Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Blogger Bildt

Carl Bildt, who became Sweden’s foreign minister in October last year when Fredrik Reinfeldt’s centre-right Moderaterna party came to power, has recently come in for criticism because of his blogging activity. Some time ago, Bildt stopped posting to his English-language blog, Bildt Comments, and started a new Swedish-language one, where he now makes his own personal observations on issues of Swedish foreign and domestic policy on a day-by-day basis. Bertil Torekull, former editor-in-chief of the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, has published a long article in the other main Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter, criticizing Bildt’s blogging activity, and asking whether it’s right for a government minister to lead a “double life” in this way, making official statements and then, in Torekull’s view, at least partly undermining them by private ones. Torekull even draws an analogy with the “off-the-cuff” statements and activities of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez (an analogy that seems a little far-fetched, it has to be said). Today Bildt responds in his blog, remarking [my tr.]:

And in the last analysis everyone can choose, after all. Those who don’t want to read this or other blogs can refrain from doing so. Those who don’t want to read a newspaper don’t need to.

Freedom of choice. And openness.

It will truly be interesting to see how this discussion develops…

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

MSNBC on Litvinenko

On Februrary 24, MSNBC's Dateline aired an in-depth investigation of the Litvinenko poisoning affair by Ann Curry, with contributions by security expert Paul Joyal, among others.

As a subsequent NBC news report pointed out, however, there appears to be little likelihood that the assassins will be brought to justice, even though all the evidence appears to point to Moscow and the Kremlin as the likely instigators of the murder:

“Everything what happened in Russia, if it’s happened, it’s Putin decide to do it,” Marina Litvinenko, who speaks broken English, told “Dateline.” “Because without him, it’s just impossible.”

It is an assessment shared by Oleg Kalugin, the onetime top spy for the KGB.

Litvinenko “was a traitor. So was I and a number of others. They have a list,” Kalugin said. “They would love to kill him.”

And it is an assessment shared by Paul Joyal, the Russia specialist.

Joyal believes the Kremlin is resisting the British investigation because it is guilty and is hoping to run out the clock.

“It’ll go away in time,” he said. “Maybe not this week. Maybe not next week. But if you just hang in there and deny, at the end of the day — if there’s no one stepping forward saying, ‘I know’ — it will be forgotten.

“And there’s nothing anyone can do.”

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Litvinenko Inquiry "Nearing End"

Via BBC:

The British envoy in Russia says that he expects the probe into the poisoning of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko to end within weeks.

Anthony Brenton told the BBC the UK government would push for any Russians charged over the case to be extradited.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Thirteen Years

Today is February 23, the anniversary of Stalin's deportation of the Chechen people in 1944. and Prague Watchdog has published a special feature to commemorate the event.

Tamara Chagayeva has recorded the recollections of Nura Tsutiyeva, one of the witnesses of the deportation, who describes the month-long train journey into the unknown, and the "grey and monotonous life in an alien land": Thirteen Years Spent in a Reservation.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Languages Under Threat

On UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day (February 21), RFE/RL’s Chloe Arnold wrote a feature, with audio examples, about threatened languages of Northern Russia - they include Selkup, Koryak and Evenk.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Going Ballistic

Russia is serious about abrogation of the INF treaty, Pavel Felgenhauer suggests in a new Eurasia Daily Monitor article, asserting that “the Russian military always disliked the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed in 1987 by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.”

From later in the piece:

During the invasion of Chechnya in 1999 and 2000, the Russian military used SS-21 (Tochka-U) ballistic missiles to attack Chechen towns and villages (Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, October 29, 1999). Russian Air Force attack helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are old and badly maintained because spare parts are in short supply. The pilots are untrained, because they lack adequate flying practice. Russia does not have modern, airborne, precision-guided weapons. But ballistic missiles can fill the gap.

The SS-21 has a range of 120 kilometers. Using mobile launchers deployed in North Ossetia and in Dagestan, the Russian military could effectively cover all of Chechnya during the 1999-2000 offensive. But should a conflict erupt elsewhere in the Caucasus or, perhaps, in Crimea near Sevastopol, the SS-21s deployed in the North Caucasus will be of little help, and the Iskander-M will be useful only with a range enhanced to 500 kilometers.

While the Kremlin rhetoric is today aimed at Washington and its possible strategic missile defense deployments, the true target is the INF. Moscow wants to deploy new missiles that cannot reach the United States, but are designed for neighbors. That was in essence the thrust of Putin’s Munich speech, aimed at the West: Accept us as equals and give us at last our sphere of influence within the region. Keep out! Stop poking into our neighborhood — or we may go ballistic.

Russia, NATO and Europe

From RFE/RL Newsline (Feb. 20):

Colonel General Nikolai Solovtsov, who commands the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, told a February 19 Moscow news conference that Russia might target missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic if those countries agree to host U.S. missile-defense sites, Russian media reported (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” February 2, 9, and 12, 2007). Solovtsov said that “if a political decision [is made by the Kremlin] to withdraw from [the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty] between the United States and Russia, the Strategic Missile Forces will be capable of carrying out the task [of targeting sites in the Czech Republic and Poland].” He added that, under the 1987 pact, “intermediate-range missiles were dismantled as a class, but the [knowledge of how to make them] is still there…. So, if such a decision is made, it won’t be difficult to resume their production.” Solovtsov noted that the United States and its allies are discussing the missile-defense project but have not yet taken any concrete steps. Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said on February 19 that there will not be any new “Cold War” in Europe, the daily “Vedomosti” reported on February 20. He added that Russia is nonetheless prepared to defend “its national interests” by making an unspecified “symmetrical response” to the stationing of a missile-defense system near its borders. On February 15, General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads the Russian General Staff, said that Russia has “convincing evidence” that would enable it to abrogate the INF agreement under the terms of that pact, RIA Novosti reported. The state-run news agency described his remarks as “a strong warning” to Washington. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on February 16 that Baluyevsky was “simply stating the facts” and that Russia has made no decision on scrapping the treaty. The “International Herald Tribune” on February 20 quoted Moscow-based analyst Ivan Safranchuk as saying that Russia is threatening to abrogate the agreement in the hope that unspecified “Europeans” will “put pressure on the United States” not to go ahead with its missile-defense plans. “The Economist” of February 17 argued that Russia seeks recognition of its own “sphere of influence” in Europe. PM

In a statement in Brussels on February 19, NATO spokesman James Appathurai described the comments by Colonel General Solovtsov as unacceptable, news agencies reported. Appathurai stressed that “the days of talk of targeting NATO territory or vice versa are long past us. This kind of extreme language is out of date and uncalled for.” On February 15, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the missile-defense system “is no way directed at Russian strategic forces. This is in no way directed against Russia. As a matter of fact, we have offered to cooperate with Russia on missile defense.” On February 19, State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said that “we have offered to cooperate with Russia on missile defense because we believe we face a common threat emanating from the Middle East as well as other areas.” President Vladimir Putin and former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov have said repeatedly that they do not believe that the defense system is directed against Iran (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” February 2, 9, and 12, 2007). PM

