The farcical Litvinenko public enquiry held behind closed doors

On January 21st Britain’s inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko returned its findings. Written by the inquiry’s chairman Sir Robert Owen, the findings of the report will have surprised no-one.

Since his death in 2006 the bourgeoisie have blamed Russia and President Putin for the hit. This public inquiry has only reinforced this view, using the same circumstantial and flimsy evidence given in the first place. The report found what has always been claimed. It says that Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun poisoned Litvinenko’s cup of tea with polonium-210 at a London hotel in 2006, and that this was “probably approved” by President Putin.

Litvinenko was a former FSB agent turned British spy, as described by the BBC

The 43-year-old had been an officer with the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, but he fled to Britain where he became a fierce critic of the Kremlin. In his final years he also became a British citizen.

“After he was killed by radioactive polonium-210, believed to have been administered in a cup of tea, it emerged the father-of-one was being paid by the British secret service MI6 ” (BBC 21 January 2016).

Both of the accused deny the accusations and point to the obvious lack of evidence.

Mr Lugovoi told the BBC: “I’ve seen the nonsense conclusions of your judge who has clearly gone mad.

“I saw nothing new there. I am very sorry that 10 years on nothing new has been presented, only invention, supposition, rumours.

“And the fact that such words as ‘possibly’ and ‘probably’ were used in the report, means there is no proof, nothing concrete against us.”

Mr Lugovoi said there was no chance of him coming to Britain to face criminal charges.

“You know, it’s more likely that the moon will become part of the Earth, than that I will be extradited from Russia – it’s just impossible.

“You should understand correctly; if London 10 years ago accused me of something that carries a life sentence, what normal person would go to London to prove themselves?

“I’m Russian. Why should I trust you? I trust the Russian justice system” (BBC, 22 January 2016).

Similarly, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press spokesman, dismissed the inquiry as a “quasi-investigation“. He ridiculed the judge’s use of ” probably” and called his report an example of “subtle British humour” (Guardian 22 January 2016).

The wife of the deceased, Marina Litvinenko rushed to accept Sir Robert Owen’s findings. She has long claimed that Putin was behind the hit. After his death she immediately set up the Litvinenko Justice Foundation to ” receive donations to be used for legal and associated expenses of Marina Litvinenko in her campaign for a full investigation of the death of her husband in November 2006. Her seven year long legal battle succeeded in 2014 in persuading the UK government to establish a public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko ” ( She also had her book Death of a Dissident published in 2007.

In contrast, Alexander’s brother Maxim Litvinenko does not accept the findings of the inquiry. Here is his account:

I don’t believe for a second that the Russian authorities were involved. The sentence is a set up to provide more bad publicity against the Russian government. The Russians had no reason to want Alexander dead.

“My brother was not a spy, he was more like a policeman. He was in the FSB but he worked against organised crime, murders, arms trafficking, stuff like that. He did not know any state secrets or go on any special missions. It is the Western media that have called him a spy. My father and I are sure that the Russian authorities are not involved. It’s all a set-up to put pressure on the Russian government. Why else would the court be called to hold this inquiry only after 10 years? We have always asked for his body to be exhumed so that we can verify the presence of polonium in the body but we have been ignored. Now after ten years any trace would have disappeared anyway so we will never know ” (The Mirror, 21 January 2016).

According to The Mirror, Maxim has also claimed that his brother’s death could be linked to the death of Boris Berezovsky. Berezovsky had initially been a financial backer of Litvinenko. Maxim has also linked the murder of a nightclub owner, where traces of polonium were found at the scene.

Why then are the Litvinenko family split over who was responsible for the killing? One obvious possibility is that whilst Mrs. Litvinenko is based in Britain, Maxim is based in Rimini, Italy. This must lead one to ask, which of these would be more likely to acquiesce to the British narrative? Whilst Maxim has zero ties to Britain, Marina Litvinenko is entrenched. It is unsurprising to find that Marina upholds the accusations of the British state, whilst Maxim does not. Consequently, Maxim has accused his brother’s wife of “playing the game“.

