Cablegate: Litvinenko Assassination: Reaction in Moscow
DE RUEHMO #2751/01 3351444
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 011444Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5613
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 012751
DEPT FOR EUR/RUS
EO 12958 DECL: 11/29/2016
TAGS PGOV, KDEM, PREL, PINR, RS
SUBJECT: LITVINENKO ASSASSINATION: REACTION IN MOSCOW
REF: MOSCOW 11490
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns: 1.4 (d).
1. (C) The November 23 death by radiation poisoning of former FSB agent Aleksandr Litvinenko in London has spawned a welter of conspiracy theories in Russia. The media have variously traced Litvinenko’s demise to XXXXXXXXXXXX, suicide, Putin’s Kremlin, Putin himself, those determined to undermine Putin, FSB agents unhappy with Litvinenko’s alleged betrayal of their organization, those unhappy with Litvinenko’s cooperation with Israel-based businessman Nevzlin on the Yukos affair, and the United States or “other” countries. This message recounts a representative sample of speculation, much of it self-serving. End summary.
Make Putin Stay
2. (C) Independent radio station Ekho Moskvy Editor-in-Chief Aleksey Venediktov, like many here, linked the murders of Litvinenko and journalist Anna Politkovskaya. (Politkovskaya, who had accused the GOR of human rights abuses in Chechnya, was murdered in Moscow on October 7 (reftel).) In his telling, both murders, with perhaps more to come, are part of an effort to force Putin to remain in office beyond 2008 by, in effect, making him persona non grata in the West. (Putin has repeatedly insisted he will leave when his term expires in 2008.)
3. (C) Venediktov pegged the two assassinations to rogue or retired FSB or military intelligence agents controlled by forces either within or without the Kremlin. Putin, Venediktov thought, is well aware of the game being played, but is powerless to stop it; in part because he is not certain whom to hold responsible. Venediktov subscribed to the generally-held view here that Putin values his reputation in the West, and that sabotaging it is one path to having him reconsider his decision to leave the Kremlin in 2008.
4. (C) Venediktov did not exclude the possibility that the culprit in Litvinenko’s poisoning may have been ex-FSB agent turned businessman Andrey Lugovoy, who has loudly advertised his innocence. Lugovoy met with Litvinenko in London November 1, the day Litvinenko was allegedly irradiated. Lugovoy’s rush to the Moscow British Embassy and into the Russian media immediately after the Litvinenko story broke in the press was designed to provide him with a measure of protection, Venediktov thought, should “others” --either those who commissioned the killing or those unhappy with the furor it has caused-- want revenge. Venediktov joined National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov in finding it suspicious that a Moscow-based businessman and former FSBer like Lugovoy would want to cooperate commercially with a man like Litvinenko who was on the Kremlin’s --and the FSB’s-- enemy list. Lugovoy may have been dispatched to cultivate, and kill, Litvinenko, Venediktov thought.
5. (C) In a separate conversation November 30, the Moscow Heritage Foundation’s Yevgeniy Volk seconded the version of events offered by Venediktov, and was at pains in his remarks to insulate Putin from any association with the murders. Volk described Putin as a “pawn in a larger game” being played by those in the Kremlin as 2008 drew nearer. XXXXXXXXXXXX saw Putin’s fingerprints on both the murders, although he admitted he had no evidence to support his allegations. Noting that Putin had appointed Ramzan Kadyrov Prime Minister of Chechnya, XXXXXXXXXXXX offered us his bleak assessment of Putin with the phrase “you know people by the company they keep.”
Make Putin Play
6. (C) Stanislav Belkovskiy, political analyst from the National Strategic Institute also linked the Politkovskaya and Litvinenko killings, but thought they were designed to influence the succession struggle. In his far-fetched (but indicative of the conspiratorial mood that hangs over Moscow) telling, Kremlin “liberals” XXXXXXXXXXXX had engineered the assassinations in order to embarrass Putin before the West,
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and force him to sacrifice someone from his inner circle in order to salvage his reputation. Belkovskiy thought that victim would be Presidential Administration Deputy Head and leader of the so-called “siloviki,” Igor Sechin. XXXXXXXXXXXX understand that First Deputy PM Medvedev is a very weak presidential candidate, and that Putin remains unconvinced that he would make an able successor. Undermining the “siloviki” is one way to ensure the inevitability of Medvedev’s candidacy, Belkovskiy told us. He suggested that Putin could portray Sechin’s ouster as the first serious step in the fight against government corruption, noting, “Putin could credibly tar him with the Yukos machinations.”
