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23 January 2016


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This has been a long running soap opera. Here's Justin Raimondo of Antiwar rehashing his story of a decade ago.
'As I pointed out here:
“Litvinenko was an employee of exiled Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky – whose ill-gotten empire included a Russian syndicate of car-dealerships that had more than a nodding acquaintance with the Chechen Mafia – but was being slowly cut out of the money pipeline. Big-hearted Boris, who had initially put him on the payroll as anti-Putin propagandist, was evidently getting sick of him, and the out-of-work "dissident" was reportedly desperate for money. Litvinenko had several " business meetings " with Lugovoi in the months prior to his death, and, according to this report , he hatched a blackmail scheme targeting several well-known Russian tycoons and government officials.”

Indeed, Litvinenko, in the months before his death, had targeted several well-known members of the Russian Mafia with his blackmail scheme. That they would take umbrage at this is hardly shocking.

Furthermore, there are indications that Litvinenko was engaged in the smuggling of nuclear materials. That he wound up being contaminated by the goods he was peddling on the black market seems far more credible than the cock-and-bull story about a vast Russian plot originating in the Kremlin,. Apparently Lord Owen has never heard of Occam’s Razor.'

It's not unprecedented for a British judge to be used to divert attention and juggle a hot potato until it has cooled. Some people are still awaiting the results of Lord Chilcott's enquiry into Tony Blair's involvement in the Gulf War.


Well, it's another theory, less implausible than that Putin did it. There's an element of 'pick a villain, any villain, your favourite villain' in such things. The public is not in any position to know. Putin is the favourite villain for those who control the media, so no opportunity to blame him for anything will be missed.

It seems most likely that this death was just a settling of scores in the underworld, but it's not unreasonable to suspect that MI5 or 6 may have had some involvement, perhaps just in faking up a cover story to misdirect suspicion from those whose friends could exert political influence. The death of Dr. David Kelly certainly aroused such suspicions of the British intelligence services, and even whether they might have acted on behalf of an influential foreign power.

David Habakkuk


The short discussion of the Litvinenko case in the piece to which you link by Henry Plater-Zyberk is of fundamental importance. Particularly as it only takes minutes to read, I would very strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the affair.

A word of background may be in order. The Conflict Studies Research Centre was what the old Soviet Studies Research Centre at Sandhurst became, after the end of the Cold War.

Much very good work on Soviet strategy, both in Britain and the United States, was done by that organisation and its American counterpart, the Soviet Army Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth – which became the Foreign Military Studies Office. It has now, tragically been privatised.

A couple of papers by Plater-Zyberk are in my view of fundamental importance in making sense of post-Soviet Russia. An August 2002 paper written under the pseudonym 'Gordon Bennett', is entitled 'Vladimir Putin & Russia's Special Services', and a September 2005 paper under his own name is entitled 'Russia's Special Forces'.

(See http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/?lang=en&id=96481 ; http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/?lang=en&id=96481 .)

At the risk of superimposing my own uninformed thoughts on his well-informed ones, a lesson which seems to me to come from these papers is that a 'counter-intelligence-state' – as the Soviet Union very clearly was – may be caught in paradox.

It is necessary to recruit highly competent people, and provide them with effective training, for such a state to function, but if the system is clearly failing it is precisely in these areas that one can expect some of those most clearly conscious of that fact to be found.

As the late great Moshe Lewin brought out in his 2005 study 'The Soviet Century', in sections of the KGB, going back to Andropov's day, an awareness of the problems of the system was acute.

When following the unsuccessful August 1991 coup the Soviet Union broke up, the precipitate dismantling of its vast military, intelligence, and internal security apparatus saw people heading off in all kinds of different directions – both in terms of what they ended up doing and what they ended up believing.

What compounded the confusion was the triumph, at this time, of those whom I call 'cargo cult liberals' – that is, people who assumed that one had only to dismantle the old order for the kind of economic and political system which had been so successful in the post-war West to spring up as if by magic.

These people were actively encouraged by two different, if overlapping, groups of people. One were the 'Fachidioten' economists, who had no grasp of the institutional and indeed ethical preconditions for the working of a reasonably civilised liberal economic and political order. The other were shady figures coming out of the twilight world in which elements in Western intelligence agencies collaborated with élites in the Middle East.

Ironically, one of the more valuable uses to which 'rational choice' theory has been put in recent years has been in the work of what might be called the 'Oxford school' of mafia studies – two splendid Italians, Diego Gambetta and Federico Varese, have ended up teaching there.

Unsurprisingly, analogies between Italian and Russian history have been very much in their minds. As Varese put it in his 2011 study 'Mafias on the Move':

''A relatively recent body of research has shown that mafias emerge in societies are undergoing a sudden and late transition to a market economy, lack a legal structure that reliably protects property rights or settles business disputes, and have a supply of people trained in violence who become unemployed at this specific juncture.''

Actually, a good deal of this is simply applied commonsense. And the likelihood of a catastrophic collapse in post-Soviet Russia was, in my view, very high anyway. However, the 'reforms' urged on the Russians by the West showed no awareness of the need for the need for appropriate legal structures or a functioning state to enforce them.

So people who would once have worked together might end up working for the FSB, or employed in the private security and intelligence forces of the various oligarchs, or for organised crime groups, or for various anti-Russian nationalist movements. So ambiguous and uncertain loyalties, people playing both sides, people being liable to be blackmailed because of their past activities, etc etc, is enormous.

An irony is that some of these elements echo characteristics found – in much weaker form – in the sleazier sides of the United States in the Prohibition years. And indeed, the late Paul Klebnikov entitled his 2001 study of Berezovsky 'Godfather of the Kremlin.'

