Silencing critics Russia’s leaders are almost certainly up to their old tricks. Last week Karinna Moskalenko, a human rights lawyer who represents the family of Anna Politkovskaya, the crusading journalist and Kremlin foe gunned down in 2006, was admitted to a French hospital with mercury poisoning after the toxic metal was found in her car. Her illness just happened to prevent Ms. Moskalenko from attending the start of pretrial hearings into Ms. Politkovskaya’s death in Moscow.
Moscow would be very happy if all impertinent questions about Ms. Politkovskaya’s mysterious death went away. Although police in Strasbourg said the mercury could have been the result of damage to the car by a previous owner, it’s rather difficult to believe that the Russian government is so lucky. After all, few observers thought the 2006 death of dissident Alexander Litvinenko as a result of exposure to polonium-210 – an element that must be produced in a nuclear reactor – was anything but a Kremlin hit.Such intrigue was to be expected during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union had few reservations about demonstrating its hostility to the West and disregard for democracy. But it’s beyond strange that today’s Kremlin, which places a high premium on the appearance of international respectability, seems to view the poisoning of its opponents abroad as an acceptable political tactic.Russia’s President, Dmitry Medvedev, has been a prolific producer of honeyed words designed for Western ears, justifying the August invasion of Georgia with language that might have been lifted from a Woodrow Wilson speech. When Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Mr. Medvedev explained the decision with an op-ed in the Financial Times. And after some impertinent comments in August, at the beginning of this month he was at pains to stress that Russia and NATO “do not have such ideological differences around which a new cold or any other kind of war could start.”Meanwhile, Mr. Medvedev and other officials have claimed shock that countries such as Poland and the Ukraine feel sufficiently threatened by Moscow to try to firm up their alliances with the West as much as possible.The Kremlin can’t have it both ways. If Russia’s leaders want their counterparts in neighbouring countries to stop treating them as villains, they should stop acting like they are. Making sure that their political critics and toxic substances stop crossing paths would be a good start.