Month: December 2006

The Belarus of the West?

On Hogmanay, Andrew Sullivan is posting from Scotland, and has something to say about it:

20% of Scots see themselves as being primarily “British” – down from 38% in 1979. 78% of Scots now say “Scottish” “best describes” their nationality.


One example of this: the argument has moved on to what sort of Scotland we’d see post-independence. In one corner there are those like the exiled Scots historian Niall Ferguson who see a sad, shrivelled country that has abandoned even the memory of its glory years. Scotland, he quips, is “the Belarus of the west.”

Ferguson – like many Scots in exile views his native heath with great ambivalence (a sentiment not so often shared by exiles from other countries, in my experience). Certainly surveying the solidly-statist, rock-solid consensus that prevails in Scotland one’s forced to fear that there might be 20 years of appalling government before prosperity and progress returned. (The Scottish conservatives – who would fit solidly into the Democratic party in the United States – are considered dangerous radicals when, that is, anyone remembers to consider them at all.)

On the other hand, there are advantages (currently under threat) to be gained by living in Scotland, as this blog points out, quoting an op-ed article by Gerald Warner in Scotland on Sunday:

Labour proposes to use its control of Holyrood to demolish the defences of Scottish personal liberties and harmonise our laws with those of England, as in pre-devolution times. South of the Border, the DNA of 3.46 million people is stored in police records, the highest number in the world – more than in Putin’s Russia. That is an embryonic police state.

A Happy New Year to readers of A Step At A Time.

A Quotation

FAKT: Every terrorist you have named is from ‘the old staff’ of the KGB. Could you name someone from recent history?

A. Litvinenko: Certainly, here it is. The number two person in the terrorist organization al Qaeda, who they are crediting with the series of explosions in London, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is an old agent of the FSB. Being sentenced to death in Egypt for terrorism and hunted by Interpol, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in 1998, was in the territory of Dagestan, where for half a year he received special training at one of the educational bases of the FSB. After this training he was transferred to Afghanistan, where he had never been before and where, following the recommendation of his Lubyanka chiefs, he at once … penetrated the milieu of bin Laden and soon became his assistant in al Qaeda.

Bildt Comments

Carl Bildt, who in October became Sweden’s foreign minister in the new centre-rightist government of Fredrik Reinfeldt, has resumed posting to his blog.

A recent post links to Bildt’s speech (.doc) to the International Institute for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm earlier this month. The message of the speech is mixed, combining “optimism about the possibilities of globalisation with pessimism concerning the dark clouds gathering on the more immediate horizons of the neighbourhood of Europe.” Excerpt:

Being Minister for Foreign Affairs in Sweden today is not the same as it was yesterday.

We are living at the beginning of a major paradigm shift of our own. We are in the midst of a new phase of accelerating globalisation. We see the darkness at the edge of Europe’s strategic horizon. And we see how states are weaker and more tentative when confronted with all these new developments.

Naturally, national foreign policy still has a role to play. We have a role in developing cooperation in the Baltic Sea region and northern Europe, which will become ever more important. We must safeguard our national interests even in an age of internationalism.

But even so, these are not the crucial tasks.

The crucial tasks lie in strengthening European cooperation which can make us, together, the force in the service of peace, freedom and reconciliation that the world will be in ever more desperate need of.

They lie in safeguarding the ideas of the open society, open economies and the open world against those forces that want to turn back the clock.

Litvinenko: New Details and Commentaries

At Rivoluzione Italiana, commenter Hermit has been opening up new lines of inquiry in the Litvinenko poisoning mystery. His English-language post, reproduced on December 28 by Senator Guzzanti, reveals some new and disturbing details that have emerged from an interview with Litvinenko published on the Novosti Ukraina website in Russian some time ago.  While it is true that Litvinenko said many things of dubious credibility, if he was in this instance telling the truth, this is a significant finding, and one wonders if the investigators of Scotland Yard are aware of it.

In the same blog, Hermit has drawn attention to the striking differences that characterize the approach of much of the German and Austrian press and media to the Litivinenko affair, when compared with the approach taken by their counterparts in other European countries.

Referring to enrix’s list of insults against M[ario]S[caramella], I would like to draw your attention to a strange campaign of hatred in some “very respected” German and Austrian newspapers

Der Spiegel (Hamburg, Germany),1518,456900,00.html

dated December 28 by Andreas Block

Schaumschläger im Schattenreich
“millantatore di credito”, Schwindler
zwielichtiger Akteur mit zweifelhafter Karriere
Sein Onkel ist der Postfaschist Antonio Rastrelli
sogenannte Mitrokhin-Kommission
Oppositions-Jäger mit Regierungsauftrag
Die Presse, Austria)

dated December 29, by PAUL KREINER in Rome
Betrüger in Haft

(Berlin, Germany)

The same story from the same person in Rome but this time under title

Agent oder Hochstapler?

As compared with rather balanced articles about MS in British, US, French and Spanish press, the approach of some German media is extraordinary and really strange.

What did Mr Gordievsky say about the KGB buying newspapers?


Chechen Society Today

The eighth issue of Chechenskoye Obshchestvo Segodnya (Chechen Society Today) is currently available for download (pdf, Russian) at the Prague Watchdog website.

Among other things, the current issue of the magazine contains an interesting interview with Czech journalist Petra Prohazkova, who has covered both the Chechen conflict and the war in Afghanistan. She compares the two experiences from a journalist’s point of view, stating that while from a personal standpoint she really prefers Russians to Americans, she admits that she would much rather cover bombing operations run by American forces: the bombing of Tora Bora was carried out with such precision that “the journalists stood calmly, smoking, adjusting their cameras, while the American planes that were bombing the nearby Taliban hillside flew overhead.” The Russian bombing of the Chechen capital Grozny was, by contrast, a thoroughly life-threatening episode for all who tried to witness and record it.