(The original December 1996 article, out of which the book grew, is available at
http://www.forbes.com/forbes/1996/1230/5815090a.html .)

Reading mainstream coverage of the post-Soviet space, it has often seemed to me as though those writing it were on the set of the 'Godfather', but had convinced themselves that they were on that of the 'Lord of the Rings'. A critical point that one effect of this is that a large number of claims by Litvinenko and other associates of Berezovsky have been uncritically accepted, and claims by the Russian authorities simply ignored.

Although it is I think clear enough where my own sympathies lie, my point is not to reverse the polarities. It seems to me absolutely clear that what underpinned the Litvinenko mystery are a series of complex Machiavellian intrigues, which ran out of control.

My own view – for reasons I will elaborate in a response to another comment – is that elements in the Russian security services thought that the British police would have no option but to concede that Litvinenko had been involved in a polonium-smuggling operation.

What I do not know is whether this was because they had discovered him trying to frame them, worked out an ingenious way of framing him, or some combination of both. But Plater-Zyberk's summary of Litvinenko's earlier career is a good starting point.

The Twisted Genius


I'm afraid you're right. There is great fear of our mysterious brotherhood. While we would enjoy a great laugh, others would gladly believe the worst. They probably also believe the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog is an accurate depiction of house bunnies.



I remember the film, "Wag the Dog" and the strange SOF outfit in the movie, "The Spotted Dicks" or something. Oh,no, that is a British dessert. Civilian neighbors asked if I was offended by the representation of these buffoons since I was a GB. It took me a moment o figure out that they thought I would defend all military types. I finally told them that I thought TSDs were marines and so I was not offended. That confused them nicely. pl

The Twisted Genius


I know what you mean. I get it from friends all the time. It's even worse with the outlandish depictions of ISA on TV and in the movies. There's even a comic book out there.


If such a murder were committed on behalf of a state, it would be done by a secret intelligence service. It is doubtful that his death provided any service to Russia, and clear that the concepts of secrecy and intelligence would have been woefully lacking in the assassins. Putin is a very smart man, so I don't see why he would put up with ministers who allowed such spectacular incompetence by their underlings.

Litvinenko was a very minor figure, fired for corruption, associated with criminals who have financial, media and political influence in the West. Apart from the melodramatic nature of his demise, the public would have no reason to remember him. He was far too trivial a figure to merit a state assassination. His death was just turned to account by those who seek to demonise Putin and Russia; probably to cover up their own corrupt involvement with such murky figures and divert attention from what happened to the rest of the polonium he had been smuggling into Britain.

A few years ago when the American sportsman Tillman was accidentally shot by his comrades in Afghanistan, there were those who suspected that he had been assassinated by the American government because he had read a book critical of the American Establishment. Again, to say the least, a vast exaggeration of his importance to the state.

Perhaps the communist Chinese government routinely murders minor figures who may have been critical of them, but if so they do it with much more secrecy and intelligence!


I thought the Saker and Cassad had covered this.

The rebels didn't have any planes or missiles, although the Ukrainians diverted the flight over their area, as if to blame them. Even the Ukrainian Buks were not in the right position, and they would have left highly visible plumes of exhaust if fired. The Russians did an investigation and found that the holes in the wreckage were the wrong sort to have been made by these missiles, but looked like the sort that would be made by air-to-air missiles of the type the Ukrainians had. It seemed most likely that the Ukrainian air force had a plane shadowing this aircraft, and another smaller plane which popped up to fire at it. The truth seems to have been covered up for political motives as the attempt to smear the rebels and Russians failed. No prizes for guessing who has the power to do this and the motive to continue blaming the Russians.

David Habakkuk

Colonel Lang,

The reasons are, I think, implicit in the account given by Henry Plater-Zyberk in the piece to which 'Aka' linked.

A very great deal of the politics of the post-Soviet space has been about the struggle of competing 'clans' for control of resources. In this, state institutions are an obvious target.

A problem is that there is so much disinformation about, and the triumph of the 'Borg' has been such that the 'mainstream media' makes no attempt to sift through this, establishing some secure basis on which one can build interpretations.

However, for what little it is worth, my 'gloss' on Plater-Zyberk's account is as follows.

Quite early on, Litvinenko became Berezovsky's 'eyes and ears' in the FSB.
For precisely this reason, the notion that he was instructed to assassinate Berezovsky has to be BS. There however clearly was some 'fire' beneath the 'smoke'. It could have consisted of someone exploding in frustration, or of a loyalty test, and there are other possibilities.

After consideration, Berezovsky decided that the episode could be used to get control of the FSB. And this, initially, appeared successful. In the event, Putin was brought in to head the organisation.

In Berezovsky's view, it seems eminently possible, Putin was the 'simple Russian soldier man', who could be counted upon to do what he was told and was in his best interests: the 'rational actor' beloved of economists.

This was a fatal miscalculation. What Berezovsky failed to grasp was that Putin had its own conception of what had gone wrong in Russia, which was a complex one, and that once installed in the FSB had a power base – which, slowly and methodically, he set about developing.

When Putin failed to 'toe the line', Litvinenko staged the famous press conference, publicising the accusations about the murder plot.

However, this involved a major problem. What Berezovsky and Litvinenko had done was to use a combination of incentives and pressure to persuade colleagues of the latter to support him. This put some of these – notably Viktor Shebalin and Alexander Gusak – in a difficult position.

They did not want to defy Berezovsky, but also did not want to commit themselves to him, both because they loathed him, and also because they knew that if they did so, they could go down in his fall.

So, Shebalin at least played both sides.

In any case, the press conference totally failed to achieve its intended purpose. The only result was that Putin came down on Litvinenko like a ton of bricks.

