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Tuesday, 26 January 2016

PUTIN'S SECRET RICHES + "Litvinenko murdered in London" + Litvinenko Associate Disputes Inquiry's Findings + Moscow Journalist Marsha Gessen pulls no punches in her bio of Putin "The Man Without a Face"

Putin's riches pt. 1 / 3  


3 / 3


Litvinenko Associate Disputes Inquiry's Findings
January 25, 2016 "Information Clearing House" - "LBC" -  This former associate of Alexander Litvinenko has a radically different view on the events that led to his death - and it made Ken doubt the account he has believed for the last ten years.
Dr. Julia Svetlichnaya - worked with Alexander Litvinenko in the years leading up to his death and gave evidence at the inquiry.

She refutes its findings that the Russian state 'probably' ordered his killing. He was poisoned with Polonium.

“Putin likes order: Polonium is chaos,” she told LBC’s Ken Livingstone and David Mellor. “Putin does not need to seek extra-judicial methods he uses judicial methods as weapons.”

She alleges Litvinenko may have been in a plot to blackmail wealthy individuals or was handling Polonium for others.

Her arguments raised doubts in Ken’s mind. He was mayor of London when Litvinenko died.

“Until you came into the studio today, for the last ten years, I have always belived what I read in the papers that it was authorised by the Russian president. You’re the first person to bring doubt to my mind,” said Ken.

Listen to the whole gripping interview below.
Click for Spanish, German, Dutch, Danish, French, translation- Note- Translation may take a moment to load.

source: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article44045.htm


The Litvinenko Inquiry: http://butlincat.blogspot.nl/2016/01/poisoned-ex-russian-spy-litvinenko-was.html



Gareth Williams - murder of MI5 spy in the pink holdall 2010 -  https://wikispooks.com/wiki/Gareth_Williams

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Person.png Gareth Williams
Wikipedia pageDeath of Gareth Williams
A brilliant cryptologist who worked for GCHQ and was unexpected found dead, naked, locked in a sports bag in "a fluid" in his bath. "Probably an accident".

In office
Gareth Williams, a 31 year old codes and ciphers expert on secondment from GCHQ to MI6 was found dead, naked and padlocked in a sports holdall submerged in "a fluid" in the bath of his 3rd floor flat at 36, Alderney Street, Pimlico, London Map on the afternoon of 23 August 2010. He had last been seen alive in London on 15 August 2010. He died probably met his death sometime between that last sighting and the following morning, 16 August 2013, when he failed to return to work. Police reported that the body "was in an advanced state of decay" when found and this made establishing the cause of death problematical, which is another indication that his death occurred soon after his last sighting. In August 2015, the The Sun claimed that he had hacked into US computers to gather data on Bill Clinton.[1]


Headlines:  January 22 2016




Having crossed Putin, Alexander Litvinenko was to die a painful death at the hands of 2 of Putin's lackies in London in 2006. An enquiry continues...
Shown for Educational Purposes


See the Evidence shown at the hearing: http://butlincat.blogspot.com/2016/01/poisoned-ex-russian-spy-litvinenko-was.html

Alexander Litvinenko death inquiry report completed

5 December 2015 From the section UKAlexander Litvinenko in 2002Image copyright APA

Alexander Litvinenko was a fierce critic of the Kremlin The inquiry report into the death of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 has been completed.

Inquiry chairman Sir Robert Owen's report will be published in Parliament on 21 January 2016 and will be sent to the home secretary 48 hours prior.
The report will be published on the inquiry's website and Sir Robert will make a brief public statement.
Mr Litvinenko, 43, died three weeks after drinking tea laced with the radioactive substance polonium-210.
The police investigation concluded the fatal dose of polonium-210 was probably consumed by Mr Litvinenko when he was in the company of former Russian colleagues Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun at London's Millennium Hotel.
UK prosecutors want both men to be put on trial for the murder of Mr Litvinenko but it has not been possible to secure their extradition. Both men deny they were involved in murder.
The inquiry was set up in July 2014 to establish the facts surrounding the death of Mr Litvinenko, a fierce critic of the Kremlin, including the possible involvement of Russian state agencies.

On 22 July 2014 the Home Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP, announced the Government’s decision to establish an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 to investigate the death of Alexander Litvinenko on 23 November 2006. The inquiry was formally set up on 31 July 2014. The list of issues covered by the inquiry is set out here.
Sir Robert Owen, having acted as Assistant Coroner responsible for conducting the inquest into Mr Litvinenko’s death, was appointed to chair the inquiry. Sir Robert, who retired as a High Court judge on 19 September 2014, suspended the inquest and opened the inquiry (PDF) having been asked to do so by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice in accordance with paragraph 3 of schedule 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. In his opening address, on 31 July 2014, Sir Robert set out the chronology of events leading to the decision to hold the inquiry, starting with the opening of an inquest into Mr Litvinenko’s death on 30 November 2006. Although the inquest into Mr Litvinenko’s death is now suspended pending conclusion of the inquiry, information about proceedings in the inquest remains available on the inquest page on this website.
Public hearings took place in court 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice in London between 27 January and 30 March 2015; the hearings recommenced on 24 July and finished on 31 July 2015. The public and closed hearings into the death of Alexander Litvinenko have been completed.  The Chairman has indicated that he expects to deliver his report to the Home Secretary by the end of 2015.

source:  https://www.litvinenkoinquiry.org/

The Litvinenko case

  • 23 Nov 2006 - Mr Litvinenko dies three weeks after having tea with former agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun in London
  • 24 Nov 2006 - His death is attributed to polonium-210
  • 22 May 2007 - Britain's director of public prosecutions decides Mr Lugovoi should be charged with the murder of Mr Litvinenko
  • 31 May 2007 - Mr Lugovoi denies any involvement in his death but says Mr Litvinenko was a British spy
  • 5 Jul 2007 - Russia officially refuses to extradite Mr Lugovoi, saying its constitution does not allow it
  • May-June 2013 - Inquest into Mr Litvinenko's death delayed as coroner decides a public inquiry would be preferable, as it would be able to hear some evidence in secret
  • July 2013 - Ministers rule out public inquiry
  • Jan 2014 - Marina Litvinenko in High Court fight to force a public inquiry
  • 11 Feb 2014 - High Court says the Home Office had been wrong to rule out an inquiry before the outcome of an inquest
  • July 2014 - Public inquiry announced by Home Office
  • January 2015 - Public inquiry begins
  • July 2015 - Closing submissions are made at the inquiry
  • Who was Alexander Litvinenko?
  • source: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-35104623
Alexander Litvinenko

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia       
This name uses Eastern Slavic naming customs; the patronymic is Valterovich and the family name is Litvinenko.
Alexander Litvinenko
Александр Литвиненко

AllegianceFlag of the Soviet Union.svg USSR / Flag of Russia.svg Russia (defected)
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
ServiceKGB/FSB (defected)MI6[1]

