Murder of Alexander Litvinenko

It was murder, but calling it such will change nothing

The tension mounts. The crisis deepens. The Russian ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Office for the truly nail-biting experience of a dressing-down from Margaret Beckett. After four months of indolence, the moth-eaten British lion has finally woken up and emitted a roar in the direction of Moscow. Scotland Yard long ago decided that one man was responsible for the horrific murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a British citizen living in London. The Crown Prosecution Service has now agreed.

One name is in the frame, and across Middle England, the cry is the same. “Oi! Putin!” says the voice of Britain. “Give us Lugovoi!” And that, more or less, was the message conveyed to the Kremlin by the Foreign Office yesterday – and seldom can there have been a suspect more deserving of extradition.

Everything about the murder of Litvinenko seemed designed to stoke our indignation. It was all so callous, so blatant, so deliberately chilling.

We were introduced to this terrifying radioactive element, Polonium 210, the most toxic substance in the world. We heard that one drop of the stuff, no larger than a full stop, could be used to poison a legion. We heard that this nightmare gunk could ignite a dirty bomb, or an even huger nuclear chain reaction, and that once you swallowed some teensy amount you would go into an irreversible and hideous decline, with your organs failing and your hair falling out, and no hope of an antidote.

We learnt with disgust and disbelief that the murderer had been sprinkling it around the sushi bars of the West End of London as if it were soy sauce, and leaving trails of it in the washrooms of posh hotels.

The whole thing smacked of a kind of insolence. It was if the Russian murderer, and whoever was backing him, wanted to teach the British a lesson – that there was no limits to the sadism and vengefulness of the perpetrators. It was like a warning to the Russian expatriate community, and to the British Government that has given some of them asylum, that there was nowhere beyond their reach.

Be good to yourself, tovarish, was the message from Moscow. Don’t irritate Mr Putin, and don’t get on the wrong side of the Russian Secret Services, or your children could find Polonium 210 on their cornflakes.

It was a vile challenge to the rule of law in this country, and many of us will be pleased that Sir Ken Macdonald, the DPP, has decided to go after the man who – and this is the final insult – allegedly took so few precautions that he left a radioactive trail on his flights to Moscow and back, either forgetting, or just not caring, that the rate of decay of the isotope has allowed forensic scientists to establish to the apparent satisfaction of the DPP where the trail allegedly began.

A murder took place, of a British citizen, on British soil, and we won’t stand for it. This isn’t Moscow, we say. You can’t bump people off in coffee lounges, just because they have been mildly disobliging about the regime.

Once again it falls to us to stand up against tyranny in the former Soviet Union, and as the excitement intensifies we have that sensation from our childhoods: of once again facing a threat from Moscow, an authoritarian in the Kremlin, a man who crushes dissent; and we speak of relations “hitting an all-time low”, and the danger of reprisals from Putin; and above all we speak of a “new Cold War”; and in so far as we use that phrase we are, of course, talking utter rubbish.

I remember the Cold War. It was pretty scary, for a child; but with 200,000 Russians in London, and with oil oligarchs owning our football clubs, and with Russian voices regularly audible on the Tube, this is not going to be a new Cold War.

The sad truth is that this is just a spat, a little trident-waving from Britannia, a little growling from the Bear – and a spat from which both sides have something to gain. For the Putin-backing Russians, the refusal to extradite Lugovoi shows that they can still be taken seriously, that they are a force to be reckoned with, even if they are disliked.

Russians were shocked by the humiliation of 1991, when the number two world superpower found itself the recipient of food aid. It has been dizzying to see the international decline of Russian prestige and clout, and in so far as Putin gives them a sense that he won’t be pushed around, he is popular.

Of course there are many Russians who deplore the murder; but there are at least as many who think it hypocritical of us to demand the extradition of Lugovoi while refusing to allow them to have Boris Berezovsky, who has actually called for Putin to be overthrown by violence.

As for us, the British, there is one notable domestic controversy that is hugely assisted by the presence of Putin in the Kremlin, and the suggestion of a “New Cold War”. Does anyone agree with me that it is downright spooky that the whole story should be in the news again, reminding us of sinister Mr Putin – just as Tony Blair was announcing a vast new programme of nuclear reactors? There are many people in this country who are scared of nuclear power; and they are wrong, in my view.