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and his Polish counterpart Jaroslaw Kaczynski said in Warsaw on February 19 that they are likely to accept U.S. missile-defense sites on their respective territories, international media reported. Topolanek added that “both of our countries are now preparing a response to the U.S. proposal. We have agreed that both countries are likely to give a positive response, and then we will begin negotiations.” Alluding to recent criticism of the missile-defense system by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Topolanek said that “saying that the United States did not consult with Russia is naive” (see below). Kaczynski noted that “the state of Polish-Russian relations is well-known, so seeking Russia’s acceptance [of a U.S. missile-defense system] will be difficult. But we will try to convince the Russians of the obvious fact that this deployment is by no means aimed against them.” He stressed that the system is not directed against “normal countries” but against those that do not abide by international norms. In a joint article published in the Polish daily “Rzeczpospolita” on February 19, Topolanek and Kaczynski said the system will serve as “passive protection from attacks” for all members of the Euro-Atlantic community. The project has aroused controversy in both countries, but many commentators there have noted that the harsh language coming from Moscow in recent weeks is likely to convince Czechs and Poles that they do indeed need a U.S. missile-defense system. Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Vondra said on February 19 that Czechs have ample experience with Russian bullying and know that they will pay dearly if they give into it, the daily “Mlada fronta Dnes” reported on February 20. Jiri Sedivy, who is a former head of the Czech General Staff, said on February 19 that Colonel General Solovtsov’s remarks were “unnecessarily tough” because the U.S.-Czech alliance is no threat to Russia, CTK reported. Sedivy suggested that Solovtsov was “just flexing his muscles.” PM

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) said in a recent interview that “because the sites for stationing [the missile-defense system] are quite near Russia, one should have talked with Russia about it beforehand,” Deutsche Welle reported on February 19. Later on February 19 in Baku, he qualified his criticism of the United States, Poland, and the Czech Republic by noting that the U.S. and Russian defense ministers have already begun discussions. Eckart von Klaeden, who is foreign-policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU), was quoted in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” of February 20 as saying that “the thrust of any [German] criticism [over the missile-defense controversy] must not be directed against America.” He suggested that Germany should rather concentrate on warning President Putin that he is sending the wrong message to Iran by criticizing the U.S. missile-defense plans, since those plans are not directed against Russia but against Iran. Von Klaeden added that Russia is wrong to threaten to scrap its 1987 agreement with the United States. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who is a CSU member of the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, also stressed that the United States seeks to defend its own territory against a “plausible” threat from Iran. But Rolf Muetzenich, who is a disarmament spokesman for the SPD, praised Steinmeier’s comments. Muetzenich added that he has “basic doubts” about the missile-defense project, and he stressed that a “new arms race” should be avoided. He said that Russia’s threat to scrap the 1987 pact “shows how serious the situation is.” The CDU/CSU and SPD officials alike agreed on the need to discuss the missile-defense project within NATO and the NATO-Russia Council (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” December 1, 2006, and January 18 and 23, 2007). PM

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

From Partner to Adversary

Charles Krauthammer, writing about Vladimir Putin in the Seattle Times:
He wants Gromyko’s influence - or at least some international acknowledgment that Moscow must be reckoned with - without the ideological baggage. He does not want to bury us; he only wants to diminish us. It is 19th-century power politics at its most crude and elemental. Putin does not want us as an enemy. But at Munich he told the world that, vis-à-vis America, his Russia has gone from partner to adversary.

Realignment in Europe

One or two links to consider:

Poland and Czech Republic risk being targets of Russian missiles,Moscow says
The Associated Press

Published: February 19, 2007

Missiles could reach Europe if Kremlin wanted: general

Spisok Kachinskikh (Lech Kaczynski’s report)

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Pact

An in-depth report in Spiegel Online examines the real motive power behind the present Polish government, which is often accused of mismanagement, incoherence and demagoguery. These accusations, it seems, miss the point: the instability and division characteristic of modern Poland are a result of the very forces the present government, led by the Kaczynski brothers, is trying to defeat. For Poland, like a number of other East European post-Soviet democracies, is still in the grip of economic and political interests that go back to pre-1989 days, and the rule of the Communist party. In such a situation, friends and enemies are hard to tell apart.

In the spring of 1989, dissidents managed to negotiate a bloodless transfer of power with the communists. Some would say it was a political tour de force. After all, Soviet troops were still stationed in Poland and the Berlin Wall was still standing at the time.

But the Kaczynski brothers and the supporters of their cause say that the transition was not a coup. They argue that the communists quickly figured out how to regroup and, with the help of the country’s intelligence agencies, managed to place their favorites in key positions in the economy.

The twins hope to destroy this network of former party cadres, big business and the Mafia, thereby making good on one of their campaign promises. Not only do they have post-communist careerists in their sights, but also former members of the opposition, such as the group of intellectuals led by publisher Adam Michnik. In their view, Michnik’s newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, promoted a policy of deliberately glossing over the past for 18 years, thereby enabling the communists to return to positions of power. The term the twins use for the alliance that they believe dominated the Third Republic is “the pact.”

Elsewhere, EarthTimes news has an item on how Poland’s recently reformed Military Intelligence Service (WSI) significantly overstepped its jurisdiction by infiltrating political parties, the media and state-owned companies up for privatization.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mini-Poll in Chechnya

Prague Watchdog has a mini-survey of Chechen opinion on the recent change of presidents. An excerpt with views from both sides of the political spectrum:

Zaur, a programmer from Grozny, supports Kadyrov's appointment to the post of President.

Zaur: "Right now it's important for Kadyrov not to slacken the pace he has set. He won't put up with any reduction in activity. And the fact that he still bears the 'acting' prefix is not without significance. After all, nothing is as eternal as what is called temporary. I'm sure that Putin wants him to be the official President."

Rizvan, a local journalist, takes an entirely opposite view.

Rizvan: “For Kadyrov it's very dangerous to be without a goal to strive for. Well, so suppose he becomes President, then what? Hasn't he been Chechnya's sole master? Of course he has. But now that it's been made official, he's going to feel the hypochondria of the man who has everything, and he won't know what to strive for any more. You only have to take a look at his career. He's been his father's bodyguard, chief of his father's security service, deputy prime minister, prime minister, and now he's acting President. But what comes next? If he stops, or calms down, he'll become just like all his many contemporaries - grey and obscure, because all the things he's supposed to have achieved aren't down to him but to the authority of his father and the Kremlin's desire to have its finger on the fulcrum of power in Chechnya. And Kadyrov is that fulcrum. His main worry is going to be how to cope with the load, which will get heavier with the passage of time."

The Victory Symbol

Mari-Ann Kelam comments on the recent and current controversy surrounding the removal of the Soviet war monument in the Estonian capital, Tallinn:

So often the media emphasis is on what Estonia is or is not doing with the Soviet victory symbol. The focus should be on Russia and its behaviour in this situation. With its vacillating the current Estonian coalition government (Reform, Center and People’s parties) has not handled the problem at all well. But when you really think about it, why should a huge country like Russia raise such a protest, threaten a small neighboring sovereign nation to retain one Soviet statue, a reminder of 50 years of occupation?

Absurd on the face of it, but this shows clearly how today’s Russia is still very much living in and glorifying its Soviet past. Putin’s Cold War style speech in Munich just confirms the situation. The late and greatly mourned Alexander Yakovlev wrote in his book “A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia” (in 2002 even before many of Putin’s undemocratic moves): “And today’s Bolsheviks are still capable pf curtailing the country’s democratic development and throwing it back into the cesspool. I am convinced that only a consistent de-Bolshevization of the state and society can save our people from final ruin, both physical and spiritual.”

In his book Yakovlev indicts the Soviet system from its inception, focussing chapter by chapter on different groups of victims, including children, peasants, the intelligentsia, the churches and religious believers, forced laborers, Mensheviks, and Jews. In all he estimates that 60 million citizens were killed during the Soviet years and thay millions more died of starvation - an incredible overview of the Soviet Union’s years of terror.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Friday, February 16, 2007


In Chechnya Weekly, Andrei Smirnov comments on the “Potemkinization” of the Chechnya conflict:

In the part of his speech that mentioned Chechnya, Vladimir Putin explained that the Russian strategy in the region was to transfer “the responsibility for ensuring security almost 100 percent to the Chechen people.” In reality, this does not equate to an end of the conflict, but is simply an attempt to transform it into a civil war, with Chechens killing Chechens. That is the main aim of the Kremlin’s Chechenization policy.

