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December 6, 2006
Civil War In The Kremlin?

The assassination of Alexander Litvinenko has put Vladimir Putin under a bright spotlight, as the former KGB/FSB agent is only the latest in a series of Putin critics who have died under suspicious circumstances. The British believe that Putin has masterminded the murders as a means of convincing potential foes of the health benefits of silence. However, Der Spiegel questions that analysis and points to an alternate theory -- that the FSB has gone rogue and now operates outside of Putin's control:

As they were leaving the church after the service, Litvinenko said: "It's quite clear that they are working down a list of targets. The state has become a serial killer." But unlike his dead friend, who, until his last breath, had accused the Russian president directly of having ordered the murder, Nekrasov finds it difficult to believe that Vladimir Putin was directly responsible for ordering the poisoning. Instead, said Nekrasov, Putin is unable to control certain elements among his allies, "people who sit in their dachas and saunas, bragging that they can find and destroy anyone -- anywhere in the world -- who displeases them."

In other words, Litvinenko wasn't the only one. Politkovskaya may also have been on this suspected list. Journalist Jan Travinsky, shot to death in the Siberian city of Irkutsk in 2004, is another possibility. And what about the former Chechen head of security Movladi Baisarov, who, after being arrested, was shot in Moscow in broad daylight on Nov. 18? And Andrey Kozlov, the deputy chairman of the Russian Central Bank, who fell victim to assassins on Sept. 13? Was a powerful clique behind all those murders?

The ongoing series of murders -- a series which may have found its most recent victim on Monday with the murder of Alexander Samoilenko, the general director of the gas company Itera-Samara -- has many suspecting that doing away with political opponents may once again be a favored strategy inside the Kremlin. Former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was famous for it -- and now, it seems as though the baton has been passed, with dissidents in President Vladimir Putin's Russia once again having to fear for their lives. Even former political leaders may not be safe -- doctors have been unable to diagnose a mysterious illness which befell ex-premier Yegor Gaidar in Ireland last week. Poisoning is a leading candidate.

If anything, however, DS makes a better case that Putin has decided to simply liquidate all of his political opponents. The list goes on and on, and they all have one curious attribute in common: they opposed Vladimir Putin and had the power to make him uncomfortable. Some of them had more power than that; Viktor Yushchenko moved Ukraine out of Russia's orbit and flirted openly with NATO, and Litvinenko had access to information from his own days within Russian intelligence.

It's possible that the FSB has decided to act on its own and that Putin has no guilt in these murders and attacks. However, one has to ask why the FSB would act insubordinately, but only in order to kill the enemies of its supposedly undermined chief. They do not appear to strike any of Putin's allies while purportedly defying his authority, but act instead to make that authority more secure.

If that's what passes for an enemy in Russia, Putin could hardly afford to have friends.

Besides, if Putin really faced an insurrection in his intelligence services, he would look for allies to help contain it. That hardly appears to be the case, as Putin named the price for cooperation with British investigators:

Russia named its price yesterday for providing help in the investigation into the death by poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. It demanded that Britain hand over the enemies of President Putin who have been given asylum in London.

The ultimatum came as Russian officials imposed strict limits on how Scotland Yard detectives will be allowed to operate as they began their investigation in Moscow.

The offer came with one condition -- the British could not pursue any leads that pointed towards the FSB. If Russia's intel services really have risen against him, why would he protect them from the British investigators that would nail them for the assassinations? And if Putin has no interest in seeing his critics dead, then why did he demand that Britain deport them from their asylum back to Russia and Putin's control?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 6, 2006 5:04 AM

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The assassination of Alexander Litvinenko has put Vladimir Putin under a bright spotlight, as the former KGB/FSB agent is only the latest in a series of Putin critics who have died under suspicious circumstances. The British believe that Putin has mast... [Read More]

Tracked on December 6, 2006 10:52 AM


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