But there is one prospect that they might be persuaded to find even more scary, and that is Putin having his hands around our economic windpipe, and our energy supplies, by turning off the gas. The Russians will come out of this affair feeling that they can’t be pushed around by Britain; the British will be confirmed in their view that you can’t trust Putin, a point that will be helpful for pro-nuclear campaigners.

Trade will continue to grow between Britain and Russia, and the losers will be Alexander Litvinenko and his family, because there is not a cat’s chance in hell of bringing his alleged killers to face British justice.

24 thoughts on “Murder of Alexander Litvinenko”

  1. Bit odd Boris,

    All this sabre rattling about the Ruskies rubbing out one of our citizens but not one word about a regime which condones torture, imprisonment without trial and the odd ‘arrest’ of foreign nationals on foreign soil who have committed no crime on their own territory but, nonetheless, are held to account in an alien court .

    I am speaking, of course, about our great ‘ally’ and the country of your birth, the United States of America.

    The latter reprobates have also imprisoned our citizens, flown them all over the world (so they don’t fall foul of their own anti-torture rules) and subjected said persons to things which even the Ape creatures of the Indus consider a bit harsh for a first offense (with no trial).

    To add insult to injury, these ‘humanitarians’ have also, under the guidance of good ol’ Donald Rimsfelt, redefined the word torture such that it basically only applies to having one’s limbs torn off by wild horses or being impaled. A bit of the old strappado, sleep deprivation or apartheid ‘dangling’ is perfectly legit apparently. They refer the latter a with a beautiful unspeak term: ‘stress position’ and liken it to being made to stand up for a long time. They neglect to mention the bottles under feet or broom handles inserted in uncomfortable positions of course.

    at least we know where we stand with Putin, no pun intended.

    So here’s a question Boris:
    If we take away the standard of living in the States, the GDP of the US and the fact that their ‘dictator’ gets replaced every 4 – 8 years. Please remind me what, precisely, is the difference between GDubya and Saddam Hussein again?

  2. Of course we can’t trust Russia, look at this little game they are playing with Iran’s nuclear programme. What do they want exactly, just a halt to the missile defence programme? NATO thwarted in Iraq? More Middle-East chaos and the even higher oil prices? Or more than that?

  3. “The whole thing smacked of a kind of insolence.”, “You can’t bump people off in coffee lounges, just because they have been mildly disobliging about the regime.”? Obviously you can. The rest of the world can do whatever it likes, Britain has been abolished by NuLab.

    Boris for PM!

  4. <‘Please remind me what, precisely, is the difference between GDubya and Saddam Hussein again? (Ed W)<

    About 2 inches on the neck?

  5. “About 2 inches on the neck?”

    Yeah, and a Groucho Marx mustache.

    Also, Dubya seems to think he’s John Wayne but without the grit, nobility of purpose, height or IQ.

  6. You really don’t like him do you? Personally I wish we had a tax-cutting, no-nonsense kinda guy like Dubya to run this country. His Father was even better ‘Read my lips, no new taxes!’

    Can you imagine any of our lot saying something as visionary as that?

  7. Of course you can’t bump people off on the streets on this fine country without raising discourse – if you want to ‘bump people off’ you should follow the British example – and choose a nice patch of foreign soil – a french tunnel for example.

  8. Gibraltar’s another favourite assassination destination for British special forces.

  9. “Personally I wish we had a tax-cutting, no-nonsense kinda guy like Dubya to run this country.”

    I’m sure Hitler had his good points. Didn’t he like animals or something?

    Sadly, ‘no-nonsense’, in Dubya’s case, doesn’t equate to honesty and, whilst I’m all for tax cuts and an economy predominantly driven by business, I don’t think that military spending should underpin it; the latter for the simple reason that a big defense budget usually needs an enemy to justify it which explains why the US has replaced the USSR with Islamic fundamentalism as the big ‘enemy’ out to destroy US ‘freedoms’.

    Whilst I don’t buy into the theory that the US government organised 9/11 themselves, my more cynical moments lead me to think that it all worked out pretty convenient for their agenda.