And, with Putin’s appointment of Ramzan Kadyrov as acting president of Chechnya, this process has just advanced one stage further.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Trepashkin Interview

On March 9, Mikhail Trepashkin’s appeal will be heard by a court in Nizhny Tagil (Sverdlovsk Oblast). Trepashkin, a former FSB official who is serving a 4-year jail sentence for allegedly disclosing state secrets, and who is a witness of major importance in the Litvinenko poisoning case, has given an interview to The New Times in which he describes how the FSB proposed that he take part in the liquidation of Litvinenko. has published some excerpts from the interview. Asked why the special services chose such a complicated plan for eliminating Litvinenko, Trepashkin replies [my tr.]:
I think it was carelessness in the work of the agents who carried out the murder, and also the organizer’s intention to kill the agents along with Litvinenko, and also Litvinenko’s family, Berezovsky and Zakayev (while they were at it). It’s possible that the agents didn’t know about the possible consequences for themselves and the environment. I think they calculated that the cause of death would never be precisely established as polonium.

You can draw your own conclusions. But I will add the following. Back in 2001, when I telephoned Litvinenko in London for the first time on Shebalin’s request (on behalf of the FSB, as he explained), I asked him if he was going to write a new book, where he was working and with whom, and he replied that he had a job as a postman in the mornings. Then, some time later, Shebalin expressed the view that it would be a good thing to send him (Litvinenko) a letter containing powder. There was a lot being written about such letters in the States at the time.
(via Marius)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Russia's Great-Power Strategy

Via Stratfor:

Russia’s Great-Power Strategy

By George Friedman

Most speeches at diplomatic gatherings aren’t worth the time it takes to listen to them. On rare occasion, a speech is delivered that needs to be listened to carefully. Russian President Vladimir Putin gave such a speech over the weekend in Munich, at a meeting on international security. The speech did not break new ground; it repeated things that the Russians have been saying for quite a while. But the venue in which it was given and the confidence with which it was asserted signify a new point in Russian history. The Cold War has not returned, but Russia is now officially asserting itself as a great power, and behaving accordingly.

At Munich, Putin launched a systematic attack on the role the United States is playing in the world. He said: “One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way … This is nourishing an arms race with the desire of countries to get nuclear weapons.” In other words, the United States has gone beyond its legitimate reach and is therefore responsible for attempts by other countries — an obvious reference to Iran — to acquire nuclear weapons.

Russia for some time has been in confrontation with the United States over U.S. actions in the former Soviet Union (FSU). What the Russians perceive as an American attempt to create a pro-U.S. regime in Ukraine triggered the confrontation. But now, the issue goes beyond U.S. actions in the FSU. The Russians are arguing that the unipolar world — meaning that the United States is the only global power and is surrounded by lesser, regional powers — is itself unacceptable. In other words, the United States sees itself as the solution when it is, actually, the problem.

In his speech, Putin reached out to European states — particularly Germany, pointing out that it has close, but blunt, relations with Russia. The Central Europeans showed themselves to be extremely wary about Putin’s speech, recognizing it for what it was — a new level of assertiveness from an historical enemy. Some German leaders appeared more understanding, however: Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier made no mention of Putin’s speech in his own presentation to the conference, while Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee, praised Putin’s stance on Iran. He also noted that the U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic was cause for concern — and not only to Russia.

Putin now clearly wants to escalate the confrontations with the United States and likely wants to build a coalition to limit American power. The gross imbalance of global power in the current system makes such coalition-building inevitable — and it makes sense that the Russians should be taking the lead. The Europeans are risk-averse, and the Chinese do not have much at risk in their dealings with the United States at the moment. The Russians, however, have everything at risk. The United States is intruding in the FSU, and an ideological success for the Americans in Ukraine would leave the Russians permanently on the defensive.

The Russians need allies but are not likely to find them among other great-power states. Fortunately for Moscow, the U.S. obsession with Iraq creates alternative opportunities. First, the focus on Iraq prevents the Americans from countering Russia elsewhere. Second, it gives the Russians serious leverage against the United States — for example, by shipping weapons to key players in the region. Finally, there are Middle Eastern states that seek great-power patronage. It is therefore no accident that Putin’s next stop, following the Munich conference, was in Saudi Arabia. Having stabilized the situation in the former Soviet region, the Russians now are constructing their follow-on strategy, and that concerns the Middle East.

The Russian Interests

The Middle East is the pressure point to which the United States is most sensitive. Its military commitment in Iraq, the confrontation with Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and oil in the Arabian Peninsula create a situation such that pain in the region affects the United States intensely. Therefore, it makes sense for the Russians to use all available means of pressure in the Middle East in efforts to control U.S. behavior elsewhere, particularly in the former Soviet Union.

Like the Americans, the Russians also have direct interests in the Middle East. Energy is a primary one: Russia is not only a major exporter of energy supplies, it is currently the world’s top oil producer. The Russians have a need to maintain robust energy prices, and working with the Iranians and Saudis in some way to achieve this is directly in line with Moscow’s interest. To be more specific, the Russians do not want the Saudis increasing oil production.

There are strategic interests in the Middle East as well. For example, the Russians are still bogged down in Chechnya. It is Moscow’s belief that if Chechnya were to secede from the Russian Federation, a precedent would be set that could lead to the dissolution of the Federation. Moscow will not allow this. The Russians consistently have claimed that the Chechen rebellion has been funded by “Wahhabis,” by which they mean Saudis. Reaching an accommodation with the Saudis, therefore, would have not only economic, but also strategic, implications for the Russians.

On a broader level, the Russians retain important interests in the Caucasus and in Central Asia. In both cases, their needs intersect with forces originating in the Muslim world and trace, to some extent, back to the Middle East. If the Russian strategy is to reassert a sphere of influence in the former Soviet region, it follows that these regions must be secured. That, in turn, inevitably involves the Russians in the Middle East.

Therefore, even if Russia is not in a position to pursue some of the strategic goals that date back to the Soviet era and before — such as control of the Bosporus and projection of naval power into the Mediterranean — it nevertheless has a basic, ongoing interest in the region. Russia has a need both to limit American power and to achieve direct goals of its own. So it makes perfect sense for Putin to leave Munich and embark on a tour of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries.

The Complexities

But the Russians also have a problem. The strategic interests of Middle Eastern states diverge, to say the least. The two main Islamic powers between the Levant and the Hindu Kush are Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Russians have things they want from each, but the Saudis and Iranians have dramatically different interests. Saudi Arabia — an Arab and primarily Sunni kingdom — is rich but militarily weak. The government’s reliance on outside help for national defense generates intense opposition within the kingdom. Desert Storm, which established a basing arrangement for Western troops within Saudi Arabia, was one of the driving forces behind the creation of al Qaeda. Iran — a predominantly Persian and Shiite power — is not nearly as rich as Saudi Arabia but militarily much more powerful. Iran seeks to become the dominant power in the Persian Gulf — out of both its need to defend itself against aggression, and for controlling and exploiting the oil wealth of the region.

Putting the split between Sunni and Shiite aside for the moment, there is tremendous geopolitical asymmetry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia wants to limit Iranian power, while keeping its own dependence on foreign powers at a minimum. That means that, though keeping energy prices high might make financial sense for the kingdom, the fact that high energy prices also strengthen the Iranians actually can be a more important consideration, depending on circumstances. There is some evidence that recent declines in oil prices are linked to decisions in Riyadh that are aimed at increasing production, reducing prices and hurting the Iranians.

