The Litvinenko murder: what now?

Does Vladimir Putin get to murder a British subject on the streets of London without reprisal? I guess we’re about to find out.

The Russian Prosecutor-General’s announcement that his office would stonewall the British investigation into the polonium poisoning of an ex-KGB agent in London is a one-fingered salute to the civilized world. He’s as much as saying “Yes, we poisoned him. What are you going to do about it?”

Well, what are we going to do about it? Thanks to our current ruling clique, we have our army tied down in a civil war in Iraq, and badly need Russian help (which of course we’re not going to get) in dealing with Iran and North Korea. But let’s not forget.

And let’s not forget the Enabler-in-Chief:


Footnote The Wall Street Journal ran a strongly worded op-ed by David Satter of the Hoover Institution, arguing that if Russia had murdered a British subject on the streets of Britain’s capital, “we [i.e., the West] have no choice but to react” unless we’re willing “to give the Putin regime carte blanche to dispose of its enemies on our soil.”

Just so.

[Oddly enough, neither the editors of the WSJ nor the leadership of the Hoover Institution seemed to think that the murder of an American citizen on the streets of our capital (Ronni Moffitt, murdered by order of Augusto Pinochet) called for anything but continued support for Pinochet’s reign of terror. I guess all political murders aren’t created equal. Still, I’ll take what I can get.]

(The National Security Archive has some truly disgusting details. Michael Contreras, the head of the DINA (the Chilean KGB), which carried out the Moffitt hit, was, and remained, on the CIA payroll.)

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

22 thoughts on “The Litvinenko murder: what now?”

  1. Manuel Contreras (not to be confused with Michael Townley, a US citizen still in the witness protection program who actually placed the bomb in Letelier's car) was eventually indicted by a grand jury convened by the US Attorney for DC, but Pinochet refused to have him extradited and promoted him to general. He later did seven years in jail for this crime and is currently in jail for other crimes related to the Pinochet era.

  2. Don't take this as a defense of the Putin government, since I have no love for them at all. But, Russia doesn't extradite _any_ people to be tried abroad (I think it's against Russian law in most cases) and is, as the article notes, annoyed that the UK gave asylum to Berezovsky. (Hard to know what to say about that since, 1) Berezovsky would surely not get a fair trial in Russia. 2) In this way he's no different from anyone else there, 3) He's bragged about helping start the 2nd chechan war to help bring Putin to power and so deserves anything he gets.)

  3. Seems to me that this calls for some proportionate response.
    They assasinated someone in London? Assasinate someone in Moscow in return. Maybe a higher-up KGB apparatchik. If they can find someone directly implemented in the assasination, even better. Russia can't be permitted to engage in such acts without cost, and since an actual war is completely out of the question for both sides, time to ramp up the James Bond antics.

  4. National Review, at the time, approved enthusiastically of the Moffitt hit and ran at least one article praising it.
    I'm always amused by the people who solemnly say that NR is much worse now than in its "glory days". During its Buckley-Rusher days — and Rusher, according to Garry Wills, did most of the mag's actual editing after Frank Meyer quit — it routinely went winging far, far beyond conservatism into enthusiastic praise for both fascism and racism, including murderous racism. (Examples on request.) Andrew Sullivan's fond beliefs to the contrary, American hard-line rightism has always been at least as morally diseased as it is in its current Bushian incarnation.

  5. Thank you Bruce Moomaw for turning the spotlight on the National Review's "glory days." I was brought up to drink from that toxic brew in the 1960's. A few years ago I read some passages from the Nazi party rag (Voelkische Beobachter?) and was astonished at the similarities of tone and style.

  6. "Thanks to our current ruling clique, we have our army tied down in a civil war in Iraq, and badly need Russian help (which of course we're not going to get) in dealing with Iran and North Korea."
    This is such an odd thing to say. If even Bush's ass-kissing of Putin isn't enough to get help in North Korea and Iran, it would seem that such help simply isn't available.
    "Well, what are we going to do about it?"
    If Clinton had been elected to a third and fourth term, and if North Korea and Iran ceased to exist by magic and if Clinton didn't invade Iraq, what would you do about it then?
    I suspect the answer is still "nothing".

  7. SH, that seems rather all-or-nothingist. In the world where we had more leverage we'd have more leverage, and somewhere on the spectrum from grinning/bearing (our world) to invading/Christianizing there would be a less unsatisfactory response.

  8. "and somewhere on the spectrum from grinning/bearing (our world) to invading/Christianizing there would be a less unsatisfactory response."
    Ok, like what? I've spotted you a more diplomatic President and a more favorable condition. Even then, what in the world we really do? Threaten G-8 status? Please.

  9. Blair could make a fuss, call the ambassador on the carpet. We could be slightly friendlier to Russia's near abroad and quietly let it be known why. Or bring charges before some international criminal court (or at least set some ICC investigation going) – if you're giving me Clinton, might as well toss that in. Cite our dependence on Russian oil as a reason to raise the gas tax. Add an extra hurdle to whatever European entities Russia would like to enter. – I'm not schooled in IR, but surely there would be many options in this sort of situation if we weren't hat-in-hand.

  10. To S.H.: I think Kleiman's point was simply that, if most of our army wasn't currently stuck uselessly in the Iraq tarbaby, we would have much more military ability to respond ourselves to crises regarding Iran and NK — whereas, so long as we insist on being stuck there, virtually the only possible option we have to try and keep those nations even partially under control is to kiss Putin's (and Hu Jindao's) asses and hope they are willing to put SOME pressure on Iran and NK in return.

