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Symposium: From Russia With Death By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, January 19, 2007


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As the British investigation ensues into the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, fingers of blame point at President Vladimir Putin. Litvinenko himself accused Putin of killing him before he died. The Russian President, meanwhile, is casting blame on Russian London exiles, including billionaire businessman Boris Berezovsky, for Litvinenko’s murder.

These horrid events were preceded by the murder of Russian journalist and Putin critic Anna Politkovskaya. Meanwhile, the doctors who are treating Yegor Gaidar, former Russian prime minister and Putin critic, believe he was poisoned.

While Putin remains the primary suspect behind the Litvinenko murder, there is talk of a larger conspiracy that aims to discredit the Russian President.

How do we make sense out of all these disturbing and mysterious events? Who killed Litvinenko? What danger did he pose to Putin? Who profits most from this former spy’s murder? And how nasty has the Putin government become? How far is it willing to go to resuscitate Stalinist tactics? And if Putin turns out to have murdered Litvinenko, a British citizen, on British soil, what must  Britain -- and all Western governments -- do?

To discuss all of these events with us, Frontpage Symposium has assembled a distinguished panel. Our guests are: 

 

Oleg Kalugin, a retired Major General of the Soviet KGB.

 

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Richard Pipes, a Professor Emeritus at Harvard who is one of the world's leading authorities on Soviet history. He is the author of 19 books, the most recent being his new autobiography Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger.

 

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Vladimir Bukovsky, a former leading Soviet dissident who spent twelve years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for his fight for freedom. His works include To Build a Castle and Judgement in Moscow.

 

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Jim Woolsey, director of the CIA from 1993-95 and a former Navy undersecretary and arms-control negotiator.

 

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Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the former acting chief of Communist Romania’s espionage service. He is the highest ranking official ever to have defected from the Soviet bloc. He is author of Red Horizons, republished in 27 countries. In 1989, Ceausescu and his wife were executed at the end of a trial where most of the accusations had come word-for-word out of Pacepa's book.

 

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David Satter, a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute and a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He is the author of Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State.

 

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Yuri Yarim-Agaev, a former leading Russian dissident and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Upon arriving in the United States after his forced exile from the Soviet Union, he headed the New York-based Center for Democracy in the USSR.

 

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and

 

Andrei Piontkovsky, a member of International PEN-club, currently a Hudson Institute Visiting Fellow and author of Another Look into Putin’s Soul (Hudson.2006).

 

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FP: Oleg Kalugin, Richard Pipes, Vladimir Bukovsky, Jim Woolsey, Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, David Satter, Yuri Yarim-Agaev and Andrei Piontkovsky, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.

 

Before we begin, I would like to dedicate this symposium to Alexander Litvinenko and to his family.

 

Let’s have a moment of silence for Alexander Litvinenko and his loved ones.

 

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(moment of silence)

 

Thank you gentlemen.

 

Oleg Kalugin, let’s begin with you.

 

What do you make of Litvinenko’s murder and its fallout?

 

Kalugin: Alexander Litvinenko was assassinated by the Russian security service, and president Putin bears full responsibility for this crime, irrespective of whether he ordered the execution or simply let his subordinate thugs to do the job.

 

Ever since Mr. Putin took over as chief of the federal security service in 1998 and later moved to the Kremlin as president of the country, scores of his prominent critics in Russian legislature, business and the media were killed or jailed. The civilized world is facing a growing power of the authoritarian state which, if unchecked, may degenerate into a fascist dictatorship and pose threat to all freedom loving nations and peace on earth.

 

FP: Thank you Mr. Kalugin. Well, if I ever received an unambiguous answer to one of my questions, this is definitely one of them.

 

Vladimir Bukovsky, are you on the same page with Mr. Kalugin?

 

Bukovsky: Yes, I agree with Gen. Kalugin.

 

I am an analyst, not a policeman, so I don't follow the current lines of Scotland Yard's investigation, and, frankly, I don't believe they will catch any murderer. But the general picture is pretty clear to me.

 

Consider this: in July of this year, the Russian Duma passed a law authorizing the Russian President to use secret services as "death squads" in order to eliminate  "extremists" -- even on the foreign territory (Federal Law of 27 July 2006  N 153-F3).

 

At the same time, the Duma amended another law, expanding the definition of "extremism" to include anyone "libellously" critical of the current Russian regime (Federal Law of 27 July 2006 N 148-F3).