Birth nameAlexander Valterovich Litvinenko
Born30 August 1962Voronezh, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Died23 November 2006 (aged 44)
London, United Kingdom
Cause of
Radiation poisoning
NationalitySoviet Union (1962–1991)
Russian Federation
(1991–his death)
United Kingdom (2006–his death)
Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko (Russian: Алекса́ндр Ва́льтерович Литвине́нко; IPA: [ɐlʲɪˈksandr ˈvaltərəvʲɪtɕ lʲɪtvʲɪˈnʲɛnkə]; 30 August 1962[2][3] [4 December 1962 by father's account][4] – 23 November 2006) was a fugitive officer of the Russian FSB secret service, who specialised in tackling organised crime.[1][5] In November 1998, Litvinenko and several other FSB officers publicly accused their superiors of ordering the assassination of the Russian tycoon and oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Litvinenko was arrested the following March on charges of exceeding the authority of his position. He was acquitted in November 1999 but re-arrested before the charges were again dismissed in 2000. He fled with his family to London and was granted asylum in the United Kingdom, where he worked as a journalist, writer and consultant for the British intelligence services.
During his time in London, Litvinenko wrote two books, Blowing Up Russia: Terror from Within and Lubyanka Criminal Group, wherein he accused the Russian secret services of staging the Russian apartment bombings and other terrorism acts in an effort to bring Vladimir Putin to power. He also accused Putin of ordering the murder in October 2006 of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
On 1 November 2006, Litvinenko suddenly fell ill and was hospitalised in what was established as a case of poisoning by radioactive polonium-210 which resulted in his death on 23 November. He became the first known victim of lethal Polonium 210-induced acute radiation syndrome.[6] The events leading up to this are a matter of controversy, spawning numerous theories relating to his poisoning and death. A British murder investigation pointed to Andrey Lugovoy, a member of Russia's Federal Protective Service, as the prime suspect. Britain demanded that Lugovoy be extradited, which is against the Constitution of Russia, which directly prohibits[7] extradition of Russian citizens without handing Russia any evidence related to the case. Russia denied the extradition, leading to the cooling of relations between Russia and the United Kingdom.
After Litvinenko's death, his widow, Marina, pursued a vigorous campaign on behalf of her husband through the Litvinenko Justice Foundation. In October 2011, she won the right for an inquest into her husband's death to be conducted by a coroner in London; the inquest was repeatedly set back by issues relating to examinable evidence.[8] A public enquiry began on 27 January 2015.[9]

Early life and career]

Alexander Litvinenko was born in the Russian city of Voronezh in 1962.[10] After he graduated from a Nalchik secondary school in 1980 he was drafted into the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs as a Private. After a year of service, he matriculated in the Kirov Higher Command School in Vladikavkaz. In 1981, Litvinenko married Nataliya, an accountant, with whom he had a son, Alexander, and a daughter, Sonia. This marriage ended in divorce in 1994 and in the same year Litvinenko married Marina, a ballroom dancer and fitness instructor, with whom he had a son, Anatoly.[11] After graduation in 1985, Litvinenko became a platoon commander in the Dzerzhinsky Division of the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was assigned to the 4th Company, where among his duties was the protection of valuable cargo while in transit.[2][12][13] In 1986 he became an informant when he was recruited by the MVD's KGB counterintelligence section and in 1988 he was officially transferred to the Third Chief Directorate of the KGB, Military Counter Intelligence.[12] Later that year, after studying for a year at the Novosibirsk Military Counter Intelligence School, he became an operational officer and served in KGB military counterintelligence until 1991.[12][14]

Career in Russian security services

In 1991, Litvinenko was promoted to the Central Staff of the Federal Counterintelligence Service, specialising in counter-terrorist activities and infiltration of organised crime. He was awarded the title of "MUR veteran" for operations conducted with the Moscow criminal investigation department, the MUR.[15] Litvinenko also saw active military service in many of the so-called "hot spots" of the former USSR and Russia.[16] During the First Chechen War Litvinenko planted several FSB agents in Chechnya. Although he was often called a "Russian spy" by western press, throughout his career he was not an 'intelligence agent' and did not deal with secrets beyond information on operations against organised criminal groups.[12][17][18]
Litvinenko met Boris Berezovsky in 1994 when he took part in investigations into an assassination attempt on the oligarch. He later began to moonlight for Berezovsky and was responsible for the oligarch's security.[3][12] Litvinenko's employment under Berezovsky and other security services personnel was illegal, but the state somewhat tolerated it to retain staff who were at the time underpaid.[3][12] Thus, Litvinenko's employment for the controversial businessman and others was not investigated. Often such inquiries in Russia were selective and targeted only at those who had stepped out of line.[12]
In 1997, Litvinenko was promoted to the FSB Directorate of Analysis and Suppression of Criminal Groups, with the title of senior operational officer and deputy head of the Seventh Section.[19] According to Dimitri Simes, the Directorate was viewed as much as a part of organised crime as it was of law enforcement.[20]

Claims against FSB leadership

According to Litvinenko's widow, Marina, while her husband was employed in the FSB he discovered numerous links among members of the top brass of Russian law enforcement agencies and Russian mafia groups, such as the Solntsevo gang. Berezovsky arranged a meeting for him with the Director of the FSB, Mikhail Barsukov, and the Deputy Director of Internal affairs, Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, to discuss the alleged corruption problems, with no result. This led him to the conclusion that the entire system was corrupt.[21]
In December 1997 Litvinenko claimed he received an order to kill Berezovsky. He did not inform his part-time employer until 20 March 1998.[12][22] According to his widow, on 25 July 1998, the day on which Vladimir Putin replaced Nikolay Kovalyov as the Director of the Federal Security Service, Berezovsky introduced Litvinenko to Putin. Berezovsky claimed that he had helped Putin to take the Director's position.[23] According to his widow, Litvinenko reported to Putin on corruption in the FSB, but Putin was unimpressed.[23] According to Litvinenko, Putin was involved with a corrupt military general in the Russian army when Putin was a Deputy for Economic Affairs to the Mayor of St. Petersburg. Litvenenko was doing an investigation into the general and Uzbek drug barons and believed that Putin tried to stall the investigation to save his reputation.[24]
On 13 November 1998, Berezovsky wrote an open letter to Putin in Kommersant. He accused heads of the Directorate of Analysis and Suppression of Criminal Groups Major-General Yevgeny Khokholkov, N. Stepanov, A. Kamyshnikov, N. Yenin of ordering his assassination.[25]
Four days later Litvinenko and four other officers appeared together in a press conference at the Russian news agency Interfax. All officers worked for both FSB in the Directorate of Analysis and Suppression of Criminal Groups and for Boris Berezovsky.[12] They repeated the allegation made by Berezovsky.[12][22] The officers also claimed they were ordered to kill Mikhail Trepashkin who was also present at the press conference, and to kidnap a brother of the businessman Umar Dzhabrailov.[26]
In 2007, Sergey Dorenko provided The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal with a complete copy of an interview he conducted in April 1998 for ORT, a television station, with Litvinenko and his fellow employees. The interview, of which only excerpts were shown in 1998, shows the FSB officers, who were disguised in masks or dark glasses, claim that their bosses had ordered them to kill, kidnap or frame prominent Russian politicians and businesspeople.
Jim Heintz of the Associated Press opined that although Berezovsky does not appear in the interview, he has an omnipresence in it, given that the officers worked for him, and the interview was taped by Dorenko, a Russian journalist who was an employee of ORT owned in part by Berezovsky.[27]

Dismissal from the FSB

After holding the press conference, Litvinenko was dismissed from the FSB.[28] Later, in an interview with Yelena Tregubova, Putin said that he personally ordered the dismissal of Litvinenko, stating, "I fired Litvinenko and disbanded his unit ...because FSB officers should not stage press conferences. This is not their job. And they should not make internal scandals public."[29] Litvinenko also believed that Putin was behind his arrest. He said, "Putin had the power to decide whether to pass my file to the prosecutors or not. He always hated me. And there was a bonus for him: by throwing me to the wolves he distanced himself from Boris [Berezovsky] in the eyes of FSB's generals."[30]

Flight from Russia and asylum in the United Kingdom

In October 2000, in violation of an order not to leave Moscow, Litvinenko and his family travelled to Turkey, possibly via Ukraine.[31] While in Turkey, Litvinenko applied for asylum at the United States Embassy in Ankara, but his application was denied.[31] Henry Plater-Zyberk opined that the denial may have been based on possible American opinions that Litvinenko's knowledge was of little benefit and that he might create problems.[12] With the help of Alexander Goldfarb, Litvinenko bought air tickets for the Istanbul-London-Moscow flight,[32] and asked for political asylum at Heathrow Airport during the transit stop on 1 November 2000.[33] Political asylum was granted on 14 May 2001,[34] not because of his knowledge on intelligence matters, according to Litvinenko, but rather on humanitarian grounds.[12] While in London he became a journalist for Chechenpress and an author. He also joined Berezovsky in campaigning against Putin's government.[35] In October 2006 he became a naturalised British citizen with residence in Whitehaven.[36]

