hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 22 January 2016

Litvinenko: Action or Appeasement?

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last”
Winston Spencer Churchill

Alphen, Netherlands. 22 January. Yesterday, a British judge at the formal publication of a formal report at the conclusion of a formal and legal public inquiry cited a foreign head of state for complicity in murder on British soil of a British and EU citizen. Such an occurrence is unheard of and should be a matter of the gravest international import. And yet within twenty-four hours of the publication by Sir Robert Owen of “The Litvinenko Inquiry: Report into the Death of Alexander Litvinenko”, the British Government is attempting to bury it, and the EU has said nothing. Instead, the British Government has frozen the assets of two Russian citizens accused of carrying out the murder of Mr Litvinenko even though they have no assets in the UK, and called in the Russian Ambassador to Britain for a severe dressing down. In a crass attempt to deflect British public attention away from London’s cravenness Defence Secretary Michael Fallon took the opportunity to make a speech reinforcing the continued need for Britain’s nuclear deterrent. It was less news management more Monty Python. So, why did the report conclude Russia committed this murder and why has Britain’s and the EU’s response thus far been so supine as to smack of appeasement?

Here are the facts. On 1 November, 2006 Mr Litvinenko met two former KGB officers Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun at the Millennium Hotel in central London. Several hours after drinking green tea Mr Litvinenko became ill and was subsequently diagnosed as suffering from acute radiation syndrome. It later transpired that Mr Litvinenko had been poisoned with radionuclide polonium-210 at a level some 200 times greater than the median lethal dose. Mr Litvinenko died on 23 November, 2006 at 2121 hours.

The polonium was traced back to the tea pot from which Mr Litvinenko’s tea had been poured, to the hotel room of one of the two accused, and then to a British Airways aircraft upon which the accused had travelled from Moscow to London. Indeed, the report identifies a trail of polonium across London that closely matched the movements of Mr Lugovoy and Mr Kovtun and which British authorities believe exposed over 100 Londoners to direct contamination and put several thousand at risk. Yesterday, in the House of Commons the Shadow Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Mr Andy Burnham called the act “state-sponsored terrorism”.

The reasons for Russia’s actions against Mr Litvinenko are complex and revealing.  On 13 November, 1998. shortly after Vladimir Putin’s appointment as Director of the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service and successor of the KGB),  Mr Boris Berezovsky, with whom Mr Litvinenko was close, published an open letter in Kommersant. The letter stated; “Vladimir Vladimirovich you have inherited a difficult legacy from your predecessors. Criminal elements and officials at various levels, whom they have corrupted, including officials in your own agency, are striking at our people who are unwilling to back to being cattle. Criminal terror is on the rise in Russia”.

On 17 November, 1998 Mr Litvinenko took part in a press conference alongside five other FSB agents at which he accused his own FSB organised crime unit of criminal acts. Mr Litvinenko began the press conference stating; “We do not seek to compromise the Federal Security Service, but to purify and strengthen it”. Subsequently, Mr Litvinenko met with Director Putin and tried to present him with a dossier detailing his allegations. The dossier was rebuffed. Instead Mr Putin prepared his own dossier against Mr Litvinenko and on 19 November, 1998 went on state television network Rossiya to ridicule the Litvinenko press conference as, “a spectacle with characters from a children’s story”.

Subsequently, Mr Litvinenko moved to Britain in 2000. In July 2006 Mr Litvinenko accused President Putin of being a paedophile. On 27 July, 2006 President Putin approved amendments to a 2002 Russian law entitled, “On Counteracting Extremist Activity”. The new law appeared to support attacks on anyone who defamed holders of high office in the Russian state.

The reasons for Britain’s weak response and the EU’s non-response thus far are equally complex and revealing. The City of London is awash with dodgy Russian money and London has ‘specialised’ in not asking too many questions as to the provenance of said moneys. Indeed, in the wake of the 2008 financial crash the current British Government adopted a mercantilist foreign policy which included moving closer to illiberal regimes such as Russia and China. Indeed, it was only with Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine that the Owen public inquiry was allowed to proceed. Critically, London claims that Moscow’s help is needed to end the war in Syria. However, Moscow’s aim is to keep President Assad in power and thus perpetuate the war in Syria.

The reasons for the EU’s non-response reflect deep divisions within the EU over how best to deal with an aggressive Russia. France, Germany and Italy in particular are cautious about taking any further action against Russia beyond the sanctions already in place following the invasion of Ukraine and the July 2014 downing of MH-17. Reasons for this lack of solidarity are in part due to narrow national economic considerations, and in part out of fear that a clearly instable Russia could become even more aggressive. However, the EU’s lack of solidarity with Britain over the murder of one of its own citizens does beg a very serious question; part of the rationale for Britain remaining within the EU is that membership strengthens Britain’s influence on the world stage. Thus far the EU has done all it can to kill the issue doing little or nothing to take this extremely serious matter to the Russians.

What should happen now? At the very least all EU member-states should withdraw henceforth from the 2018 World Cup which is due to be held in Russia. Given the report clearly cites the role of the FSB in the murder one other step would be to identify and remove all Russian agents from EU member-states.

What will happen now? Next to nothing. That said, the Dutch investigation into criminal responsibility for the downing of MH 17 is due to report and also likely to cite Russia. Further inaction will simply confirm that Britain and the EU far from crafting a sophisticated, long-term policy response are merely repeating the mistakes of history and appeasing an aggressive Russian regime.

There is one other finding in the report that bears strategic consideration. The report alleges that the actual order to murder Mr Litvinenko was given by Mr Nikolai Petrushev in his 2006 capacity as FSB director. The virulently anti-Western Mr Petrushev is currently Secretary (Head) of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. That is exactly the same route President Putin took to power. Mr Berezovsky? He was found dead in suspicious circumstances at his English home on 23 March, 2013.  Mr Lugovoy? He is currently preparing a documentary for Russian state television. Its title? “Traitors”.

Winston Churchill said of appeasement, “…do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year-by-year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time”.

Have you heard that Sir Humphrey?

Julian Lindley-French       


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