  11. Am I missing something here?
    Doesn't the current US government reserve the right to kill (or torture, or anything else they feel like) random citizens from other countries as they see fit (generally calling them terrorists, either before or after the fact)?
    Doesn't it reserve the right, for at least some purposes, to refuse to hand over for trial its citizens involved in these antics?

  12. "if most of our army wasn't currently stuck uselessly in the Iraq tarbaby, we would have much more military ability to respond ourselves to crises regarding Iran and NK"
    And if, knowing that he was about to embark on a series of wars, Bush had actually asked for increased troop caps back right after 9-11, we'd have the military to deal with Iraq, Iran, and NK at one time. The very first sign of military incompentence.
    But they didn't ask for them then, or in 2002, or in 2003, or in 2004, or in 2005, or in early 2006, when it was purely up to Republicans whether they'd be approved. How chickensh*t to ask for increased force levels only now that they think they can score a political point by having Democrats reject the request!

  13. I'm not sure Dems SHOULD reject such a request, if it comes. We may well have to deal on an amergency basis with some threat in one or another of those countries — a real threat, not the fake Iraq threat. Of course, any such emergency action would be under the control of these nitwits, and before carrying it out Congress had damn well better make sure they aren't fabricating the evidence again.
    But then, any such major troop hike will (as I say) almost certainly require a draft (every time I see one of those "An Army of One" bumper stickers, I find myself thinking that that's exactly what we will soon have, given present enlistment rates). And who in their right minds would trust these characters in charge of a DRAFT? Nevertheless, we may soon have to.

  14. "I'm not sure Dems SHOULD reject such a request, if it comes."
    Why speak in the future tense? It came, they did.
    "But then, any such major troop hike will (as I say) almost certainly require a draft"
    Oh, BS. Why not try increasing pay levels, first?
    What is it with Democrats and conscription, anyway? A draft, "national service", is there just something about people doing your will at the point of a gun that thrills you too much to consider voluntary means of achieving your ends?

  15. Uh, Brett? In a situation as dangerous as Iraq now is — or as an Iran war would be — exactly how many more troops are you going to draw by appealing to their mercenary instincts? Is there just something about the attraction to money that you people have yourselves that makes you think large numbers of people are willing to seriously risk suicide for money?

  16. Um, Bruce, as dangerous as Iraq is now, service there scarcely constitutes "suicide"; Your yearly chance of buying it in Iraq is roughly equivalent to *normal* mortality rates for those of us in our 40s, and I'm not exactly consumed by angst.
    Further, do you *really* think that people contemplating military service don't respond to financial incentives? Even if nobody signed up purely for mercenary motives, (Plausible, considering how lousy the pay is.) a fair number of people considering military service must reject it simply on the basis that they don't want to risk their lives AND be poor, too.
    It just strikes me as amazing that anybody would propose a draft without at least *trying* increased pay and other financial incentives, first.

  17. Well, it isn't the total number of troops versus the death rate that most potential recruits see written up in the papers and TV reports — and, given the total number of troops, 3000 death (to say nothing of a far larger number of permanent maimings) IS still pretty impressive. The number of people killed in the 90-11 attack, after all, was about 1/10 that killed yearly in this nation by car wrecks, but the latter certainly haven't stirred up nearly the same rate of hysteria.
    In any case, there is no doubt that substantially hiking the number of troops in Iraq — either with a draft, or with a very large pay raise — will be very expensive (which is why the Bushites have never for a moment entertained either possibility, but have instead been trying to win the war on a shoestring and praying for a miracle). If we're going to do either one, are there not more urgent uses for the troops that we are going to acquire so expensively?

  18. Footnote: Since Augusto Pinochet has just finally been dropped from that Great Cargo Plane in the Sky and is now headed rapidly downwards, I confess I'm eager to see whether National Review's eulogy for him as is tearful as their 1989 eulogy for Ferdinand Marcos ("a warm-hearted, generous political glad-hander").
    Granted that the SOB did at least finally give up power semi-voluntarily — unlike, say, Marcos, Pol Pot or Suharto. But — given the fact that he declared in his 1980 autobiography that he was opposed not only to Communism but to electoral democracy itself (which always turns into socialist ruin), and that the only workable form of human government is an explicitly fascist alliance of the military with the upper classes — I imagine that the only reason he agreed to hold that referendum or to abide by the results was tremendous pressure from his fellow military officers, who were by then developing steadily growing doubts about El Lider Maximo. (I've also heard an extrordinary story — which I can't confirm — that he and his wife were confident he would win the referendum because they were ardent numerologists, and had set the election for a date whose magical numerical properties would hypnotize the voters into supporting him. It's certainly no crazier than the simultaneous insistence of the Argentinian junta leaders that Einstein's relativity theory declared "moral relativism", and that Einstein had come up with it because he was a Jew.)

  19. Bruce Moomaw,
    Actually he gave up power when he lost AND the other members of the junta refused to go along with his desire to try to void the election.

  20. Russia and Britain have been negotiating an extradition treaty. Currently, they don't have one, so there is no authority for the British government to "request" returning suspects to Britain, just as there is no authority for the Russian government to "request" returning suspects to Russia. Berezovsky, being the first billionaire in the Yeltsin "anything goes" era is someone that Russia wants back to stand trial. Just like the US would want Al Capone back if he fled to your_country_here. What better way for Berezovsky to permanently prevent his extradition with a popular scandal that points to Putin?

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