for another three months. So it goes on and on for a year now, against the background of a perpetual propaganda campaign against Scaramella. Indeed, he is one of the first political prisoners in the emerging Gulag of the EUSSR.
FP: Can you talk a bit about the political prisoners in Russia today?
Stroilov: There are dozens. We know this much, although there is no commonly accepted list, as different human rights organisations have different criteria to distinguish political prisoners from other victims of Russia’s perverted ‘justice’.
However, at least one Penal Code article, introduced under Putin, is used only to persecute dissenters: ‘instigation to extremism’. Boris Stomakhin, a journalist who edited a small on-line newsletter, is now imprisoned for his critical writings, which were ruled to constitute that ill-defined ‘crime’. Trying to get away from the FSB gangsters who came to arrest him, Stomakhin jumped out of the window, and broke his spine and leg. Being practically handicapped, he is now denied any decent treatment in the harsh conditions of what we call PutLAG.
Some others are those who went dangerously close to the Kremlin’s darkest secrets. Thus, Col. Yevgeny Taratorin, a police detective, was imprisoned in a notorious corruption trial. However, Alexander Litvinenko argued that the corruption charges against Taratorin were fabricated, while the real reasons for his imprisonment was his investigation of the 2002 ‘Nord-Ost’ theatre hostage-taking. Apparently Taratorin had gone too close to uncovering the FSB role in that crime.
Then there is over a dozen of political prisoners persecuted in the notorious YUKOS case, for their association with the once uncontrollable oil company. There is also a number of academics, such as Igor Sutyagin and Valentin Danilov, imprisoned in the course of Putin’s spy-mania campaign for their collaboration with foreign colleagues.
There are ethnic Chechens, such as Zara Murtazaliyeva or Zaurbek Talkhigov, who were deemed ‘terrorists’ and imprisoned only for their Chechen origins.
Apart from that, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Chechen POWs and civilians captured in North Caucasus and kept in the so-called filtration camps there. About them, we simply know very little or nothing. It is also possible that many political prisoners in Russia itself remain unknown.
FP: The FSB role in that the 2002 ‘Nord-Ost’ theatre hostage-taking? What role are you exactly alluding to and what would the FSB want to cover up in this instance?
Stroilov: The publisher would probably want me to answer by recommending to read Chapter 2 of Allegations, but I shall briefly re-tell the story now. At least two of the ‘Nord-Ost’ terrorists were FSB agents-provocateurs, and both of them miraculously survived the FSB assault on the building.
One of them, Khanpasha Terkibayev, suddenly emerged in Strasbourg a few months later, accompanying Russian official delegation to Council of Europe. There he was recognised and interviewed by Anna Politkovskaya, and admitted he had been in the theatre during the siege. Russian prosecutors were not interested, but because a US citizen had been killed in ‘Nord-Ost’, the FBI also investigated it. So, the FBI said they wanted to interrogate Terkibayev, but a few days later he was killed in a car accident in Chechnya.
Apparently, it had been Terkibayev who provided the hostage-takers with all the necessary logistics in Moscow. If not for him, they would not be able to capture the theatre at all.
Another agent-provocateur, Abubakar, was identified by Mikhail Trepashkin. Many years before that, FSB detective Trepashkin investigated Abubakar as a gangster and arms dealer – and discovered that Abubakar enjoyed FSB protection. More details of that story are given in the book. Better still, Trepashkin himself has been released from the PutLAG a few weeks ago, so you can ask him.
As for Col. Taratorin, I understand that he tried to trace the explosives, and the traces also led him too close to the FSB.
FP: Your thoughts on the situation in Chechnya ?
Stroilov: Like Alexander, I approach the situation in Chechen Republic of Ichkeria from a strictly legal viewpoint. Russia has recognised Chechnya as an independent state in the 1997 Peace Treaty. The subsequent invasion and the present Russian occupation are totally illegal. The only legitimate government of Chechnya is the one supported by its last democratically elected Parliament, i.e. the government-in-exile led by Ahmed Zakayev. Indeed, none of those ‘elections’ and ‘referenda’ which Russia held in Chechnya after the 1999 invasion were recognised by independent observers. Anyway, no fair vote is possible under a military occupation.
Another important thing to understand is that the war is by far not over. The Kremlin propaganda about peace and prosperity finally coming to Chechnya under the excellent occupational administration is as false as the 100% turnout at the last ‘elections’ and 99% support for Putin’s regime. In reality, the war and genocide are still going on; people on both sides are being killed every day. Moreover, this war has now spread all over North Caucasus.
Alexander’s book is as much about Chechnya as it is about Russia. He reveals lots of details about the dirty tactics which FSB uses in this war: from terrorism and agents-provocateurs to zachistkas and assassination squads.
FP: Who killed Alexander Litvinenko? How exactly did they do it and why?
Stroilov: On his deathbed, Alexander himself named Vladimir Putin as the murderer. Moreover, as is revealed in the Allegations’ last chapter, Putin had been trying to kill him for all those years.
