Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Power Vertical

Breaking Bad

Tools of the trade for international assassins. (Cartoon by RFE/RL's Current Time)
Tools of the trade for international assassins. (Cartoon by RFE/RL's Current Time)
By Brian Whitmore

In many ways it all began with the assassination of Aleksandr Litvinenko.

Not that Vladimir Putin's Russia was exactly a model global citizen before the November 2006 killing of the former KGB spy who defected to Great Britain.

But when Litvinenko was lethally poisoned after drinking tea laced with polonium in a London hotel in November 2006, it heralded Russia's transformation from being a mere international pain in the ass to being a full-blown outlaw state.

When former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi and his accomplice Dmitry Kovtun killed Litvinenko, most likely with Putin's approval according to an official British investigation, it was the moment when Russia fully went rogue.

It was the point where the Kremlin stopped even pretending to play by international rules. 

It was the point where Moscow's gangster state truly went international.

In fact, at the time he was killed, Litvinenko was preparing to testify in a Spanish investigation into ties between Vladimir Putin's inner circle and Russian organized crime groups operating in Europe.

And after Putin's agents whacked a British citizen on British soil and got away with it, Russia truly started breaking bad.

Months later, in April 2007, came Russia's cyber attacks on Estonia that hit that country's parliament, banks, and government ministries. And the following year, in August 2008, came the invasion of Georgia.

Litvinenko's killing was also a prologue to the more recent litany of bad behavior and law breaking: the little green men and the annexation of Crimea, the hybrid war in the Donbas, and the downing of Flight MH17 by Moscow-backed separatists.

It was a harbinger of Moscow's new fondness for hostage taking, a wave that has seen Estonian law enforcement officer Eston Kohver, Ukrainian Air Force pilot Nadia Savchenko, and Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov kidnapped from their home countries and hauled before show trials in Russia to face ridiculous charges.

It was a prelude to the recent wave of cyberattacks on targets including a French television network, a German steelmaker, the Warsaw stock exchange, The New York Times, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. State Department, and the White House.

The British investigation, which concluded that Litvinenko was probably killed on Putin's personal order, is important because it provides by far the most damning confirmation of a link between the assassination and the Kremlin's inner sanctum.

It gives an official imprimatur to what has long been widely suspected. It reminds us of the utter outrageousness of what happened nearly a decade ago.

There were, of course, signs before Litvinenko's killing that Putin's Russia was headed for the dark side.

A month earlier, investigative journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in the stairwell of her Moscow apartment building -- on Putin's birthday.

And in 2004, Russia brazenly interfered in Ukraine's presidential election, and is widely suspected of being involved in the poisoning of the eventual winner, Viktor Yushchenko.

There was also the February 2004 assassination of Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in the Qatari capital, Doha.

But the Litvinenko killing -- which was described by a lawyer for the London police as "a nuclear attack on the streets of London" -- crossed a line.

Nine years and two months ago, Putin learned that he could get away with murder -- even of foreign citizens on foreign soil.

And we've been living with the consequences ever since.

WATCH: The Daily Vertical -- It All Began With Litvinenko

The Daily Vertical: It All Began With Litvinenkoi
January 21, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Robert Broadhead from: Salt Lake City
January 22, 2016 00:12
What an incredible summary of Putin and Russia's international criminal behavior! And you can add many other things to the list; one more example: the bombing of an apartment building by FSB agents - and the discovery of another apartment complex about to be bombed - that all led to Putin's brutal war in Chechnya.

by: Chris
January 22, 2016 00:42
Excellent analytical brief. The realization that nearly any State can go rogue without consequences is sickening.

by: Larry Hedrick from: United States
January 22, 2016 02:37
Many thanks to Mr. Whitmore for this very effective summary on just how badly—and in which directions—Vladimir Putin has broken. It seems almost inevitable that Putin’s evil pride and relentless overreaching will eventually culminate in his self-destruction. Given that Russia has been going from weakness to weakness in recent months, we can hope that this gangster-president ends up in the dustbin of history sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, the trail of pain that Putin leaves behind him will haunt his victims for many, many years after he has gone.
In Response

by: Lasse from: Denmark
January 22, 2016 08:48
Precisely - and unfortunately it seems to be very long time the Russians have to suffer under their "dear Leader" - and long time yet we'll see Ukrainians being killed in Donbas. Although we see some effects from the sanctions - but way more from the lowering oil prices - it could be possible to shorten this agony significantly, if the Western world could (finally) step up their sanctions to a level which the Russian kleptocracy and dictatorship can _really_ feel - t.ex. with an exclusion from the SWIFT network. Deprive the government from their stolen money - _that_ will be taken seriously by them. Not the suffering of their people, nor the killings of innocent victims - they give a damn about that.
In Response