When Yeltsin came to the end of his second term, the tricks that had worked to secure his re-election were patently not going to work again.

So, from Berezovsky's point of view, Putin was the preferred alternative.

I am skating over a very complex history. But the fundamental fact is that Berezovsky failed to grasp the strength of Putin's power position, and also his skills as an 'operator'.

So, when Putin was elected President, he gave the oligarchs an ultimatum.

Essentially, he was saying, you can keep your ill-gotten gains, so long as you stay out of politics. Most – in particular Abramovich – accepted the deal. However, both Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky thought that Western 'krysha' meant that they could push Putin into a position where he would have to act as their puppet.

At that time, as we know, Putin attempted to split Berezovsky from his partner, Patarkatsishvili, and failed.

After Patarkatsishvili and Berezovsky tried and failed to 'spring' their associate Glushkov from imprisonment, with Lugovoi leading the operation, the latter was imprisoned. Obviously, elements in the Russian security services took advantage of the opportunity. But the real target is likely not to have been Lugovoi – but Patarkatsishvili.

One then has to go back to 1989. And a critical figure here is one Christopher Samuelson, who with a certain Christian Michel ran a company called 'Valmet'. As happens with many 'narcissists', on occasion Samuelson could not keep his mouth shut when he would have been well-advised to do so.

(See http://mikhail_khodorkovsky_society_two.blogspot.co.uk/ .)

It was Samuelson and Michel who appear to have given both Khodorkovsky and Berezovsky their initial training in 'Western business methods'.

Later, together with an associate called Stephen Curtis, they created the structures which were supposed to protect their assets from the efforts of the Russian authorities to get them back. These involved enormously complicated arrangements which created the appearance that the assets were controlled by others. However, these created the ever-present possibility that these 'others' could claim they were the real owners.

Accordingly, they required the background presence of a mafia-style 'enforcer' to make them work - a role Patarkatsishvili was well-equipped to play.

In the course of the conflict between Putin and his 'siloviki' associates and the oligarchs who would not accept their terms, a number of things happened.

For Berezovsky, his 'grudge match' against Putin was fundamental. And this also, for complicated reasons, made him useful to elements in British and American intelligence. However, for Patarkatsishvili, the advantages became less obvious. In the 'Rose Revolution' Saakashvili, who he had originally supported, turned on him. In relation to his other assets, relentless pressure was being applied by the Russian authorities.

So Patarkatsishvili ended up playing a double game, with Lugovoi in a key role. This is a matter on which I have yet to get the full evidence sorted out, but what appears to have happened is that he was exploiting the structures created by Samuelson, Curtis et al to shift assets to his own control.

At the same time, the arrest of Khodorkovsky, and the flight of his partner to Israel, created a situation whereby there was no longer any 'enforcer'. Having been put in to run their affairs in their absence, Curtis started 'singing sweetly' to the National Criminal Investigative Service, as it then was. Almost immediately, he died in a mysterious helicopter accident.

What then appears to have happened is that some of those who had been in notional charge of the assets started looting them – probably with encouragement from the Russian authorities – and laundering them through Spain.

At this point, Patarkatsishvili and Lugovoi were at one and the same time collaborating with the Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky camp and supplying information to the Spanish authorities, and feeding information back to their contacts in the Russian security services.

One reason that the FSB became central, rather than the SVR, was that the targets of the 'information operations' practised by Litvinenko and Berezovsky were the latter's enemies. So one target of the supposed 'due diligence' dossier was Igor Sechin, who had been central to the dispossession of the Yukos oligarchs. Another was Viktor Ivanov, who had been central to the resumption of state control over Aeroflot.

Other targets were Viktor Shebalin and Alexander Glushkov, who had played along with Berezovsky but sided with Putin.

As part of these 'information operations', it had been given out that there had been a 'parting of the ways' between Litvinenko and Berezovsky.

There may have been something in this, but a more likely interpretation is that this allowed the latter to utilise the more extravant accusations of the former, while distancing himself from them.

However, this created a temptation for those who were playing this game in the Russian security services. A dead Litvinenko was no conceivable use to them. A live one, who followed Lugovoi and started to talk turkey about coming back onside – could have been of inestimable use.

This is one reason why Lugovoi is genuinely confused. When Litvinenko opened a container enclosing polonium in front of him – on three occasions at least – he was not aware of the peculiar properties of the substance. What he did not know then, and probably is not clear about now, is whether Litvinenko himself was.

If he was not, then this could have been simply a foolish piece of exhibitionism. If he was, then the natural explanation would be that Litvinenko, if not actively suicidal, was extraordinarily reckless. And a question would then arise as to whether he was deliberately laying a trail intended to incriminate Lugovoi.

At some point, the competition in frame-ups became involved with this.

What I cannot work out is whether this arose from Litvinenko and Berezovsky's attempts to suggest that the Russian security services were attempting to supply a 'suitcase nuke' to jihadists, the Russian security services attempting to frame them, or some combination of the two.

As regards the suggestion that MI6 murdered Litvinenko, this makes no sense – as indeed does the suggestion that Berezovsky murdered him. If you actually take the trouble to look at the news coverage from November and December 2006, what becomes amply clear is that nobody was expecting what happened to happen.

All the people that we know about were behaving, to a greater or lesser extent, like headless chickens. Accordingly, the natural conclusion is that none of them could have murdered Litvinenko.

David Habakkuk


Epstein's work was a starting point for me.

A lot of it was right, but he made two major mistakes.

One was that he was looking for, as it were, a 'real' nuclear smuggling operation. On examination however this made no sense. A polonium-beryllium 'initiator' might be used in a covert nuclear programme, but if a 'rogue state' had the technological capability to produce a nuke it would have he capability to produce its own polonium.