7. (C) The victims to date, Politkovskaya and Litvinenko, had been selected because they were better known beyond Russia’s borders, where it was important that the murders resonate most strongly. Belkovskiy predicted more murders to come if Putin “failed to get the message.” He suggested that Garry Kasparov’s absence from the Russian media, ties to the U.S., and name recognition abroad made him a likely victim.
8. (C) Belkovskiy offered in support of his theory what he said was indirect proof of XXXXXXXXXXXX involvement. Belkovskiy told us he had been approached the week of October 2 by a longtime contact from XXXXXXXXXXXXX inner circle who warned him that he had been targeted and should leave Russia immediately, which he did. Politkovskaya’s murder that weekend had, Belkovskiy believed, the “liberals’” fingerprints on it. He doubted that he had ever been the actual target, and speculated that his contact knew of a plot to kill someone in journalistic circles, and had warned Belkovskiy “just in case.”
Make Putin Stay
9. (C) The Institute for Globalization Problem’s Mikhail Delyagin added the November 18 killing in Moscow of Movdali Baysarov, Chechen “Gorets” division commander and critic of Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov; and the November 4 “Russian March” to Belkovskiy and Venediktov’s lists of recent, linked events. Delyagin joined others here in assuming that Baysarov’s killing had not occurred as described by the Moscow police. (Moscow Internal Affairs personnel claimed that Baysarov had threatened them with a hand grenade when stopped on a busy Moscow avenue. Russian blogs and the internet press are filled with alleged eyewitness accounts that claim Baysarov offered no resistance.) Baysarov’s protective detail had been suspended just before his murder, something that only could have been done, Delyagin said, by the FSB or “someone higher.”
10. (C) According to Delyagin, the killings of Baysarov, Politkovskaya, and Litvinenko combine to create an atmosphere of chaos desired by the “siloviki,” who would like Putin to remain in office. Delyagin discounted XXXXXXXXXX as possible authors of the murder of Litvinenko. XXXXXXXXXX In addition, he said, they lack the connections to confidentially procure the polonium 210 allegedly used in the
SIPDIS killing. Delyagin joined Venediktov and Belkovskiy in seeing the polonium as the calling card of someone in Moscow.
11. (C) ------------------
No Theory Suffices
12. (C) In a December 1 conversation, the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Masha Lipman cautioned against falling prey to conspiracy theories. None of the ones available, she thought, fully account for what appears to be happening. She found it unlikely that the killings were being staged in an effort to force Putin to remain in office. If so, the strategy seemed shortsighted, as Putin who felt his hand had
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been forced would surely seek revenge if compelled by circumstances he did not create to remain. With little information available, the only thing that could be said with certainty, she thought, was that Russia had again entered a period, perhaps occasioned by the looming 2008 succession, where problems were being solved by force. Lipman noted that recent murders had not been confined to enemies of the Kremlin; she mentioned the assassination of Central Bank Chairman Kozlov, and suggested that factors contributing to the recent re-eruption of violence in addition to 2008 might be corruption, institutions unable to solve the problems of Russians, and the sense, at least in the Kremlin, that Putin no longer is fully in control as his power wanes with the approaching end of his term.
13. (C) The sense of unease here only deepened with news that former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar had been poisoned November 24 while attending a conference in Dublin. United Energy Systems’ Chairman Anatoliy Chubais, who talked to Gaidar after he returned to Moscow, alleged that Gaidar had been the victim of foul play even before hearing the verdict of the Moscow physicians. Chubais implied that Berezovskiy was the culprit. Gaidar Spokesman Valeriy Natarov reported the evening of November 30 that Gaidar’s Moscow doctors believed that he had been poisoned. Gaidar’s daughter Mariya alleged poisoning as well in a November 30 Radio Moskvy interview. However, she cautioned that a complete diagnosis would have to await the arrival of initial tests on Gaidar conducted at the Dublin hospital. Other media report that Gaidar is recovering and expects to be discharged December 4.
14. (C) Masha Lipman believed that the well-connected Chubais’s early certainty that Gaidar had been poisoned might mean that he knows, or has reason to suspect that he knows, who was behind the attempt. Gaidar, she hoped, might shed some light on this when released from the hospital next week.
15. (C) All of the above putative versions of events are handicapped by a lack of evidence and by the existence of other motives for the killings and other potential perpetrators. Whatever the truth may ultimately be --and it may never be known-- the tendency here to almost automatically assume that someone in or close to Putin’s inner circle is the author of these deaths speaks volumes about expectations of Kremlin behavior as the high-stakes succession struggle intensifies. BURNS