The “Autumn of Assassination”

Last week it was Litvinenko, this week it’s Yegor Gaidar. November has been the month of political intrigue, assassination, conspiracy theory, paranoia, hysteria, all with some hard political analysis mixed along the way. If the temporal lens is widened, one might suggest that this is Russia’s “Autumn of Assassination” Though the jury is still out on whether Gaidar belongs in a lineage of political killings that include Andrei Kozlov, Anna Politkovskaya, Aleksandr Litvinenko, and the lesser commented on, Movladi Baisarov, the fall has been drenched in blood. After all, it was already in early October that Kommersant declared it the “Season for Settling Scores,” as Kozlov’s murder was rated the most significant event for that economic quarter. Little did the business daily know that Kozlov was only the beginning.

But all eyes are now on Gaidar and whether he was poisoned or not. His press secretary and family says yes; while eyewitnesses like former Moscow correspondent for the Irish Times, Seamus Martin, says no. In an email published in Johnson’s Russia List #270, Martin said that he witnessed Gaidar’s illness:

In the corridor outside he became very ill with a severe nose-bleed and vomiting which contained some blood. The fact that he spoke to the people who were helping him shows that reports that he was “unconscious for three hours” are unfounded. The ambulance service personnel noted that his blood-pressure had become very high and he was taken to the James Connolly Memorial Hospital in the Dublin suburb of Blanchardstown. The Irish Times had a reporter at the hospital for much of that evening and reported that Mr Gaidar’s condition was linked to diabetes.

I enquired about his condition about two hours after he was taken ill and was told that he was fine and would be released from hospital after a period of observation. Mr Gaidar was kept in hospital overnight and his condition had improved to the extent that he was released the following morning. He then spent the entire day and that evening at the Russian Embassy in Dublin before travelling home.

Martin’s testimony has since been quoted in a Reuters report. He also disputed the fact that Gaidar was unconscious for three hours. “He was speaking to the ambulance men when he was taken by ambulance and unconscious people are very unlikely to be talking to people when they walk into an ambulance,” Martin told Reuters.

Nevertheless, the mystery continues. As does the Litvinenko case. So much so that now the FBI is involved in the investigation. Though given the fact that the FBI had to recently shell out $2 million and give a public apology for the two week detention of Brandon Mayfield, Scotland Yard might want to rethink their help. Mayfield was falsely arrested and detained under the Patriot Act because the FBI linked a partial print found at the Madrid bombing site to him.

And how fast do the winds of the media change. While the Kremlin was immediately accused of orchestrating Litvinenko’s murder, it appears that a media backlash has occurred among Russia political analysis and watchers. As Charles Gurin comments on the Eurasian Daily Monitor, Gaidar’s poisoning is adding to an already infectious rash of conspiracy theories.

Of all of them floating around the press and cyberspace, the theory that is now generating the most steam is that there is a power struggle going on within the Russian political elite over who will be Putin’s successor. Even the mainstream American press, like Time Magazine, is contemplating this scenario.

This is also the theory being put forward by the oppositional weekly, Novaya gazeta. In an editorial published in the November 27-29 edition titled “Let’s Call Them the Third Term Party,” the scope of analysis was widened to not only include the high profile murder, but also the tensions with Georgia and the raids by Chechen security forces in Russia . The editors write,

Politics has become public again – not in the sense of being open, but in the way it’s clearly aimed at the general public. And not because there’s any intention of listening to the public’s opinion about various social development models, or allowing the public to participate in a real change of administration. It’s intended to agitate and shock the public, depriving it of that sense of stability, illusory though it was, which had been Vladimir Putin’s major deity, argument, and instrument throughout his time in power.

Dubbing the season, the “Autumn of Escalation,” the editors argue that “the ruling elite is enmeshed in business interests, its members are starting a power-struggle over retaining control of revenue streams, reinforcing their political platforms in the lead-up to a potentially dangerous replacement of the master of the Kremlin. Since the various political-economic factions at the top have different and frequently irreconcilable interests, the authorities are fragmenting – and the fragments are starting to act ever more autonomously and chaotically.” As Puffy said, it’s all about the Benjamins, baby.

If this any of this is remotely true, the paranoia about “colored revolutions” might be the least of the Kremlin’s worries. Rouge elements in the FSB, elite factions, conspiracies, and high profile assassinations all orchestrated from within might be a more pressing concern. The “Autumn of Assassination,” the “Season of Settling Scores,” and “Autumn of Escalation,” or whatever you want to call it, might lead to more blood drenched months.