At Large

Snow in Summertime

Moscow heats up its cold war against London.

By 7.18.08

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Continuing the current policy of aggressive Russian reactions, Moscow warned the British that they must officially disown the statement purportedly made to a BBC-TV journalist that Her Majesty's Foreign Office believes the Russian government was behind the poisoning of the former KGB/FSB officer, Alexander Litvinenko, in London. Apparently what really set the Kremlin's teeth to gnashing was that the source was supposedly a "senior British security official."

What happened to the good old Russian technique of deny, deny, deny? Since when is it officially important to Moscow to threaten Whitehall to "downgrade relations" if there isn't a retraction from 10 Downing Street for something sourced by a journalist to an unnamed Brit official? All this because the British insist on seeking to extradite another former KGB stalwart, Andrei Lugovoi, for his suspected role in killing his former friend, Litvinenko.

It's amazing that Lugovoi, if he is that important, actually has been allowed to remain a public matter with the Russians. The usual method has been to ignore another nation's claims of malfeasance by a Russian security agent and have the officer disappear into a cushy job until the fracas blows over. Instead the Russians have escalated their response.

First, they held the country director of the British Council, the UK's information and cultural agency, on trumped up charges of a traffic infraction in St. Petersburg. The Kremlin ordered the closing of the Council's offices in two Russian cities. (See my column, The KGB vs. Shakespeare, 1/25/08)

They now have just charged the acting director of UK Trade and Industry in Moscow, Chris Bowers, with being an MI6 officer. To "burn" a ranking British diplomat may not seem very important, but this seeming petulance actually puts a considerable crimp into British commercial PR operations in Russia -- to say nothing of Bowers own career. A bit of an over-reaction don't you think, old chap?

FAR MORE IMPORTANT is the as yet unexplained illness in his west London home of Alex Allan (57), chairman of the U.K. Joint Intelligence Committee. This mysterious circumstance has once again brought up the poisoning of the Russian intelligence defector Litvinenko, even though no official connection has been made -- yet.

The apparently healthy Mr. Allan collapsed in his home and was found in a pool of blood by a friend who rents a studio in his house. He was in a coma for ten days. Pneumonia has been one unlikely explanation that has been floated. No other official comment has been made. Alex Allan remains incommunicado.

In spite of the fact that Mr. Allan is extremely high ranking to be a target of a Russian intelligence "wet affair," it is something that certainly can not be ruled out. In Allan's position in the JIC he oversees the assessment of the intelligence gathered by MI5, MI6, Military Intelligence, and the electronic intercepts of GCHQ. This is a post substantially beyond the pay grade of both Litvinenko and his suspected assailant, Andrei Lugovoi.

That said; the real objective of the Kremlin is to gain leverage in order to get its hands on the high profile billionaire Boris Berezovsky and his fellow expatriate, the Chechen politician, Ahmed Zakayev. To this end Moscow has created a "full court press" in Russian-UK relations. Among other things, it has inhibited the solution to the ownership disagreement of the planned giant international energy company, TNK-British Petroleum, a multi-billion dollar deal.

THE MULTIPLICITY OF CLAIMS flying back and forth between London and Moscow appears to have totally obscured the basic issues. And this is exactly the way the Russians want it. Before Lugovoi and his family fled London, he already had tested positive for trace elements of the Litvinenko poison, polonium-280 -- as did his hotel rooms, his airplane seat, and his wife.

Lugovoi, late of the elite KGB 9th Directorate personal guard detachment, and its successor, the Federal Protection Service, has been officially charged with murder by the Crown Protection Office, the British equivalent of the US Attorney's Office.

The trouble is that in the intervening year Lugovoi has become a hero back in Russia and elected to the State Duma. The Russian government continues to refuse to allow the British to extradite him. To thumb his nose further -- and thereby gain public and official Kremlin support -- Lugovoi now says MI6 tried to recruit him and that the real truth is that British intelligence and/or the Russian mafia assisted by Boris Berezovsky's billions are the real culprits in Litvinenko's murder.

The Russians will say this often enough that they soon will be totally convinced of its veracity. In intelligence such disinformation is known as "snow." One easily can become blinded in such a snowstorm of one's making.

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.