Cooperation with MI6

In October 2007, the Daily Mail, citing "diplomatic and intelligence sources," claimed Litvinenko was paid about £2,000 per month by the UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) at the time of his murder. John Scarlett, the head of MI6 (who was once based in Moscow), was allegedly personally involved in recruiting him.[17] In May 2008, The Independent opined that whilst Litvinenko's co-operation with MI6 would likely never be confirmed, an MI6 retainer that he was reported to have been receiving suggested his systematic co-operation.[37]
Litvinenko's widow, Marina Litvinenko, has stated that her husband co-operated with the British MI6 and MI5, working as a consultant and helping the agencies to combat Russian organised crime in Europe.[38][39]
In February 2012, Litvinenko's father, Valter, apologised for what he called his personal "slander campaign" against the Russian government. Before the confession by Marina Litvinenko, he had publicly blamed the Russian security services for his son's death. In an interview Valter Litvinenko said that if he had known at the time that his son was a British intelligence agent, he would not have made such accusations.[40]
During the public inquiry started in January 2015, it was confirmed that Litvinenko was recruited by MI6 as an informant in 2003, two years after he arrived in London, given an encrypted phone and assigned a minder, “Martin”, who had a meeting with Litvinenko the day before he was poisoned.[41]

Alleged threats against Litvinenko

Mikhail Trepashkin, a former FSB officer, stated that in 2002 he had warned Litvinenko that an FSB unit was assigned to assassinate him.[42] In spite of this, Litvinenko often travelled overseas with no security arrangements, and freely mingled with the Russian community in the United Kingdom, and often received journalists at his home.[12][43] In January 2007, the Polish newspaper Dziennik revealed that a target with a photo of Litvinenko on it was used for shooting practice by the Vityaz Training Centre in Balashikha in October 2002.[44] The centre, run by Sergey Lyusyuk, is not affiliated with the government, and trains bodyguards, debt collectors and private security forces,[45] although in November 2006 the centre was used by the Vityaz for a qualification examination due to their own centre being under renovation.[45] The targets, which Lyusyuk says were bought in the Olympic Market, were also photographed when the chairman of the Federation Council of Russia Sergei Mironov visited the centre and met Lyusyuk on 7 November 2006.[44][45] When asked why the photographs of Mironov's visit were removed from the centre's website Lyusyuk stated, "(T)hose Poles are up to something" and added that Mironov didn't see the targets and knew nothing about them.[45]

Allegations of blackmail activities

A series of newspaper articles by Julia Svetlichnaja and James Heartfield based on interviews that they had conducted with Litvinenko were published, beginning 27 hours after Litvinenko's death with an article in the Daily Telegraph. Eight days later The Observer published an article in which Svetlichnaja alleged that Litvinenko said he was planning to "blackmail or sell sensitive information about all kinds of powerful people, including oligarchs, corrupt officials and sources in the Kremlin". She said. "He mentioned a figure of £10,000 that they would pay each time to stop him broadcasting these FSB documents".[46]
Heartfield was a researcher and writer and Svetlichnaja a researcher in political theory and aesthetics, both at the University of Westminster. Their interviews with Litvinenko were source material for an article 'The Russian Security Service's Ethnic Division and the Elimination of Moscow's Chechen Business Class in the 1990s', published in Critique.[47]

Conviction in Russia

In 2002 Litvinenko was convicted in absentia in Russia and given a three and a half-year jail sentence for charges of corruption.[48][49]


Litvinenko regularly told people about his theories relating to the power structures in Russia, and would bombard his contacts with information relating to his theories.[12][43][50] In a report for the Conflict Studies Research Centre, Henry Plater-Zyberk, a lecturer at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom and Russian politics expert, described Litvinenko as a one-man disinformation bureau, who was at first guided by Berezovsky but later in possible pursuit of attention for himself. Plater-Zyberk notes that Litvinenko made numerous accusations without presenting any evidence to give credence to his claims, and these claims which became increasingly outlandish were often accepted by the British media without question.[12] According to Michael Mainville, Litvinenko knew the secret to a conspiracy theory is that they are based upon an absence of proof, and that the more outlandish the claim, the harder it is to disprove.[50] This has led to some political analysts dismissing his claims as those of a fantasist.[46]

Armenian parliament shooting

Litvinenko accused the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General-Staff of the Russian armed forces of having organised the 1999 Armenian parliament shooting that killed the Prime Minister of Armenia, Vazgen Sargsyan, and seven members of parliament, ostensibly to derail the peace process which would have resolved the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but he offered no evidence to support the accusation.[12][51][52] The Russian embassy in Armenia denied any such involvement, and described Litvinenko's accusation as an attempt to harm relations between Armenia and Russia by people against the democratic reforms in Russia.[53]

Russian apartment bombings

Litvinenko alleged that agents from the FSB coordinated the 1999 Russian apartment bombings that killed more than 300 people, whereas Russian officials blamed the explosions on Islamic terrorists. This version of events was suggested earlier by David Satter.[54]

Moscow theatre hostage crisis

In a 2003 interview with the Australian SBS TV network, and aired on Dateline, Litvinenko claimed that two of the Chechen terrorists involved in the 2002 Moscow theatre siege—whom he named "Abdul the Bloody" and "Abu Bakar"—were working for the FSB, and that the agency manipulated the rebels into staging the attack.[55] Litvinenko said, "[W]hen they tried to find [Abdul the Bloody and Abu Bakar] among the dead terrorists, they weren't there. The FSB got its agents out. So the FSB agents among Chechens organized the whole thing on FSB orders, and those agents were released." This echoed similar claims made by Mikhail Trepashkin.[56] The leading role of an FSB agent, Khanpasha Terkibaev ("Abu Bakar"), was also described by Anna Politkovskaya, Ivan Rybkin and Alexander Khinshtein.[57][58][59][60] In the beginning of April 2003 Litvinenko gave "the Terkibaev file" to Sergei Yushenkov when he visited London, who in turn passed it to Anna Politkovskaya.[29] A few days later Yushenkov was assassinated. Terkibaev was later killed in Chechnya. According to Ivan Rybkin, a speaker of the Russian State Duma, "The authorities failed to keep [the FSB agent] Terkibaev out of public view, and that is why he was killed. I know how angry people were, because they knew Terkibaev had authorization from presidential administration."[61]

Beslan school hostage crisis

Alexander Litvinenko suggested in September 2004 that the Russian secret services must have been aware of the plot beforehand, and therefore that they must have themselves organised the attack as a false flag operation. He spoke in an interview before his death with Chechenpress news agency, and said that because the hostage takers had previously been in FSB custody for committing terrorist attacks, it is inconceivable that they would have been released and still been able to carry out attacks independently. He said that they would only have been freed if they were of use to the FSB, and that even in the case that they were freed without being turned into FSB assets, they would be under a strict surveillance regime that would not have allowed them to carry out the Beslan attack unnoticed.[62] Ella Kesayeva, co-chair of the group Voice of Beslan, formalised Litvinenko's argument in a November 2008 article in Novaya Gazeta, noting the large number of hostage takers who were in government custody not long before attacking the school, and coming to the same conclusion that Beslan was a false flag attack.[63]

Support of terrorism worldwide by the KGB and FSB

Litvinenko stated that "all the bloodiest terrorists of the world" were connected to FSB-KGB, including Carlos "The Jackal" Ramírez, Yassir Arafat, Saddam Hussein, Abdullah Öcalan, Wadie Haddad of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, George Hawi who led the Communist Party of Lebanon, Ezekias Papaioannou from Cyprus, Sean Garland from Ireland, and many others. He said that all of them were trained, funded, and provided with weapons, explosives and counterfeit documents to carry out terrorist attacks worldwide and that each act of terrorism made by these people was carried out according to the task and under the rigid control of the KGB of the USSR.[64] Litvinenko said that "the center of global terrorism is not in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan or the Chechen Republic. The terrorism infection creeps away worldwide from the cabinets of the Lubyanka Square and the Kremlin".[65][66]

