The Litvinenko case just gets weirder, although perhaps a little simpler. Yesterday’s Observer ran a long report based on the testimony of a Russian doctoral student in London who got in touch with him whilst looking for information on Chechnya. Apparently he boasted of having not only a dossier on the Yukos case, but also sources in the FSB who would provide him with documents on command. He also said he planned to blackmail the Russian government and prominent persons with these documents, in order to escape his financial dependence on Berezovsky.
On the other hand, the role of Mario Scaramella becomes a little clearer with this must-read report in the Independent. It seems that essentially everything he has told British reporters is untrue. He is not an investigating magistrate, nor a professor, nor does his “Environmental Crime Protection Project” exist in any signal way. Instead, he appears to be a political operative of some kind.
Cast your mind back to 2001. Silvio Berlusconi had recently created a Senate committee to inquire into allegations of KGB penetration of Italy in the Cold War. This was known as the Mitrokhin commission, after the KGB archivist Vasily Mitrokhin, who supplied MI6 with a huge quantity of documents from the service’s archives. Now, there is plenty of stuff worth investigating from the Cold War in Italy, but the commission never produced anything of great interest, even though Berlusconi’s media outlets regularly trailed it. It was to this body that Scaramella was a consultant.
Not a very good one, as the Indy points out. His contributions were ridiculed by the opposition, and worseâ€”he was allegedly taped discussing the possibility of framing Romano Prodi as a spy with the committee chairman, Paolo Guzzanti of (what else) Forza Italia. He claims, fascinatingly, that his source for this accusation was none other than Litvinenko. It may be worth pointing out that a genuine contemporary KGB officer, fellow-exile Oleg Gordievsky, thinks the claim is rubbish.
Enter the panto clown of the piece, UKIP MEP Gerard Batten, who seems to have lapped up Scaramella’s smear campaign hook, line and sinker – if you can be said to lap up a hook. If the efforts to dish Prodi failed to save Berlusconi, they did succeed in seeding the far-right’s meme pool with the idea that the EU is run by communists and/or Soviet/Russian agents. This has gained considerable traction in British Europhobe subculture, and UKIP has been keen on it. One wonders what will pass between Massimo D’Alema, Italy’s ex-communist foreign minister, and Vladimir Putin at today’s meeting.
Litvinenko seems to have been desperate to be taken seriously. Scaramella seems to have been desperate to shore up his allegations so that someone other than UKIP would still take him seriously. According to multiple press reports and Health Protection Agency statements, he shows no sign of illness, but that isn’t what he says to the Italian reporters (German link). When he speaks to Il Giornale, he is desperately ill, having himself been poisoned deliberately. It’s probably significant that this journal is a Mediaset paper.
Eventually, it looks like they both got what they wanted, to be taken seriously. In Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin, the narrator mocks a young communist activist’s fantasies of heroic resistance to Nazism, but realises that the Nazis will, in fact, take him seriously, at his own assessment, and torture him to death.
Which leaves the question of why? There’s no reason why “they” – whoever they are – would suddenly take him for a serious threat, unless he did have access to real secrets. The detail that he thought he had sources in the FSB reminds me very much of the 1920s “Trust”, a fake counter-revolutionary organisation set up by the then NKVD to lure in emigrÃ© and foreign agents. But then again, why go to the trouble – unless he really did have some genuine facts?