However, as an 'information ops' weapon – like the Niger uranium forgeries – such a trigger is ideal.

I dealt with some of the issues involved in the 'European Tribune' posts to which I linked.

Also, Epstein pointed to the crucial importance of Italy, but did not look at what was going on there.

Again, some of the issues are covered in the posts to which I linked.

As to London become a refuge for the garbage from Russia, you are write. What also needs to be taken into account is that, even from a purely cynical perspective, this makes no sense.

It has long been clear that Berezovsky, and Khodorkovsky, were gamblers playing for too high stakes with too few cards. Very stupid of MI6 et al to get involved on their side in fight with Putin.


Col. Lang, "God bless the men of the 303" - a unit so secret that all its members had military records indicating dishonourable discharges for insanity, if they had a military record at all. I love that film, especially the sub plot preoccupation with employment of illegal immigrants.

David Habakkuk

Bryn P,

A critical question.

I have yet to look carefully at what is claimed about the forensics. Having spent a good deal of effort – unsuccessfully – trying to get the Inquest/Inquiry team to accept that one could not simply accept the integrity of the police investigation, I paused the investigation of the forensics until I knew what Owen was going to claim.

That said:

1. It was a critical part of the Russian case that they had never been supplied with the post-mortem report. No counter-argument was ever made.

2. If am right about the evidence supposed to establish that Litvinenko being clear of contamination when he arrived in London being forged, then this implies collusion involving SO15 and also Aldermaston. Accordingly, before considering any 'expert' evidence, it becomes necessary to rule out the possibility of criminal collusion.

3. If polonium was used as a poison, the quantity would be absolutely miniscule. If what was at issue was an attempt to give the appearance of a smuggling operation, it would need to be orders of magnitude larger. So one would need to be able to differentiate between the behaviour of radically different sizes of sample.

4. My own reading of the evidence is that a container enclosing polonium was probably opened, most likely by Litvinenko, both at the meeting at Erinys on 16 October and at the Pine Bar meeting.

5. The only 'evidence' supposed to establish that polonium was inserted in a teapot at the latter meeting is a supposedly contaminated teapot.

However, this was not mentioned until late January 2007. As with the 'evidence' supposed to establish that Litvinenko was not contaminated when he travelled into London, the claims made about it are an incoherent mess.

There has to be a strong suspicion of collusion by Aldermaston in spreading disinformation.

6. A plausible timeline was given in a piece in 'Izvestiya' on 1 December 2006.

(See http://www.sras.org/news2.php?m=821 .)

Much of this is clearly disinformation, but the timeline fits with the available evidence much better than anything produced by the British. It has Litvinenko starting out from Berezovsky's office, with the polonium, meeting Lugovoi at the Millennium Hotel, then going on to see Scaramella.

At this point, I strongly suspect, the sources of the story were still cock-a-hoop at the prospect that Scotland Yard would have to identify a timeline which incriminated both Berezovsky and Litvinenko of smuggling polonium.

This could have been because they had come across a smuggling operation, or because they had set a trap.

Note however that this account subverts that already given by Lugovoi and Kovtun, who pointed to the Pine Bar meeting, which followed that with Scaramella, and refused to acknowledge any earlier meeting.

7. A key point about the current version of how Litvinenko travelled into central London is that it has him arriving at 13.34. Earlier versions place this as early as 11.30.

The obvious conclusion is that there is covert collusion between the British authorities and Lugovoi to obscure the earlier meeting.

8. Further, if the evidence supposed to establish that Litvinenko was clear of contamination when he arrived in central London is disinformation, it becomes possible that he was ingesting polonium prior to 1 November -- say, for example, on 31 October.

David Habakkuk

Hood Canal Gardner,

It is clear that Ryan Dawson is channelling information from Russian security sources.

This does not mean that the information is necessarily false – it is likely to be a mixture of false and true.

A critical issue here is the 16 October meeting at Erinys. It is clear that there was an incident involving polonium there. The question is whether this involved a preliminary unsuccessful attempt by Lugovoi and Kovtun to assassinate Litvinenko, or someone – probably him – opening a container enclosing polonium.

The claim that Dawson is making is that the polonium was brought from Israel following a visit by Litvinenko to Leonid Nevzlin, shortly before the 16 October meeting.

However, having implied that a plane or planes he used on that trip were tested and found to have traces of polonium, Dawson does not say by whom they were tested.

As it happens, I heard a long time ago from an American contact who had extensive dealings with the investigation, Karon von Gerhke, that a figure centrally involved in it – who used the name 'Paul Stubbs' – had told her that Litvinenko had indeed visited Nevzlin shortly before the Erinys meeting, and the date of the visit subsequently been put back.

This claim, and the claim that the polonium came from Israel, has also been made to me by a (remote) Russian contact.

What I told him was that, if this was the case, the Russians should produce the evidence.

So far, I have got nowhere.

According to the British authorities, they had good reason to believe that the plane that brought Lugovoi and Kovtun into London prior to the 16 October meeting was contaminated.

However, once again their claims are an incoherent mess.

Indeed, in materials submitted to the Inquiry, it was initially claimed that the relevant plane was operated by Aeroflot.

It was only after I corrected them that the Inquiry team stated that it was operated by Transaero. One really does not expect to see highly paid lawyers having to be corrected by an (unpaid) blogger.

A key line in the Ryan Dawson report:

'Boris knew once the police found out how Litvinenko died that there would be a lot of explaining to do.'

As I have made clear – more or less in words of one syllable – to Sir Robert Owen and his colleagues, the real question is here.