Alleged Russia-al-Qaeda connection

In a July 2005 interview with the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita, Litvinenko alleged that Ayman al-Zawahiri, a prominent leader of al-Qaeda, was trained for half a year by the FSB in Dagestan in 1997 and called him "an old agent of the FSB".[64][67] Litvinenko said that after this training, al-Zawahiri "was transferred to Afghanistan, where he had never been before and where, following the recommendation of his Lubyanka chiefs, he at once ... penetrated the milieu of Osama bin Laden and soon became his assistant in Al Qaeda."[68] Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy, a former KGB officer and writer, supported this claim and said that Litvinenko "was responsible for securing the secrecy of Al-Zawahiri's arrival in Russia; he was trained by FSB instructors in Dagestan, Northern Caucasus, in 1996–1997."[69] He said: "At that time, Litvinenko was the Head of the Subdivision for Internationally Wanted Terrorists of the First Department of the Operative-Inquiry Directorate of the FSB Anti-Terrorist Department. He was ordered to undertake the delicate mission of securing Al-Zawahiri from unintentional disclosure by the Russian police. Though Al-Zawahiri had been brought to Russia by the FSB using a false passport, it was still possible for the police to learn about his arrival and report to Moscow for verification. Such a process could disclose Al-Zawahiri as an FSB collaborator. In order to prevent this, Litvinenko visited a group of highly placed police officers to notify them in advance." According to Sergei Ignatchenko, an FSB spokesman, al-Zawahiri was arrested by Russian authorities in Dagestan in December 1996 and released in May 1997.[70]
When asked in an interview who he thought the originator of the 2005 bombings in London was, Litvinenko responded saying,[64] "You know, I have spoken about it earlier and I shall say now, that I know only one organization, which has made terrorism the main tool of solving of political problems. It is the Russian special services." He later added, "And I am sure, that there will be no prosecutions of Moslems after the event." [71]

Danish cartoon controversy

According to Litvinenko, the 2005 controversy over the publication in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of editorial cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad was orchestrated by the FSB to punish Denmark for its refusal to extradite Chechen separatists.[50]

Assassination of Anna Politkovskaya

Two weeks before his poisoning, Alexander Litvinenko accused Vladimir Putin of ordering the assassination of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and stated that a former presidential candidate, Irina Hakamada, warned Politkovskaya about threats to her life coming from the Russian president. Litvinenko advised Politkovskaya to escape from Russia immediately. Hakamada denied her involvement in passing any specific threats, and said that she warned Politkovskaya only in general terms more than a year earlier.[72] It remains unclear if Litvinenko referred to an earlier statement made by Boris Berezovsky, who claimed that Boris Nemtsov, a former Russian Deputy Prime Minister, received word from Hakamada that Putin threatened her and like-minded colleagues in person. According to Berezovsky, Putin uttered that Hakamada and her colleagues "will take in the head immediately, literally, not figuratively" if they "open the mouth" about the Russian apartment bombings.[73]

Allegations concerning Romano Prodi

According to Litvinenko, the FSB deputy chief General Anatoly Trofimov said to him, "Don't go to Italy, there are many KGB agents among the politicians. Romano Prodi is our man there,"[74][75] meaning Romano Prodi, the Italian centre-left leader, former Prime Minister of Italy and former President of the European Commission. The conversation with Trofimov took place in 2000, after the Prodi-KGB scandal broke out in October 1999 due to information about Prodi provided by Vasili Mitrokhin.[76]
In April 2006, a British Member of the European Parliament for London, Gerard Batten of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), demanded an inquiry into the allegations.[74][75] According to the Brussels-based newspaper The EU Reporter on 3 April 2006, "Another high-level source, a former KGB operative in London, has confirmed the story."[77] On 26 April 2006, Batten repeated his call for a parliamentary inquiry, revealing that "former senior members of the KGB are willing to testify in such an investigation, under the right conditions." He added, "It is not acceptable that this situation is unresolved, given the importance of Russia's relations with the European Union."[78] On 22 January 2007, the BBC and ITV News released documents and video footage from February 2006, in which Litvinenko repeated his statements about Prodi.[79][80]
A report by the Conflict Studies Research Centre of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom from May 2007 noted that Trofimov was never the head of the FSB, which did not oversee intelligence operations, had never worked in the intelligence directorate of the KGB or its successor the SVR, nor had he worked in the counterintelligence department of the intelligence services, nor had he ever worked in Italy, making it difficult to understand how Trofimov would have had knowledge about such a recruitment. Henry Plater-Zyberk, the co-author of the report, suggested that Trofimov was "conveniently dead," so "could neither confirm nor deny the story," and noted Litvinenko's history of making accusations without evidence to back them up.[12]

Cooperation with Spanish authorities

Shortly before his death Litvinenko tipped off Spanish authorities on several organised crime bosses with links to Spain. During a meeting in May 2006 he allegedly provided security officials with information on the locations, roles, and activities of several "Russian" mafia figures with ties to Spain, including Zahkar Kalashov, Izguilov and Tariel Oniani.[81]

Other allegations

In his book Gang from Lubyanka, Litvinenko alleged that Vladimir Putin during his time at the FSB was personally involved in protecting the drug trafficking from Afghanistan organised by Abdul Rashid Dostum.[82] In December 2003 Russian authorities confiscated over 4000 copies of the book.[83]
Litvinenko commented on a new law that "Russia has the right to carry out preemptive strikes on militant bases abroad" and explained that these "preemptive strikes may involve anything except nuclear weapons." Litvinenko said, "You know who they mean when they say 'terrorist bases abroad'? They mean us, Zakayev and Boris and me."[29] He also said that "It was considered in our service that poison is an easier weapon than a pistol." He referred to a secret laboratory in Moscow that still continues development of deadly poisons, according to him.[84]
In an article written by Litvinenko in July 2006, and published online on Zakayev's Chechenpress website, he claimed that Vladimir Putin is a paedophile.[85] Litvinenko also claimed that Anatoly Trofimov and Artyom Borovik knew of the alleged paedophilia.[86] The claims have been called "wild"[43] and "sensational and unsubstantiated"[87] in the British media. Litvinenko made the allegation after Putin kissed a boy on his stomach while stopping to chat with some tourists during a walk in the Kremlin grounds on 28 June 2006. The incident was recalled in a webcast organised by the BBC and Yandex, in which over 11,000 people asked Putin to explain the act, to which he responded, "He seemed very independent and serious... I wanted to cuddle him like a kitten and it came out in this gesture. He seemed so nice. ... There is nothing behind it."[88]
Shortly before his death, Alexander Litvinenko alleged that Vladimir Putin had cultivated a "good relationship" with Semion Mogilevich (head of the Russia mafia) since 1993 or 1994.[89]

Poisoning and death

A bald Alexander Litvinenko at University College Hospital
On 1 November 2006, Litvinenko suddenly fell ill and was hospitalised. His illness was later attributed to poisoning with radionuclide polonium-210 after the Health Protection Agency found significant amounts of the rare and highly toxic element in his body.
In interviews, Litvinenko stated that he met with two former KGB agents early on the day he fell ill – Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoy. Though both denied any wrongdoing, a leaked US diplomatic cable revealed that Kovtun had left polonium traces in the house and car he had used in Hamburg.[90] The men also introduced Litvinenko to a tall, thin man of central Asian appearance called 'Vladislav Sokolenko' whom Lugovoy said was a business partner. Lugovoy is also a former bodyguard of Russian ex-Acting Prime minister Yegor Gaidar (who also suffered from a mysterious illness in November 2006). Later, Litvinenko had lunch at Itsu, a sushi restaurant in Piccadilly in London, with an Italian acquaintance and nuclear waste expert, Mario Scaramella, to whom he made the allegations regarding Italy's Prime Minister Romano Prodi.[91] Scaramella, attached to the Mitrokhin Commission investigating KGB penetration of Italian politics, claimed to have information on the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya, 48, a journalist who was killed at her Moscow apartment in October 2006.
Marina Litvinenko, his widow, accused Moscow of orchestrating the murder. Though she believes the order did not come from Putin himself, she does believe it was done at the behest of the authorities, and announced that she will refuse to provide evidence to any Russian investigation out of fear that it would be misused or misrepresented.[92] On a court hearing in London in 2015 Scotland Yard lawyer concluded that "the evidence suggests that the only credible explanation is in one way or another the Russian state is involved in Litvinenko’s murder".[93]

