Monday, December 04, 2006

Russia's Interest in Litvinenko

Stratfor: Geopolitical Intelligence Report - November 29, 2006>>> Russia's Interest in Litvinenko>> By George Friedman>> The recent death of a former Russian intelligence agent, Alexander> Litvinenko, apparently after being poisoned with polonium-210,> raises three interesting questions. First: Was he poisoned by the> Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB?> Second: If so, what were they trying to achieve? Third: Why were> they using polonium-210, instead of other poisons the KGB used in> the past? In short, the question is, what in the world is going on?>> Litvinenko would seem to have cut a traditional figure in Russian> and Soviet history, at least on the surface. The first part of his> life was spent as a functionary of the state. Then, for reasons> that are not altogether clear, he became an exile and a strident> critic of the state he had served. He published two books that made> explosive allegations about the FSB and President Vladimir Putin,> and he recently had been investigating the shooting death of a> Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who also was a critic of> the Putin government. Clearly, he was intent on stirring up trouble> for Moscow.>> Russian and Soviet tradition on this is clear: Turncoats like> Litvinenko must be dealt with, for two reasons. First, they> represent an ongoing embarrassment to the state. And second, if> they are permitted to continue with their criticisms, they will> encourage other dissidents -- making it appear that, having once> worked for the FSB, you can settle safely in a city like London and> hurl thunderbolts at the motherland with impunity. The state must> demonstrate that this will not be permitted -- that turncoats will> be dealt with no matter what the circumstances.>> The death of Litvinenko, then, certainly makes sense from a> political perspective. But it is the perspective of the old Soviet > Union -- not of the new Russia that many believed was being born,> slowly and painfully, with economic opening some 15 years ago. This> does not mean, however, that the killing would not serve a purpose> for the Russian administration, in the current geopolitical> context.>> For years, we have been forecasting and following the> transformation of Russia under Vladimir Putin. Putin became> president of Russia to reverse the catastrophe of the Yeltsin> years. Under communism, Russia led an empire that was relatively> poor but enormously powerful in the international system. After the> fall of communism, Russia lost its empire, stopped being enormously> powerful, and became even poorer than before. Though Westerners> celebrated the fall of communism and the Soviet Union, these turned> out to be, for most Russians, a catastrophe with few mitigating> tradeoffs.>> Obviously, the new Russia was of enormous benefit to a small class> of entrepreneurs, led by what became known as the oligarchs. These> men appeared to be the cutting edge of capitalism in Russia. They> were nothing of the sort. They were simply people who knew how to> game the chaos of the fall of communism, figuring out how to> reverse Soviet expropriation with private expropriation. The> ability to turn state property into their own property represented> free enterprise only to the most superficial or cynical viewers.>> The West was filled with both in the 1990s. Many academics and> journalists saw the process going on in Russia as the painful birth> of a new liberal democracy. Western financial interests saw it as a> tremendous opportunity to tap into the enormous value of a> collapsing empire. The critical thing is that the creation of> value, the justification of capitalism, was not what was going on.> Rather, the expropriation of existing value was the name of the> game. Bankers loved it, analysts misunderstood it and the Russians> were crushed by it.>> It was this kind of chaos into which Putin stepped when he became> president, and which he has slowly, inexorably, been bringing to> heel for several years. This is the context in which Litvinenko's> death -- which, admittedly, raises many questions -- must be> understood.>> The Andropov Doctrine>> Let's go back to Yuri Andropov, who was the legendary head of the> KGB in the 1970s and early 1980s, and the man who first realized> that the Soviet Union was in massive trouble. Of all the> institutions in the world, the KGB alone had the clearest idea of> the condition of the Soviet Union. Andropov realized in the early> 1980s that the Soviet economy was failing and that, with economic> failure, it would collapse. Andropov knew that the exploitation of> Western innovation had always been vital to the Soviet economy. The> KGB had been tasked with economic and technical espionage in the> West. Rather than developing their own technology, in many> instances, the Soviets innovated by stealing Western technology via> the KGB, essentially using the KGB as an research and development> system. Andropov understood just how badly the Soviet Union needed> this innovation and how inefficient the Soviet kleptocracy was.>> Andropov engineered a new concept. If the Soviet Union was to> survive, it had to forge a new relationship with the West. The> regime needed not only Western technology, but also Western-style> management systems and, above all, Western capital. Andropov> realized that so long as the Soviet Union was perceived as a> geopolitical threat to the West and, particularly, to the United > States, this transfer was not going to take place. Therefore, the> Soviet Union had to shift its global strategy and stop threatening> Western geopolitical interests.>> The Andropov doctrine argued that the Soviet Union could not> survive if it did not end, or at least mitigate, the Cold War.> Furthermore, if it was to entice Western investment and utilize> that investment efficiently, it needed to do two things. First,> there had to be a restructuring of the Soviet economy> (perestroika). Second, the Soviet system had to be opened to accept> innovation (glasnost). Andropov's dream for the Soviet Union never> really took hold during his lifetime, as he died several months> after becoming the Soviet leader. He was replaced by a nonentity,> Konstantin Chernenko, who also died after a short time in office.> And then there was Mikhail Gorbachev, who came to embody the KGB's> strategy.>> Gorbachev was clearly perceived by the West as a reformer, which he> certainly was. But less clear to the West were his motives for> reform. He was in favor of glasnost and perestroika, but not> because he rejected the Soviet system. Rather, Gorbachev embraced> these because, like the KGB, he was desperately trying to save the> system. Gorbachev pursued the core vision of Yuri Andropov -- and> by the time he took over, he was the last hope for that vision. His> task was to end the Cold War and trade geopolitical concessions for> economic relations with the West.