The Russian security services – who were clearly mounting the mother and father of surveillance operations on Litvinenko at the time – clearly thought that he and Berezovsky would be caught red-handed in a nuclear smuggling operation.

What is not clear is whether this was because they had, as it were, chanced upon such an operation, whose purpose was to smear them, or because they had themselves set a trap.

If people realised that this was the question, we might find the answer.

As I noted in responding to an earlier comment, a critical news item here is the 1 December 2006 report in 'Izvestiya'.

(See http://www.sras.org/news2.php?m=821 .)

David Habakkuk

Ex-PFC Chuck, Mark Logan, Chris Chuba,

I think that John Helmer's reporting is very cogent.

As with the Litvinenko mystery, however, it seems to me that one of the things of which we can be reasonably confident is that, whatever the truth, both Russian and Western intelligence services do not want it to come out.

A possible element in a scenario which would account for this would be if those who shot down MH17 confused it with the plane carrying Putin. In such a scenario, it is possible to imagine both one or more aircraft and perhaps a missile – which does not need to have been a Buk – being involved.

There are the puzzles about flights being diverted over the warzone, and the relevant data then being got rid of.

I come back to the point that, when one is dealing with post-Soviet politics, one has to reckon with forms of Machiavellianism so complex and bizarre that it is hard to work out what he hell might be going on.

But then, I have not had time to keep up with the most recent claims and counter-claims about MH17.


Ok for what it is worth. I happen to have concerned myself greatly with the question of the so called apartment bombings in Russia in 2000. They were absolutely crucial for Putins rise and for unleashing the second Chechen war. I believe (and certainly the majority of thinking people in Russia) believe that these were the work of the FSB. Novaya Gazeta (Russias main opposition newspper) published a great series about the bombings. After 9/11 a popular Russian joke went like this:
It is the spring of 2001 and a distraught Bush is meeting a radiant Putin. Bush is one of the most unpopular presidents in history and people say he stole the election in Florida. Whereas Putin basks in the glory of putting the Chechens in their rightful place... So finally Bush pulls Putin into a corner and wants to know how he did it. How did he become so popular? Putin starts to wisper something into Bushes ear and Bush starts to smile. "Great, great, great and thanks a lot."
Half a year later. It is the 12th of September and Putin phones Bush. He right away starts to berate Bush: "You imbecile. Some apartment blocks would have been quite enough"

Now Litvinenko was a chief witness for the bombings and that was why he had to flee Russia. That is the gist of what a lot of Russians believe. If there ever was a man that angered the powers that be in Russia it was Litvinenko.



I guess I missed the answer to my question as to why people are focused on the FSB rather than the SVR. Is it because Putin was himself connected to the FSB? pl

robt willmann

Mr. Habakkuk,

While on the subject of strange deaths in Britain....

1. Gareth Williams. Mathematician and worker for the British GCHQ. Found dead in 2010 at home in the bath inside a North Face bag that was padlocked from the outside.

2. Dr. David Kelly. Scientist and biowarfare expert. Involved in the question of weapons of mass distraction in Iraq and in part with UN inspections in Iraq. Was said to be the source of a BBC news story casting doubt on a reason or two given by the British government to justify invading Iraq. Made the mistake of taking his usual walk in July 2003 by himself, and was found dead, an "alleged suicide"--



I read the Inquiry said the polonium was not traceable in this case, this is after I have read ad nauseam that it is highly traceable. If the source of the polonium were Israel, I saw George Galloway on Newsnight referencing the death of Arafat from what has been suggested was polonium poisoning (but lets not open another mystery to debate), I take it would imply that it was not a set up by the Russians. If the source of the polonium was Russia, I am assuming you believe it more likely it was a setup by the Russians from the get go?

David Habakkuk


For what it is worth – not much – I do not believe that Arafat was poisoned with polonium. And if I recall right, the Russian experts who looked at the samples weren't convinced.

As regards the sourcing of the polonium, you raise a very good question. However, having thought about this on and off for some time, I think that even if one could be clear as how to who brought the polonium to the 16 October 2006 meeting at the offices of Erinys one still could not draw firm conclusions.

1. If Litvinenko brought it from Tel Aviv, it could have been produced in Israel, but need not to have been. For it to have been produced, it would have been necessary for that country to have facilities to produce the substance which are currently functioning. It would somewhat surprise me if that were so, but I obviously can't be sure.

If it was produced in Israel, it seems to me unlikely that it was obtained by Litvinenko with the collusion of the Israeli government. However, there are connections to neocon groups in the States, and money buys a lot there, as elsewhere.

2. It seems to me perfectly possible that it was produced in Russia and came via Israel. The 'evidence' supposed to establish that the Transaero plane which brought Lugovoi and Kovtun into London is, once again, essentially new. If the Inquiry team were seriously trying to uncover the truth, they would have asked those who produced it why it has not been made public earlier, and why the previous versions directly contradict it and each other.

3. So I am reasonably confident that the amended version from Lugovoi and the Russians, according to which the Transaero plane which brought him and Kovtun into London prior to 16 October 2006 meeting was clear, is correct. All that establishes however is that it is likely either that they did not bring the polonium or that they did so in a properly sealed container.

4. The version presented to the Inquiry, according to which the traces of polonium found at the Erinys offices were due to a first unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Litvinenko, is also quite new. Earlier, it was suggested that this attempt had occurred when he Lugovoi and Kovtun ate the Itsu sushi bar following the meeting.

5. Accordingly, it seems highly likely that the version which Lugovoi has long implied – that someone, probably Litvinenko, opened a container enclosing polonium at that meeting, is accurate.

