Friday, November 24, 2006

Vladimir Putin's reign of thuggery.

Well, it looks like Vlad 'the Impaler' Putin is up to his old tricks again. Another prominent Putin regime critic has died of a mysterious poisoning. Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB agent who turned against Putin, died yesterday in a London hospital after being poisoned three weeks ago while trying to dig up information about the killing of yet another Kremlin critic, journalist Anna Politkovskaya. (Politkovskaya was herself poisoned back in 2004 while in route to cover the Beslan hostage crisis.) British authorities and doctors are completely baffled as to the poison used to kill Litvinenko. Initially, doctors thought it might have been a substance called Thallium, but today the MET announced they were looking into the possibility that a radioactive agent might have been the culprit. [AP reports that, "The Health Protection Agency said the radioactive element polonium-210, which is extremely hard to detect, had been found in Litvinenko's urine."]

Boy, when it comes to killing those who dare speak out about Vlad's crimes the Russian security forces sure aren't subtle about the methods they use. The poisoning of Kremlin opponent and now president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, by means of dioxin being slipped into his soup was particularly painful and nasty. Pictures of both Yushenko and Litvinenko, before and after, attest to the brutal nature of the poisons used and how far these the thugs working for Vlad are willing to go. This shouldn't come as any kind of big surprise, though, because it has been abundantly clear from the start that Vlad & Co. have absolutely no respect for human life, as is evidenced by the "rescue" attempts by Russian security forces in the Moscow theater incident and the Beslan school siege. In his death bed letter Litvinenko wrote that Putin had "no respect for life, liberty or any civilized value."

[Incidentally, in the theater "rescue," a mystery gas was pumped into the building, which wound up killing the hostage takers as well as the hostages. When the hospitals started filling up with the survivors of the gas attack, Russian authorities won't tell doctors which suspected nerve agent they'd used, causing many more needless deaths for lack of a proper treatment. And, of course, who can forget Vlad's callous disregard for his own sailors slowly drowning on the submarine Kursk in 2000? He continued to vacation at his Dacha on the Black Sea and between breaks from jet-skiing, he adamantly refused to accept help from other nations that might have been able to rescue them.]

For years "Sasha" Litvinenko has accused Putin and his FSB of having been behind the killings and attempted killings of numerous Putin regime opponents, allegations Vlad and his defenders have always denied, naturally. One of the most serious of the allegations made by Litvinenko was that FSB agents were responsible for the bombings of several apartment buildings in Moscow in 1999, killing at least 145 innocent people. Vlad used these "terrorist" bombings as an excuse to start the second Chechen war. His manful response to those bombings and the subsequent pulverizing of the Chechen capital, Groznyy, propelled him into the presidency and his current high poll ratings among average Russians.

Vlad has very cleverly manipulated the "terror" message to get away with mass murder in Chechnya without as much as a peep of condemnation from the Europeans or the Bush administration. ['You're talking my language Put Put. Common', let's take a ride in your funny white car again! Heh, heh.'] Of course, his popularity might not be so high if he didn't totally control the media. It is very difficult for the regular Russian in the street to know anything other than what the Kremlin wants him to know and those who try to get the word out wind up like Politskaya and Litvinenko (not to mention Mikhail Khodorkovsky.) This is why London has turned into the capital of the Putin resistance, now home to some 100,000 Russian ex-pats. Not all of them are against Putin, many oil drenched Russian zillionaires choose to live in London for its fancy hotels and shops in which to spend their ill-gotten wealth, but a sizable number are living in London to avoid Putin's death squads. It appears, however, nowhere might be far enough away to escape the long arm of the FSB. And its all perfectly legal; the Russian rubber stamp Duma recently passed a law saying Russians security forces can go anywhere in the world to kill enemies of the state.

I find it funny --in light of Russian agents having just killed one of his opponents in the very heart of London -- that as Vlad comes swooping into Helsinki for a European summit meeting he's telling his European counterparts that they have nothing to fear from newly powerful Russia. And writing in the FT this week Putin reminds his squeamish European partners: "When speaking of common values, we should also respect the historical diversity of European civilization. It would be useless to and wrong to force artificial 'standards' on each other."

Yes, common values such as freedom of the press and "standards" such as not killing political foes in each other's capitals are all so relative. (When will these do-gooder "old Europeans" wake up to Russia's legitimate security concerns?) And, I suppose, the Europeans shouldn't have any anxieties either about what Russia did last winter to Ukraine or what she's doing now to Georgia and Poland. No Siree, Vlad is just a cuddly Russian bear trying to help out his European friends. So just lay back and enjoy it Europe. If you want that Russian natural gas and oil to keep flowing, you'd better tow the Putin line or you'll be sorry. And it's not like the US is going to do come to the rescue, W. is too busy dealing with Iraq to worry too much about "old Europe" nowadays, so you're on your own.

It'll be interesting to see what Scotland Yard comes up with in this Litvinenko investigation, though I'm not holding my breath that even if they find a Kremlin connection we'll ever find out about it. The case has gone from a "deliberate poisoning" to an "unexplained death," which says a lot about where the investigation is likely to go. Something tells me this whole thing will just be disappeared off the media radar [the NYT had a teeny, tiny caption about it below the fold on page A-4] as quickly as possible and we'll get back to business as usual, meaning looking the other way as Vlad continues his reign of terror.


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