>> It was a well-thought-out policy, but it was ultimately a desperate> one -- and it failed. In conceding Central Europe, allowing it to> break away without Soviet resistance, Gorbachev lost control of the> entire empire, and it collapsed. At that point, the economic> restructuring went out of control, and openness became the cover> for chaos -- with the rising oligarchs and others looting the state> for personal gain. But one thing remained: The KGB, both as an> institution and as a group of individuals, continued to operate.>> Saving the System: A Motive for Murder?>> As a young KGB operative, Vladimir Putin was a follower of> Andropov. Like Andropov, Putin was committed to the restructuring> of the Soviet Union in order to save it. He was a foot soldier in> that process.>> Putin and his FSB faction realized in the late 1990s that, however> lucrative the economic opening process might have been for some,> the net effect on Russia was catastrophic. Unlike the oligarchs,> many of whom were indifferent to the fate of Russia, Putin> understood that the path they were on would only lead to another> revolution -- one even more catastrophic than the first. Outside of> Moscow and St. Petersburg, there was hunger and desperation. The> conditions for disaster were all there.>> Putin also realized that Russia had not reaped the sought-after> payoff with its loss of prestige and power in the world. Russia had> traded geopolitics but had not gotten sufficient benefits in> return. This was driven home during the Kosovo crisis, when the> United States treated fundamental Russian interests in the Balkans> with indifference and contempt. It was clear to Putin by then that> Boris Yeltsin had to go. And go he did, with Putin taking over.>> Putin is a creation of Andropov. In his bones, he believes in the> need for a close economic relationship with the West. But his> motives are not those of the oligarchs, and certainly not those of> the West. His goal, like that of the KGB, is the preservation and> reconstruction of the Russian state. For Putin, perestroika and> glasnost were tactical necessities that caused a strategic> disaster. He came into office with the intention of reversing that> disaster. He continued to believe in the need for openness and> restructuring, but only as a means toward the end of Russian power,> not as an end in itself.>> For Putin, the only solution to Russian chaos was the reassertion> of Russian value. The state was the center of Russian society, and> the intelligence apparatus was the center of the Russian state.> Thus, Putin embarked on a new, slowly implemented policy. First,> bring the oligarchs under control; don't necessarily destroy them,> but compel them to work in parallel with the state. Second,> increase Moscow's control over the outlying regions. Third,> recreate a Russian sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union.> Fourth, use the intelligence services internally to achieve these> ends and externally to reassert Russian global authority.>> None of these goals could be accomplished if a former intelligence> officer could betray the organs of the state and sit in London> hurling insults at Putin, the FSB and Russia. For a KGB man trained> by Andropov, this would show how far Russia had fallen. Something> would have to be done about it. Litvinenko's death, seen from this> standpoint, was a necessary and inevitable step if Putin's new> strategy to save the Russian state is to have meaning.>> Anomaly>> That, at least, is the logic. It makes sense that Litvinenko would> have been killed by the FSB. But there is an oddity: The KGB/FSB> have tended to use poison mostly in cases where they wanted someone> dead, but wanted to leave it unclear how he died and who killed> him. Poison traditionally has been used when someone wants to leave> a corpse in a way that would not incur an autopsy or, if a normal> autopsy is conducted, the real cause of death would not be> discovered (as the poisons used would rapidly degrade or leave the> body). When the KGB/FSB wanted someone dead, and wanted the world> to know why he had been killed -- or by whom -- they would use two> bullets to the brain. A professional hit leaves no ambiguity.>> The use of polonium-210 in this case, then, is very odd. First, it> took a long time to kill Litvinenko -- giving him plenty of time to> give interviews to the press and level charges against the Kremlin.> Second, there was no way to rationalize his death as a heart attack> or brain aneurysm. Radiation poisoning doesn't look like anything> but what it is. Third, polonium-210 is not widely available. It is> not something you pick up at your local pharmacy. The average> homicidal maniac would not be able to get hold of it or use it.>> So, we have a poisoning that was unmistakably deliberate.> Litvinenko was killed slowly, leaving him plenty of time to confirm> that he thought Putin did it. And the poison would be very> difficult to obtain by anyone other than a state agency. Whether it> was delivered from Russia -- something the Russians have denied --> or stolen and deployed in the United Kingdom, this is not something> to be tried at home, kids. So, there was a killing, designed to> look like what it was -- a sophisticated hit.>> This certainly raises questions among conspiracy theorists and> others. The linkage back to the Russian state appears so direct> that some might argue it points to other actors or factions out to> stir up trouble for Putin, rather than to Putin himself. Others> might say that Litvinenko was killed slowly, yet with an obvious> poisoning signature, so that he in effect could help broadcast the> Kremlin's message -- and cause other dissidents to think seriously> about their actions.>> We know only what everyone else knows about this case, and we are> working deductively. For all we know, Litvinenko had a very angry> former girlfriend who worked in a nuclear lab. But while that's> possible, one cannot dismiss the fact that his death -- in so> public a manner -- fits in directly with the logic of today's> Russia and the interests of Vladimir Putin and his group. It is not> that we know or necessarily believe Putin personally ordered a> killing, but we do know that, in the vast apparatus of the FSB,> giving such an order would not have been contrary to the current> inclinations of the leadership.>> And whatever the public's impression of the case might be, the> KGB/FSB has not suddenly returned to the scene. In fact, it never> left. Putin has been getting the system back under control for> years. The free-for-all over economic matters has ended, and Putin> has been restructuring the Russian economy for several years to> increase state control, without totally reversing openness. This> process, however, requires the existence of a highly disciplined> FSB -- and that is not compatible with someone like a Litvinenko> publicly criticizing the Kremlin from London. Litvinenko's death> would certainly make that point very clear.

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