This creates a problem for Russia. While Moscow has substantial room for maneuver, the fact is that lowered oil prices impact energy prices overall, and therefore hurt the Russians. The Saudis, moreover, need the Iranians blocked — but without going so far as to permit foreign troops to be based in Saudi Arabia itself. In other words, they want to see the United States remain in Iraq, since the Americans serve as the perfect shield against the Iranians so long as they remain there. Putin’s criticisms of the United States, as delivered in Munich, would have been applauded by Saudi Arabia prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But in 2007, the results of that invasion are exactly what the Saudis feared — a collapsed Iraq and a relatively powerful Iran. The Saudis now need the Americans to stay put in the region.

The interests of Russia and Iran align more closely, but there are points of divergence there as well. Both benefit from having the United States tied up, militarily and politically, in wars, but Tehran would be delighted to see a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq that leaves a power vacuum for Iran to fill. The Russians would rather not see this outcome. First, they are quite happy to have the United States bogged down in Iraq and would prefer that to having the U.S. military freed for operations elsewhere. Second, they are interested in a relationship with Iran but are not eager to drive the United States and Saudi Arabia into closer relations. Third, the Russians do not want to see Iran become the dominant power in the region. They want to use Iran, but within certain manageable limits.

Russia has been supplying Iran with weapons. Of particular significance is the supply of surface-to-air missiles that would raise the cost of U.S. air operations against Iran. It is not clear whether the advanced S300PMU surface-to-air missile has yet been delivered, although there has been some discussion of this lately. If it were delivered, this would present significant challenges for U.S. air operation over Iran. The Russians would find this particularly advantageous, as the Iranians would absorb U.S. attentions and, as in Vietnam, the Russians would benefit from extended, fruitless commitments of U.S. military forces in regions not vital to Russia.

Meanwhile, there are energy matters: The Russians, as we have said, are interested in working with Iran to manage world oil prices. But at the same time, they would not be averse to a U.S. attack that takes Iran’s oil off the market, spikes prices and enriches Russia.

Finally, it must be remembered that behind this complex relationship with Iran, there historically has been animosity and rivalry between the two countries. The Caucasus has been their battleground. For the moment, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is a buffer there, but it is a buffer in which Russians and Iranians are already dueling. So long as both states are relatively weak, the buffer will maintain itself. But as they get stronger, the Caucasus will become a battleground again. When Russian and Iranian territories border each other, the two powers are rarely at peace. Indeed, Iran frequently needs outside help to contain the Russians.

A Complicated Strategy

In sum, the Russian position in the Middle East is at least as complex as the American one. Or perhaps even more so, since the Americans can leave and the Russians always will live on the doorstep of the Middle East. Historically, once the Russians start fishing in Middle Eastern waters, they find themselves in a greater trap than the Americans. The opening moves are easy. The duel between Saudi Arabia and Iran seems manageable. But as time goes on, Putin’s Soviet predecessors learned, the Middle East is a graveyard of ambitions — and not just American ambitions.

Russia wants to contain U.S. power, and manipulating the situation in the Middle East certainly will cause the Americans substantial pain. But whatever short-term advantages the Russians may be able to find and exploit in the region, there is an order of complexity in Putin’s maneuver that might transcend any advantage they gain from boxing the Americans in.

In returning to “great power” status, Russia is using an obvious opening gambit. But being obvious does not make it optimal.

Analysis Comments -

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Hate Speech in Ukraine - II

A reader has drawn my attention to a 2003 posting on the chechnya-sl list, where the same communist politician responsible for the attack on gays and lesbians in Ukraine is seen claiming that “Chechen boyeviks” have seized the Crimea...

See also: Hate speech by high-ranking politician in Ukraine

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Torture on TV

“Remember when only villains on TV tortured?” asks Human Rights First. “Today, American heroes on TV dramas like ‘24′ and ‘Lost’ routinely use torture to save the day.”

The flier notes that “These shows are intended as entertainment. But their impact is anything but fictional: Junior soldiers have imitated the interrogation techniques they have seen on television - on the notion that they work.”

The organization has set up a website,, where it’s possible to learn more and sign up for a film about this vexed question, due to be released in spring.

Hate Speech by High Ranking Politician in Ukraine


Hate speech by high ranking politician in Ukraine

February 10, 2007Kyiv, Ukraine

NASH MIR (Our World) Gay and Lesbian Center

P.O. Box 173, Kyiv,

02100, Ukraine


Tel/fax: +380-44-573-54-24

Contact person: Mr. Andriy Maymulakhin, Coordinator

Media Release

Leader of Committee on Human Rights of the Ukrainian Parliament names homosexual people “perverts” and calls for a fight against them

In November, 2006 the Head of the Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and International Relations of the Supreme Council (Parliament) of Ukraine, communist Mr. Leonid Grach in an interview stated that “homosexuality is an anomaly, which is caused by the amorality and the depravity of man”. He expressed confidence that the present Parliament will not vote for a law legalizing same-sex families and permitting them to adopt children. According to his opinion, in the next Parliament this question will not be raised at all, “and we (in Ukraine) will have a healthy society”.

In reply to his statement Ukrainian organizations of gays and lesbians addressed a letter to Mr. Grach in which we called for him to respect and protect the rights of homosexual people. However, Mr. Grach not only didn’t change his attitude, he recently expressed new insults toward homosexuals.

On February 9, 2007 in particular he said: “Me and my colleagues in the Parliament have to defend society from infringements upon morality, and not admit into the consciousness and souls of people of any age the thought that the state is on the side of the people who are sowing debauchery, propagandising for dissoluteness, for sexual permissiveness, and for bringing the abomination of seduction into society”. In the opinion of Leonid Grach, the “state must protect society from an evil, from violence, including such evil as homosexuality, lesbianism and suchlike others”. The MP considers that Ukrainians must observe the norms of moral cleanness, “bequeathed to us from ancient times by orthodox ancestors”.

We consider that such public statements by a high ranking politician, whose duty it is to protect human rights, are simply inadmissible in civilized democratic society.

We call upon you to draw the attention of your governments to this dangerous situation — and to demand from Ukrainian authorities that they observe and respect the rights of homosexual people equally with other members of broad society. We also ask you to send your letters of protest to Mr. Leonid Grach, and also to Victor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine and to Olexandr Moroz, Chairman of Ukrainian Parliament. Thank you.

Addresses for letters of protest:

Mr. Leonid Grach

Chairman of the Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and International Relations of the Supreme Council (Parliament) of Ukraine

5 Grushevs’kogo Str.

Kyiv 01008, Ukraine


Fax: +380-44-255-40-68, +380-44-255-49-02

Mr. Victor YushchenkoPresident of Ukraine

11 Bankova Str.

Kyiv 01220, Ukraine

Send e-mail from

Telephone: +380-44-226-20-77

Mr. Olexandr Moroz

Chairman of the Supreme Council (Parliament) of Ukraine

5 Grushevs’kogo Str.

Kyiv 01008, Ukraine


Fax: +380-44-255-36-45

Strange, but True

From the FT:

It’s lucky for Vladimir Putin that the disorganised Polish government didn’t send anybody senior to the Munich security conference where the Russian president unleashed an attack on the US.

If Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s prime minister, had been in the Bavarian capital, fisticuffs could have taken place between the two leaders, according to Marek Kuchinski, parliamentary leader of the ruling Law and Justice party.

It’s unclear how the diminutive and portly Polish premier would have fared against the Russian judo black belt.

That said, Putin may have been spared a worse fate by the absence of Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s freshly dismissed defence minister, who once joined with the Mujahideen resistance during a 1987 reporting trip to Afghanistan covering the Soviet invasion.