 

Thus, as we warned in a letter to the Times on July 11 (together with Oleg Gordievsky):

 

"a stage is set for any critic of Putin's regime here, especially those campaigning against Russian genocide in Chechnya, to have an appointment with a poison-tipped umbrella. According to the statement by the RF Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, the black list of potential targets is already composed."

 

Then followed the murders of Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko. The question is: why would the Russian authorities rush through these laws if they had no intention of implementing them? The ball, therefore, is now in the Russian court: they have to prove to us that they did not do it.

 

FP: Sergei Kirov’s murder, Trotsky’s murder . . .the current events appear to be an eerie rendezvous with history, almost as if the Soviet purges are being resuscitated. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but the ghosts of the Stalinist terror are definitely lurking in the shadows.

 

Dr. Pipes?

 

Pipes: The affair is very murky but all indications are that Moscow ordered the murder of Litvinenko as it did that of Politkovskaya. They fit a pattern. If it were true, as Moscow claims, that the murder was committed by its enemies in order to discredit Russia, we would have seen far more activity on Russia's part to discover the culprit or culprits.

 

In reality, Moscow treats the killing (by its alleged enemies) rather nonchalantly. At this stage all I can say with certainty is that if it turns out that the order for the killing of Litvinenko emanated from the Kremlin, then Russia and the rest of the world face an appalling prospect of this vast country turning once again to gangster methods of dealing with its opposition.

 

FP: I fear that the Putin regime is searching for the killers like O.J. Simpson has been trying to track down the murderers of his wife.

 

David Satter, what’s your take on the Litvinenko murder and its significance? And kindly also shed some light for us on who exactly Litvinenko was and to whom he posed a danger. Who profits most from his death? Why? What knowledge did he have, what behaviour was he engaged in that posed a threat to Putin – or to someone else?

 

Satter: I also am convinced that Litvinenko was murdered by the Russian intelligence service. No one else had both the motive and the means. Litvinenko was not only murdered. He was tortured to death. This is a message to his colleagues in the FSB about the cost of defecting.

 

Litvinenko was highly unusual because he not only refused to participate in the planned murder of Boris Berezovsky but took the risk of announcing the plot publicly. He represented some danger to the FSB although not a great one because his former colleagues could bring him information.

 

I think the reason he was killed is either that the regime wanted to get rid of him and now thinks it can ignore the West totally or there is a power struggle going on and the more fascistic faction in the leadership is using these murders as part of its bid for power.  

 

FP: Thank you David Satter.

 

While I would like the rest of the panel to also offer their perspective on the how and why here, I would also like to expand the discussion into the realm of why these fascistic and Stalinist strains continue to dominate Russian politics even despite the fall of communism. Is it because communism actually never even fell? After all, there was never a de-communization process in the same sense that there was a de-Nazification process in Germany after the Second World War. There were no Nuremberg-style trials in the former Soviet Union. In many ways, the same ideology and the same criminals remain in power, but just under another name.

 

Or is there also something larger than the continuation of Soviet communism here? Is it Russia’s traditional inability to embrace democracy and individual liberty, and its addiction to firm and brutal despotism? If so, how come the country can’t shake off this dreadful ghost?

 

And when David Satter raises the possibility that Putin might now be able to “ignore the West totally” what does it mean? Have we become helpless in being able to apply pressure on Russia? Why? Why does Putin feel he can do whatever he wants without a fear of the West -- if this is the case?

 

I apologize if there are too many loaded questions here. Just provoking a bit of discussion to give the Litvinenko murder some context.

 

Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa?

 

Pacepa: Assassinating anyone who stood in their way is indeed a tradition that Russia’s tsars passed on to the Communist rulers--and beyond. The custom goes back to Ivan the Terrible, whose political police, the Oprichnina, killed tens of thousands of boyars who refused to swear an oath of allegiance to his eldest son, an infant at the time.

 

Under Communism, these arbitrary assassinations became a state policy. During Stalin’s purges alone, some nine million people lost their lives. Nikita Khrushchev condemned Stalin for aiming the cutting edge of his political police against his own people, and he shifted the killing abroad. The “Western bourgeoisie” and “our own traitors” became the Kremlin’s main enemies. Khrushchev ordered the KGB to develop a new generation of weapons that would kill without leaving detectable traces in the victim’s body, and he created units for assassination abroad in all Eastern European foreign intelligence services. I was present when Khrushchev told Romania’s dictator, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, that killings abroad should be approved only by the country’s ruler, that they should be kept forever a secret, and that after each assassination abroad “we” should surreptitiously spread “evidence” accusing the CIA or other convenient “enemies” of having done the deed, thereby killing two birds with one stone.

