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Zaman:The borgia candidate for Russia’s presidency - by Andrei Piontkovsky

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  • mariuslab2002
    01.09.2007 TODAY S ZAMAN Op-Ed The borgia candidate for Russia s presidency by ANDREI PIONTKOVSKY* In the latest interview given by Andrei Lugovoi, the man
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 31 7:17 PM
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      01.09.2007 TODAY'S ZAMAN


      The borgia candidate for Russia's presidency

      In the latest interview given by Andrei Lugovoi, the man Great Britain
      wants Russia to extradite for poisoning the dissident Alexander
      Litvinenko with radioactive polonium, there was a remarkable moment
      that has not been fully appreciated.

      Lugovoi, still rather diffident but with unmistakable pride, mentioned
      that when he is seen in public, he usually finds himself surrounded by
      people who want to shake his hand, congratulate him on his valor, and
      ask for his autograph.

      "Well, have you thought about a career in politics?" the interviewer
      asked. Unfortunately, the interviewer did not pursue the matter any
      further. This is a pity, because Lugovoi's status in Russia tells us
      much about my country in the seventh year of President Vladmir Putin's

      Perhaps surprisingly, Lugovoi seems not to have wondered why he is
      enjoying such an enthusiastic reception from his compatriots. Are
      ordinary Russians showing solidarity with a victim unjustly hounded by
      the British Crown Prosecution Service?

      That seems unlikely. When did Russians ever ask a victim for an
      autograph? I myself have been attracting the interest of the Russian
      Public Prosecutor's Office for several months now, and I have yet to
      encounter any public support in the street, let alone a single
      autograph hunter.

      In Russia, you get asked for your autograph if you are a proper hero:
      an ice-hockey player, a cosmonaut, a high-society prostitute, or, like
      Lugovoi, an executioner.

      Part of Lugovoi's acclaim is derived from the fact that the list of
      unspeakable crimes committed by the late Alexander Litvinenko in the
      course of his brief life is growing longer in Russian media reports
      with every passing day. These are crimes so treacherous that any
      right-minded Russian patriot can only thirst to see such a person
      subjected to the supreme measure of national retribution. But only one
      such "patriot" was granted the honor of being allowed to perform this
      act. That is why Lugovoi is being asked for his autograph.

      This should not, of course, be taken to mean that the patriots gushing
      over Lugovoi's achievement concede the justice of the British
      allegations. The social awareness of Homo Putinicus, meticulously
      burnished by television propagandists, is such that pride in Lugovoi's
      achievement and indignation at the infamous campaign unleashed against
      him by those who hate Russia can jangle within the breast of ordinary
      Russians without the slightest dissonance.

      We are evidently facing the mystery of Russian thought that has proved
      so unfathomable to others, so unyielding to every analytical scalpel,
      and about which our Slavophiles and Eurasians wrote at length.

      But I see a practical turn in all this that no one has yet broached.
      Wouldn't Lugovoi's entrance into politics bring about the ideal
      solution to the problem of finding an heir for Putin? That search,
      after all, is threatening to divide the nation's elite. So why not
      choose a man like Lugovoi who truly represents what that elite stands for?

      Let us compare two potential presidential candidates, Putin in 1999
      and Lugovoi in 2007. The similarities are striking: the modest social
      background, the KGB milieu, the criminal vocabulary, the mentality and
      physique, the mercilessness towards "enemies of the people." The
      underworld manners of both go hand in hand with that lively interest
      in business which is so essential if "liberal reforms" in Russia are
      to be continued. Finally, there is the additional, highly significant
      coincidence that both men, at the start of their political careers,
      were largely dependent on the oligarch Boris Berezovsky, but
      subsequently fell out with him.

      Regarding their professional attainments, Lugovoi in 2007 seems to
      have the edge. Successfully carrying out a large-scale operation in
      the middle of London beats a desk job in the GDR-USSR House of
      Friendship in Dresden in the years of perestroika and communist collapse.

      So perhaps the Russian people might take to their hearts this
      executioner with the rank of lieutenant colonel, just as eight years
      ago they took to their hearts another KGB lieutenant colonel, Vladimir
      Putin? Would the sybaritic, globe-trotting Lugovoi agree to wear the
      crown? Running the Kremlin is, after all, a testing job. We have all
      seen Putin's face age dramatically over the last eight years.

      But Lugovoi's face, too, has also changed markedly over the last eight
      months of press conferences. Once a wary non-entity, he has grown
      bolder. His is the face of Putin's new Russia, of a smug Russia that
      is "getting off its knees" and reaching for its gun.

      *Andrei Piontkovsky is Executive Director of the Center for Strategic
      Studies in Moscow. © Project Syndicate, 2007.

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