Death and last statement[edit]

On 22 November 2006, Litvinenko's medical staff at University College Hospital reported he had suffered a "major setback" due to either heart failure or an overnight heart attack. He died on 23 November. Scotland Yard stated that inquiries into the circumstances of how Litvinenko became ill would continue.[94]
On 24 November 2006, a posthumous statement was released, in which Litvinenko named Putin as the man behind his poisoning.[95] Litvinenko's friend Alex Goldfarb, who was also the chairman of Boris Berezovsky's Civil Liberties Fund, claimed Litvinenko had dictated it to him three days earlier. Andrei Nekrasov said his friend Litvinenko and Litvinenko's lawyer had composed the statement in Russian on 21 November and translated it to English.[96]

Litvinenko's grave at Highgate Cemetery in 2007.
Putin disputed the authenticity of this note while attending a Russia-EU summit in Helsinki and claimed it was being used for political purposes.[97] Goldfarb later stated that Litvinenko, on his deathbed, had instructed him to write a note "in good English" in which Putin was to be accused of his poisoning. Goldfarb also stated that he read the note to Litvinenko in English and Russian and Litvinenko agreed "with every word of it" and signed it.[95]

Litvinenko's grave in 2014.
His autopsy took place on 1 December at the Royal London Hospital's institute of pathology. It was attended by three physicians, including one chosen by the family and one from the Foreign Office.[98] Litvinenko was buried at Highgate Cemetery (West side) in north London on 7 December.[99] The police are treating his death as murder, although the London coroner's inquest is yet to be completed.[100][101] On 25 November, two days after Litvinenko's death, an article attributed to him was published by The Mail on Sunday entitled "Why I believe Putin wanted me dead".[102]
In an interview with the BBC broadcast on 16 December 2006, Yuri Shvets said that Litvinenko had created a 'due diligence' report investigating the activities of an unnamed senior Kremlin official on behalf of a British company looking to invest "dozens of millions of dollars" in a project in Russia, and that the dossier contained damaging information about the senior Kremlin official. He said he was interviewed about his allegations by Scotland Yard detectives investigating Litvinenko's murder.[103] British media reported that the poisoning and consequent death of Litvinenko was not widely covered in the Russian news media.[104]

Reported conversion to Islam[edit]

During her remarks at the 2015 inquest into her husband's death, Marina Litvinenko testified that her husband converted to Islam before his death.[105] Mrs. Litvinenko also testified that Litvinenko told his father that he had converted to Islam, to which his father responded, "It doesn't matter. At least you're not a communist."[106]
On 7 December 2006, Litvinenko was buried at Highgate Cemetery, a Muslim prayer being said by an imam invited by Akhmed Zakayev, contrary to his wife's wishes of a non-denominational service at the grave.[107]
The funeral ceremony was followed by a private memorial at which the ensemble Tonus Peregrinus sang sacred music by Russian composers Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Rachmaninov, Victor Kalinnikov, and three works by British composer Antony Pitts. [108] [109] [110]

Theories and investigations into death[edit]

UK criminal investigation[edit]

On 20 January 2007 British police announced that they had "identified the man they believe poisoned Alexander Litvinenko. The suspected killer was captured on cameras at Heathrow as he flew into Britain to carry out the murder."[111] The man in question was introduced to Litvinenko as "Vladislav."
As of 26 January 2007, British officials said police had solved the murder of Litvinenko. They discovered "a 'hot' teapot at London's Millennium Hotel with an off-the-charts reading for polonium-210, the radioactive material used in the killing." In addition, a senior official said investigators had concluded the murder of Litvinenko was "a 'state-sponsored' assassination orchestrated by Russian security services." The police want to charge former Russian spy Andrei Lugovoy, who met Litvinenko on 1 November 2006, the day officials believe the lethal dose of polonium-210 was administered.[112]
On the same day, The Guardian reported that the British government was preparing an extradition request asking that Andrei Lugovoy be returned to the UK to stand trial for Litvinenko's murder.[113] On 22 May 2007 the Crown Prosecution Service called for the extradition of Russian citizen Andrei Lugovoy to the UK on charges of murder.[114] Lugovoy dismissed the claims against him as "politically motivated" and said he did not kill Litvinenko.[115]
A British police investigation resulted in several suspects for the murder, but in May 2007, the British Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, announced that his government would seek to extradite Andrei Lugovoy, the chief suspect in the case, from Russia.[116] On 28 May 2007, the British Foreign Office officially submitted a request to the Government of Russia for the extradition of Lugovoy to face criminal charges in the UK.[117]
On 2 October 2011, The Sunday Times published an article wherein the chief prosecutor who investigated the murder of Litvinenko, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, publicly spoke of his suspicion that the murder was a "state directed execution" carried out by Russia. Until that time, British public officials had stopped short of directly accusing Russia of involvement in the poisoning. "It had all the hallmarks of a state directed execution, committed on the streets of London by a foreign government," Macdonald added.[118]
In January 2015, it was reported in the UK media that the National Security Agency had intercepted communications between Russian government agents in Moscow and those who carried out what was called a "state execution" in London: the recorded conversations allegedly proved that the Russian government was involved in Litvinenko's murder, and suggested that the motive was Litvinenko's revelations about Vladimir Putin's links with the criminal underworld.[119]

Russian criminal investigation[edit]

Many publications in Russian media suggested that the death of Alexander Litvinenko was connected to Boris Berezovsky.[120][121] Former FSB chief Nikolay Kovalyov, for whom Litvinenko worked, said that the incident "looks like the hand of Boris Berezovsky. I am sure that no kind of intelligence services participated."[122] This involvement of Berezovsky was alleged by numerous Russian television shows. Kremlin supporters saw it as a conspiracy to smear Russian government's reputation by engineering a spectacular murder of a Russian dissident abroad.[123]
After Litvinenko's death, traces of polonium-210 were found in an office of Berezovsky.[124] Litvinenko had visited Berezovsky's office as well as many other places in the hours after his poisoning.[125] The British Health Protection Agency made extensive efforts to ensure that locations Litvinenko visited and anyone who had contact with Litvinenko after his poisoning, were not at risk.[126]
Russian prosecutors were not allowed to investigate the office.[127] Russian authorities have also been unable to question Berezovsky. The Foreign Ministry complained that Britain was obstructing its attempt to send prosecutors to London to interview more than 100 people, including Berezovsky.[128]
On 5 July 2007, Russia officially declined to extradite Lugovoy, citing Article 61 of the Constitution of Russia that prohibits extradition of citizens. Russia has said that they could take on the case themselves if Britain provided evidence against Lugovoy but Britain has not handed over any evidence. The head of the investigating committee at the General Prosecutor's Office said Russia has not yet received any evidence from Britain on Lugovoy. "We have not received any evidence from London of Lugovoy's guilt, and those documents we have are full of blank spaces and contradictions.[129] However the British ambassador to Russia, Anne Pringle, claimed that London has already submitted sufficient evidence to extradite him to Britain.[130]

Judicial inquiries[edit]

Inquest in London[edit]