(via Marius)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Deportation Day Events

Prague Watchdog has posted its February calendar of upcoming Chechnya-related events in Europe and America. These include many commemorations of Deportation Day, which marks the anniversary of February 23 1944, the date on which Stalin deported the entire Chechen and Ingush population to Siberia and Central Asia.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Ethnic Rights Activist Severely Beaten in Russia's Mari Republic


Ethnic rights activist severely beaten in Russia’s Mari Republic


Galina Kozlova, a member of the board of the Mari Ushem (Mari Union) organisation was attacked and severely beaten in Yoshkar Ola, the capital of the Russian Mari El Republic.The Mari Republic is located about 860 kilometres east of Moscow, and is part of the Russian Federation. The ethnic Mari, whose language is in the same Finno-Ugric group of languages as Finnish, comprise a 40 per cent minority in the republic of 728,000 inhabitants.The Mari have complained of severe oppression by local officials.

According to the website, Kozlova was sprayed with a nerve gas and kicked in the head. She continues to suffer from head injuries and has problems with her eyesight. She is being cared for at the neurology ward of the Yoshkar Ola city hospital.The attacker tried to take Kozlova’s purse, which contained documents of Mari Ushem, as well as a manuscript by a Mari writer, and some money.

According to Mari Ushem, the attack could not have been a mere robbery attempt. The organisation is demanding that local officials investigate the crime.

The husband of Galina Kozlova, museum director Vladimir Kozlov, is the chairman of the Mari Council. He was assaulted in February 2005.In May last year Russian officials prevented Vladimir Kozlov from visiting Finland. Kozlov was taken off a train in Vyborg and his passport was confiscated.In October Kozlov was allowed to travel to Finland to take part in a seminar organised by the Student Union of the University of Helsinki on problems faced by non-governmental organisations. At that time he sounded an optimistic note, pointing out that no representatives of the Mari opposition have been the target of an assault for over a year.

Source: Helsingin Sanomat

On the photo, taken from Valentin Kolumb museum, Galina Kozlova is second from the left.

"Mass Psychosis" Was Poisoning

A report from Kavkazskiy uzel (Caucasian Knot) discloses that the strange illness which was contracted by two groups of Chechen children in recent months, and was diagnosed as “mass psychosis” by Russian psychiatrists, turns out to have actually been caused by poisoning:

Elena Shelchenko, the head physician of the sanatorium “Nart,” has told the correspondent of the “Caucasian Knot” that the following symptoms were observed in children: weakness, fever, asphyxia and faints. Sometimes - hysterics, acute cramp and convulsions. Frequently - hallucinations, numbness of extremities,
nasal bleeding. During the attacks, suicide attempts were observed.

Some children were examined at the Serbskiy Institute of Forensic Psychiatry and diagnosed as “mass psychosis.”

After a careful examination of the children, the doctors came to the conclusion that the case was chronic intoxication of organism with a dominating defeat of the gastrointestinal tract and liver (in 35 children, chronic cholecystitis and toxic hepatitis were identified), and diffused liver changes.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Eurasianism: a Link to the Soviet Past

In Chechnya Weekly, Marlene Laruelle writes about the Eurasianist philosophy of Alexander Dugin and its relation to Russian government policy in Chechnya and the North Caucasus. In doing so she shows, among other things, that the Kremlin’s current moves towards a rapprochement with Asia may be influenced by thinking that derives not only from Dugin’s mystical ideology, but also from the distinctly unmystical and realpolitik-based heritage of Russia’s Soviet past. An excerpt from the conclusion:

It is difficult to determine the real influence that Dugin’s ideas have on the Kremlin. His Center for Geopolitical Expertise claims to be working for the Presidential Administration, the government, the Federation Council and the Duma. Dugin may have also written analytical briefs and contributed to the development of Russia’s national security doctrine. He appears to have ties to Kremlin “strategist” and Presidential Administration Advisor Gleb Pavlovski. Therefore, it is possible that his stance on Chechnya has been adopted by certain individuals within the Kremlin. Indeed, his convictions on how the federal structure should be reorganized correspond to the changes being implemented by Putin (e.g. reducing the autonomy given to national republics by merging them into larger regional unities; reaffirming Chechen society’s right to religious and cultural but not to political autonomy). However, Dugin is not the only one to have considered these questions. Yevgeny Primakov, for example, has expressed a desire for rapprochement with Asian countries, and, in particular, with the India-China-Iran triangle. This desire itself harks back to former Soviet traditions still present, for example, in Russian Orientalist milieus. So although Dugin holds views on this subject similar to those expressed by Primakov, the latter is inspired by a “great power” Soviet culture, not by Dugin. It is therefore probable that the “polit-technologs” of the Presidential Administration are also inspired by such Soviet traditions internal to Party and State apparatuses and not simply by Dugin himself.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Berezovsky Interview


LONDON, February 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) — Exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky has broken his silence on the case of his friend Aleksandr Litvinenko, the former Russian security officers who died in a London hospital in November after receiving a fatal dose of the radioactive isotope polonium-210. Natalya Golitsyna, the London correspondent for RFE/RL’s Russian Service, spoke on February 6 to Berezovsky about his claims that Litvinenko himself implicated a fellow former security officer, Andrei Lugovoi, in his poisoning.

RFE/RL: When did Litvinenko first tell you about his suspicions?

Boris Berezovsky: The first time I went to see Sasha in the hospital after his poisoning — at that time, you’ll remember, they were actively discussing the theory that [Italian security consultant Mario] Scaramella was involved — he said to me: “Boris, you know, I have a theory which I won’t announce publicly, but which is the truth. I met with Lugovoi on the day that I got sick [November 1]. Not just with him — [Dmitry] Kovtun and another person, whom I was meeting for the first time, were also there. I believe that it was these people who poisoned me.”

Honestly, I was surprised. The information that Lugovoi had participated was unexpected. Moreover, exactly one day earlier — on October 31st — [Lugovoi] had come to see me in my office. We even shared a bottle of white wine between the two of us. And I mean “between the two of us” literally, because there was no one else there. And so what happened to Sasha the next day, and the fact that Sasha then suspected it was Lugovoi who was mixed up in the poisoning — of course, for me it was completely unexpected.

Do I believe this or not? After all the difficulties I’ve experienced in recent years, I know it’s not possible to simply rule this out. What’s more, of course, my suspicions have recently grown much stronger. Because there’s a very simple way for Lugovoi to eliminate all the suspicion about him — just get on a plane and fly here to Great Britain and voluntarily go to Scotland Yard. My experience with the English legal system shows that if you’re sure you’re in the right, then not even the smallest chance exists that that you’ll be subjected to illegal prosecution, that you’ll become just a victim of legal arbitrariness.

RFE/RL: Did Litvinenko explain what his suspicions were based on?

Berezovsky: Yes, Sasha explained. He said that clearly there was no such thing as “formers” — meaning ex-employees of the KGB and the FSB. He believed that Lugovoi was simply fulfilling an order. The first stage was to get close to Sasha, to pique his interest with some information; the second stage was simply to fulfill the order — to kill him. After [Russian President Vladimir] Putin signed the decree — this was seven-eight months ago — pemitting the special services to kill, without judgment or consequence, so-called enemies of the regime abroad who in fact are simply political opponents, Sasha said to me many times that we were first on the list — him, [London-exiled Chechen separatist envoy Akhmed] Zakayev, me. The “hit list” didn’t stop there, but we were the first.

RFE/RL: Assuming Lugovoi was capable of such a thing, why didn’t he attempt to poison you with polonium as well? He had an opportunity when the two of you shared a bottle of wine, after all.

