Anne Penketh: Playing the blame game in Moscow

In any case, he insisted, Russia 'has nothing to do' with the death of Mr Litvinenko

Share

Dmitry Peskov is one of a refreshing new breed of Kremlin spokesmen. The deputy spokesman for President Putin is not ashamed of speaking fluent English, and gives an apparently straight answer to a straight question. The most troubling thing in his office is the spiked wooden mace that looks as though it could be used to crack open the skulls of recalcitrant correspondents. And I must add that, during our 90-minute conversation, I also found myself wondering why he needs 11 telephones on his desk.

I was in the Kremlin last Friday evening because Mr Peskov had agreed to talk about the Litvinenko affair, and the damage wrought by the death of the former FSB intelligence agent on British-Russian relations. He was in fine form, expressing astonishment about the "hysteria" in the British media which he said had universally accused President Putin of killing Alexander Litvinenko. "The British press were writing that about the leader of a state," he fulminated. "This is not journalism," he went on, saying that he might have expected one version to point the finger of blame at Moscow, "but not all the versions".

So what was going on, he wanted to know - was it a revival of Cold War tensions, or were the newspapers trying to increase their circulation? In any case, he insisted, Russia "has nothing to do" with the death of Mr Litvinenko. But that is where I begin to find Mr Peskov less convincing. Because immediately after Mr Litvinenko's death, the Kremlin went into its default mode of denial, even before the investigation could have thrown up any significant clues. Mr Putin, speaking at a summit with European leaders in Helsinki on 24 November, said that the "speculation" that Russian officials might be involved "has nothing to do with reality".

One might understand Mr Putin's scepticism about the authenticity of the deathbed letter in which the former Russian agent accused the president of murder. Furthermore, it does not seem plausible that the Russian president - himself the former head of the FSB - would be so foolish as personally to have given an order to eliminate a middle-ranking defector whose activities were an irritant to the Kremlin.

But how can Mr Peskov be so certain that former KGB officials were not responsible in any way for the poisoning? After all, Mr Litvinenko's ex-colleagues would have had a motive to eliminate a man considered a traitor by his peers, and poison has been the weapon of choice for Russian intelligence services in the past. There is also the context of Mr Litvinenko's death, coming hot on the heels of the assassination in Moscow of the Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, whose murder was being investigated by the former FSB agent.

Has the Kremlin, and the FSB, launched any investigation into the Moscow connection to Mr Litvinenko's death? This suggestion was greeted with derision by the Kremlin spokesman. After all, he said, how do we know that the poisoning was a crime?

"The only thing that is obvious is that you have accepted in Britain, and accepted into British citizenship, a man who used to be an officer of the KGB/FSB. And we know that the ex-KGB agent died at the end in London and we know that presumably radioactive material was found. This is all that we know. The whole logic of this story actually makes it impossible to blame Russia."

So that's the Kremlin version. Needless to say, there are other versions floating around in Moscow's liberal circles, which focus on the timing of Mr Litvinenko's death amid an intensification of the power struggle inside the Kremlin before the 2008 presidential elections.

Some political commentators in Russia say that Mr Litvinenko was the victim of people intent on blowing up western relations with the Kremlin, and damaging Mr Putin before 2008 when he is to stand down as president. Those who stand to gain from Litvinenko's death, so the version goes, are the hardliners in the Putin administration with links to the FSB.

But whatever the truth, the Kremlin must allow British detectives to follow the trail wherever it leads. Russian authorities say they are offering co-operation. This must happen to the satisfaction of Britain, which has seen its restaurants and hotels closed by a health scare of an unprecedented nature.

Transparency has never been one of the hallmarks of Russian government. And maybe Russia, buoyed by its swollen energy revenues, doesn't care about a downturn in its relations with the rest of the world. But Mr Litvinenko's death could provide an opportunity for the Kremlin to demonstrate that it actually does care about the rule of law.

a.penketh@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Not only is Liz Kendall a shy Tory, but her words are also likely to appeal to racists

Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff
Andy Coulson  

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)