At the press conference he and Kovtun gave on 29 August 2007, in a dramatic change of story, Lugovoi said:

'We flew on a Transaero plane on October 16, where no traces of polonium were found. But three hours after our arrival at the Erius (sic) company HQ at 25 Grosvenor St, if I'm not mistaken, large amounts of polonium were discovered. And after all that you claim that the traces are from Moscow.'

(See https://www.rt.com/news/press-conference-of-dmitry-kovtun-and-andrey-lugovoy/ .)

For the the version given by the Russian investigators to Edward Jay Epstein, see


6. Had any of the journalists who have interviewed Lugovoi – including Luke Harding of the 'Guardian' and Mark Franchetti of the 'Sunday Times' – displayed serious professionalism, they would have tried to probe Lugovoi on this.

(I can tell you, in my television current affairs producing days, if we had been able to obtain an interview with Lugovoi, the team would have spent long hours trying to work out lines of questioning which would either push or tease him into opening out. We would have enjoyed ourselves.)

7. If however, as I strongly suspect, Lugovoi is essentially telling the truth on this point at least, it follows that he and all those present or knowledgeable about the meeting are likely to have known that a container enclosing polonium was opened.

This would include besides Litvinenko himself, the oil and gas geopolitics expert and former Parachute Regiment officer Tim Reilly – who supposedly may also have been a murder target (LOL!) – and probably Major General John Holmes, formerly director of UK Special Forces.

Accordingly, they would have been likely to have been provided with some account of where the polonium had come from, and perhaps of its intended destination (although it did not necessarily have to have had one.)

8. The obvious problem in the claims by the Russian investigators has to do with the attempt to argue that all the subsequent traces of polonium which were identified could be explained in terms of a leak – 'by design or accident' – at this meeting.

There has to have been at least one other incident involving a container, and quite conceivably a lot more. And one of these has to have been in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel in the late afternoon of 1 November 2006.

9. Another, I suspect was at a meeting earlier in the day – prior to the meeting with Scaramella – with Lugovoi and perhaps others in an upstairs room at the Millennium. Evidence for this was presented in the third of the diaries I put on the 'European Tribune' site back in 2008-9, under the title 'Not quite the ''perfect fix''?'.

(See http://www.eurotrib.com/user/uid:1857/diary .)

The background to this is relevant. In July 2008, performing the usual 'stenographer's role' common among journalists in the post-Hutton BBC, the 'Newnight' diplomatic and defence editor Mark Urban had uncritically recycled claims by an anonymous 'senior British security official' that the death of Litvinenko was a 'state action'.

This provoked an extraordinary series of comments by one 'timelythoughts' – actually an American lady called Karon von Gerhke – about a figure she referred to as 'Berezovsky's disinformation specialist': Yuri Shvets, who has played an important role in the Inquiry.

10. At the time, both she and I misinterpreted some key evidence, concluding from the fact that it appeared that there had been an incident involving polonium at a meeting between Lugovoi and Litvinenko prior to the meeting with Scaramella that there had been no such incident in the Pine Bar.

For the reasons why we jumped to the wrong conclusion, see the third of the 'diaries' which David Loepp and I put up on 'European Tribune' in December 2012, under the title 'Fact, frame-up or fiction? – Litvinenko's 'deathbed testimony'.

(See http://www.eurotrib.com/user/uid:46/diary .)

11. However, that does not establish that the fatal contamination occurred at either meeting. And here, I think contributions to the exchanges on Urban's post by one 'rinpoche1' may be relevant.
Early on, he or she commented:

'The Litvinenko killing was an FSB sting meant to discredit MI6 that went disastrously wrong – everyone in spook world knows that.

Then, after Karon von Gerhke had intervened, 'rinpoche1' returned:

'All this Litvinenko conspiracy stuff is pretty fantastic and if I may say so rather naive...

'What actually happened was that the FSB got very pissed off with all the MI6 stings designed to uncover evidence of black market weapons' grade plutonium smuggling which was definitely queering their pitch in the market and so they devised a counter-sting involving supplying the Chechen terrorist community in London with polonium, the isotope of choice for ''dirty'' bombs.

'Litvinenko was to be the middle man between Lugavoy (hope I spelt that right) and the terrorists and of course the aim was to bust the transaction at the last moment and finger MI6 for it – thus killing loads of birds all with one stone. Really neat.

'What exactly went wrong is not absolutely 100% clear but it seems that that an informal soirée (really hope I spelt that right too) at the Berezovsky (ditto) residence in which a great of deal of vodka was consumed in the traditional Russian manner there was a mixup involving two banned substances to wit 1. cocaine 2. polonium – easy enough mistake to make when you're completely out of it let's face it – and the rest is history as they say but do PLEASE let's not exactly start a world war over it if only because there's still an outside chance they Russians might actually win it given what they're like when it comes to war i.e. extremely serious and not all in the Olympic spirit like the Chinese incidentally and which is also something we will all eventually have to come to terms with too I expect.'

12. I am certainly not ruling out the possibility that this was simple facetiousness by someone who was making things up. And I certainly do not think that it represents 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.'

13. Having read the 'deathbed testimony' with some care, however, it seems to me that by far the most plausible explanation is that it is indeed 'fiction'. Moreover, it seems to me that one of the purposes of this 'fiction' may very well be to obscure the fact that there was indeed an incident involving polonium at Berezovsky's office, very likely on the evening of 31 October 2006.

14. About the only British journalist who has acted as anything more than a stenographer for anonymous British 'security officials' in handling the Litvinenko affair is Mary Dejevsky. In a May 2008 piece, she noted a Russian complaint that Western 'stings' in relation to supposed trafficking of nuclear materials amount to 'provocations'.

15. A great deal of effort has been deployed by the opponents of the current Russian government – as also the Iraqi, Syrian, and Iranian governments – to link them to dubious activities involving WMD of one kind or another.

