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December 13, 2006
They're Getting The Message

Potential witnesses to the murder of Alexander Litvinenko have suddenly begun to make themselves scarce. As more and more agencies involve themselves in the probe, fewer and fewer people remain to interrogate:

Key witnesses in the Alexander Litvinenko investigation are missing, with their families claiming that they fear for their lives.

The sudden disappearance of a number of leading figures linked to the affair will make it even harder for British detectives, whose inquiry has now spread across five countries.

Interpol joined the hunt for the murderer yesterday, saying that it hoped to exchange information coming from Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Russia.

Scotland Yard was struggling to gain access to vital witnesses with former associates of Litvinenko claiming that they are too scared to come forward.

Evgeny Limarev, who told the former KGB officer that he was on a death list just hours before he was poisoned, was reported to have fled his home in the French Alps, where he was under police protection. Before his disappearance, he said that British detectives wanted to question him about the origins of a hitlist that included Litvinenko’s name among the targets being hunted by a team of former Russian agents working across Europe.

If, as widely believed, the Litvinenko assassination occurred to send a message to dissidents and asylum seekers, then it succeeded. Limarev even dashed away from police protection, an odd choice under the circumstances. His sources have also gone to ground, as the Times puts it, and that makes the trail very chilly indeed.

Once again, this points towards Moscow and Vladimir Putin. What else besides the FSB under Putin's heavy hand would strike this kind of fear into witnesses? Certainly not MI-6, which might end up detaining some of the people but wouldn't attempt to kill any of them. They want witnesses, not dead bodies and missing dissidents. If the threat was Chechen terrorists, then these witnesses would flock to MI-6 and the CIA for protection. They wouldn't dream of doing so while the two agencies continue to cooperate with the FSB, though.

It really doesn't matter at this point. British and European agencies will never capture the real mastermind behind this assassination because he supplies the Continent with a great deal of their energy resources. He's got diplomatic immunity, and he knows how to run black-bag ops in such a manner as to make a very public point without officially dirtying his hands. The West has little choice but to continue to work with Putin, and so he has put himself out of their reach, for all intents and purposes.

And that's why all of the witnesses know they have to disappear -- before Putin makes them do so on his bloody terms.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 13, 2006 5:03 AM

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