Wednesday, November 29, 2006. Issue 3550. Page 8. The Lessons of Litvinenko’s Death By Yulia Latynina Alexander Litvinenko died last week in a London hospital from polonium-210 poisoning. I won’t waste time on the rumors that Litvinenko was poisoned by enemies of President Vladimir Putin. Or that Litvinenko, like the noncommissioned officer’s wife in Gogol’s play “The Inspector General,” “flogged” himself. On a number of occasions in the last few years, we went to bed in one country and woke up in another. The first was the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003. Then came the Beslan school siege in 2004 and the subsequent elimination of direct gubernatorial elections. After Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in late 2004 and early 2005, we went to sleep in a country that was not terribly intelligent, and whose president personally bullied its neighbors and worked as a tub-thumper for Viktor Yanukovych. We awoke in a country surrounded by malicious imperialist enemies. But in the last two months, we have awoken in a different country three times: following the government’s anti-Georgian campaign, the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the death of Litvinenko. These events are just signs along the road to a place filled with prison camps. By a strange coincidence, they followed major economic changes. As recently as last summer, the Kremlin seriously thought that Europe would let Russia buy into its gas distribution networks and that it would invest in developing gas and oil fields in this country. But there was no rush to invest, and there was no question of letting Russia buy into distribution networks. The great political illusion exploded. And as happens any time an illusion explodes here, the leadership responded with personal annoyance and finger-pointing at external enemies. With the illusion gone, only the road and its ominous signs remained. Litvinenko’s death could have three consequences. First, an apostate has been silenced, potentially sending a warning to anyone who might betray the security services. At shooting ranges where intelligence agents hone their skills, pictures of Litvinenko used to hang on the targets. Perhaps when the great illusion fell apart the pictures were swapped for the original. Second, his death could turn Russia into a rogue state. In the final analysis regimes are not divided into parliamentary and presidential. They are divided into regimes that are capable of poisoning the opposition with polonium-210 and those that are not. I doubt that President Vladimir Putin will find it easy to explain to his buddy, U.S. President George W. Bush, that Politkovskaya was whacked by renegade thugs. Were the people who slipped Litvinenko the polonium-210 no more than thugs, too? If Russian agents carried out the operation to eliminate Litvinenko, they did so with no more elegance than we saw in the case of Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who was killed in 2004 in a car blast in Qatar. There was no need for elegance in the Litvinenko case, however. The polonium seems to have been left like a spy’s calling card — not to prove to the world that Russia is run by the security services, but to prove this to Putin. Putin has surrounded himself with friends who were not trained to run businesses or to run the country. They were trained to carry out special operations. They were trained to eliminate enemies of the regime. And when there aren’t any real enemies, they have to be created. For some reason, as more enemies of the regime are eliminated, their number continues to grow. And Putin is left alone, surrounded by enemies from whom only his friends can save him. Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.