Maxim’s assertion that the murder was a set up to put pressure on the Russian government is well worth consideration. For what have the consequences of the killing been, and who has benefited from these? Firstly, if we are to presume the mainstream narrative then Vladimir Putin has benefited from the death of a critic who apparently had knowledge of incriminating state secrets. This narrative is weak on the basis that it rests upon presumption. Its acceptance requires us to presume that Litvinenko was some Bond character with a wealth of incriminating evidence against Putin. There is no evidence for such a position. It is every bit as likely that an FSB agent would have been working against criminal gangs, as suggested by Maxim Litvinenko. Secondly, it has to be stressed that any such supposed benefits of the killing have been more than offset by the geopolitical and media backlash against Russia. The political consequences mean Russia has ultimately been done more harm than good by the killing.

The timing of the inquiry is also of some interest. With Litvinenko dying on November 23rd 2006, the inquiry into his death was not announced until July 22nd 2014. So almost 8 years passed before an inquiry was launched. Something must have changed in the intervening years to mean that an inquiry once unnecessary now became order of the day. The most obvious change of conditions has occurred in Syria and Ukraine. In both cases Russia stands as a bulwark against imperialism. Therefore, it is imperialism which stands to benefit from the very real political consequences of the Litvinenko killing, by its campaign of demonisation against Russia.

A third factor for consideration is the clear contradiction presented in the accusation against Russia. To accept the Russian state had Litvinenko killed means we have simultaneously to accept the view of cunning Cold War-style Russian spooks, and the bumbling incompetence of the hit. These two factors cannot be reconciled. The Russian security services cannot at the same time be masterfully silencing and assassinating its critics, as the media suggests, and at the same time be so incompetent as to leave traces of polonium in all the places that would happen to incriminate themselves.

Locations which tested positive included the Millennium Hotel, the Abracadabra lap-dancing club and the Emirates football stadium, where Mr Lugovoi had watched Arsenal play CSKA Moscow….

“Traces were also found on two planes at Heathrow Airport, at the British embassy in Moscow and at a flat in Hamburg, Germany, linked to Mr Kovtun ” (BBC, 21 January 2016).

In such a case we are either to believe that the best of the Russian secret services are beyond incompetent, or we are to believe that someone wanted to make them look guilty.

If professional assassins were to use radioactive poison they would keep the lethal dose in a lead capsule to prevent emission of radioactivity. Our putative Russian assassins in London must have been throwing the deadly substance around themselves like aftershave, if we are to believe the findings of the British judge.

On the contrary, what careless radioactive traces in hotels, planes and elsewhere strongly suggest is that someone was laying an incriminating path to frame up the Russian men. And even at that we don’t really know if traces of radioactivity were actually found because, as noted the un-public nature of the British inquiry was based entirely on secret, unverifiable ‘evidence’.

This is the same kind of legal ‘standard’ that the West uses to accuse Russian warplanes of bombing hospitals in Syria or Russian tanks rolling across Ukraine – with no verifiable evidence. It’s all down to politicized assertion and bombast ” (Information Clearing House, 21 January 2016).

Moral support for the agenda of imperialism has been found in the usual places. Writing for the Guardian, the darling of social democracy Owen Jones opportunistically seized on the so-called inquiry’s findings, declaring that:

Russia is ruled by a human rights abusing, expansionist, oligarchic regime. The Russian people – and their neighbours – deserve better. And the western left is surely duty-bound to speak out” (Guardian, 26 January 2016).

First of all, it should barely require saying that who rules Russia is a matter for the Russian people, not the “western left” seemingly represented by Jones. Secondly, we ought ask what why the despicable Owen Jones wants people “speaking out” if not to mobilise support for British imperialism in its efforts to louden the drums of war. Both in Ukraine and in Syria Russia is standing in the way of western imperialism’s expansionist agenda, and the bourgeois media have dutifully been mis-reporting events in these two countries in order to spread anti-Russian sentiment and ‘justify’ imperialism’s alliances with both the fascist junta in Ukraine and jihadis in Syria. The demonisation of Russia allows our ruling class to suggest that if Russia is on the other side, then of course we are on the correct side of these conflicts. With ‘leftists’ such as Jones doing their bidding, our ruling class scarcely needs a right wing.

