Russia Notes


Alexander Litvinenko, on his deathbed, accused Vladimir Putin of orchestrating his murder.
Having ranted a few times on this blog about the current state of U.S.-Russia relations, I should say that I was pleased to see that Presidents Bush and Putin are planning to meet in early July.
The State Department is finally striking the right tone. It’s about time, considering the Secretary of State is a Sovietologist by training.

“The Russians still remain a very important partner, despite the tensions that may arise over various issues,” White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters after announcing the meeting yesterday. “We’re going to make all our concerns known, but on the other hand, we’re going to continue working to work ahead.”

I’m glad the meeting is taking place in Kennebunkport, at the ol’ Bush family homestead in Maine. The invitation is intended to reflect a desire for closer relations and intimacy.
Some in the Bush Administration have tried to push Russia to the fringes of the agenda and pretend Russia – its insecure nuclear arsenal and anti-democratic wave and all – is irrelevant. Others, like Sen. McCain, have suggested that the U.S. should push Russia out of the G8 and create some distance.
At this critical juncture, I’m hoping there’s enough “Baker/Bush 41 realism” still in the Kennebunkport air to keep President Bush away from both of these dangerous detours. The right path is still careful engagement, holding our partner accountable, but emphasizing mutual respect, cooperation, and a common agenda.
Everyone interested in the subject should also have noted with interest two important developments recently. First, British prosecutors have accused Andrei Lugovoi of having murdered Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko. Litvinenko, on his deathbed, accused Putin of ordering his murder.
Lugovoi is probably thinking two things right now:

1.) I really shouldn’t have been so colossally dumb as to have chosen polonium-210, a rare, radioactive material, as my poison of choice. It makes it really easy to trace the murder back to me.
2.) I’d better figure out a convincing alternative theory and stick to it – not because I’m afraid of being extradited or convicted, mind you, but because I need to make abundantly clear that I’m not going to rat out my silovki bosses so they don’t make me next on their list.

This second thought is apparently where Lugovoi’s mind is currently, considering he told the press that Litvinenko was an MI6 agent and was killed by the British government. It’s not a very good alternative story (even in the off chance that Litvinenko is in fact affiliated with MI6) and won’t fly outside the Kremlin, but, as we’ve learned in other instances, it doesn’t need to. It just needs to be good enough to help him avoid extradition to the UK or state-ordered murder in Russia, and it probably is.
The other important development is the posthumous release of Anna Politkovskaya’s book, For What.
As headlines indicated, Mikhail Gorbachev spoke at the official release and called the book important (hidden in the final paragraphs of some stories is Gorbachev’s ironic praise of Putin). Frankly, with respect to Mr. Gorbachev, have to question the wisdom of the invitation. To the surprise of most Americans, polls show that Gorbachev is among the most despised leaders in Russian history.
Gorbachev is badly misunderstood, both in the West and in Russia. In the West, Gorbachev mostly symbolizes reform, peace, and courage. In Russia, he’s associated with long bread lines and declining influence. Much has been made of the book’s publication in Politkovskaya’s native Russian, but Gorbachev’s role in the book launch makes me wonder if its intended audience was Western audiences instead of Russians.
Anyway, it seems there are a few small rays of hope in some very dark times.
–Scott Paul


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