Saturday, December 02, 2006


The most talked about news story in the UK right now has to be the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.

The big question is by whom and why. Before he died, his associates in the UK were quick to point the finger at Putin, though it's worth pointing out that those associates use Tim Bell, Thatcher's former PR man as their spokesperson, which on discovering this immediately made me feel sceptical about the case.

Why would Putin, through the security apparatus, the FSB, poison him? It's turned an obscure, former KGB officer into an international cause celebre. Moreover, why use Polonium-210, which, to judge from this incident is by no means reliable (he was given a 50-50 chance of survival at one stage), has to be used fairly quickly, having a half-life of 138 days, and according to today's news, expensive, estimating the cost of his dose at a staggering £20m. If they did want to bump him off, the best method would surely be to knife him in some secluded area and take his wallet, which would point the finger of suspicion at Britain's legion and vicious muggers. Of course, it could be that the intention was to kill him in as spectacular a fashion as possible, but I'm sure the likes of the FSB can think of much more horrific methods.

Another body of thought is that it was carried out by people who wanted to discredit Putin. How would they get hold of polonium-210? Russia makes the isotope in a single nuclear plant, in small, carefully-monitored amounts. It wouldn't be the easiest substance to obtain. It's also difficult to see how any such group could imagine it would blacken Putin's reputation any darker than it is at present, a leader of the oligarchs (translation: a set of capitalists who gained their positions of welath and power either from their former connections in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, or from bribery and/or extreme violence) and commander of Russian forces in the war against Chechnya, one so vicious as to make even the US's destruction of Fallujah look like a vicar's tea party.

There remains the possibility of an accident, perhaps Litvinenko had been dealing in stolen materials? There can't much of a market for polonium, its applications are very limited and it's not used in weaponry. Though this phrase in the wiki article struck me as intriguing:
Russian secret services allegedly use polonium for smudging currency bills so that they can trace them

Some currency skullduggery been going on?

I don't doubt MI5 and the government know a great deal more than they're letting on, but as usual it'll probably be blocked to the public for 50 years or so. I'm midnded of Trotsky's saying that state secrets aren't mainly to be hidden from other states but rather from that state's subject population.