Berezovsky: You’re completely correct in noticing this: the risks that Sasha faced, that I and Akhmed Zakayev face, are the same. This naturally prompts the question of why they killed Sasha and not me. I can only guess. Questions like that should be put not to me, but to the person who gave Lugovoi his orders. It has yet to be proven that Lugovoi was in fact the person who did it. Sasha stated his suspicions. Lugovoi, by being afraid to come here — I’m using precisely that word, “afraid” — is simply increasing those suspicions.

But I think there were reasons why it was Sasha, and why it was now. Sasha had been telling me what operations he was engaged in at the time — not actual operations, but the people on whom he was gathering very serious evidence of participation in criminal dealings. Knowing Sasha, I understood that this was in fact very serious, because he was truly a very good operative

RFE/RL: How long have you known Lugovoi?

Berezovsky: Lugovoi emerged at the time when Yegor Gaidar ceased to be [acting] prime minister [in late 1992]. Before that, Lugovoi, as far as I understand, was the head of Gaidar’s security. It was Yegor Gaidar who recommended Lugovoi to me as a decent, honest person capable of taking charge of my personal security. After I met Andrei, he did in fact build the system I needed. There were a lot of former employees of the KGB and the [KGB’s] 9th Directorate [which provided personal security for high-ranking officials] among my security guards, including Lugovoi himself.

Then Badri [Patarkatsishvili, my longtime friend and partner, offered Lugovoi the post of security chief at ORT [television], at that huge organization. It was Lugovoi who organized ORT’s security. After he assumed that position, my ties with him sort of weakened, but he was always in sight. We talked occasionally, and rather productively.

So I talked to him when he [first] came to London, about three months before [these events]. My daughter was about to go to Russia, and I asked Lugovoi to organize her security. And so he did. Essentially, when he came to London [last time] and we met on [October] 31, I wanted to thank him for organizing my daughter’s security.

RFE/RL: What is the goal of the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office in insisting on questioning more than 100 people in London?

Berezovsky: Let’s start from the beginning. First of all, it is clear that the Prosecutor-General’s Office is an absolutely criminal, gangster organization that serves as an instrument of supressing people who essentially have the same mentality as Putin and others sitting in the Kremlin. This is exactly what can help you understand the purpose of their request and their inquiry.
Let’s look at it this way. We know that Scotland Yard has completed its investigation. It is clear that the investigation was conducted in a professional and unbiased manner. Judging by information leaked to the press, I have the impression that Scotland Yard knows who committed this crime and they know very well who is behind it — that is, the [Russian] state machine. The [Russian] Prosecutor-General’s Office is well aware of it too, so their actions are a diversion tactic. They know who actually contracted and carried out this crime. They know not only as much as the investigators of Scotland Yard, but a lot more, because they have had access to information firsthand.

My attitude to this is very simple. I will do anything that helps Scotland Yard, even if it presents a risk to myself. Therefore, I’ve said I’m ready to meet with representatives of the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office if it helps Scotland Yard’s investigation. Russia is blackmailing Scotland Yard in this case. [Russian officials] say they will allow questioning [in Russia] if [Britain] allows [Russia] to question [people in Britain]. I said, fine, they can question me if it helps Scotland Yard find those who killed my friend.

In this regard my position is not different from that of Aleksandr Litvinenko’s wife, Marina. We will not allow the investigation to be stopped and we will go to the end to seek out the criminals.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Chechen Themes

Prague Watchdog continues its set of publications in the Chechen Society Today series. The latest issue of the magazine (in Russian, 1(9)/2007) contains features on a number of interrelated themes that include extremism, memory, music, history, and the Chechen diaspora.

Said-Khamzat Gerikhanov reports on the current situation in the Karelian town of Kondopoga, where a judicial inquiry has begun into the riots that broke out in the town last August and September. Gerikhanov interviews Murad Musayev, a Moscow lawyer who is defending the Chechens accused of murdering two local residents.

Another item presents personal memories of a Grozny that no longer exists, in a moving description of an imaginary journey by tramcar through the city’s streets and thoroughfares, stop by stop past the colleges, theatres, concert halls, statues and other landmarks that once adorned it.

In the book pages, Asya Israilova writes about the young Chechen author Adam Salamov, and there’s a feature on children’s writing, including a review of a new anthology of the stories of Hans Christian Andersen in Chechen translation.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Conversation - Note

The translation of Natalya Mozgovaya’s interview with Marina Litvinenko is now complete, though it probably needs some editing.

For the sake of convenience at some point soon I’ll aim to post the whole thing in one continuous block.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Conversation - XV


How do you plan to live in future?

"It's still quite hard for me to say. For him, life was in Tolya and in me. And now I have to do for Tolya what Sasha wanted. Sasha was very proud when Tolya began to speak English, was always asking him to say things in English. Then Tolya got into a very good school. Sasha was very fond of giving Tolya presents, he spoiled him more than I did. When Tolya realized he wasn't going to get something from me, he'd run to his father. They really liked going shopping, going round the stores together. They'd go to museums together. Sasha was a very good athlete - he did the pentathlon, and also horse-riding, shooting, fencing, running and swimming. That year Tolya took up fencing - Sasha had dreamed about it. He used to go to those lessons with Tolya, and he was totally happy. He said: 'When I retire on my pension I'm going to open a fencing school.' They went to the swimming pool, talked about when they'd start running. Sasha couldn't live without running. Even when he was already in hospital, no one was able to explain to me how a completely healthy person, even if he did have a rare gastrointestinal disorder, could look that bad. He looked twice his age, and no one could explain it to me. He himself said: 'Up until November I could run 10 kilometres in a very short tie. And look at me now - well, is that food poisoning?'"

They're saying that someone in Hollywood has acquired the film rights to one of his books.

"This issue began to blow up only a few days ago. I don't know what that film will be like, it obviously won't be about Sasha, just some kind of story. Perhaps to some extent it's right that this story which has shaken the whole world shouldn't just vanish without trace. And if my participation is required, I'm ready, though I never had any plans to for that. Perhaps Sasha's new book will be published, with some sort of participation on my part. If I can preserve Sasha's memory in some way, write that book - I will do that, though I've have never had a wish to be famous. When Sasha was on show, I always kept in the shadow, tried not to be photographed. The first photograph appeared by chance, six years ago, when we'd only just arrived, and for a long time that was the only photograph that appeared in the British newspapers, because there weren't any others."

How is your son coping?

"Tolya has this amazing ability, it's not so much that he tries not to dramatize the situtaion, he just tries to behave naturally. For example, in the hospital he didn't sit looking at Sasha in shock and horror, but behaved normally, asked questions now and then. And now, of course, he has a lot of questions, but he doesn't put them to me. And every time he finds me in tears, he makes an effort and says: "Mum, is everything all right?' He thinks he doesn't give me enough support. I really feel awkward just now, making this problem for people, because it's very difficult to find words in cases like this. Last year a little girl died of heart failure at a dancing lesson - I looked at her mother at the time and was surprised - my God, how much strength and courage one needs, having lost one's daughter, to try not to create awkward situations for the people around one. Now I understand her well - I see how much people loved Sasha, how much they valued him - and I'm so grateful to them... Both in England and in Russia - even the people who seemed to break off contact with us. I don't accuse them, because for some people after we left Russia it turned out to be not without danger, some people had their business... It only underlines once again how people in Russia lack freedom, even in the choice of who to make friends with."

See also:
Conversation - II
Conversation - III
Conversation - IV
Conversation - V
Conversation - VI
Conversation - VII
Conversation - VIII
Conversation - IX
Conversation - X
Conversation - XI
Conversation - XII
Conversation - XIII
Conversation - XIV

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Conversation - XIV


What theory are you inclined to believe? Was it revenge for something in the past, or was it related to something he’d got mixed up in more recently? There was even a story in the press that he’d helped to make a “dirty bomb”, either for the Chechens or for Al Qaeda.