It seems to me eminently possible that some kind of action-and-reaction process did happen. Had people left the polonium sealed in its container, probably nobody would have been the wiser to this day.


Litvinenko clearly had a wide circle of very dodgy acquaintances. Here's a story where some of them are involved in other legal scandals, including corrupt lawyers and Nigerian thieves investing in London property, and accusations of bribing the Metropolitan police. Juicy stuff.

'By July 2014, the Met Police had retaliated by charging Gohil and Cliff Knuckey, the ex-Met officer now heading RISC, with ‘producing and distributing false allegations that police officers had received corrupt payments from a firm of private detectives’. Just as an aside, Knuckey/RISC is also allegedly the erstwhile employer of Alexander Litvinenko, the ‘poisoned’ former Russian Spy, and has acted for the Candy brothers, multi-million pound London property developers.'

David Habakkuk

TTG & Colonel Lang,

Let me assure you that the point of my piece of silliness was emphatically not, as it were, to take the name of 'Aaron Bank's children' in vain: quite the reverse.

I have discovered over the years that getting involved in arguments with people who are determined to believe the worst about the motives and intentions of those they dislike is commonly unproductive. So it has seemed to me sensible to shift the discussion to issues of competence.

At the inquiry, a version which surfaced shortly after they were first incriminated, according to which Lugovoi and Kovtun were 'bungling assassins' was recycled. So was another claim, that they were ignorant of the properties of polonium.

It has long seemed to me absolutely clear that they were ignorant of the properties of polonium. However, one then has to argue either that some FSB 'Department of Exotic Poisons' was similarly ignorant, or that they deliberately kept their chosen assassins in the dark, so causing them to put themselves – and also in Lugovoi's case his family – in very serious danger.

The only way to rescue this extraordinary farrago is to postulate that the FSB would have been absolutely certain that, after Litvinenko died in agony, there was no conceivable chance that some of the most sophisticated facilities for analysing chemical weapons and nuclear materials in the world (Aldermaston and Porton Down) could identify the toxin.

So the origin of my fantasia lay precisely in the fact that both of you come from precisely that part of the U.S. military that has the most rigorous selection procedures, for 'brain' as well as 'brawn', in conjunction with extremely thorough and diverse training. It was precisely the formidable reputation of the 'Green Berets' that was the basis of my attempt at jest.

Actually, there is an ironic difference. In the case of Lugovoi, he never worked for the FSB or its predecessor organisations. He came out of the old Ninth Directorate of the KGB, which provided bodyguard services, in particular for the leadership and nuclear installations.

This is not a case where the different figures supposed to be involved have the closeness which comes from a common background in an organisation with a strong 'esprit de corps'. The notion that Lugovoi would have accepted a commission to put a lethal toxin in a teapot, as it were, 'sight unseen' is palpable drivel.



As we said the concept is hilarious but alas the potential for acceptance pf the image as real is worrisome. pl

David Habakkuk


'I happen to have concerned myself greatly with the question of the so called apartment bombings in Russia in 2000.'

So, you will obviously be familiar with the arguments made in the paper 'Revisiting Russia's Apartment Block Blasts' by Robert Bruce Ware in the 'Journal of Slavic Military Studies' in 2005.

(See http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13518040590914118 .)

What do you think of them?

You refer to the 'majority of thinking people in Russia'. Who do you define as a thinking person?

As I explained in the comment Colonel Lang posted, Alexander Litvinenko produced evidence for the so-called 'Mitrokhin Commission'.

His letter dated 1 December includes the following passage:

'At present Putin is Mogilevich's 'krysha' (protection in criminal jargon – interpreter's note.) This is Putin who protects Mogilevich. And this is reason that FBI cannot arrest Mogilevich. It is obvious from this conversation that Putin in fact is hiding Mogilevich. Earlier I had information that Putin is in fact arm dealer and particularly was selling weapons to the Al-Qaeda leaders. There was information that on Al Qaeda's request Mogilevich tried to get a mini nuclear bomb. I know beyond doubt that Mogilevich is FSB's long-standing agent and all his actions including his contacts with Al-Qaeda are controlled by FSB – Russian special services.'

(See https://www.litvinenkoinquiry.org/files/2015/04/INQ018922wb.pdf .)

When he made these accusations, Litvinenko was, as we now know, an agent, as distinct from an informant, of the British 'special services'.

Do you believe that Mogilevich was, while acting for the FSB and under the personal 'krysha' of Putin, attempted to equip Al-Qaeda with nukes? Do you believe that Litvinenko and Yuri Shvets genuinely believed that he did?

Do you think that anyone should regard him as a reliable source on anything?


David, at his best, I agree, TTG.

A good journalist is always aware that the most easy way to "bridge" more murky contexts with is the easy narrative.

I admittedly hesitated to look closer. But he may force me to do now. ;)

David Habakkuk

Colonel Lang,

I did attempt to answer the question about the focus on the FSB, but was perhaps excessively convoluted.

As the issues involved are quite interesting, I will hasard a few thoughts.

They missing presence in this story, from early on, was Berezovsky's partner, the Georgian-Jewish oligarch Arkadi 'Badri' Patarkatsishvili. A site run by his former U.S. lawyer, Emanuel Zeltser, is emphatically not to be trusted, but provides a collection of useful material. Included is a 'Sunday Times' article from 2009, in which a 'friend' of the two oligarchs is quoted as describing Patarkatsishvili as the 'muscle'.

(See http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2016/01/david-hakkuk-on-sir-robert-owens-inquiry.html#comment-6a00d8341c72e153ef01b8d1967fcc970c .)