    Good job those Ruskies didn’t curtail our historic freedoms with their evil communism hey? We British and Americans reserve the right to vote in leaders to do it to ourselves!!! So, fortunately, US and British citizens have retained the right to be banged up indefinitely in chokey without evidence or a court process of any kind.

    And, on a particularly good day for ‘freedom’, get to have one’s testes wired up to the mains for a couple of hours and enjoy a refreshing ‘stress position’ which is, apparently, a bit like yoga.

  10. <‘I don’t think that military spending should underpin it; the latter for the simple reason that a big defense budget usually needs an enemy to justify it …’ (Ed W)<

    I think you’ll find that much of the US defence industry had aligned itself with the Bush camp long before 9/11. Clinton’s administration kept going back on old cold war commitments to buy Lockheed Martin fighter-jets, no wonder they looked elsewhere for friends.

    As for enemies, we have lots of them. Do you think Russia would just sit there idle if NATO wasn’t so well armed? I, for one, don’t buy any of this post Cold War ‘Russia is your friend now’ drivel that exudes from the Kremlin. If Europe, and more importantly the USA, were unarmed they’d be swarming over our borders faster than you could say ‘Litvinenko’.

  11. Yes, the Russian bear is undoubtedly still the same moth-eaten old psychopath it was in the sixties; they’ve just added some vermouth to the vodka and stuck a paper umbrella in their foreign policy.

    China is also an obvious ‘enemy’ and I have no doubt the Beijing elders would love to re-trace Ghengis’ steps and take all of Asia from the Bering straights to Gibraltar.

    But, let’s face it, no-one really wants to piss off Russia OR China because there’s, currently, too much money to be made. And China is probably a bit too tough a proposition if it came to the crunch.

    So, what they need is a enemy that’s noisy and belligerent but basically rubbish when it comes to being a serious threat.

    Enter stage left: Islamic jihadists. All those big, long beards and wild eyes makes for great show business. You can just imagine them playing polo on the steppes with Tony Blair’s head. Then there’s all that firing of antiquated AK-47s at the drop of a hat (although, God help ’em if they ever tried to actually hit anything with that crap). Add to this that they get Islamic bonus points for exploding in public and they are an ideal enemy. Bloodthirsty, psychopathic murdering berserkers to a man and almost completely ineffective as an invading force. Perfect. All one needs to do is keep them nice and wound up.

    And that’s all it is: show business. Give the American public a credible threat and the government gets carte-blanche to hand out massive defense contracts to all the usual suspects (Halliburton et al). “Budget, gentlemen, is not a consideration!”

    And this ‘defense’ spending, fundamentally, keeps their economy afloat; also, who’d want to ask a country that spends 50% of the GDP of our solar system on weaponry to pay up?

    The Yanks also have an ideology issue with making the Russian Federation the bad guy. Theoretically the Sovs have been through Glasnost and Peristroyka(sp?). The good old West has convinced them to drop their ploughshares and become insurance salesmen and they’ve dutifully created an approximation of a capitalist economy.

    So it would be a bit twattish to bomb them back to the dark ages when they’ve, basically, done everything that’s been asked of them.

    I thought NATO stood for North American Take Over. Is anyone else still in it?

  12. <‘And this ‘defense’ spending, fundamentally, keeps their economy afloat … (Ed W)<

    I’m sure it does go someway to towards their GDP figures, just like Gordon Brown’s army of Equality Officers, Outreach Workers, Sustainability Coordinators and other assorted pointless bureaucrats have been keeping up the broken-record dispatch box boast of ‘record economic growth’ this side of the pond.

    Given the choice between some decent aircraft carriers and a load of F-22 Raptors, or the plague of economic parasites New Labour have added to the public payroll and an shambolic tax credits system that Albanian gangsters help themselves to via the world wide web, I’d plump for the US model every single time.

  13. At least Labour’s hordes of public employee drones don’t leave some poor Iraqi kid without arms, legs or family.

  14. That’s where you’re wrong Sausage, as much as they complained about Iraq, the selfish scoundrels thought with their wallets and crossed the box to have them re-elected.