On 13 October 2011, Dr. Andrew Reed, the Coroner of St. Pancras, announced that he would hold an inquest into Litvinenko's death, which would include the examination of all existing theories of the murder, including possible complicity of the Russian government.[131] The inquest, held by Sir Robert Owen, a High Court judge acting as the coroner, originally scheduled to start on 1 May 2013, was subject to a series of pre-hearings: firstly, the coroner agreed that a group representing Russian state prosecutors could be accepted as a party to the inquest process; secondly, the British Government submitted a Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate. Under Public Interest Immunity (PII) claims, the information at the disposal of the UK government relating to Russian state involvement, as well as how much British intelligence services could have done to prevent the death, would be excluded from the inquest.[132]
On 12 July 2013, Sir Robert, who had previously agreed to exclude certain material from the inquest on the grounds its disclosure could be damaging to national security, announced that the British Government refused the request he had made earlier in June to replace the inquest with a public inquiry, which would have powers to consider secret evidence.[8][133] After the hearing, Alex Goldfarb said: "There's some sort of collusion behind the scenes with Her Majesty's government and the Kremlin to obstruct justice"; Elena Tsirlina, Mrs Litvinenko's solicitor, concurred with him.[8][133]
On 22 July 2014, the UK Home Secretary Theresa May, who had previously ruled out an inquiry on the grounds it might damage the country’s relations with Moscow,[9] announced a public enquiry into Litvinenko's death. The enquiry is chaired by Sir Robert Owen who was the Coroner in the inquest into Litvinenko’s death; its remit stipulated that "the inquiry will not address the question of whether the UK authorities could or should have taken steps which would have prevented the death".[134][135] The inquiry started on 27 January 2015.[9] New evidence emerged at first hearings held at the end of January 2015.[41] The last day of hearings was on 31 July 2015.[136]

Litvinenko vs. the Russian Federation in Strasbourg[edit]

In May 2007 Marina Litvinenko registered a complaint against the Russian Federation in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg accusing the Russian state of violating her husband's right to life, and failing to conduct a full investigation.[137]

In popular culture[edit]


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His books[edit]

Books and films about him[edit]

External links[edit]

The Moscow journalist Masha Gessen pulls no punches in her biography of Vladimir Putin, The Man Without a Face

The case against Vladimir Putin
 The Russian journalist Masha Gessen at her home in Moscow Photo: Olya Ivanova

Alongside the dolls depicting Lady Gaga, the Rolling Stones and the Princess of Wales are portly, shining representations of such political leaders as George W Bush, Nicolas Sarkozy and, most bizarrely of all, Gordon Brown.
Russian politics is represented by a doll of the country’s president, the Black Sabbath fan Dmitry Medvedev. Nestling inside Medvedev are his predecessors in the post: Vladimir Putin, Boris Yeltsin and Mikhael Gorbachev.
The chronology may be correct, but the symbolism is all wrong. In the four years that Medvedev has served as president he has been not so much matryoshka doll as puppet, in the shadow of Putin, nominally his prime minister, but the man who by iron rule has shaped Russia in his image over the past 12 years – the matryoshka doll in whom all Russia is contained.

It is a position that Putin has consolidated with a mixture of canniness and ruthlessness, and which he shows no sign of relinquishing. On March 4, having arranged with Medvedev to effectively change places, Putin will once again run in the election for the post of president. With opposition virtually non-existent, nobody expects him to lose. Having extended the presidential term from four to six years, Putin could occupy the post until 2024, making him the longest-lasting leader since Stalin. Masha Gessen is not so sure. A Russian-born writer who grew up in America and now lives in Moscow, and the author of a new book about Putin, Gessen believes that even as he consolidates his power, Russia is seeing the first signs of the inevitable fall of what she describes as 'this small and vengeful man’.

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Putin - a godfather of a Mafia Clan
The tumultuous events of last December, when tens of thousands took to the streets of Moscow and cities across Russia in the biggest anti-government rallies since the fall of the Soviet Union, were the harbinger of what she describes as 'a revolution’.

Putin will win the election. That, in itself, is not a mechanism for change, Gessen says, 'because it’s not an election. But I think it will be a catalyst. I think it’s the beginning of the end for Putin. How long this process will last is hard to tell. But I think it is more likely to be a matter of months rather than years.’ She pauses. 'At least, I hope so.’
Gessen’s book, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, provides a compelling and exhaustive portrait of a man who rose without trace from being a minor KGB and St Petersburg bureaucrat to become what Gessen describes as 'the godfather of a mafia clan’, who has amassed a personal fortune that in 2007 was estimated by one Kremlin insider to be $40 billion.

