Economist: Following Poisonings, Putin Warms to the Near Abroad

Today’s Economist has an article analyzing how the “fever pitch” of conspiracy theories following the Litvinenko poisoning is helping to drive the thaw between Russia and her neighbors:

That Mr Putin should be so anxious to strengthen Russia’s weakening ties with its “near abroad”, and with his few remaining Western allies, is understandable. The radioactive fall-out from the death last week in London of Alexander Litvinenko—a former KGB agent who was apparently poisoned with polonium—may have been small (although radioactive traces have been found on aircraft that flew between Moscow and London before Mr Litvinenko’s death). But the diplomatic fall-out could hardly have been bigger. Conspiracy theories in Moscow about who killed Mr Litvinenko have reached a pitch of dialecticism that is scarcely intelligible to outsiders. It was done either by Mr Putin, or to discredit him; to promote one of his possible successors as president, or to force him to stay in office. The polonium was either an intentional warning or a cock-up. Mr Litvinenko was murdered by the same forces who killed Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist, in October; or somebody saw her shooting as an opportunity to settle other scores. Mr Putin’s allies point the finger at Boris Berezovsky, a renegade Russian oligarch who lives in London and sponsored Mr Litvinenko. His alleged goal? To disgrace Mr Putin and ultimately force his clique from power. The Russians have agreed to co-operate with a British investigation. But whoever did it, Mr Putin has been vilified in the West’s media. It emerged this week that Yegor Gaidar, a former prime minister, fell violently ill in Dublin on the day after Mr Litvinenko died (Mr Gaidar is now apparently recovering). Although a critic of some of Mr Putin’s policies, Mr Gaidar is a highly unlikely target for the Kremlin. But his plight can only add to the impression, widely held west of Minsk, that Russia is an increasingly dark place.