January 30, 2008 -- RFE/RL Broadcast Center, Prague
On January 30th, RFE/RL hosted a screening of the Russian documentary "Rebellion: The Litvinenko Case" at its headquarters in Prague. The film relates the story of Alexander Litvinenko, who died of radiation poisoning in London in November 2006. The award-winning documentary features material from conversations between Litvinenko and filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov about the rise of new power structures in Russia, the influence of the Russian secret service FSB on the political class, and the reasons for Litvinenko's outspoken criticism of the Russian political system. The filmmakers also interviewed Litvinenko's widow, friends, and former Russian Federal Security Service colleagues.
The screening was followed by a discussion about political developments in Russia featuring the film's directors Andrei Nekrasov and Olga Kolskaya as well as author and Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum. Nekrasov emphasized the uniqueness of Litvinenko's murder compared to other recent killings of Russian regime critics: The scene wasn't Moscow or St. Petersburg but London, a major capital of the world and a hub for Russian emigres. The murder wasn't committed with a bullet to the head but by poisoning the victim's tea with a rare radioactive substance. This led to unprecedented levels of international media attention and a high-level investigation into the case conducted by Scotland Yard. Finally, the main suspect of the investigation didn't turn out to be an unknown thug but a prominent Russian businessman, politician, and former KGB agent, with direct links to the Kremlin. Nekrasov believed that such an operation could only have been conducted with the knowledge of highest Russian political circles.
Discussants agreed that the Western world has not yet found answers to the increasingly authoritarian and repressive tactics of the Kremlin. Most governments and businesses are preoccupied with Russia's geopolitical role, for example on global oil and gas markets and in the international effort to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon. There currently are few ideas how to engage the Russian regime on the worrying trends regarding human rights and civil society in the country, and how to address the apparent criminal elements of its government.