One must compliment Vlad for making no attempt to embellish his impressionable youth. And his grown-up life makes it hard to doubt the veracity of this particular recollection.
The ongoing inquiry into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko has already established Putin’s complicity, and the in camera part is still to come.
Speaking for the victim’s family, Ben Emmerson, QC, called Putin an “increasingly isolated tinpot despot” and a “morally deranged authoritarian”, who, “beyond reasonable doubt”, ordered the murder.
Mr Emmerson added that Putin and his cronies are “directly implicated in organised crime”, and it was for his investigation of those activities that Litvinenko was ‘whacked’, to use the term Vlad favours.
In response, the Kremlin called the investigation “biased and politicised”.
Well, if there was a certain bias it could have been put straight by the testimony of Lugovoi and Kovtun, Vlad’s two KGB colleagues who dropped polonium 200 into Litvinenko’s tea.
Neither gentleman, however, took advantage of this glorious opportunity to clear their names and that of their paymaster. Kovtun originally agreed to testify via a video link, but then he, or rather Vlad, thought better of it.
As to the inquest being politicised, it pains me to admit that this is exactly what it is. What’s politicised about it isn’t its findings but its timing.
The findings are hardly earth-shattering. Everyone has known from the word tea that the two KGB thugs ‘whacked’ Litvinenko. The esoteric weapon they used, the old cui bono principle and the knowledge that such a high-level action in the middle of London had to be ordered by Putin left little doubt as to the culprit.
The use of polonium, in the first act of nuclear terrorism against the West, is particularly telling. Had Messrs Lugovoi and Kovtun ‘whacked’ Litvinenko with their service Makarovs, doubts would have been possible.
But radioactive isotopes aren’t as easily available as Soviet-issue automatics. The polonium had to come from a state laboratory, and even in Russia such materials are kept under lock and key. Thus Putin had deliberately telegraphed the murder – pour encourager les autres.
However, the murder took place in 2006 and every fact mentioned in the inquest has been known since then. Why then has it taken nine years to point an accusing finger at Putin?
The truth has been suppressed until now because our powers that be didn’t want to upset Vlad. Justice has been held hostage to political expediency.
It’s only when Putin attempted to do to the Ukraine what he had done to Litvinenko, threatening the West with nuclear weapons in passing, that the nature of political expediency changed. And there I was, thinking Britain is ruled by law, rather than by spivs playing their little political games with the truth.
Now, one hopes, Western governments will release the information on Putin and his gang siphoning hundreds of billions into Western banks, information that’s already in the possession of the FT and The Wall Street Journal.
Speaking of the Ukraine, last week my friend Vlad made a valuable contribution to jurisprudence. He created the precedent of a criminal vetoing the investigation of his crime.
The UN Security Council gathered to establish an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17.
The plane carrying 283 passengers and 15 crew was shot down over the Ukraine a year ago. The AA missile was evidently fired from a Russian BUK launcher either by Russian soldiers or by their proxies, the so-called Ukrainian separatists.
In the manner of a thief screaming ‘Stop thief!’ the Kremlin came up with an alternative and manifestly mendacious version of the airliner having been downed by a Ukrainian missile – or even possibly a Ukrainian fighter plane.
Hence the need for an independent tribunal, an international body authorised to identify and prosecute the guilty party. Vlad, however, has been saying all along that convening such a tribunal would be ‘untimely’ and ‘counterproductive’.
The Security Council put the matter to a vote, receiving 11 affirmative votes, three abstentions (Angola, China and Venezuela) – and one decisive and predictable veto cast by Russia’s representative Vitaly Churkin.
Mr Churkin was a perfect man for the job for he had form. In 1983, in his capacity as Press Secretary to the USSR embassy in Washington, the young KGB diplomat Comrade Churkin (as he then was) solemnly declared that the Soviets had had nothing to do with a similar accident befalling Korean Airlines Flight 007.
The airliner carrying 267 people, explained my new friend Vitaly, had committed suicide by veering off course and plunging into the Sea of Japan west of Sakhalin.
A few days later the Soviets admitted that an SU-15 interceptor had lent the Koreans a helping hand – and Churkin’s career was launched to culminate in his present ministerial post.
Amazingly, over half of the Russian population disagree with the veto that to any halfway intelligent person is tantamount to an admission of guilt.
On the contrary, they want a tribunal to take place because they’re certain that Russia will be exonerated. The tribunal, they believe, will establish the guilt of either the Ukraine or – are you ready for this? – the USA.
One has to congratulate Vlad yet again: his propaganda is more effective than anything the Soviets could muster. In 1983, even before the Soviets admitted responsibility, not a single Russian had doubted their guilt.
Some welcomed the action, some didn’t, most were indifferent – but not a single Russian in command of his faculties doubted the Soviets had done it.
Soviet propaganda made Russians cynical; Putin’s propaganda makes them idiotic, which is a much greater achievement.
One can only wonder why Vlad’s approval ratings still languish at a mere 86 per cent. Then again, Nicolae Ceauşescu’s last rating stood at 95 per cent. Three days after the poll he was shot like a mad dog in a gutter – and overjoyed crowds danced in the streets.