Is the Lugovoi affair a plot to manipulate President Putin?
Britain’s one and only objective at present is to make the Kremlin declare, loud and clear, that the Constitution must not be amended. And Britain can rejoice: now there can be no question of amending the Constitution in order to give Vladimir Putin a third term in office.
Alexander Litvinenko will continue serving his master, even posthumously. The escalation of conflict in bilateral relations over the question of extraditing Andrei Lugovoi has led to Russia and Britain exchanging abrasive statements – the kind of rhetoric that should lead to breaking off diplomatic relations.
Predictably, the British government’s casual contempt for the Russian Constitution infuriated the Russian establishment. Actually, not even the British public agreed with the suggestion that Russia ought to amend its Constitution; but the polonium traces in central London made everyone return to the radiation hazard problem, over and over again. As a result, the Litvinenko murder has turned into a complex chain of interlinked political and diplomatic problems – and British diplomacy feels free to maneuver within this environment.
London’s position appears obviously weak. Its demands aren’t backed up by solid evidence, and Russia regards this lack as grounds for refusing to extradite a Russian citizen. In fact, however, London’s apparent weakness and lack of evidence are part of a complex operation aimed at making Putin more amenable in the lead-up to decision-making on a range of international problems – and, oddly enough, solving the Year 2008 Problem.
Yet the Kremlin is still treating the Litvinenko affair as more of an inconvenience than a real problem facing the Russian leadership, which has responded to Britain’s aggression with demonstrative calm and restricted itself to tit-for-tat expulsions.
This situation is unlikely to make Russia less attractive to investors or damage its economic image; this assumption is supported by practically all investment activity statistics for 2006-07. However, it should be noted that bilateral relations have already been affected severely at the socio-political and everyday level.
It’s revealing to note that Britain demanded changes to Russia’s Constitution, pointing out that a number of other countries have already done the same. Moscow politicians joked that this could have the reverse effect: once the Kremlin starts amending the Constitution, it could also make some amendments related to the president’s term in office – so the British government’s persistence would be doing Putin a favor.
In response, Britain “prevented” the “attempted murder” of Boris Berezovsky, thus enhancing the impact of the Litvinenko affair on public opinion in Britain (talk of a “gunshot in the back of the head” and other sacramental details). For some reason, however, the British authorities released the alleged hitman, doing nothing more than revoking his visa. Specialists say that Russian intelligence obviously couldn’t have organized an assassination attempt in this way: since Litvinenko’s death (and probably earlier), British intelligence has kept Berezovsky under close surveillance.
The British media are making much of statements from a “high-ranking” British official, to the effect that the order to kill Litvinenko allegedly came from the Federal Security Service (FSB). This situation greatly resembles the alleged FSB plot to kill Berezovsky, back when Berezovsky was still active in Russia. Note that then-FSB Director Nikolai Kovalev was dismissed as a result of that story.
The conclusion: Britain’s one and only objective at present is to make the Kremlin declare, loud and clear, that the Constitution must not be amended. And Britain can rejoice: now there can be no question of amending the Constitution in order to give Vladimir Putin a third term in office. The contradiction would look far too blatant.
Russian officials are repeating over and over, like an incantation, that the Constitution must be strictly observed. Focusing attention on this point serves to plant an information time-bomb under March 2008; according to the plans of London and Washington, it ought to ensure that Putin definitely steps down in 2008. Until now, the “third term party” – the Kremlin faction calling for Putin to remain in office – had been stronger than ever, making the West fear that Putin might heed this faction’s arguments. But now those arguments have been neutralized.
This operation, organized by British intelligence with the active cooperation of the British government, is impressive in its scale and originality. In effect, the Kremlin has simply been played.