I’ve noticed a few comments here demanding to know why there hasn’t been a post about Alexander Litvinenko. In my case the reason I’ve not written about is the same reason I’ve not written about “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!”, ie that I haven’t really been following it. I’m not proud of this, you understand; I realise that anybody writing for an current affairs-based blog ought to have a basic grasp of the events so far, but all I know for certain is that Lauren Booth’s been voted out and that Myleen Klass’s clothes appear to keep mysteriously falling off. On the subject of Alexander Litvinenko, I recommend Johann Hari’s article in yesterday’s Independent:

To those who stopped following the news from Russia when the Cold War thawed out, the thought of a Russian Bond being despatched to London to take out a dissident in a Mayfair Hotel seems like an inexplicably retro moment. But for those who have cared to see, it has been clear for some time that under Vladimir Putin, Russia is marching back towards totalitarianism. The Russian journalist Anna Polikovskaya wrote three years ago, “The shroud of darkness from which we spent several Soviet decades trying to free ourselves is enveloping us again.” For talking this way, she was swiftly poisoned, and when that didn’t kill her, she was found last month with three bullets in her skull in a Moscow lift-shaft.

Politkovskaya, Litvinenko, Victor Yushenko – one poisoning of your enemies could be a misfortune, but three begins to look like carelessness. Or, rather, a deliberate strategy, and the list of victims goes on. But at first glance, this latest attack seems an extraordinarily inefficient way for the FSB – the successor to the KGB – to murder a dissident. They had to smuggle radioactive poison into Britain, and within 130 days administer it so carefully that they killed Litvinenko and nobody else. Wouldn’t an anonymous bullet in an alleyway have been smarter? But like the previous attacks, this is a way of saying to all critics of Putin – wherever you are, we can get you, and you will die in agony, and you will know you are dying, and you will know it was us.

Self-styled scourge of the neocons Neil Clark has responded to Johann’s piece today, in characteristically bighearted and generous fashion:

“You would have thought that having got the Balkans and Iraq so spectacularly wrong, this man would have done a wee bit more research before jumping into another foreign policy area about which he appears to know very little. But no, straight on cue yesterday, the Indie’s ‘Boy Wonder’ leapt in, head first, to tell us how Russia, the country with more political parties than Hari can probably count up to, has turned into a ‘totalitarian state'”.

“The neo-cons would never have got public support for their long-planned wars against Yugoslavia and Iraq if ‘useful idiots’ like Hari hadn’t swallowed hook, line and sinker, the carefully manufactured propaganda about ‘genocide’ in Kosovo and Iraq’s miltary ‘threat’. Now, they are happy to let dimwits like Hari play their part in their latest project- the demonisation of Vladimir Putin, whose ‘crime’ has been to oppose the Iraq war and to stand up for Russia’s national interests”.

That’s not quite how I remember Johann’s columns prior to the Iraq war, and a brief scan of his archive shows that, far from swallowing neo-con propaganda “hook, line and sinker”, the first pre-war piece he wrote in January 2003 dismissed the WMD argument entirely, its opening sentence being “Why do we need evidence of a stash of anthrax or sarin to convince us that Saddam, the gasser of the Kurds and butcher of Baghdad, should be overthrown?”.

Nevertheless, on the one hand we have the view that Vladimir Putin is responsible for an increasingly sinister and repressive Russian state sliding back towards totalitarianism; on the other the view that this is demonisation, his only crime was to oppose the Iraq war, and that it’s only neocons and their useful idiots who believe the Kremlin could have killed Litvinenko. As I say, I’m too spectacularly ill-informed to make any sort of judgement, but I’m sure Harry’s Place readers know more.