Whether or not it was intended, I think the mafia sense of the word was apt. But Patarkatsishvili, as it were, would happily use violence to maintain the structure of intimidation on which business empires in the post-Soviet space depended, and probably to get rid of people who stood in the way. But this was done, as it were, without hard feelings – and he was generous with his friends.

By contrast Berezovsky was, as Lugovoi attempted to explain in the press conference where he responded to the request for his extradition, 'a master of political intrigues': he really was not greatly interested in the business empire which had largely fallen into his and Patarkatsishvili's hands. His giddy ascent to the position of 'kingmaker' in post-Soviet Russia had gone to his head. And a particular venom and fury was reserved for people whom he thought had betrayed him.

(For the press conference, see https://www.rt.com/news/andrey-lugovoy-calls-himself-victim-in-litvinenko-case/ .)

A piece in 'The Daily Beast' by Owen Matthews after his death is entitled 'How Boris Berezovsky Made Vladimir Putin, and Putin Unmade Berezovsky.' It epitomises a common Western combination of a willingness partially to face up to the Machiavellian elements in post-Soviet politics, with a recurrent collapse back into simplistic 'good guys' versus 'bad guys' thinking.

(See http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/03/24/how-boris-berezovsky-made-vladimir-putin-and-putin-unmade-berezovsky.html .)

What the report brings out is the extraordinary hatred which Berezovsky felt for Putin – but also inadvertently reproduces some of the same miscalculations the oligarch made. To write that 'Berezovsky was Dr. Frankenstein, whose monster was a poker-faced little KGB officer' is simply to repeat his mistake.

Amid so much disinformation, what seems reasonably clear is that it was Berezovsky's attempt to get control of the FSB which led to the appointment of Putin to head it.

What the former could not grasp, however, was not simply that the figure he regarded as a manipulable instrument was a very formidable political player indeed – but that he himself was a gambler playing for too high stakes with too few cards. And part of his failure, as also that of Khodorkovsky, was a gross overestimate of the value of Western 'krysha' in post-Soviet faction fights: the same mistake that was made alike by Saakashvili and the Ukrainian nationalists.

Among Putin's advantages was the ability to bring together a significant coalition from within the security services, including many very able people, and also to forge a message which made sense to very many voters. His offer to the oligarchs – you can keep your ill-gotten gains, so long as you stay out of politics – was one most of them could accept.

However, it was also one that Berezovsky was psychologically incapable of accepting: it meant sacrificing everything he loved in order to retain something which, for itself, bored him. A further Achilles heel, however, then became the fact that Patarkatsishvili was not really with him in his choice.

And this was all the more so, because seeking revenge became an obsession with Berezovsky. And this meant that he was channelling his resources to challenge Putin on every possible front. In addition to his hopes of destabilising the new 'sistema' itself, he was active in supporting the Chechen insurgents, and also the anti-Russian nationalist forces in Ukraine.

This made him of particular value to elements in Western intelligence who could not get used to the fact that the 'happy days' of the 'Nineties were not going to last, and who aspired to a renewed 'regime change' in Russia itself, and the 'rollback' of Russian influence in Ukraine, Chechnya, and elsewhere in the Ukraine and Central Asia.

The nature of these agendas necessarily meant that the principal counter-offensive came from the FSB.

What followed were 'dirty wars', in a number of senses.

In regards to the Berezovsky side, many of the principal targets of his 'information operations' were those figures who had been active in destroying his position, against whom he sought revenge.

At a more pragmatic level, however, his involvement with the Chechen insurgents – partly deriving from the fact that in the gangland wars of the 'Nineties his 'krysha' had been Chechen – meant that he had to face off a major challenge. A key part of the 'information warfare' case that the Russian security services were making, particularly after the attack on the World Trade Center, was that experience had shown that collaborating with jihadists was too dangerous.

This was not a conclusion which large elements in Western intelligence were prepared to accept. In Britain, the combination of historical links with the Saudis, antagonism to the Iran Revolution, an underlying fear that German energy dependence on Russia would undermine that country's 'Atlanticist' orientation pushed strongly in 'neo-con' directions. So too did other factors, including the 'cult of the Shoah'.

Throughout the 'information operations' practised by the Berezovsky group and their British associates, accordingly, people who were deemed to have opposed, if not betrayed, him were principal targets.

So the supposed 'due diligence' dossiers prepared by Litvinenko and Yuri Shvets, for Erinys and Titon, targeted Viktor Ivanov, who had been put in when Aeroflot was taken over. A further dossier targeted Igor Sechin, who had been instrumental in the destruction of Yukos.

When Litvinenko and Scaramella cooked up their farrago about Alexander Talik being involved in assassination plots against the latter, Senator Guzzanti, and others, the supposed mastermind was Colonel Victor Shebalin – who had played a double game in relation to the press conference which Litvinenko tried to use to bring Putin to heel.

At the same time, the Russian security services were using distinctly Machiavellian methods to try to split figures involved in Berezovsky's business empire – and also Khodorkovsky's – away. In the case of the latter, after the arrest of Khodorkovsky, his associates failed to provide a viable means of replacing the 'muscle'.

The lawyer Stephen Curtis, who was put in to run Menatep, panicked and started spilling beans to the National Criminal Intelligence Service, so he was assassinated. The stooges then began taking advantage of the situation, probably with the collaboration of the FSB and elements in organised crime, to launder the monies through Spain.

The real triumph however was using Lugovoi to split Patarkatsishvili from Berezovsky.

What I think they may have tried to do is to split Litvinenko from Berezovsky.
It was of the nature of these intrigues, however, that while both the SVR and the FSB would have been relevant, the prime focus would have been on the latter. And the prime target of Berezovsky's 'information operations' was clearly the latter.

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