  15. Chomsky predicted the propaganda shift from Soviet and Chinese communism to jihadic Islamism way before 9/11. I think you’ll find it on the ‘Propaganda and the Control of the Public Mind’ CD. It’s very Orwellian and probably valid. The NuLab public employees are a minor expenditure and may fulfil a useful function when contrasted to the amount paid to bean-counters and consultants.

    I’m with EdW on the illegal detention and transport issues. How can we object when our citizens are treated in like manner if we go along with this?

    Statistically there was little difference between the old Soviets and US/UK capitalism. In Soviet Russia 10% of the population were party members and controlled 90% of the wealth, in the capitalist west 10% of the population owned 90% of the wealth.

    Since it was obviously intended to leave a trail, it’s a shame that MI6 doesn’t have a James Bond to send in to even the score. Perhaps worth remembering that Litvinenko was regarded as a traitor by Russian security, not that that excuses, but it perhaps explains why such an obvious trail was left and the deliberate horror of the assassination.

    I would suggest that if you wish to win an election it is somewhat premature to talk about tax cuts. Save the tax cuts until you can demonstrate improved services for less cost. Did you notice how delighted Ed Balls was when Redwood last talked of tax cuts?

  16. “Statistically there was little difference between the old Soviets and US/UK capitalism. In Soviet Russia 10% of the population were party members and controlled 90% of the wealth, in the capitalist west 10% of the population owned 90% of the wealth.”

    Yeah, Socialism = Capitalism at root. All that changes is the form the currency takes. In Socialist terms it’s governmental influence and party seniority in Capitalist terms it’s money. If you’re on the ground floor like us it’s probably hard to tell the practical difference between the two ideologies. There’s always some fat cat with 90% of the cream in both systems so who gives a rats ass which one is best.

    The main reason I don’t like socialism is because it only works in a valid meritocracy rather than one in which brown-nosing c**ksuckers get promoted to senior party positions who then promote all their friends and relatives

    Oh! Just like the Labour Party!

  17. <‘The NuLab public employees are a minor expenditure and may fulfil a useful function when contrasted to the amount paid to bean-counters and consultants.’ (Agent Provocateur)<

    In my experience that’s simple not true. Most public sector departments have an accountant, and once year they have an external audit, nothing wrong with this. From what I’ve seen, when Brown is splashing the cash, hoardes of public workers with a few years experience jump ship, and set themselves up as consultants, thus sell themselves back to their employer (i.e. the taxpayer) at twice their original cost. This suits lazy bureaucrat types, who can rely on the ‘consultants’ to do all the work for them whilst they sit back and relax in meetings about new initiatives, government reviews or joint working and the like.

    Without the mass spending overdrive the consultants wouldn’t exist. Without the masses of lazy bureaucrats that are only too happy to dish out £30 or more an hour to have their job done for them the consultants would not exist. Beancounters (or accountants) will always exist, someone has to count the money.

  18. Steve_L … suggest you read Private Eye for accurate details on the amounts paid to the likes of Arthur Andersen and consultants. In the end (‘After Deschooling. What?’) Illich admitted that teachers were too easy and convenient a target, I suspect the same is true of many of those you’re castigating, though I do believe that you may well have a strong case when we get off the ground and some way up the ladder.

    Without advocating either, I don’t think that the Soviet Union could be accurately described as ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’. Different left-wing groups have different ways of describing it (well, they would, wouldn’t they). The notion of ‘state capitalist’ is about the only bit of SWP dogma that I can even tolerate, Militant go for ‘defunct Napoleonic etc etc’ … I’m afraid you’d have to ask them for the rest. I’ve no idea how groups such as CPGB viewed it, but since they seem to consider Tehran bus drivers the ‘vanguard of the working class’ in some Marxist sense, there would seem little point in talking to them unless you like sitting next to the nutter on the bus.

    Sausage: I’ve no disagreement with what you say about NuLab under Bliar, but isn’t this the very thing that the old Tories were accused of, jobs for the boys, usually via the Masonic Hall, and the old school network? Don’t Boris and Co. have to demonstrate that that is no longer the case with the Conservative Party?