Read an extract from The Man Without a Face here
It is a brave journalist who undertakes to write a critical – not to say overtly hostile – biography of Putin, in a country where press freedom is severely circumscribed, self-censorship a useful survival mechanism, and where those who have written disobligingly about Putin and his close allies, or dug too deeply into the corruption endemic in Russian politics and business, have often come to grief. In her years as a journalist, Gessen herself has been threatened, intimidated and burgled.
I meet her in a smart coffee shop near her home in central Moscow. Gessen, who is gay, lives with her partner, Darya, a cartographer, and her two children, a 13-year-old son, Voya, whom Gessen adopted as a baby, and an 11-year-old daughter, Yael, born by artificial insemination. Darya is now expecting her first child. It is mid-morning, and the cafe is crowded with the young metropolitan elite, fashionably dressed and happy to pay £5 for a latte, chattering and smoking over their iPads and laptops.
Gessen, 45, is a slight, pale-looking woman with short dark hair, a hawkish profile and an earnest demeanour. She is wearing a black tailored suit jacket and blue jeans. Pinned to her lapel is the white ribbon that has become the symbol of protest against the Putin regime ever since the demonstrations in December.
The catalyst for the protests was alleged vote-rigging in the parliamentary elections on December 4, which were won by Putin’s United Russia party. But they spoke of a deeper anger about the concentration of wealth and political power in Putin’s Russia, and the pervasive corruption that accompanies it.
'More basically,’ Gessen says, 'it’s about dignity. Every time a Russian comes into contact with the state, whether it’s to get a driver’s licence or a licence for his business, it’s unpredictable and it’s profoundly humiliating. In that sense the election was almost a stand-in for that contact with the state. It’s humiliating to vote and then have your vote stolen in a blatant manner. In a way there’s nothing more humiliating. It’s saying: you don’t exist.’
Gessen was born in Moscow. Her father, Sasha, was a computer scientist, her mother, Yolochka, a translator and literary critic. In 1981, when Masha was 14, the family joined the growing exodus of Russian Jews, emigrating to America and settling in Boston. After starting and abandoning a degree in architecture, Gessen became a writer. In 1991, as the Soviet Union was breaking up, she returned to Russia on a magazine assignment, reporting on the country’s fledgling women’s movement. Over the next three years she would return frequently on stories, finally moving back in 1994 to take a job as chief correspondent on a news weekly, Itogi.
Moscow then, she says, 'was the most exciting place in the world. Everything was in flux and every­thing was up for discussion. People were having serious discussions about the relationship between the individual and the state, how the media should be constructed, what the constitution should be. All of this was being seriously debated by any number of smart people, and you felt like you could have a place in the debate. It was amazing.’
Gessen went on to write on every aspect of the new Russia, including reporting on the war in Chechnya from beginning to end between 1994 and 1996, initially for Russian news magazines, latterly for American publications including the New York Times and Vanity Fair. She became a persistent critic of Putin and his regime.
'I was trying to crusade in American journalism and write about Putin for a long time before it had become an accepted fact that he was not the democratic hope that he had originally been seen as,’ she says. 'I remember in 2005 I was asked to write a piece about Putin as a threat to democracy. I said, you’ve missed the story – he’s not a threat, there is no democracy. And then I realised that the real story was to try and explain who this man was. Because really, nobody knew.’
Gessen argues that as the product of a highly secretive institution, the KGB, Putin has been able to control the details of his life, and shape his own mythology, more than almost any other modern politician – certainly any Western one.
Putin, she writes, was 'a faceless man’ promoted by people who wanted to 'invent’ a president. But that plan was subverted by the man himself and the secret-police apparatus that formed him and continues to sustain him. Rather than being the safeholder of a new era of democracy, as his sponsors had hoped, Putin has turned Russia into 'a supersize model of the KGB’, where there can be no room for dissent or even independent action.
Vladimir Putin was born in 1952 in Leningrad (now St Petersburg), a city still traumatised by the effects of the Second World War.
His father had fought with the special forces, operating behind German lines, returning home severely disabled and finding work as a skilled labourer. His mother, who had almost died of starvation during the siege of the city by the Nazis, worked in a series of backbreaking jobs. They had lost two children before Putin was born.
The young Putin was a tearaway, 'a real thug’, as he would later boast to his official biographers, often scrapping in the courtyard of the overcrowded apartment building where the family lived.
From an early age, inspired by the example of his father, Putin dreamt of being a spy. 'I was most amazed by how a small force, a single person, really, can accomplish something an entire army cannot,’ he told his biographers. 'A single intelligence officer could rule over the fates of thousands of people. At least, that’s how I saw it.’
Joining the KGB, he was sent to spy school in Moscow and then dispatched to Dresden in what was then East Germany, tasked with cultivating future undercover agents among foreign students. The Soviet Union was in the first throes of perestroika, as Mikhail Gorbachev loosened the reins on Soviet bloc countries and sowed seeds of resentment among the KGB leadership and rank-and-file.
'Everything Putin had worked for was now in doubt,’ Gessen writes. 'Everything he had believed was being mocked.’ He would not return home until after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
'I think a lot of his resentment goes back directly to that period,’ Gessen says. 'Having been in the KGB at a bad time, having been outside the country when everything was changing… He’s a very vengeful man – that’s one of his particular traits of character. And that vengefulness has carried through. He’s pursuing a vendetta against everybody who was ever opposed to the Soviet Union.’
Putin returned to St Petersburg, where he became assistant to the mayor, while continuing in the KGB. For all the reforms that were taking place in Russia, St Petersburg, Gessen writes, was 'a state within a state’: a place where the KGB remained all-powerful, where local politicians and journalists had their phones tapped, and the murder of major political and business players was a regular occurrence.
'In other words, very much like Russia itself would become within a few years, once it came to be ruled by the people who ruled St Petersburg in the 1990s.’ In other words, Putin.
In 1996 Putin went to Moscow to work at the Kremlin, rising to be head of the FSB, the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB. It was here that he came into the orbit of Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin had become the first president of the new Russian Federation in 1991 and had been re-elected for a second term in 1996, but he was slipping into a state of sorry decline. His health was failing, his behaviour increasingly erratic – most people assumed as a result of his heavy drinking. He had alienated most of the politicians who had once supported him, and with no obvious successor in view, feared that another party might come to power and imprison him.
Foremost in the dwindling circle of Yeltsin’s allies and supporters known as 'the family’ was the oligarch Boris Berezovsky; indeed, many believed Berezovsky to be the real power behind Yeltsin’s throne. Berezovsky knew Putin from the early 1990s in St Petersburg when, in the first flush of buccaneering capitalism, Berezovsky was aiming to expand his car dealership and Putin was a minor city bureaucrat.
Putin arranged for Berezovsky to open a service station in the city, and declined to take a bribe. 'He was the first bureaucrat who did not take bribes,’ Berezovsky told Gessen. 'Seriously. It made a huge impression on me.’
Berezovsky began to vigorously promote Putin, among 'the family’ and to Yeltsin himself. He would remember Yeltsin’s reaction on meeting Putin: 'He seems all right,’ the president said of his putative successor, 'but he’s kind of small.’ In August 1999 Yeltsin appointed Putin prime minister.
'Yeltsin needed to appoint somebody who would guarantee his safety,’ Gessen says. 'The problem was that the pool of people from which they were choosing was tiny. Anybody who was working as a politician, or even as a bureaucrat, had defected. So they were looking at people who by definition were unsuitable for the job. And Putin was one of those people. Perhaps he looked like the best person; I think he was probably the worst.’
Putin, she says, was 'a grey, ordinary man’ with no articulated political vision and no identifiable political ambition, on to whom everybody could project whatever they wished to see in him. Berezovsky, who had thrown his Channel One television station behind Putin, believed that 'being devoid of personality and personal interest’, he would be both malleable and disciplined.
The Foundation for Effective Politics, the organisation set up to promote Putin, was made up primarily of young, idealistic liberals who were prepared to overlook his KGB past. 'The reason the ground was primed for him was that people needed to feel a sort of limited nostalgia for the Soviet Union, and someone who was very sure of what he was doing and saying,’ Gessen says. 'Everyone was tired of Yeltsin, his erratic behaviour, his total unpredictability, the fact that he was a total embarrassment on the international stage.’
Putin was promoted as a young, energetic leader – a man, as Gessen puts it, who 'wore good European suits and spoke a foreign language’, who would shepherd Russia into a bright future of economic reform and stable democracy, but also a strong man who could solve the country’s domestic problems and restore its international standing.
Within weeks of his appointment as prime minister Putin had demonstrated just how decisive he could be. In September 1999 Russia was shocked by a series of bombings of apartment blocks that killed more than 300 people and left more than 1,900 injured. The bombings were immediately blamed on Chechen terrorists – and provided an opportunity for Putin to demonstrate his credentials as a strong leader.
On September 23 a group of 24 governors – more than a quarter of the federation – had written to Yeltsin asking him to yield power to Putin. The same day, Yeltsin issued a secret decree authorising the army to resume combat in Chechnya, and Russian planes began bombing the capital, Grozny. The following day Putin issued his own order authorising Russian troops to engage in combat – even though the prime minister has no legal authority over the military – and made one of his first television appearances, promising to hunt down the terrorists: 'Even if we find them in the toilet. We will rub them out in the outhouse.’
'His popularity,’ Gessen writes, 'began to soar.’
The suggestion that the apartment-block bombings were a 'false flag’ operation by the FSB has long been bruited in conspiracy circles. In her book, Gessen, who describes herself to me as 'probably the least conspiratorially minded person in this country of conspiracy theories’, comes to the conclusion that the FSB was, indeed, behind the bombings – and that Putin would very likely have been aware of the fact.
'We have this expression in Russian: both is worse,’ she says. 'Which is worse – if he knew about it or didn’t know about it? Both is worse. All the evidence points to the fact that these explosions were organised by the FSB, and he was the head of the FSB until three to six weeks before the bombings began. If he wasn’t aware of them that’s damning; more likely, of course, he was. Certainly he would have been aware if it was carried out by the FSB after the fact; and certainly he would have personally made the decision not to investigate.’
