SUDOPLATOV’S NEW HEIRS ?
The assassination of ex-KGB spy and Putin critic, Alexander Litvinenko by a lethal dose of radioactive polonium 210 ( not it seems, irradiated thallium, a nasty KGB trademark going back to at least the 1950’s) sparked Curzon of Coming Anarchy to draw comparisons with the death of Leon Trotskii. Curzon’s timely post has opened up a number of further historical and contemporary angles. But first, an excerpt:
“Deathbed accusations shouldn’t be taken at face value, but Litvinenko’s horrible poisoning, probably designed to 1.) make him suffer a painful death, and 2.) terrify other potential critics into silence, conjure up images of Trotsky’s assassination during World War II. The Stalinist dissident survived several attempts on his life before he was finally killed with an ice pick in Mexico City (Stalin was so delighted at the method that he gave all agents involved medals.) “
The Trotsky assassination had been a priority for Stalin and, despite a stable of NKVD killers with experience icing White generals in Paris and Spanish anarchists in Barcelona, it proved to be an operation that successive Soviet secret police chiefs had difficulty pulling off. Beria succeeded after having assigned it to Pavel Sudoplatov and Leonid Eitington. (Sudoplatov, who died a boastful and unapologetic Stalinist spymaster, published his colorful memoirs Special Tasks in the mid 1990’s with the help of scholar/journalists, Jerrold and Leona Schecter. The memoirs are revealing and entertaining, yet must also be parsed with considerable care). Ramon Mercader was the actual assassin who killed Trotskii with an icepick during a private visit, after previous attempts at armed frontal assault on Trotskii’s Mexican compound failed.
Medals notwithstanding, none of the assassins got off scott-free. Mercader suffered at the ungentle hands of Mexican police and penal authorities until his Soviet connection was revealed. Sudoplatov and Eitington were eventually purged as “Beria-ites” and were fortunate to escape execution, merely undergoing disgrace and imprisonment.
“And Litvinenko isn’t alone. Recall the recent attempts on the lives of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the former being barely unsuccessful and the later being gruesomely successful. While it might seem absurd to murder these individuals because it has made their causes known far and wide, it undoubtedly has a chilling effect on other potential agents who are scared silent by the the consequences of turning their back on Mother Russia. And that should terrify all of us.”
Less the mores of the old KGB than of Al Capone. Which raises interesting questions about Putin and his siloviki regime.
The first thing to understand about internal politics in modern Russia and most of the post-Soviet states is that “good guy -bad guy” can be thrown out the window. Or at least be conceived in very relative terms. Corruption and gangsterism are pandemic and the actual liberals and democrats are unpopular and without real influence. Litvinenko was a brave man but certainly shady. The oligarch opponents of Putin are ” mobbed up” billionaires. Think George Soros crossbred with Tony Soprano. Ex-KGB are on all sides and available for hire to boot.
Putin is ruthless and authoritarian but his professional appreciation for well-executed tradecraft must be slipping if he signed off on this assassination. The Russians have quieter poisons. And his political timing as well, considering Litvinenko’s high profile death coincided with Russia’s arms deal with Iran. Not a great image juxtaposition for Russia. Perhaps Putin was going for the double middle finger toward the West or perhaps Litvinenko was simply played by some of his dangerous friends, knowing the political effect of a splashy poisoning. Putin issued an angrily denial, but who would give that any credence? The Russian president could hardly announce to the press ” We got the bastard!” while jumping in the air and kicking his heels.
I’m not excusing Putin’s government. It is entirely possible, even likely, that they bear the responsibility for Mr. Litvinenko’s assassination and the institutional legacy of wet affairs and of sinister killers like Bogdan Stashinskii in Russia is a very long one. One that makes the CIA’s history in this regard pale by comparison, so they are not boy scouts. On the other hand, with all the consideration of 5GW in the past year in this section of the blogosphere, we might pause to at least ask ” Who benefits?”.
Jamie Glazov – “Symposium: To Kill a Russian Journalist“