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ISSUE 120 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/6/2006

Cold War kills another

By Stephanie Soucheray
News Editor

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

It sounds like a subplot of "Casino Royale:" Former Russian spy and KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, living as an exile in London, is poisoned with the rare and lethal radioactive isotope polonium 210 (British officials traced the element to a Russian nuclear power plant). On his deathbed, Litvinenko accuses Russian president Vladmir Putin and other Russian government officials of poisoning him in an attempt to silence Litvinenko’'s investigation into the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Politkovskaya was gunned down in front of her Moscow apartment in October. The investigative journalist for the liberal Novaya Gazeta had been a vocal opponent of Vladmir Putin and a human rights activist. She was the 10th prominent Russian journalist to be killed in a contract-killing manner in the last few years.

Litvinenko was one of many émigré Russians living in Western Europe who have gained a reputation for criticizing the underbelly of President Putin’'s regime. Mostly journalists and former government employees, these Russians have tried to publicly debunk and denounce what they see as Putin’'s violent leadership.

Both Litvinenko and Politkovskaya were vocal critics of Putin'’s actions in the Second Chechen war. In 2002, Litvinenko wrote a book called “"Blowing Up Russia”" that accused the Russian government of blowing up Moscow apartment buildings and blaming Chechen terrorists to scare citizens into supporting the war.

And in a game of connect-the-dots that has the Cold War written all over it, conspiracy theories on both sides of the ocean have abounded about who killed Litvinenko and why.

Litvinenko was positive about his killer’'s identity. In a deathbed press statement, Litvinenko wrote a searing and dramatic attack of Vladmir Putin: “"You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.… You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women. You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.”"

Each day brings news from British intelligence agencies investigating Litvinenko'’s death. Now, traces of polonium 210 have been found in Litvinenko's widow'’s body, traces of the isotope have been found on two British airplanes, and British officials continue to retrace Litvinenko’'s last days in London to see if any more people associated with Litvinenko have been poisoned. John le Carré fans simply need to pick up a newspaper to get their fix of Soviet intrigue.

But these recent murders can teach the curious and scintillated reader something more than dark and stormy nights: Vocal opponents of Vladmir Putin are often silenced.

Putin has controlled television in Russia, is limiting the press and continues to deny critics who link him to the Russian mafia and terrorists. Dissent is becoming, if not a four-letter word in the Russian media, then a death wish. It has been over 15 years since the Soviet Union collapsed, but Russia remains a far cry from the liberalized democracy the end of the Cold War promised.

News Editor Stephanie Soucheray is a senior from St. Paul, Minn. She majors in history and in English.

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