by: Larry Hedrick from: United States
January 22, 2016 13:31
I agree, Lasse, except for wondering if their attitude toward the evils that they create isn't something rather sicker than you suggest. Do you know the expression 'stone-cold killer'? That fits Putin and his henchmen as well as it fit Stalin. Not to get too Freudian, but I suspect that such monsters have largely replaced sexual satisfaction with what for them is an even greater thrill: broadcasting suffering and death. If I'm not mistaken, these awful men are genuine sadists, and that is why their very presence in power places the world in such danger.
In Response

by: Alex
January 22, 2016 18:38
If Putin will do anything he is not afraid to let the hole world to know that he have done this and I'm pretty sure he will find a expansion y he has done this.But you animals are like the scams of this planet and trying to cover the truth by accusing someone else shame on you terrorist you all are using the muslim like your own prostitutes give them a little bit of money and than tell them about their virgins in the other life before you send them to kill you own citizens animals idiots quit blaming someone else blame yourself first and stop terrorism from your hearts first in order to make a change in this world

by: Rick N from: UK
January 22, 2016 09:24
What if Litvinenko was killed by British or American agents in order to accuse Putin in this crime? Britain still can not disclose its so-called "evidences," rather they have nothing to disclose, as many experts think. However, the RFE/RL unilaterally trying to defame Putin in it. This is not a journalism, it is trash!
In Response

by: Neil Nelson from: UT, USA
January 22, 2016 16:09
What if Rick N from the UK killed Litvinenko? You can find out by looking at the very lengthy evidence (329 pagse) given by Sir Robert Owen, the Inquiry Chairman.

by: Nick from: US
January 22, 2016 09:35
If we talk about assassinations, no one can get ahead of our Americans. Our Zionist leaders have been using U.S. by encouraging military industrial complex to grow too big too powerful that an all-out war must be pushed every couple of years. Our economy is also insanity and responsible for global conflicts - a debt based economy is pretty much a way for those psychos to make Americans dependent of the system, and Fed holds incredibly huge power, huge enough to push every war over lies... Israel is backed by the biggest lobby AIPAC, who influences U.S. foreign policy very much, so it's obvious - we are tricked into fighting Israel's neighbors for military, economic and political reasons.
In Response

by: Neil Nelson from: UT, USA
January 22, 2016 16:12
And your recommedations are?

by: Mark from: United States
January 22, 2016 09:42
Does our US government have a moral right to accuse anybody in any crime or violations??? Where does the US money go??? We arm terrorists to create civil wars in a country, then the terrorists we've armed create millions of refugees, then we play humanitarian card by accepting millions of refugees into western world and expect them to not hate us for making them homeless refugees? Do you think those refugees are gonna fall in love with us after our intervention has killed their families and destroyed their homes? Do you seriously believe they are gonna fall in love with us because we give them free welfare and kick out own citizens to let them in? We are no more than hypocrites to them. But, the administration keeps arming terrorists to repeat this disastrous suicide cycle.
In Response

by: Neil Nelson from: UT, USA
January 22, 2016 16:20
The US Congress spends the government money and this page will get you started on where all that money goes.

I am not aware of the US arming any of terrorists. Perhaps you have some links.
In Response

by: Mark from: US
January 23, 2016 12:16
Neil, didn't you know that if a "stranger" provides web links, RFE/RL doesn't publish them? Your radio publishes the links only from its own trolls such as your holiness. Such a way we can easily find out who is the RFE/RL troll, and who is not. It very well fits in the so-called "American freedom..."
In Response

by: Neil Nelson from: UT, USA
January 23, 2016 15:49
This link problem is rather easily overcome. Say 'do a search on these words ...' and pick the result from such and such. Sometimes you have to do a little work for freedom.
In Response

by: Neil Nelson from: UT, USA
January 23, 2016 16:14
Mark, you can also send your links to @neil_nelson2 on twitter.
In Response

by: Neil Nelson from: UT, USA
January 23, 2016 21:43
Mark, Another way to provide references (see my other two posts in this thread along this line) is to give enough of the author, title, date and anything else that can be used on a search to find the right page.
In Response

by: C. Henry from: US
January 24, 2016 12:08
The British government, not the US, has made accusations against Putin.

by: C, Henry from: USA
January 24, 2016 11:57
Litvinenko's famous press conference denouncing the FSB for ordering a hit on Berezovsky occurred in Nov. 1998 at a time when Putin was the chief of the FSB. Why do you think Litvinenko was not killed until Nov. 2006? Does the delay reflect the fact that the FSB doesn't order hits unless the Kremlin approves?

by: C. Henry from: US
January 24, 2016 12:05
As a follow up to my previous comment, perhaps he was killed because he was going to testify in Spain instead of because of his 1998 press conference.

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or