warned in my recent column for Insight, " From Russia with death
," that very little time remains before the next
murder takes place. I did not then know that a (happily unsuccessful)
attempt had already been made to assassinate former Russian Prime
Minister Yegor Gaidar.
The current little "joke" in Moscow is, "Not everybody is going to see
in the New Year." Since that is very soon, I return to some of the
points in my article, which has stirred up a raging controversy both in
Russia and in America.
First, as regards my own attitude to Russian President Vladimir Putin:
It has not changed. It remains just as negative as it was when, at the
beginning of the effort to find a replacement for Boris Yeltsin, Mr.
Putin first monopolized our television screens, winning the hearts of
the nation with his plebeian slang.
However, there has never been anything personal in my attitude toward
the man. It has been based solely on the extent to which Mr. Putin
could bring good or evil to Russia.
Thus, I publicly supported him in 2001 when, against the prevailing
opinion of his entourage, he spoke out as an ally of the United States
in the Afghanistan operation and, without the loss of a single Russian
soldier's life, resolved an important issue of the country's security:
how to liquidate a bridgehead for Islamist radicals, who were preparing
to move on Central Asia. For the first time in Russia's military
history, somebody else did our dirty work for us. Usually, the reverse
has been true.
Right now Mr. Putin finds himself in a situation in which, as the end of
his second term approaches, he can again play a positive role in Russian
Within Russia and beyond its frontiers, assassinations and attempted
assassinations are taking place of "enemies of the people," lists of
whom are to be found on all our country's quasi-fascist Web sites. It
is only going to be possible to continue blaming these murders on the
CIA, or the oligarchs Boris Berezovsky (in Great Britain) or Leonid
Nevzlin (in Israel), for a few more days, until the British, as seems
likely, publicly and officially produce compelling evidence showing that
the tracks of Alexander Litvinenko's murderers lead straight back to
Moscow. The president of the Russian Federation will then have to take
possibly the most momentous decision of his life.
Much the same dilemma faced the one-time President of Poland, Wojciech
Jaruszelski, when his intelligence services brutally murdered their own
"enemy of the Polish people," Father Jerzy Popieluszko. Mr. Jaruszelski
could have tried to cover up the crime, thereby irrevocably becoming an
accomplice (and if he had, he would undoubtedly be in prison today).
Instead, he chose to hand the murderers over to justice and as a result
has remained, even today in post-Communist Poland, a respected political
More important, however, than the fate of the Russian president is the
fate of his country. The effective legitimization of these serial
political murders will make not only Mr. Putin but all of us hostages of
the institutions which are committing them. That is quite apart from
the fact that Russia's international reputation for years to come
depends on whether a radiological attack on a G-8 partner was sanctioned
by the head of the Russian state rather than by some rabid FSB oil
We have to help the president of the Russian Federation to come to the
right decision. He is, of course, unlikely to listen to the voices of
his opponents. That is why what is needed is a broad coalition of
supporters of Mr. Putin, of that section of United Russia, the party of
the government, which, if only from the instinct of self-preservation,
will be prepared openly to speak out a