Ms. Prohazkova dispels the myth about the presence of Chechen fighters in Afghanistan. Although under the Taliban regime the Chechen government did have official representation in the country, and Yandarbiyev and Khattab visited it for a while, she says that now the Chechens “really aren’t here. One man once tried very hard to convince me that he’d killed a Chechen, a fearsome cutthroat. Then they showed me his diary, and we discovered that he was an Uzbek. It was just that for them, anyone who came from the post-Soviet space was a Chechen.”

Mountain Borderland Restrictions in Chechnya

Via Prague Watchdog [my tr.]:

Borderland in Chechen mountains can only be reached with FSB’s permission

By Ruslan Isayev

CHECHNYA, December 29 – From now on it will only be possible to visit Chechen mountain villages located along the border with Georgia with special passes issued by the Federal Security Service (FSB). This was announced at a press conference given on December 27 by Andrei Sergeyev, director of the FSB border guard service for the Chechen Republic.

According to Sergeyev, the passes will be issued swiftly and on an individual basis. But violators of the new regime, which came into force at the beginning of December, can expect administrative punishment, and this may include expulsion from the zone.

After obtaining permission, any citizen will be able to stay in the border zone for six months. The residents of the villages concerned will only be able to remain in the zone on presentation of a passport that includes a local residence permit.

The border zone is considered to be the strip of land up to 5 kilometres wide which passes along the Chechen section of the Russia-Georgia state boundary. The section is more than 80 kilometres long.

Translated by David McDuff.

UK ‘Dirty Bomb’ Training to Increase

The BBC reports that the British government is “significantly increasing” the numbers of police trained to deal with a dirty bomb attack, with the Home Office planning to buy 12,000 extra personal protection suits for police officers to wear in the event of a radiological, biological or chemical attack.

Conservative homeland security spokesman Patrick Mercer said he was “delighted” by the move.

“It seems strange that they are doing it in December 2006 rather than October 2001,” he added.

Svetlana Bakhmina Appeal Refused


The Moscow Times reports:

The Moscow City Court refused Wednesday to postpone the imprisonment of former Yukos legal manager Svetlana Bakhmina, Interfax reported.

Bakhmina was sentenced to seven years in prison in April for fraud and tax evasion. She had asked to have her imprisonment delayed for nine years, until her younger child reached the age of 14. The law allows for such delays.

The Italian Connection

The Litvinenko poisoning affair continues to have special resonances in Italian politics. From Rivoluzione Italiana (the blog of Paolo Guzzanti) [my tr.]:

(ANSA) – ROME, Dec. 27 – “As we all know, making hypotheses about Professor Prodi’s past brings bad luck: Trofimov was killed, so was Litvinenko, and Scaramella is in jail while more crazy fabrications against me are being unfolded by the newspaper [La Repubblica] that is piloting the whole infamous framework being used to target not Scaramella, but the results of the bicameral parliamentary commission of inquiry on the Mitrokhin dossier and the Italian secret service.”

These are the words of former president of the parliamentary commission of inquiry on the Mitrokhin affair, Paolo Guzzanti, who says that “Andrea Papini is altering the truth of the facts when he asserts that I used information coming from Mario Scaramella in the election campaign, something he claims to document by citing my declaration of March 5 this year.”

“That day, in fact,” – Guzzanti emphasizes – “I cited not Scaramella (whose documents originating with Litvinenko I classified as “unverifiable” by the commission because of the fact that the source of the news had been murdered) but another public and official document concerning an act of the European Parliament, namely the intervention of the British MEP Gerald Batten of April 3 2006 which asked the European Parliament to open an inquiry on the former President of the Commission Romano Prodi and his relations with the USSR. Batten said he had listened to ‘one of my constituents, Alexander Litvinenko’, who had provided ‘the same information he had already given’ to Scaramella, and which I had kept confidential. Batten’s intervention made public what I had kept secret on my own initiative, but which from April 3 onwards was not secret any more, as it concerned an act of Parliament which can also be found on the Internet.”

“In his intervention of April 3,” Guzzanti continues, “Gerald Batten said that the Russian exile who was subsequently assassinated with Polonium-210 told him: ‘General Anatoly Trofimov, deputy head of the FSB (Russian intelligence agency) advised me not to settle in Italy, as there are many agents of the KGB among the politicians, and Romano Prodi ‘is our man there’.

“As we all know, making hypotheses about Professor Prodi’s past brings bad luck: Trofimov was killed, so was Litvinenko, and Scaramella is in jail while more crazy fabrications against me are being unfolded by the newspaper that is piloting the whole infamous framework that is being used to to target not Scaramella, but the results of the bicameral parliamentary commission of inquiry on the Mitrokhin dossier and Italian secret service.”

Following the Thread

The blog of Italian senator Paolo Guzzanti continues to ruminate on the background to the Litvinenko poisoning affair. In recent weeks the blog has been transforming itself into a fully-fledged discussion forum, with a large amount of space devoted to a standoff between posters of left-wing and right-wing sympathies, moderated with admirable tolerance and fair-mindedness by the senator himself.

In the most recent post – and accompanying comments – the blog considers the strange circumstance that Mario Scaramella, who met with Litvinenko at a London sushi bar shortly before the onset of his fatal illness, has now been arrested in Italy on a charge of slandering an obscure Ukrainian intelligence agent.