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Putin's Labyrinth
Written by   
, 03 2008
Business Week, USA

Excerpted from PUTIN'S LABYRINTH by Steve LeVine. Copyright 2008by Steve LeVine. Reprinted by arrangement with Random House Publishing Group.

Meanwhile, a series of ugly events caused even greater consternation among Putin-watchers. Mostprominent was the slaying of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian intelligence agent living in political exile in London, who in November 2006was poisoned by persons unknown with Polonium-210, a radioactive isotope.

Putin's fingerprints were not on every untoward event. Theydidn't have to be. Rather, it was the complicity of his inaction. Ahigh-profile murder can go unsolved anywhere. Ahostage situationas with the 2002Chechen terrorist seizure of the packed Moscow theater where the musical Nord-Ost was playingcan go awry even when police are highly skilled.
But after the third, fourth, or fifth such outrage, it becomes clear that something fundamental is amiss. Atthe very least, in Putin's Russia the state cannot be counted on to protect the lives of its citizens. Atworst, hired killers and those who employ them have reason to believe that they can carry out executions without fear of the law. Icame to view Litvinenko's assassination in particularand the spectacular use of polonium to kill himas emblematic of the dark turn that Russia had taken under Putin's rule.

I don't mean to suggest that other countries occupy a higher moral plane than Russia. Thepost-9/11 world has upset many people's presumptionsincluding my ownthat the West can lay claim to generally noble status. Infact, a comparison of contemporary events in Russia, the West, and elsewhere in the world suggests that distinctions between countries and cultures have become barely discernible.

Except that they haven't. Notwithstanding America's image problems abroad during the GeorgeW.Bush years, the U.S., Europe, and large swaths of Asia are not places where journalists such as the crusading Russian writer Anna Politkovskaya are freely assassinated, defecting spies poisoned, or theatergoers gassed to death by their own police, as was the audience of Nord-Ost.

If you are a citizen of Russia, you are more likely than a person in any other G-8 nation to die a premature death, and to do so in a bizarre or cruel way. WhenI say premature death, I'm not thinking disease, infant mortality, or an automobile accidentthough Russians die at a far higher rate in all these categories than citizens of the other seven countries. Imean the kind of death experienced by Litvinenko, Politkovskaya, and the 129victims of Nord-Ostall deaths that were countenanced or at least tolerated by the Russianstate.

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