 

It seems that Vladimir Putin is continuing Khrushchev’s tradition. Yury Andropov, the other KGB officer who was enthroned in the Kremlin, used to tell me that every society reflected its own past. The Communist party was a foreign organism introduced into the Russian body, and sooner or later it would be rejected. But “our gosbezopasnost”—the Kremlin’s political police—would remain unchanged for as long as the Russian motherland still existed. "Our gosbezopasnost" had kept Russia alive for the past five hundred years, and "our gosbezopasnost" would steer her helm for the next five hundred years. Andropov has proved to be a dependable prophet: Communism is history; but the gosbezopasnost has taken over the Kremlin itself, and a gang of over 6,000 former KGB officers are now running the country. It is as though today’s Germany were being run by Gestapo officers.

 

The assassination of Litvinenko looks like a modernized version of Khrushchev’s attempt to kill Nikolay Khokhlov, another KGB defector who dared to expose assassinations abroad and display the latest weapon created by the gosbezopasnost for secretly committing them (an electrically operated gun fitted with silencer and concealed inside a cigarette pack, which fired cyanide-tipped bullets).

 

In the late 1970s, Leonid Brezhnev gave Ceausescu, via the KGB, radioactive thallium that could be inserted in food to silently kill his own political enemies abroad. The substance was described to Ceausescu as a new generation of the radioactive thallium weapon unsuccessfully used against Khokhlov in West Germany in 1957. (Khokhlov lost all his hair but did not die.) Ceausescu baptized it with the codename “Radu” (from radioactive), and he used it to secretly kill his own political enemies. The polonium 210 that killed Litvinenko looks to me just like an upgraded form of “Radu.”

 

Putin and his KGB/FSB may temporarily be able to hide their involvement in Litvinenko’s vicious murder. But in the long run political crime does not pay, even when it is committed by the leader of a superpower.

 

Woolsey: I'm afraid I have to make it unanimous. Although if this were an isolated case, given the complex facts, it would be imaginable that it was the result of some feud between people in the Russian government and one or more oligarchs and Putin was not involved -- but that seems most unlikely in the current context. 

 

The murder of Politkovskaya, the attack on Gaidar, the imprisonment of Khordokovsy, the proliferation of former intelligence officers in positions of power, the several other killings -- all point toward a Russian state that has regressed to the days of Nicholas I or worse. 

 

I think the most damning fact is that Litvinenko had taken a position on the apartment bombings that were used to justify the second Chechen War.  The FSB was extremely clumsy, as David Satter has very effectively chronicled, and the type of explosive used, the one plot that was uncovered (the FSB said it was for "training") and a number of other facts point toward those attacks having been an FSB provocation.  This calls into question much of the rationale for Putin's rule and the basis for most of his suppression of civil liberties. Pursuing that issue could well have been Litvinenko's final death sentence.

 

It may never be known whether Putin gave a direct order or, like Henry II, just surrounded himself with a certain type of subordinate and then, musing on Litvinenko, mumbled the 21st century Russian equivalent of Henry's question: "Will not someone rid me of this turbulent priest?"  It doesn't really matter.  The rest of us have to deal with a solidifying Russian dictatorship, engorged on oil money, destroying independent media and political figures, determined to reassert control over as much of the former USSR as it can (in part using energy as an instrument of coercion). 

 

Tell me again why this dictatorship is in the G-8? 

 

FP: Thank you Jim Woolsey. Yuri Yarim-Agaev?

 

Yarim-Agaev: Let us describe what happened. British investigative journalist (not spy) and Putin critic Alexander Litvineko was killed in London by (most probably) Russian terrorists.  The case is very similar to the Anna Politkovskaya murder, only now it is a British citizen on British territory. Why do most journalists and politicians prefer to see it differently?  The two reasons are psychological and political.

 

Psychologically, people prefer not to hear for whom the bell tolls.  It is much more comfortable to be presented with a cloak and dagger case rather than the murder of a colleague and compatriot.