In July 2006, extra-judicial murders of people like Alexander were openly made an official policy of Russian regime. A law was passed, authorising the president to use Russian special forces to assassinate his enemies all over the world – and there was little doubt that Alexander’s name was high on the hit list. As Alexander himself commented prophetically in a Radio Liberty interview: ‘If they listen to me now, let them know: I hire no bodyguards to protect myself, and I never hide anywhere. I live very openly, all the journalists know where to find me. So, gentlemen, if you come to Britain to kill me, you will have to do that openly.’
But the most crucial piece of evidence against Putin is the poison, the Polonium-210, which is a very rare substance, precisely traceable to its source in Russia. And indeed it was traced down to a state-controlled, top security nuclear establishment. The use of Polonium to poison Alexander could only be authorised from the very top. Of course, Putin and his accomplices never expected the poison to be identified. That was why, immediately after Alexander’s death, Putin betrayed himself by publicly claiming there was no evidence of violent death.
The actual assassination was perpetrated by a team of at least three people: Andrei Lugovoi, Dmitry Kovtun, and someone who used several false identities and whose real name is unknown. Apparently, Kovtun was responsible for the transportation of the Polonium, Lugovoi – for approaching the target, whom he knew personally, and the third one actually put the poison in Alexander’s cup.
Putin probably had several motives to murder Alexander, the most obvious of which is this. Litvinenko knew too much and, worse still, he tried to let the public know too much. If you pretend to be a valiant fighter against terrorism, and there is a man who knows and talks about your covert links with Al Qaeda, what else would you do? And the Al Qaeda business is only one of the secrets which Alexander knew and revealed.
FP: What interests does Putin have in helping Al Qaeda and other jihadi terror groups?
Stroilov: To stir up trouble, in the world in general and in the Middle East in particular. The most obvious consequence of that are sky-high oil prices, which are both the source of KGB junta’s wealth and the salvation for their regime.
Apart from that economic interest, this is a similar scheme to the one used against Russian citizens. We must stay united in front of the grave terrorist threat, right? It is not the time to reproach Putin for murders, tortures, political prisoners or genocide, is it? We must be realists: we cannot afford a new Cold War against Russia in a situation like that, can we?
That is the reaction they want from you, and regrettably, they have not been quite unsuccessful.
FP: What would your advice be to the U.S. and to the West in general in terms of its policy toward Putin?
Stroilov: It is no good arguing if the Second Cold War is good or bad for us, for it has already started. What we should think about is how to win it as quickly and painlessly as possible.
In my view, it would be wise to set the following immediate objectives in your policy towards Putin (and his future successor):
1. Total isolation: throw him out of the G7, Council of Europe, WTO and wherever else you’ve made him a member or observer. Oddly enough, they are rather sensitive about such things. Cut the number and level of meetings with Russian officials, starting from summits and ministerial ones. The KGB people don’t see these meetings like you do: for them, every meeting is a stage in your virtual recruitment. They cannot be your partners, they can only be your case officers.
2. Support all those who are already fighting them, from democratic opposition inside Russia to those neighbouring countries, such as Georgia or East European states, which resist Kremlin’s pressure.
I even think it is time to establish relations, in an appropriate form, with the Chechen government-in-exile. I don’t think that you follow the Chechen politics very carefully, so perhaps your readers are unaware of the recent crisis, when Islamic fundamentalists unsuccessfully tried to take over the leadership of the Resistance. Instead, it resulted in the formation of Ahmed Zakayev’s government, which is pro-democracy, pro-independence, and has explicitly dissociated itself from the so-called jihadism. The West will hardly ever find a better kind of partners in the Muslim world.
If you support Zakayev, that would be a very strong blow on the Kremlin. In a situation when Putin covertly supports Al Qaeda, what could be a better response than demonstration of your solidarity with his own worst enemies, whom he slanders as terrorists, who represent the small nation suffering from FSB genocide, and who abide by the laws of war even in their desperate situation?
Besides, if you support a Muslim nation in its war against Kremlin’s tyranny, that may win you plenty of Muslim ‘hearts and minds’ elsewhere.
3. Do everything you can to make oil prices drop. Persuade the Saudis, develop your own oil production, do anything you can think of. Every dollar-per-barrel down means a blow on the KGB regime, and perhaps many human lives saved.
FP: Your thoughts on Time making Putin the person of the year?
Stroilov: Well done. They’ve found a worthy successor to Hitler, Stalin, and Khomeini.
FP: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Russia in general?
Stroilov: Optimistic (though I don’t like the word). The Putin-Medvedev regime is doomed, and whatever will replace it, it cannot be worse. Even if the country collapses into dozens of realms, as it very well may, in many of them things will certainly get better than the present state.
But of course, it is very important to do everything possible to help democratic opposition to develop in Russia, so as to have a force able to ensure stability after the KGB downfall.
FP: Pavel Stroilov, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
Stroilov: Thank you.