  19. <‘Steve_L … suggest you read Private Eye for accurate details on the amounts paid to the likes of Arthur Andersen and consultants … I do believe that you may well have a strong case when we get off the ground and some way up the ladder.’ (AP)<

    I do read Private Eye, and yes, it does appear to highlight all sorts of waste, nepotism and perhaps even dishonesty in the upper echlons of government. What you’ve got to remember is that it all adds up. For every £million wasted on ‘Crapita’ projects, there’s at least another twenty pointless £50k a year consultants ‘on the ground’. Most of them are people that left their £25-30k a year jobs during the big spending round so they could sell themselves back as ‘consultants’, doing the same job they quit, for twice the amount. Managers love it, they’re not unionised, don’t swan around on flexitime and work life balance, and can actually be made to do some work.

    I’m not talking about teachers, I don’t think anyone has it in for teachers. However your local authority is more than likely paying people at least £25k a year to try and persude you to buy Fairtrade coffee. This sort of thing is just stupid waste, I’d rather sack them all and spend the money on the Royal Navy instead. Hence I prefer the Bush model to the Blair/Brown model of borrow and spend. At least we end up with something to show for it.

    Of course I’d rather we just didn’t borrow, tax and spend so much in the first place.

  20. I have encountered the kind of parasite you describe in the past Steve. Since NuLab is on the retreat down here in the deep south, we probably get much less of this sinecure culture, and I imagine it varies borough to borough. I guess that I just like the idea of starting at the top and working down if we are going to clear up this mess. Judging by their recent performance in the Gulf I’m not too sure that the RN is a sound investment. PFI deals give us ‘something to show for it’, it’s the future costs that bother me, and the fact that they conveniently don’t appear on Gorgon Broon’s books.

  21. PS: Perhaps I should get round to joining the forum for some of these issues, and get this thread back to Sunday Night at the London Polonium.

  22. What really hacks me off is that the Conservatives (allegedly) need more than 60% of the popular vote (in terms of head count) to win the same number of seats as Labour in Parliament. That’s bloody outrageous!

    The reason for this (again allegedly) is because Conservative controlled boroughs are generally preferred by the general population (because they are better run etc) so people migrate into them. Because the electoral boundaries don’t change particularly dynamically the net effect of this is that Labour need far fewer votes to win a parliamentary majority then the Tories.

    So, Steven, the principle they have adopted, it would appear, is to f**k up the boroughs they control using the techniques you have mentioned so they have the modern equivalent of rotten boroughs. Thus they are enabled to win a general election outright with about 360 votes cast in their favour. Oooooh, but they’re cunning!

    Or something beginning with ‘C.U.N.’

  23. “Most of them are people that left their £25-30k a year jobs during the big spending round so they could sell themselves back as ‘consultants’, doing the same job they quit,”

    This sort of dimmness isn’t, unfortunately, confined to public services. IBM and ‘certain’ banks do it regularly. The period is plus/minus five years between cycles of being taken on full time and getting the elbow (temporarily) with a nice retrenchment package. Then, after a month or so, they notice that there’s no-one doing your job and, much as it grieves them, they still need the work done. However, the reason they can’t just (as any sane person would) offer you your job back is because you aren’t in the salary budget and getting a mandate to alter a budget (in a large company) can take months. So they bring you on as a consultant which comes out of the operational budget which is usually padded because everyone knows the directors are psychotic.

    When you come back (as a consultant) your effective hourly rate is about twice what it was as an employee and there’s much more opportunity for tax deductions. Subsequently, when you get taken back on board as a permanent employee, which usually happens after about 18 months, you may take a ten to twenty percent knock on the salary until the next big kick out. However, any salary knock is more than offset by the inevitable redundancy payment. Then you take a six week cruise and wait for a call.

    I’ve been through three of these cycles now and refer to it in correspondence as ‘The Dilbert bonus’.

  24. “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”Henry Louis Mencken

    Al Quaida & global warming have been 2 very feeble looking hobgoblins. It will be such a pleasure for so many people in power to get the Russians back again.

    As an alleged plot this makes absolutely no sense, though as an accident involving various Berezovski employees being careless with PO they were planning to use it makes a lot. The Russians have said they are willing to put him on trial if Britain has the evidence. If they have a real case the very least they can do is to take them at their word. Of course if it is purely propaganda on the UK’s part then that would become obvious too.

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