Russia convicted of another murder

Actually convicted for the murder of the political émigré Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin was a professional FSB hitman, Col. Vadim Krasikov. But everyone knows who sent him out.

What does a young girl understand that old politicians don’t?

The victim had the audacity of having fought against the Russians in the same Chechen war that brought Putin to power in 2000. He then sought asylum in Germany, which lengthy process was interrupted by Krasikov in 2019.

The good colonel cycled in behind Khangoshvili in the Tiergarten park and shot him three times with a silenced Glock 26. The park sits smack in the centre of Berlin, and it was crowded on that sunny day.

The episode makes one wonder how good our cyclist was at his job. He managed to get the first part right, fulfilling his murderous mission. But the second part, not getting caught, was an abject failure. Many strollers saw the colonel removing his wig and then trying to drown his weapon and bicycle in the pond.

Krasikov was arrested soon thereafter, and the Russians tried to claim he was a lone operator who simply disliked the exile. However, his access to silenced weapons and false documents was a dead giveaway.

The judges had no hesitation putting the blame at the Kremlin’s doorstep. “The crime was meticulously prepared by agents stationed in Berlin,” said the presiding judge, sentencing the murderer to life without parole. Foreign minister Annalena Baerbock agreed, adding that the murder constituted a “grave violation of Germany’s sovereignty.”

She then announced the expulsion of two Russian diplomats, on top of the two expelled for the same reason earlier. Russia described the gesture as “unfriendly”, while Maria Zakharova, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, found Miss Baerbock’s statement “unfeminine”.

Undeterred by that accusation, Miss Baerbock continued to act in a decidedly butch manner. “It’s very clear that actions such as the Tiergarten murder seriously strain our relationship,” she said. “The German government will do everything that is necessary to defend people’s safety in our country and respect for our legal order.”

No seat on the Gazprom board for her then. She should take her cue from Schroeder – even when he was chancellor, he never forgot which side his bread was buttered. And now he is monetising that dairy product to the tune of millions of dollars (or billions of roubles, if you’d rather).

The upshot is that Putin is making it increasingly harder for Western officials to love him, much as they desperately want to do so.

Just when they ‘push the reset button’, ‘understand Russia’s concerns’, ‘seek a meaningful dialogue’ or call for ‘pragmatism’ (all euphemisms for appeasement), he has somebody else whacked in the West.

Give credit to Vlad: he keeps his promises. On his inauguration, he promised to pursue his enemies to the ends of the earth and “whack them” wherever they hide, even “in the shithouse”. Tiergarten is a much less malodorous venue for such fun and games, and I’m sure this memory will warm Col. Krasikov’s cockles in prison.

Western leaders, on the other hand, will continue to bewail Col. Putin’s tendency of throwing an uncooperative monkey wrench into the works of appeasement. Their friend Vlad doesn’t seem to be able to get his head around their problem.

The problem is dire: unlike Vlad and his ministers, Western politicians are actually elected. Since stuffing ballot boxes isn’t a popular option in their countries, they have to be liked by the people. If they aren’t, they won’t be re-elected, and there go their chances for lucrative post-political sinecures.

And people don’t like it when agents of a foreign power sneak into their countries and whack Putin’s enemies or blow up ammunition depots, as the Russians did in the Czech Republic in 2014. Czech president Zeman is Putin’s man root and branch, but even he had to respond with some anti-Kremlin measures.

Whacking people in Britain, the Russians often rely on more exotic weapons than Glocks or dynamite. Just look at Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned in the middle of London with polonium. Tony Blair, PM at the time, was trying to be Putin’s friend – and look what happened. There went some of the publicly expressed empathy (although not for long, it has to be said).

Then a few years later a British court passed a verdict directly inculpating the Kremlin, much to the chagrin of PM Mrs May. She did try to hush up the investigation, but that cat refused to stay in the bag.

And speaking of exotic weapons, another Russian exile, Alexander Perepelichny, was poisoned with gelsemium, an extract of a plant the Chinese have been using to that end for millennia. That happened in 2012, on Dave Cameron’s watch.

Despite his best efforts, and even though some housetrained doctors hastily declared suicide, doubts soon appeared – which was bound to undermine HMG’s efforts to mandate empathy and pragmatism. Subsequently those CIA spoilsports informed MI6 that the businessman was “probably killed on direct orders from Putin or those close to him.”

Suicide was also the hasty verdict when another businessman, Boris Berezovsky, was found garrotted in his Weybridge bathroom in 2013. In 2015, after his former partner Nikolai Glushkov was strangled with a dog lead in New Malden, most experts realised that perhaps Berezovsky too had received similar help along the way.

In 2015 the Russians field-tested a new poison, appropriately called novichok (newcomer), in Sofia. On the receiving end was the arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, who was supplying weapons to the Ukraine. Gebrev survived, but novichok showed promise.

In 2018 it was used to poison the Skripals in Salisbury, who also survived, miraculously. One local resident wasn’t so lucky: Dawn Sturgess became collateral damage. That was another nail in Mrs May’s political coffin, and just to think she was so good to Vlad.

You might say that Western politicians act out of pragmatic considerations, not their love of the KGB colonel in the Kremlin. That line was exposed yesterday by Daria Navalny (photo above), the daughter of Alexei, himself a novichok patient.

Yesterday she accepted the EU’s top human rights prize on his behalf. The prize is named after Andrey Sakharov, and Daria minced no words: “Andrey Sakharov was one of the least pragmatic people,” she said.

“I don’t understand why those who in his name clamour for pragmatic relations with dictators can’t open history books. That would be a most pragmatic step.

“And then they’d find that appeasing dictators and tyrants has never worked even once.

“God knows how many people have tried to convince themselves that a madman hanging on to power with all his might will behave honourably in response to overtures. That will never happen.

“The very nature of authoritarian power demands upping the stakes, aggression and a search for new enemies.”

Hear, hear.

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