‘Well, it was dreadful when those insinuations began, when Yulia Svetlichnaya made those statements - I saw her at our house. Sasha invited her once, because she was writing a book. When she began to say that Sasha bombarded her with email messages - I mean, Sasha distributed messages to all his friends, sent them to hundreds of addresses. He believed that if you possessed information, you should share it, especially if it was something someone had written about Russia. And if you didn’t like it, then you could simply delete it, or start blocking it. But that statement, that interview about how he might have sold information and blackmailed businessmen, the FSB - that was totally absurd, it went against everything Sasha had ever done. Perhaps that was the real trouble - he was always open and frank. At the press conference he sat with his face uncovered, he didn’t wear dark glasses or a mask. If he wrote articles, he signed them with his own name, even if he didn’t need to. It was all on public record. As they once said, the system doesn’t forgive - and they will reach and punish anyone, in order to teach a lesson to others who might take it into their heads to speak openly. Anya Politkovskaya…. that was also a lesson, that it’s forbidden to write like that. Sasha was never a spy, he never sold out any interests. He was a regular employee of the FSB, with secrets of a completely different kind.”

Did he really convert to Islam before his death?

“He expressed that wish. But I don’t think it was dictated by religious motives - it was more of an emotional impulse. A lot of things happened at the hospital during those days, and Zakayev was one of his close friends; that was why Sasha expressed the desire to be buried next to him. I insisted that the funeral should be a civil one, but I allowed Akhmed to bring his Muslim friends so that everyone could say goodbye to Sasha as they thought fit.”

The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office recently issued a statement saying that one of their suspects is Leonid Nevzlin, and that the poisonings have a connection with Yukos.

“I can’t comment on an investigation that’s in progress, but my attitude to the law enforcement agencies in Russia is mostly one of distrust. I’m not going to make an appraisal of their activity, but it’s a pity that instead of searching for the real killers they are busying themselves with settling scores with their political opponents.”

You yourself are not afraid?

“I’ve never once in all this time felt a desire to run away or hide somewhere, take cover. If you start looking round every time you enter a doorway, you might as well just die… It was a happy experience for me when, after a week of the mourning, Tolya went back to school again. And no, I can’t say that I’ve felt any heightened sense of danger. I’ve felt a sense of gratitude to Britain, to the people who have treated us this way… The support we’ve received on every level. I am totally grateful for what the British police are doing. As the wife of an operative, I’m able to appreciate the way in which those people are working. They work day and night, they work very seriously. They’ve carried out tests on every millimetre of our home. And anything they thought was impossible to clean up or presented a danger to life - it’s been possible for them to take all that away. And if they ask for something, I help them. If they request me not to talk about certain questions, I take my first guidance from them. Right from the outset they told me that no political directives can influence their work, and I believe them. Because for them it’s a matter of principle, to find out who killed Sasha, and why.”

(to be continued)

See also: Conversation
Conversation - II
Conversation - III
Conversation - IV
Conversation - V
Conversation - VI
Conversation - VII
Conversation - VIII
Conversation - IX
Conversation - X
Conversation - XI
Conversation - XII
Conversation - XIII

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Conversation - XIII


There wasn’t any panic?

“In my case - no. I realized that I’d been in very close contact with Sasha, and next day they gave us all blood tests - me, Tolya, and Sasha’s father. And for four days, as I waited for the result of the test, the thing I feared most of all was that Tolya might lose another parent. Of course during those days I tried to listen to myself, to check whether anything had changed in me. When they asked me questions about whether I felt nausea, whether I had a sore throat… When they brought the results of the tests, it turned out that a certain minimal dose [of radiation] was present in me, but it wouldn’t affect my health in the near future, and might only increase my risk of contracting cancer by one percent. At that point I felt a bit better.”

What did you talk about during the final days?

“He didn’t want me to go leave, always asked me to massage his feet, because he’d stopped having any sensation in them - he would say: ‘Marinochka, when I get out of here I’ll give you a massage every day.’ We talked about the holiday we’d take when it was all over. We didn’t discuss the issue of the poisoning very much, because he’d started to give evidence, and he obviously told the investigators a lot more than he told me, because he didn’t want to overload me. He said there was something suspicious about the meetings he’d had that day - but he couldn’t accuse any of the people he’d talked to directly - after all, it wasn’t as though he didn’t know those people at all. It’s true that according to him Scaramella behaved very strangely. And at the second meeting, with Lugovoy, there were some men he didn’t know. The first reports that appeared in the press pointed to Mario Scaramella.”

Did you know him?

“I met him once. We used to talk on the phone. Sasha said that the meeting he had with him was completely unnecessary, and Scaramella’s behaviour was very strange, nervous. And that document he tried to show him - why couldn’t he just have sent it, by email, for example? Perhaps Scaramella felt there was a threat to his life, and that’s why he was so nervous. And when Sasha looked at the document he thought it was nonsense - there was something not right about it. But I think Sasha analysed something else as well. He didn’t tell me what it was - he apparently thought he would get well again and sort the matter out himself.”

In the letter that was published after his death, your husband placed the blame on Putin.

“That has a very loud resonance in political terms, of course. I can’t speak so harshly of a specific person. The only thing I can say is that the present leadership of Russia has created a situation in which it’s possible to kill people with impunity. And since Putin, the Russian President, is the man who constructed this vertical of power, it could not have been done behind his back. But the question of who technically carried it out is now less important. You see, like women whose husbands are in prison or who were murdered on someone’s orders, I have my own attitude towards Putin which is different from that of some female citizen of Russia who sits watching TV while her drunken husband snores at her side. For she looks at Putin, and says, what a wonderful man - he doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t beat his wife. You see, I have my own view of him, but my opinion of Putin changes nothing.

“I mean, they waited six years for this moment, in order to get him, to show that you can’t get away from them, even if you’re already a British subject. And no one knows how many other people have also suffered. I don’t know whether they’d intended to carry out such an open action, or whether they didn’t bother to clear up the trail, thinking he’d be dead before anyone managed to discover anything, and that they’d say the man had died of an intestinal disorder. The chaos that began after the break-up of the Soviet Union, and the uncontrolled export of radioactive substances - perhaps the people who poisoned Sasha weren’t fully responsible, didn’t have a proper understanding of what it was. Even at the level of sabre-rattling - is that any sort of a thing to do? I don’t think so. Or perhaps it was something else - they wanted to show they could do anything they wanted anywhere they wanted — and with complete impunity. It’s like the way Russia is behaving with Europe now, flexing its energy muscles, and saying: if we want, you will do what we tell you to do - it’s an attack in that direction.”

(to be continued)

See also: Conversation
Conversation - II
Conversation - III
Conversation - IV
Conversation - V
Conversation - VI
Conversation - VII
Conversation - VIII
Conversation - IX
Conversation - X
Conversation - XI
Conversation - XII

Friday, February 02, 2007

Conversation - XII


What was the diagnosis at that point?

