Zaman:The borgia candidate for Russias presidency - by Andrei Piontkovsky
- 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
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.