Is Putin the Russian Poisoner-in-Chief?
A Poisoned Spy – NY Times editorial
Despite the utter lack of evidence about who poisoned Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spy who died last week in a London hospital, it was hardly surprising that suspicion fell immediately on the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Litvinenko was a defector with many enemies in Russia, official and otherwise, and Mr. Putin’s record on justice and human rights has left many people prepared to believe the worst.
It did not help that the Kremlin quickly went on the defensive. Government spokesmen declared that any suggestion of Kremlin complicity was “sheer nonsense” and that the Soviet and Russian intelligence services hadn’t assassinated anyone since 1959. Talk about sheer nonsense.
How much better it would have been had Mr. Putin’s people said something like, “Let us help find out who did this outrageous thing!” That’s also what Mr. Putin might have said when Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter, was murdered or when all the other reformers were killed.
Words like that might not end the violence. The struggle for wealth and power in Russia is out of control. Mr. Litvinenko also certainly had a long list of highly motivated enemies. He was a defector who claimed he had been ordered to kill the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky. He wrote a book alleging that his fellow Russian agents had organized a lethal bombing and accused Chechen terrorists. At the time he was poisoned, he was said to be looking into the death of Ms. Politkovskaya.
But the real problem is that Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. agent himself, has given no indication that he is dismayed by the political killings, or that he is doing much to stop them. He seems mainly concerned with deflecting blame.