Vienna, July 18 – Moscow is likely to go unpunished for its “liquidation” of Aleksandr Litvinenko in London because democratic governments seldom have been able to identify “an adequate response to liquidations carried out by foreign special services on their territories,” according to a leading Russian specialist on intelligence operations.
Still more unfortunately, writes Andrei Soldatov in an article published in “Yezhednevniy zhurnal” this week, such “illegitimate political murders almost always become the occasion for bargaining” between the state that organized the murder and the country on whose territory the murder took place (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=8220).
Soldatov’s article was a response to an earlier one in the same paper by Yuliya Latynina who argued that the British government will never stop pursuing Litvinenko’s murderers in Moscow and that London will not engage in any “bargaining” over this case because it is “one of those things” that democracies don’t engage in such activities (http://ej.ru/?a=note&ID=8210).
To make his case, Soldatov discusses what happened in West Germany in the 1950s and 1960s when the French SDECE operating under the code name “The Red Hand” carried out a series of murders and bombings in the Federal Republic. Paris took these actions, Soldatov says, in order to force Bonn to restrict the flow of arms to Algeria.
The German response, as German officials admit and various scholars attest, was to do exactly what the French government wanted, tightening restrictions on the flow of guns to the Algerian resistance lest Franco-German trade and economic comity be compromised by taking any tougher action.
Soldatov acknowledges that the Germans did respond harshly when two KGB officers acknowledged after defecting that they had been sent west to kill two anti-Soviet activists, but he argues that this reaction was a product of the Cold War and that any comparisons with it or with the Markov affair in London (which Latynina invokes) are thus inappropriate.
A second example the Moscow researcher sites concerns the Spanish government’s liquidation of Basque activists in France. Some 27 ETA members were killed there between 1983 and 1987, and Madrid had what it felt was a compelling reason to take this step: French support for the ETA.
The Spanish wanted France to declare ETA a terrorist organization. And that is just what happened when Paris saw that these murders were causing many tourists to decide not to visit the south of France because of the violence. Moreover, Paris shifted its position in another way and backed Spanish entrance into the World Trade Organization.
But “of course,” Soldatov says, these two cases “do not exhaust such applications of state terror:” Operatives of the current Iranian government have killed officials of the shah’s regime, without that provoking sanctions. And Israel “has avoided sanctions for the murders of Palestinians on the territories of third countries.”
And even before the Litvinenko case, Moscow not only had engaged in such practices but in 2006 had taken the remarkable step of passing a public law permitting “the destruction of people on the territories of third countries” if these people were engaged in fighting against or weakening the Russian state.
In 2004, as court records prove, Moscow operatives killed Chechen leader Yandarbiyev in Qatar. In 2006-07, Moscow operatives killed or kidnapped 12 Chechens in Azerbaijan. And in August 2007, it appears but has not yet been proven that Russian operatives shot an Islamist operative in Abkhazia.
What is striking in all these cases, Soldatov says, is the following: the governments involved “refused to give a principled response to the actions of foreign special services on their territories” or even acted in ways directly or indirectly that as was the case with Germany and France earlier that corresponded to the interests of those who sent such murderers in.
Indeed, the Russian commentator continues, he can remember “only one example when in such a situation the government responded on principle.” Italy and especially prosecutors in Milan “raised a storm of protest when CIA operatives in 2003 secretly seized and carried off Imam Abu Omar, to whom Rome had offered political asylum in 1997.
Given that record, Soldatov says, what will the British do if they conclude as some officials in London have that “the Russian government is behind the murder of Litvinenko?” More specifically, how could the British government or any other governments in fact “bring the powers that be in Russia to account?”
Except for a few articles in the press and “unofficial declarations of nameless representatives” of the British special services, British reaction has been restrained – and ultimately, as Soldatov notes in a “post script” to his article, the British prime minister has backed away even from that.
Eventually, the Moscow commentator said, “investigative journalists British and Russian will manage to shed light on who organized the murder of Litvinenko” just as journalists did in the Markov and ETA cases. But it will be journalists rather than the governments that will do so. That the latter might, Soldatov said, is not something for which he holds out any hope.