Putin’s former ally, MP Denis Voronenkov, asked for it.
Throughout Vlad’s tenure, Denis has remained loyal, proving with his every vote that the Communist Party he represented was opposition in name only. He supported Vlad’s every bright idea, including aggression against Georgia, the theft of the Crimea and the de facto annexation of East Ukraine.
A good egg all around in other words, and appropriately rewarded: properties, fleets of luxury cars, a fair chunk of beautifully laundered Panamanian assets.
That means Voronenkov personified Russia’s indigenous government blend of organised crime and secret police. The first ingredient is demonstrated by Panamanian millions, the second by… well, Panamanian millions. Voronenkov wasn’t a full-time officer like Vlad, but no one could have jumped on that bandwagon without being hand in glove with the KGB/FSB.
And then things went wrong: Denis was charged with fraud. It’s important to realise that this charge could be justifiably levelled at every member of Russia’s government, her every billionaire and most millionaires. (The first group overlaps with the other two in its entirety.)
However, it’s never brought up for as long as the chap stays on Vlad’s right side. The fraud charge thus matters not so much in itself as in what it signifies: the loss of Vlad’s favour. And that crime trumps any other, including murder.
Punishment comes swiftly, ranging from judicial imprisonment to extrajudicial killing. There’s no mercy, no appeal, no tariff – Vlad is as likely to forgive disloyalty as a Mafia don would be to spare an associate about to testify.
I don’t know what the beef was between the two men, but it must have been something major. Voronenkov knew the score and didn’t sit around waiting to be ‘whacked’, in his former friend’s jargon.
Last October he and his wife upped sticks and slipped across the border to the Ukraine. There Voronenkov was immediately granted citizenship, promising in return to testify against the former president Yanukovych.
Seemingly out of Vlad’s reach, Voronenkov relaxed and began to taunt his former chieftain from afar. “What’s he going to do?” he tweeted. “Whack me in the middle of Kiev?” Well, yes, was Vlad’s answer and, as a competitive man myself, I know how hard it is not to take a direct challenge.
On Thursday Voronenkov was shot dead at the location specified, the middle of Kiev. His assassin was killed on the spot, so it was a nice, clean hit in the best traditions of Vlad’s alma mater.
I must give Vlad this: he’s a man of his word. He once said: “There’s enemies and there’s traitors. Enemies I can reason with; traitors I wipe out.” Even easier done than said.
This ‘wet job’ came in the wake of another one just two days earlier, when the lawyer Nikolai Gorokhov was defenestrated in Moscow.
The unfortunate jurist dared to represent the family of Sergei Magnitsky, Bill Browder’s lawyer beaten to death in prison, and Browder himself. Yet that transgression alone didn’t call for a mandatory death penalty – a cautionary beating would have sufficed.
But Gorokhov went further than that by agreeing to testify at a US trial of Russian money laundering. Now that’s a capital crime for sure, and the lawyer is fortunate to end up in a coma rather than a coffin.
Every window in Russia can be a window of opportunity: defenestration is a popular method of settling political and commercial disagreements.
Kommersant reporter Ivan Safronov was defenestrated in 2007 for exposing Russia’s secret supplies of arms to Iran and Syria. Financier Sergei Korobeinikov, who had first-hand knowledge of the Russian laundromat, suffered the same fate a year later. (He actually was tossed off his balcony, but let’s not quibble about details).
Yet Vlad can’t be accused of being stuck in the rut of the same old technique. Nor does he always draw a fine line between enemies and traitors – both are high-risk groups, and the methods of dispatching them are as varied as life itself.
Speaking of only the past few years, opposition politician Nemtsov was ‘whacked’ a few feet from the Kremlin, where Vlad could enjoy the spectacle from his window.
Opposition Mafioso Berezovsky was garrotted in Berkshire.
Ex-KGB colleague Litvinenko was poisoned with a radioactive isotope in Mayfair – the first known case of nuclear terrorism.
Another opposition Mafioso Perepelichny, who was singing to the Swiss authorities about Russian money laundering, was poisoned in Surrey with gelsemium, a toxic plant only found in China and widely used there for the same purpose.
Yet another opposition Mafioso Gorbuntsov was shot six times in Canary Warf but miraculously survived.
But never mind talkative Mafiosi – it’s journalists and political opponents who are the usual target. At least 200 of them have been murdered on Putin’s watch and – as anyone familiar with Russia will know – on his direct orders. Hundreds more dissidents have been imprisoned on trumped-up charges, mutilated, savagely beaten up or threatened into silence.
This is how the KGB operates, and Putin once proudly said that “There’s no such thing as ex-KGB. This is for life.”
Not only Vlad himself but also 85 per cent of his government are career KGB officers and agents. The second group also comprises the entire hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church including its patriarch, which may explain the recently developed piety of Putin and his jolly friends.
It would be counterintuitive to expect these old dogs to learn new tricks. Tradecraft has penetrated their DNA and, if you know what the tradecraft is, you won’t be surprised at Russia’s actions.
Look at how the KGB did business and juxtapose it with Vlad’s MO. Assassination – tick. Recruitment through money – tick, as any number of Western politicians demonstrate, from Marine Le Pen to the ex-Chancellor of Germany Schroeder to various members of Trump’s inner circle. Provocation – tick, a technique widely used in the Ukraine and the Baltics. False flag operations – tick. Money laundering – tick, an activity in which the KGB began to indulge when it was still called OGPU.
What I find amazing is that the same people who say all the right things about Islamic terrorism extol the virtues of Putin’s frankly terroristic regime. There’s an important difference between ISIS and Putin: the former can only kill a few hundred people here and there; the latter could ‘whack’ whole countries – something of which Vlad and his mouthpieces never tire of reminding us.
Come to your senses, ladies and gentlemen, and readjust your moral scales before it’s too late. That appliance has gone haywire.