“They eliminated thallium on the Monday or the Tuesday. I came to see Sasha, and asked: ‘Have you taken the antidote?’ He said he had taken the first portion, but for some reason the second portion hadn’t been brought. He had to take twenty-four capsules a day, eight capsules at a time. I was so surprised, because when they first brought him that powder, he said: ‘I can’t take any more of this, I’m going to leave it’ - a nurse came running and started trying to persuade him: ‘Now then, your life is at stake, you must take them all, every single capsule.’ But now no one brought anything. The doctors arrived, they said: ‘We’ve cancelled the antidote, it’s the wrong treatment.’ We said: ‘How can it be wrong? There was thallium in the blood sample.’ They replied: ‘It’s wrong.’ I said: 'But what is it, then?’ They replied: ‘It doesn’t really matter now what it is. At this stage it’s important to make sure that all his organs are working. The lung ventilation machine, the liver machine, the kidney machine - whatever happens to him, he’s completely connected up, and whatever happens to him, we’ll check it.’ And as for us, whatever happened, we were absolutely sure about Sasha’s heart, because almost literally the day before leaving for England he had had a medical examination, and he’d been told that his heart was in very good condition. So we were confident that at least his heart would hold out. And then at night for the first time it stopped. On the Thursday Sasha was already unconscious, hooked up to the machine, and then, when I left in the evening - I’d been there all day, and his father stayed on for the night - I asked: ‘Does his condition change from night to day?’ And the nurse said: ‘No, he’s connected up to the machine now, we’ve given him a paralysing drug so the machine will do the work for him, and there’s no way that he can do himself any harm.’ The doctor said there was only one thing they were worried about - if his blood pressure suddenly started to fall, there was nothing they could do, because when they restarted his heart, they’d given him the maximum dose of the drug. But the fact that no change, no deterioration was expected - that calmed me down somewhat. I went home, and once again told myself off for the thought that I might lose him, and then reflected - perhaps this was the crisis which had to occur, after which things would start to improve? I didn’t stay at home very long, about 20 minutes. They rang us from the hospital, and said: ‘Come urgently.’ There was another moment of hope - perhaps it was like last night, when his heart had stopped, and they’d started it again. I asked Tolya: ‘Will you come?’ He said: ‘Yes, I will.’ Before that he had only seen Sasha on the Monday, I tried to take him to the hospital as little as possible, and he hadn’t seen his father hooked up to the machine, unconscious. When we got to the hospital, they met us immediately, but they didn’t take as to Sasha’s ward as they usually did - but took us aside into another one. I immediately understood that it was all over.

“It was so hard. They let us say goodbye to him, without gloves, without the dressing gown, without the mask, because they still didn’t know what he had died of. No one knew anything - the results from the laboratory where it turned out that he had been poisoned with polonium-210 only arrived three hours before his death, and the hospital hadn’t yet received them. They left us with Sasha, I was able to touch him, hug him, kiss him. Perhaps it was a good thing. If they’d known the diagnosis in advance, I might not have been able to say goodbye to him. I, his father, Tolya, and Akhmed Zakayev were the last people to see him. After that, they didn’t show him to anyone.”

Did Zakayev and Berezovsky also think it was food poisoning?

“No, but they didn’t think it was that serious. Almost everyone was certain that it the doctors had it under control. But in fact there was nothing they could have done, so I have no complaints to make about anyone. Apart from the killers - for they didn’t just kill him: it was done with such refined cruelty, they made him suffer such agony - that it could only have been thought up by a perverted sadist.

“When it became known what it was, it was a shock. Because it had been the number one item of news in Britain, and it was so dreadful to see it in all the media every day. The death of a person is always a terrible thing, but you stay with your grief one to one, with friends, relatives. But here it was all brought out for public discussion. There were these constant interviews, these journalists, the first week and a half was awful. The night Sasha died, inspectors from the anti-terrorist centre phoned us, they said they were coming. I was very astonished, told them I was not in a state to talk - it was one in the morning, the night after his death on November 24. They said: ‘You will understand why we want to do this right now.’ When they arrived and told me that it was polonium, I didn’t really understand what they were saying. Even they hadn’t known it until right at the end. I took a degree at the petrochemical institute, and the name was familiar to me - but what effect it could have on the human organism, I didn’t know… They explained to me later what alpha radiation is. But when they arrived, they said that it was polonium, that they had no practical experience of poisoning with that element, and that now even the police didn’t know what to expect. The only thing they could suggest to us was to go away for the weekend, to take a change of clothes with us and wait it out. Then they said they were going to conducts tests on the house, and on us… They brought out some of our things - of course, they were subjected to thorough testing. Later, when I asked the hospital for some of Sasha’s things they said they couldn’t bring anything out of there at all.”

(to be continued)

See also: Conversation
Conversation - II
Conversation - III
Conversation - IV
Conversation - V
Conversation - VI
Conversation - VII
Conversation - VIII
Conversation - IX
Conversation - X
Conversation - XI

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Conversation - XI


Did he look at himself in the mirror?

“No. He still tried to make jokes - he would say: ‘Now that I’m bald, do I look like Buddha?’ Or: ‘This bacterium of mine was wearing uniform.’ He kept apologizing to the nurses for having to have his clothes changed constantly. He would say [in English]: ‘I am sorry’, ‘Excuse me’… That wasn’t like him - moody, short-tempered. I would tell him: “Sasha, there’s no need to say sorry, in this condition you don’t have to apologize for anything.’ I kept asking them at the hospital: ‘Do you really have enough resources here to treat my husband? Are you sure that you know everything?’ And when on the Thursday they discovered a toxin in his blood, they also gave him tests for external radiation, which showed nothing… They made some tests for toxins, and in the evening they came and said: ‘We’ve discovered thallium, and have prescribed an antidote.’ We were even relieved - thank God, at last they’ve found out why it’s happening, the cause is clear, now Sasha will get well again. And he himself constantly lived with that faith.

“After the thallium was discovered they decided to move him to another hospital, and it was also from that point on that the police were called in. Until then we’d been able to say what we liked and ask as many questions as we wanted, but no one would listen to us. In the new hospital, in the haematological department there, he began to give evidence to the police right from the very first day. Those policemen really admired him a lot for giving evidence in that condition. Though he was kept on an anaesthetic all the time, I don’t know how he endured it. They explained to me later that the irritation he had in his throat was also inside him: his bowels, his oesophagus, his stomach were all covered in these ulcers (cries).

“When this antidote was prescribed for him, it was brought in the form of a powder. But it wasn’t completely dissolved, there were these sharp little crystals, and it was so painful for him… And when he was giving evidence for 3-4 hours at a time, I even asked them not to let them in when he fell asleep, so he would at least get a little rest. On the Monday, this was in the last week, they moved him from the haematological department to the resuscitation room. When he’s been brought to this hospital, he’d still been able to get up, he could even walk a bit, arrange his bed the way he liked it, take a shower, fix the tap - but when he was taken to the third floor and hooked up to all those tubes… I didn’t think it was the end, but I realized it wasn’t good.”

There were thoughts that it might be fatal?

“On the very last day. I chased that thought away as best I could. But that day it stabbed me unawares. I suddenly thought: ‘But I won’t be able to live without him.’ And immediately silenced myself: ‘Why are you thinking about yourself - Sasha, who is suffering so badly, is fighting to the last, how can you think those thoughts?’ But no one knew what it was. He was never actually ill, and there was the help of British doctors, it seemed that the situation was under control… Yes, it was hard, but we were sure he’d be able to pull through. We even said, fine, even if there are some problems with his health later on, we’ll manage. They were discussing giving him a bone marrow transplant, as they said it might be necessary, and were already talking about making analyses, starting to select a donor - in other words, no one thought he was doomed. Since he didn’t have any brothers, they were saying that perhaps his father and mother would come, so that analyses could be taken from them. In other words, all the talk was about that he was going to live, and that all that had to be done was to help him. When the day before his death, the 22nd, he had a cardiac arrest during the night, the first thing they said to me was: ‘This is not very good, as it will be very hard to carry out a transplant in this condition.’”

(to be continued)

See also: Conversation
Conversation - II
Conversation - III
Conversation - IV
Conversation - V
Conversation - VI
Conversation - VII
Conversation - VIII
Conversation - IX
Conversation - X