Putin has never commented on the speculation that the FSB was implicated in the bombings. Nor has the suggestion ever gained any traction among the Russian populace. One television channel that did investigate the bombings was NTV, part of a media conglomerate, Media-Most, owned by Vladimir Gusinsky. (Gusinsky was also the publisher of Igoti, the magazine that Gessen was working for at the time.)
Within days of Putin’s inauguration as president in May 2000, armed militia raided the offices of Media-Most, intimidating staff and seizing papers. The raid, Gessen writes, was a threat: its alleged initiator, Putin. Within a matter of weeks, Gusinsky was arrested on trumped-up charges stemming from the privatisation some years earlier of a company called Russkoye Video.
Gusinsky spent three days in jail and then fled the country, having apparently agreed to cede his majority share in his media empire to the state gas company, Gazprom. 'In other words,’ Gessen writes, 'this was a classic organised-crime contract, formalising the exchange of one’s business for one’s personal safety: and the state was party to it.’
When Gessen began investigating the Russkoye Video story, uncovering documents that implicated Putin, she was threatened over the telephone by the prosecutor involved in the case. 'He told me I’d be sorry. Just like that.’ A 'workman’ suddenly appeared at her apartment door – 24 hours a day. Her telephone was mysteriously cut off.
'These were again old KGB tactics. Nobody touched me; except for that phone call nobody said anything to me. But that sense of invasion… it was terrifying. And it made me realise how quickly you can be made to feel unsafe in your own home.’
Getting rid of Gusinsky was the first step in Putin consolidating power by seizing control both of the media and the levers of politics. He introduced laws that effectively abolished elections to the upper house of parliament, and appointed presidential envoys to become overseers of elected regional governors. (In 2004, in his second term as president, he changed the law so that governors were directly appointed by the Kremlin.)
Then he moved on his old ally Berezovsky. The man who had helped to make Putin had fallen out with him almost as soon as Putin became president, attacking his constitutional reforms and using his tele­vision station, Channel One, to criticise Putin over his handling of the Kursk submarine disaster in August 2000.
After clashing with Putin, Berezovsky was obliged to flee to France, and then to Britain, where he now lives. A warrant for his arrest was filed in Russia and his shares in Channel One appropriated by the state. Within a year of Putin coming to office, all three federal television networks would be under state control.
In a sense, Gessen says, Putin’s methods are in a long and ignoble tradition of Russian politics: the exercise of fear. 'That’s true of his private way of conducting politics, and it’s true of his public rhetoric. He is the heir to the great Russian tradition of “we are a country under siege” poli­tical rhetoric, which has been used throughout Russian history.
'And I think Putin believes that. It’s an assumption he was born and bred with, and he’s never thought to challenge it. I don’t think he is a very smart man, nor a very educated man. He’s an average Soviet functionary with stronger than average emotions, and higher than average vindictiveness.
'He’s a tiny, mean guy who will bite you if you get too close; and that’s the kind of country he’s tried to build. And that’s been the extent of Russian foreign policy for the last 12 years. What is Russia’s foreign policy agenda? You can’t figure it out from who Russia becomes friends with or sells arms to or negotiates with, because it’s really simple. Russia wants to be feared. That’s it.’
Gessen likens Putin to 'the godfather of a mafia clan’ ruling Russia. And 'like all mafia bosses, he barely distinguishes between his personal property, the property of his clan and the property of those beholden to his clan.’
Corruption has been virtually institutionalised under his regime. Last year the Transparency International 'Corruptions Perception Index’ ranked Russia joint 143rd out of the 182 countries listed, along with Nigeria and Mauritania.
Putin’s own acquisitiveness is typified, Gessen says, in two apparently minor but telling incidents. In 2005, while hosting a group of American businessmen in St Petersburg, Putin pocketed a diamond-encrusted ring belonging to Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots American football team, after asking to try it on, and allegedly saying, 'I could kill someone with this.’ After a flurry of articles in the US press, Kraft announced the ring had been a gift, preventing an uncomfortable situation from spiralling out of control.
Later that year, Putin was a guest at the Guggenheim museum in New York. At one point his hosts brought out a conversation piece – a glass replica of a Kalashnikov automatic weapon filled with vodka (which can be picked up in Russia for about $300). According to Gessen, Putin nodded to his bodyguards, who took the piece away, 'leaving the hosts speechless’. 'I do suspect it’s a compulsion,’ she says. 'And another reason I suspect it’s a compulsion is because of the palace.’
'The palace’ is the property on the Black Sea which, it is alleged, Putin had built for himself with money earmarked for public spending. The story begins with a company called Rosinvest, which had been set up by a businessman named Sergei Kolesnikov and two partners to invest money donated by wealthy businessmen in various government projects. Ninety-four per cent of the company was owned by Putin.
The company initially invested in 16 different projects, mostly in industrial production, and all returning a handsome profit. A side project was a small personal project of Putin’s, a house on the Black Sea budgeted at $16 million. But, Kolesnikov told Gessen, 'things kept getting added’: an amphitheatre, a lift to the beach, a marina…
By 2009 the budget had passed $1 billion. Kolesnikov was informed by his partner that Rosinvest would no longer be making investments; its only purpose now was the completion of the Black Sea palace. Kolesnikov fled Russia, taking the company’s documentation with him, before going public with the story.
Putin’s office dismissed it as rubbish. In March 2011 it was reported that the villa had been sold to a businessman named Alexander Ponomarenko. He said he had bought the complex, which he described as 'a holiday centre’, from a friend of Putin’s, Nikolai Shamalov.
'First they denied its existence, then they denied Putin’s association with it; and then they sold it,’ Gessen says. 'But the question is, what was Putin going to do with a palace on the Black Sea anyway? He could have used state money to build a palace for receptions. This is normal Russian practice – use public money to build gaudy palaces that will be used once a year. But no, he was building a private property. He clearly doesn’t plan on retiring, but if he did he wouldn’t stay in Russia. So it looks more like compulsive behaviour than long-term planning, which I think he’s incapable of anyway.’
Putin, she says, has created a Russia where there is no meaningful opposition. The candidates who will run against him in next week’s elections are generally regarded as toothless, or in the case of Mikhail Prokhorov, the multi-millionaire businessman, widely dismissed as a Kremlin stooge.
Gessen believes the only opposition figure with any credibility or authority is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oligarch who is currently languishing in a penal colony near the Chinese border.
Khodorkovsky made his fortune from banking and from the oil company Yukos, which he acquired for $300 million in 1995 when Yeltsin began auctioning off state assets – a red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalist whose creed was expressed in a book that he co-authored in 1992, Man With a Rouble: 'Our guiding light is Profit, acquired in a strictly legal way. Our lord is His Majesty Money, for it is only He who can lead us to wealth as the norm in life.’
But having become the richest man in Russia, Khodorkovsky began to display a social conscience. He established an education foundation, Open Russia, funded training for journalists, and began to speak out against corruption. In 2003, at a meeting between Putin and Russia’s wealthiest businessmen that was open to the media, Khodorkovsky challenged the president of the state-owned oil giant Rosneft over the glaringly high price that Rosneft had paid to take over a smaller, privately held oil company. The president of Rosneft remained silent. Instead, Putin rounded on Khodorkovsky, accusing Yukos of bribing tax inspectors and issuing a veiled threat to take over the company.
Khodorkovsky left for America on a business trip, but then returned, despite warnings that he would soon be arrested, and began a speaking tour, giving talks about business, democracy and the need for 'a civil society’ in Russia. In October 2003 he was arrested, and 18 months later, in what Gessen describes as 'the show trial to end all show trials’, he was indicted on charges of fraud and tax evasion, and sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment. In 2009 he was found guilty of a new set of charges, of stealing his own oil, and sentenced again – to 14 years.
With Khodorkovsky in jail, Yukos was soon facing bankruptcy proceedings. In what looked suspiciously like a rigged auction, its most attractive asset, a company called Yuganskneftegaz, the owner of some of Europe’s largest oil reserves, passed into the hands of a shell company financed by Rosneft – the very company that Khodorkovsky had attacked. The price was less than half the estimated worth of Yuganskneftegaz at the time. The auction lasted only two minutes.
Gessen describes Khodorkovsky as 'the Nelson Mandela of Russia. He’s as amazing a figure as Russia has at this point. The bare facts of the matter are that he essentially made a conscious decision to go to prison – which is not to say he fully realised how awful and for how long this would be. He could have stayed outside the country. And he continues to be engaged in its fate and in its future. And his voice has probably more moral authority at this point than anybody in this country.’
Masha Gessen doubts that The Man Without a Face will be published in Russia. An editor at a Moscow publishing house expressed interest, but was unable to persuade her company to go ahead with it. 'The way that business functions here is that there are so many rules and regulations that every business is perennially in violation of something. Basically what she was told was, there are 300 people working here. All of them have some irregularity in the way they are drawing salary, so all of them are going to lose their jobs if there’s an inspection, which we will have if we publish the book.’
Gessen says she was asked for a copy of the book by 'somebody close to the Kremlin… He said he didn’t get all the way through, but he liked the writing.’ She gives a slight smile. 'I didn’t push him any further.’ She acknowledges that she is probably watched, and her telephone tapped. 'But that’s nothing extraordinary. I’ve not had any threats in connection with the book; nor in connection with anything else – not in a while.’
None the less, one has to wonder why she has chosen to remain in Russia when she could as easily – and more safely – live in America. 'That’s true. But my partner is Russian, so that would be a very difficult transition. [She doesn’t qualify for American citizenship]. It’s not like we can just pick up and go. It’s not a question to be handled lightly. Or else it’s a decision to be made at short notice when we feel likely we’re in real danger.’
She pauses. 'There is a theory that is popular among journalists that to Putin there are enemies and there are traitors. And enemies have a right to exist; he might not like them, but they have a right to exist. Traitors don’t have a right to exist. It’s a nice theory. I like it because I’m such a clear-cut enemy that I should be safe.’

Read an extract from The Man Without a Face here
'The Man Without a Face’ (Granta, £20) is available for £18 plus £1.25 p&p from Telegraph Books (0844-871 1515; books.telegraph.co.uk).

source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/vladimir-putin/9100388/Vladimir-Putin-the-godfather-of-a-mafia-clan.html