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Unaccountably and inexcusably, I missed James Poulos' response to my August argument (to be found towards the conclusion of the piece) that a man of the character and connections of Alexander Litvinenko (the former Russian intel agent who fell in with Boris Berezovsky and the Chechens, made outlandish and unsubstantiated allegations of Russian complicity in terrorist actions on Russian soil, and got himself whacked by Polonium-210 poisoning, for those keeping score) could reasonably expect to be whacked.

My argument, as quoted by Poulos, was that...

Someone must speak the Derbyshirean hard truth here, which is that someone who makes a name for himself as a defector and associate of a man loathed and wanted on criminal charges in Russia, and as a tacit apologist for the Chechen cause, just is liable to get whacked on someone's orders - or even by freelancers or rogues. Contrary to the idea that the Russian policy, whoever applied it in this case, was unduly concerned with one man, that policy was very much concerned with an entire nation: the pet causes of the West have no purchase in any corridors of power, because they are bad for Russia.

To which Poulos responded:

In the end the question is whether the onus is on a country -- Britain, which had just unwillingly hosted a high-profile, exceedingly clumsy, and distressingly inventive assassination -- to figure out precisely how 'official' of a killing it was, or whether, in fact, the onus is on the country -- Russia, from which both perpetrators and victim had come -- to deal with the fallout when the host country rebukes them for an all too useful lack of oversight.

Which is all quite true, and not something to which I'd take exception, if this case is to be considered purely in isolation. Britain is not only within its rights to be outraged, but, in a sense, obligated to take umbrage, and to demand that the Russians exercise greater oversight - although this is probably contrary to the post-Soviet Russian character as I understand it. Those things that are important are monitored and overseen; those things that are not so important are, from the perspective of the state, adiaphora. Like Litvinenko's safety. In context, however, I don't see that it follows that Russia alone is obligated to respond in a certain manner - reining in rogue elements in the security services, say - while Britain is entitled to preen and pose without doing anything substantive. In other words, this being a sensitive diplomatic matter - there did occur an exchange of expulsions - the Russians might be encouraged to cooperate with Britain were the latter to hand over the criminal oligarch Boris Berezovsky and the Chechen militia leader Akhmed Zakayev. Curiously enough, I doubt that any such extraditions will transpire, and I do not wonder why this should be.

Such petty little diplomatic and realpolitik hypocrisies typify the Western relationship with Russia, and find an instructive exemplification in Foreign Affairs' disparate treatment of Orange Revolution oligarch Yulia Timoshenko and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. As explained in an editorial note at the head of the Lavrov essay, published on Chronicles' website,

The following article by the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs was offered to the editors of Foreign Affairs for publication last May. Mr. Lavrov says he wanted to explain Russian foreign policy to an educated American audience and to respond to the discussion that started in the journal’s pages on the theme of “containing Russia” by the publication of an article signed by Yulia Tymoshenko, a prominent Ukrainian politician.

Editors at the magazine, citing their own requirements, subjected the article to extensive editing; the Russians complained of censorship because the article was cut by 40 percent. In the end, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement that, as a result of the “excruciating and sluggish exchanges with the editors, the likes of which could only be found in diplomatic history,” the article was withdrawn.

The reasons for the refusals to extradite criminals wanted in Russia, who are instead afforded asylum, and the favouritism shown to nominally pro-Western mafiya dons kleptocrats noble democratic reformers all reduce to one: the (delusional) rhetoric of moral clarity, which serves as a veil drawn over the grubby business of empire-building democratization. One would think that we might have, by now, grown weary of paying the wages of such hubris in Mesopotamia. Yeah, right.

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