Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Did Russian Agencies Try to Poison Politkovskaya Attorney in France?

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 14 – Two days before she was slated to appear at a preliminary hearing on the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, Karinna Moskalenko, who is serving as the lawyer for the family of the deceased and is currently in France, discovered that someone had placed a large quantity of mercury in her car in an apparent effort to poison her and her family.
She and the members of her family are in satisfactory condition but will have to undergo treatment, “Novaya gazeta” editor Sergey Sokolov said in an article posted on his newspaper’s website late last night. French police, he continued, are investigating the case at the present time (www.novayagazeta.ru/news/335221.html).
Sokolov noted that Moskalenko has taken part in many high-profile cases, including representing the interests of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Chechens who have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights concerning the violation of their constitutional and legal rights by Russian force structures.
The editor said that “the French police have not made any conclusion relative to the motives of this crime or commented on the status of the investigation.” And in a telephone message to one of her friends, she said that “she can’t directly link the attempt on her life and the life of her children” to the Politkovskaya case.
But if neither French officials nor Moskalenko herself are yet prepared to do so, the timing of this attack – one apparently intended to prevent her from appearing at the hearing – and the method of the attack – one that recalls the use of polonium against Aleksandr Litvinenko in London – are certain to lead many to conclude that it was the work of Russian security services.
In the current environment, should the French police find evidence linking Russian officials or their agents to this crime, that in itself would undoubtedly have a major impact on opinion official and otherwise in France and throughout the European Union concerning the nature of the increasingly assertive Russian government.
That is all the more so given the media firestorm provoked by reports in the Georgian media at the end of last week that have now been picked up by Moscow outlets that the Russian government has ordered its security agencies to assassinate Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili (www.kommersant.ru/doc-y.aspx?DocsID=1040153).
According to Georgian media, Nikolay Patrushev, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, has ordered the FSB and GRU to “take out” Saakashvili, and these agencies in turn have recruited an Ossetian named Teymuraz Pliyev, who lost his family during the recent war and who supposedly is prepared to kill the Georgian leader for revenge.
Neither Georgian officials nor experts put much credence in these reforms. According to the Georgian interior ministry, Tbilisi “does not have any serious information about this and there is thus nothing to comment about.” And Mamuka Areshidze, an expert on the Caucasus, noted that Ossetians do not generally go in for blood feuds.
But former FSB officer Mikhail Trepashkin, who now works as a lawyer, told Moscow’s Sobkorr.ru portal that “theoretically an attack is possible since already for more than a year there has been in effect a decree, adopted for the struggle against terrorism, that the FSB can attack by various methods abroad, up to the physical removal of a suspected terrorist.”
And because various Moscow officials, including both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, have denounced Saakashvili as “a criminal,” this decree could be used to give the order to the FSB or the GRU to organize an attempt on the life of the Georgian leader (www.sobkorr.ru/news/48F2FB6295FA2.html).
Trepashkin suggested however that “the murder of Saakashvili” now would be politically counterproductive: Were it to happen, it would generate a new wave of anti-Russian sentiment in governments and peoples around the world because with such a move “everything would become obvious.”
In a commentary on this case, Sobkorr.ru observer Sergey Petrunin said that there was yet another reason why most people in the Russian political leadership would probably be reluctant to physically liquidate the leader of a neighboring country, even one as despised as the Georgian president clearly is.
Such an action would remove the taboo that has been in place since the execution of Stalin’s secret police chief Lavrenty Beriya in 1953 and quite possibly open the door to more political killings not only abroad but inside the Russian Federation itself, something that could put even those who might authorize the death of Saakashvili at risk in the future.

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