Dec 9, 2006

The Rotten Heart of Russia

Scotland Yard detectives have now had a week of official stonewalling; the British ambassador is being threatened by Right-wing thugs; and frustration and intimidation (and increasingly extortion) have become the norm for anyone doing business in Russia, writes The Sunday Telegraph.

It is very easy to criticize Russia these days; in fact, it would be much harder to say something positive. However, it seems to me that at this point there is nothing the Russian government can do to stop the continuous attacks of the Western (and particularly British) media. What seems especially unfair to me is how the investigation process into the Litvinenko poisoning has been portrayed.

"[Yuri Chaika, Russia's chief prosecutor], instructions to the team, which was led by a detective chief superintendent and was in Russia to interview potential witnesses in the investigation into the murder of the former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, were succinct and to the point. The interviews, he told them, would be carried out chiefly by his officers, with the British detectives as witnesses; no suspects would be extradited to the UK, and all Russian citizens suspected of involvement in the poisoning of Litvinenko would be tried in Russia."

Yes, Russia is a very corrupt country; yes, it is debatable if you can classify it as a democracy or a dictatorship; and yes, the recent events from the murder of Ana Politkovskaya to the harrassment of the British ambassador sheds a negative light on Russia under Putin. However, we should not forget that Russia is a sovereign (and proud) country. Russia does not have an extradition treaty with Russia and critisizing the fact that no suspects in the Litvinenko case would ever be extradited to Russia completely misses the point. Does the UK extradite Berezovsky and Zakayev? It does not. I am not arguing that it should but the principle is the same. Furthermore, the British press is very critical of the fact that the British police is dependent on collaboration with Russian authorities and, surprise-surprise, the Russians are not very willing to cooperate. I would like to see the cooperation if the sides were reversed. Can you imagine the amount of help the Russian militsia would receive in London investigating a highly controversial, politicized case? I don't think there would be very much.

I have no illusions about Russia under Vladimir Putin and the siloviki. I wish Russia was less corrupt, and more democratic and transparent. I think that the recent events have been terrible, and certainly put Russia under a scrutiny that was long overdue. However, I think that the reporting of the mainly British press borders on histeria.

Update: Peter Beaumont's thoughts in his comment in Sunday's edition of The Observer titled Just who do we think we are? observe the same treatment of the British media over how the authorities in Moscow are restricting the access British detectives are allowed to key witnesses in the Litvinenko affair.

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