In dressing himself up as an anti-imperialist in the hope of bamboozling the left and rallying it firmly behind imperialism, the wolfish Owen Jones is trying to cover himself in sheep’s clothing, but as sheep’s clothing goes it’s something of a G-string:

“… some profess a fear that – by critiquing those who are already supposedly bête noires of the west – the left will provide cover for western military expansionism. We become cheerleaders for western foreign policy, in other words, feeding the demonisation of foreign foes that is a necessary precondition for conflict…

But for universalists – those of us who believe democracy, freedom, human rights and social justice are universal principles that all humans should enjoy, irrespective of who or where they are – that shouldn’t be good enough. … We should express our solidarity with Russia’s embattled democrats and leftists . We don’t have to choose between critiquing our own foreign policy and opposing unjust foreign governments. In a sense, critics of western foreign policy have more of a responsibility to speak out…

In other words, not only should we swallow imperialist propaganda and accept its allegations that Putin is responsible for egregious human rights abuses, as well as the implication that any Russian leader who facilitated rather than obstructed western imperialist expansionist aims would be freedom-loving and democratic; not only should we side with ‘our’ imperialists in opposition to Putin’s Russia; but on top of that we are supposed to lend our full backing and support to what Owen Jones styles “Russia’s embattled democrats and leftists“? These “embattled democrats and leftists” remind us very much of the ‘moderate’ jihadis that imperialism seeks to support in Syria, or the ‘democratic’ fascists of the Ukraine whom western imperialism was able to impose on the unfortunate Ukrainian people. When talking of “Russia’s embattled democrats and leftists”, Owen Jones does not of course mean Russia’s largest opposition party, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Broadly speaking the CPRF have a record of opposing Putin’s United Russia’s economic policy, whilst supporting foreign and social policy – the latter being the issues which seemingly so transfix Jones and the ” western left“.

Like the mainstream media who airbrush the CPRF from the political landscape when discussing the “Russian opposition“, Jones must also be talking about the likes of Alexei Navalny and his ironically named Progress Party. This leading democrat and liberal has appeared on stage with neo-Nazis and skinheads; he spoke in favour of the July 2013 race riots in Pugachyov and compared people of the Caucasus to cockroaches, saying whilst cockroaches can be killed with a slipper, with humans he prefers a pistol.

Perhaps the embattled democrats Jones was referring to are Yabloko, the liberals who have previously joined in an anti-Putin alliance with the aptly named Union of Rightist Forces.

Or perhaps he means Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. Zhirinovsky is proudly racist in a 2002 video referred to Condoleezza Rice as “a black whore“.

And that leaves us with the other option of A Just Russia. This is a self-proclaimed social democratic party, one born out of a merger between the former Rodina (Motherland) and A Just Russia parties. Both parties were openly right-wing nationalists.

This is the state of the embattled democrats who form the Russian opposition. It is from these forces that any replacement for Putin and United Russia would come.

Finally, with comic self-importance and a total lack of self-awareness Jones declares that

Those who claim the left as a whole is soft on Putin are disingenuous at best: as, indeed, this article illustrates…While supporters of, for example, the Iraq calamity can be more easily batted away by Putin apologists, nobody can accuse people like me of hypocritically failing to critique western foreign policy “.

In fact we absolutely can and must both accuse and expose people like Jones and other opportunists not only of failing to critique western foreign policy but going further and positively seeking to mobilise opponents of that policy to support it! Any critique detached from the issue of imperialism is not worth the paper it is written on. Such critiques are non-solutions functioning to maintain the status quo. It is the duty of the actual left to support the forces at the forefront of the battle with imperialism. Today these battlegrounds are Ukraine and Syria. In both cases Russia and Putin stand against imperialism, on the side of the popular and democratic forces. To seek the removal of Putin is to seek the defeat of these actual embattled democrats. Such is the wrecking role of social democracy among the anti-imperialist movement. A balanced consideration of the Litvinenko case is impossible without consideration to its relation to the forces of imperialism.

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