Rus­sia slid­ing darkly

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

The as­sas­si­na­tion of for­mer Rus­sian Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice Col. Alexan­der Litvi­nenko in Lon­don em­pha­sizes an omi­nous read­ing of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s pub­lic lamen­ta­tions of the down­fall of the Soviet Union in his 2005 state-of-the-na­tion ad­dress. Usu­ally un­der­stood in the geopo­lit­i­cal con­text in which it was made, the re­mark in­creas­ingly ap­plies to the way the for­mer KGB of­fi­cer’s gov­ern­ment han­dles do­mes­tic mat­ters: tram­pling both the rule of law and free­dom of the press, and re­ly­ing on po­lit­i­cal killings to si­lence crit­ics and po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents. Mr. Putin brought with him fel­low KGB of­fi­cers to fill many of the Krem­lin’s top posts, and with them came the KGB’s bru­tal cul­ture and its heinous tac­tics — and the poi­son­ing of Mr. Litvi­nenko with ra­dioac­tive polo­nium 210 is a clear man­i­fes­ta­tion of that cul­ture.

In its for­eign pol­icy, Rus­sia has be­come in­creas­ingly bel­liger­ent and hos­tile to­ward the West, fol­low­ing Mr. Putin’s de­sire for a more in­de­pen­dent and as­sertive Rus­sia. Mr. Putin wants to use Rus­sia’s en­ergy re­sources as a foun­da­tion for his stated goal of re­con­struct­ing a su­per­power — not a mere “en­ergy su­per­power” — to over­come what he be­lieves were years of Rus­sian sub­servience af­ter the Cold War.

Mr. Litvi­nenko is an­other in a se­ries of prom­i­nent crit­ics and op­po­nents of the Putin gov­ern­ment felled by po­lit­i­cal as­sas­si­na­tion. Re­porter Anna Politkovskaya, a vo­cal critic of Rus­sian hu­man-rights abuses, was shot to death in the mid­dle of an Oc­to­ber day. An early re­sponse from the Krem­lin blamed the con­tract killing on Boris Bere­zovsky — an ex­iled ty­coon that the Krem­lin also blamed for the mur­der of Mr. Litvi­nenko. In 2004, Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist Paul Kleb­nikov was shot eight times as he left his Forbes mag­a­zine of­fice. Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties se­lec­tively blamed the death on a Chechen sep­a­ratist, ig­nor­ing sev­eral other pos­si­ble the­o­ries. More than a dozen re­porters have been killed dur­ing the Putin years. De­tails sur­round­ing th­ese po­lit­i­cal killings have been guarded with such se­crecy as to pre­clude any real in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which is to be ex­pected if, as many in the West sus­pect, those do­ing the in­ves­ti­gat­ing an­swer to the same gov­ern­ment that has been or­der­ing the as­sas­si­na­tions.

Scot­land Yard’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mur­der of Mr. Litvi­nenko, a Bri­tish cit­i­zen, should not be sub­ject to such po­lit­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion. But other than to com­plain, op­tions for the United States and Europe are lim­ited — the Rus­sian par­lia­ment passed a law in June au­tho­riz­ing the Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice to track down and kill Rus­sia’s en­e­mies in other coun­tries and pro­tect­ing those agents from pros­e­cu­tion in Rus­sia. The meth­ods of Mr. Putin’s gov­ern­ment are familiar to those who re­mem­ber the Cold War, and what may be left for the West is to treat Mr. Putin’s Rus­sia as the po­lice state that it is be­com­ing.

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