 

The political reason is even more compelling. We have here a classic case of terrorism, the same terrorism that Bush and Blair are crusading against.  Combine it with the previous murders and the laws quoted by Vladimir Bukovsky, and according to Bush’s definition, Russia is a country that “harbors terrorism.”  To fit this definition the president of such a country does not have to authorize or even to know about specific terrorist acts. It was never claimed that Taliban leader Mullah Omar gave direct orders to Osama Bin Laden or even knew about 9/11 beforehand.  That, however, was not considered a good excuse.

 

According to the Bush doctrine, countries that harbor terrorism call for preemptive action and retaliation.  Had Bush and Blair demanded the immediate repeal of the laws authorizing the killing of Putin’s critics, Politkovskaya and Litvinenko’s murders could have been avoided.  They did not.  Instead , without saying a word, they went to St. Petersburg to pay tribute to Putin, who (what a coincidence!) had signed those laws only one week before the summit.

 

At least our political leaders should demand repealing those laws now.  They should also consider other measures, including the possible suspension of Russia’s affiliation with the G-7 club. This is not only a matter of retaliation.  This is necessary to guarantee that the lives of their own citizens will be protected, independent of whether those citizens like Putin’s regime or not.  Unfortunately, so far we hear only assurances of eternal partnership with Putin, assurance that may invite even more murders.

 

Communism is dead, but many of its structures remain. The most dangerous of them -  the KGB -  is currently in power.  Without communism, however, this power is limited. They cannot so easily imprison their critics or stop them from leaving the country.  Therefore, they revert more to secret murders.  And they will continue to do so until they are stopped.

 

It is not important whether these murders are in Putin’s personal interest or not.  He remains merely a representative of the KGB, which put him in power in the first place, and he has to obey the rules of that organization.  What should he tell his pals? “Thou shalt not kill’ or “We cannot suppress freedom of speech”? The only viable argument for them would have been that such killing would be very costly.   The American and British position, however, does not provide much support for such an argument.

 

FP: But how can we “demand” that another nation repeal its laws? And what can we really do about it anyway? Can we really suspend Russia’s affiliation with the G-7 club?  What else? Would even Putin care? Has the West lost its will and lost its respect?

 

Andrei Piontkovsky?

 

Piontkovsky: I think that the West now has the last opportunity to positively affect events in Russia.

 

Jim Woolsey`s King Henry argument is very appropriate in this situation. It would be pointless for G8 partners to speculate on the extent to which Mr. Putin is personally involved in these crimes. That never comes to light in political assassinations. What is more important is what Mr.Putin will do now.

 

Within Russia and beyond her frontiers, assassinations and attempted assassinations are taking place of “enemies of the people”, lists of whom are to found on all of our country’s quasi-fascist websites.  It is only going to be possible to continue blaming these murders on the CIA, or the oligarchs Boris Berezovsky (in Great Britain) or Leonid Nevzlin (in Israel), for a few more days, until the British, as seems likely, publicly and officially produce compelling evidence showing that the tracks of Alexander Litvinenko’s murderers lead straight back to Moscow.  The President of the Russian Federation will then have to take possibly the most momentous decision of his life.

 

Much the same dilemma faced the one-time President of Poland, Wojciech Jaruszelski, when his intelligence services brutally murdered their own “enemy of the Polish people”, the priest Jerzy Popieluszko.  He could have tried to cover up the crime, thereby irrevocably becoming an accomplice (and if he had, he would undoubtedly be in prison today).  Instead he chose to hand the murderers over to justice and as a result has remained, even today in post-Communist Poland, a respected political figure.

 

More important, however, than the fate of the Russian President is the fate of his country.  The effective legitimization of these serial political murders will make not only President Putin but all of us hostages of the institutions which are committing them.  That is quite apart from the fact that Russia’s international reputation for years to come depends on whether a radiological attack on a G-8 partner was sanctioned by the Head of the Russian State rather than by some rabid FSB oil baron.

 

To judge by several signals from the Kremlin, Putin is wavering.  Some sound advice from his partners in the G-8 to their friend Vladimir could play a crucial role.

 

Such advice from the White House should be accompanied by a totally unambiguous warning of something that very many in Russian political class, including Putin himself,   would find profoundly hurtful.  That is, that if the Kremlin shields the murderers of Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko, and if its propaganda continues to accuse “Western intelligence agencies” of those crimes, as it does at present, as it accused and continues to accuse the United States of sinking the submarine Kursk and of being behind the massacre of children in Beslan, then relations between the USA and Russia will be totally soured and will remain so until the last day of V. Putin’s occupancy of the Kremlin.

 

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Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.


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