Poison and politics have been a lethal combination for a long, long time. Most of us remember from our history classes the story of Socrates, forced by Athenian law to drink a cup of hemlock in 399 B.C. And then there was the speculation that Napoleon was poisoned while in exile on the Isle of Elba. We should remember, too, the 1978 killing of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov by an assassin with an umbrella tip coated with the toxin ricin. Markov, a playwright and satirist was killed in London after broadcasting several accounts of the Communist elite living the high life. Cloak and dagger stuff. Now add in the latest killing in London.
Former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko has been a harsh and vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Now he is a late critic who has died from poison: a radioactive substance called polonium-210. That is no ordinary poison and it is no ordinary death. The British Health Protection Agency labeled the affair “an unprecedented event.”
“I have been in radiation sciences for 30-odd years and I am not aware of any (other) such incident” stated Roger Cox, director of the agency’s center for radiation, chemicals and environmental hazards.”
There can be little doubt that Litvinenko ran afoul of Russians still involved with the spy apparatus that is a part of their government. He alleged that he had been targeted by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service because of his outspoken views concerning the death of another Putin critic, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in October and whose death is still listed as unsolved.
Was Putin, himself the former head of the KGB, directly involved? Did he give the order to his government’s secret police to do the deed? In a death-bed statement, Litvinenko accused Putin—who he called “barbaric and ruthless” of ordering his poisoning. The Russian leader took the unprecedented path of actually responding to the accusation. Predictably, of course, he denied any involvement.
“A death of a man is always a tragedy and I deplore this,” he said. “However,” he continued, “it’s extremely regrettable that such a death is being used for political provocation.” Putin strongly denied any connection to the death with his government. He pledged cooperation in the investigations which are just now commencing concerning the former KGB agent’s death.
Former agent Litvinenko was far from a saint himself, however, and British authorities have not ruled out completely the fact that the agent may have committed suicide in this bizarre manner just to bring increased attention and hostility down upon the Kremlin. Certainly that is the line now being pushed by the Russian Communist-run news media. However, that does seem to be quite a stretch considering the horrible and painful deterioration of the body and the acute agony of the slow death that occurs from this method of poisoning.
What then are we to make of this incident? It can hardly be just a random death that happened under bizarre circumstances. Litvinenko was on the trail of a suspicious death and he had vocalized often his feelings that he was being watched and that the Russians were very unhappy with him and his continued statements that Putin is not the gentle leader he tries to appear to be.
Despite all the hype to the contrary, Mikhail Gorbachev did not usher in a new era of democracy into the former Soviet Union. Simply wearing sharp looking suits and “acting western” does not necessarily change one’s basic ideology. In my view, the Soviet attitudes and desires for world domination have never changed. They just wised up to public perceptions and played upon the media, but nothing in their basic governmental structure has really changed. Now they call themselves Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), but the people are still oppressed and basic freedoms except for the governmental elite are routinely squashed.
In the early 1990s there were many privatization deals especially involving Russian oil and other energy sources. Opportunities for Russian industrialists and individual tycoons appeared to emerge, but the truth is that modern Russia is no democracy, nor any bastion of human freedoms. President Putin is about as much of a president as were the dictators Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein. After the apparent move toward a Western democracy, it was not long before the Russian government decided that private ownership and the profits to individuals that accompanied them were not a formula for restoring power to the Russian state. So much then for democracy. The Russians wanted back what had been lost to certain intelligent and/or lucky individual investors.
Soon, Soviet multi-millionaires, even billionaires, found themselves either under arrest, dead, forced into exile, or sent to gulags in Siberia, stripped of their power and riches almost as quickly as they had obtained them. When Litvinenko, as a KGB agent (and also as an agent for the successor agency, the Federal Security Bureau, or FSB), went public in 1999 with the story that he had refused a direct order to kill the exiled Russian billionaire, Boris Berezovsky, he was thrown in jail for nine months on the charge of abuse of office and was then deported. He took up residence in London, where he was granted asylum in 2000, and continued his public blasts at his former bosses.
Who can say now who is telling the truth and who is not? One thing though that is for certain is that we can trust the Communists to continue being Communists, awash in intrigue, power grabs and a steady secret desire that has never changed: to rule the world and suppress America and all that she stands for. The proof is in the poisoned political atmosphere that can be easily seen in Russia and their “Commonwealth” today.
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