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Tougher to Call Than in the Old Days

Published: December 8, 2006 (Issue # 1228)


Following the death of Alexander Litvinenko from poisoning by polonium-210, the Russian media have published numerous possible versions of events: He was killed by self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky; he committed suicide; he didnt die at all; he was poisoned with tobacco smoke; or he was killed by Chechens. Since the 19th century it has been customary for blood enemies in the Caucasus to poison each other with polonium-210.

In the meantime, Scotland Yard trundled along the polonium-210 trail, trying to ascertain where Litvinenko first came into contact with the substance, how it got to London in the first place and where it originally came from. In the process they found a hotel room where some had been spilled.

The investigation is clearly nearing its end.

Now begins the most interesting part because, despite the fact that Scotland Yard probably knows the culprits name, were not likely to ever learn who poisoned Litvinenko or why.

Let me explain.

Enemies of the state have been liquidated more than once in Russian history: The Tsarevich Alexei was tortured to death, the Decembrists were hanged and Trotsky was killed with an ice pick. There arent divergent interpretations of those murders around today. No historian argues that Trotsky was killed to make Stalin look bad.

But the state apparatus is now so inscrutable that Litvinenkos murder could fit a number of worldviews.

Did President Vladimir Putin order that Litvinenko be killed? If so, thats pretty serious. If, instead, he only provided the motivation for the poisoning with a comment like, Enough of Litvinenko, this is different, and the main player is not the president but a group demonstrating its power to the president and the world.

And if he was murdered, were the killers certain the polonium-210 connection would be discovered? If so, then this constitutes a conscious challenge and a complete break with the West, suggesting the rogue groups theory. If not, then whoever did it was enough of an ignoramus to believe that the atomic-age novelty of the murder weapon would go undetected.

So, what is the actual state of affairs in modern Russia? Two factions of highly placed Russian secret service agents divide up the customs business and then go after each other with riot police; regular government housecleaning occurs, including decrees coming down from on high firing senior deputies to the foreign minister and in the Federal Security Service, but these same officials continue to work, inconspicuously, in the same offices.

Police show up at the offices of a Far East shipping company and seize various documents. They then proceed to the companys warehouse, where they seize cases of caviar, claiming they lack the proper documentation. Different security agents rush in to protect the company. The police stage a retreat, but later call the other agency and threaten the agents with violence.

So, if someone in power killed Litvinenko, then the same state with security structures divvying up caviar and customs goes after its enemies with polonium-210 as a way to increase its power.

If, however, enemies of those in power killed Litvinenko, then to what are they opposed?

Are they opposed to a country where the crooks divvy up the red caviar and gorge themselves on the black? Enemies of a country where the security forces catch the police and police catch the security forces, while both team up against investigations by the prosecutor, who is in turn too busy running a protection racket?

Here is the difference between Litvinenkos poisoning and Trotskys murder. With Trotsky, no one would doubt that Stalin gave the order. In todays Russia, where every little section of the state power structure struggles with all the other parts, everything is possible.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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