Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON -- The poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, renegade Russian spy and fierce critic of Vladimir Putin's government, is everywhere being called a mystery. There is dark speculation about unnamed ``rogue elements'' either in the Russian secret services or among ultra-nationalists acting independently of the government. There are whispers about the indeterminacy of things in the shadowy netherworld of Russian exile politics, crime and espionage.

Well, you can believe in indeterminacy. Or you can believe the testimony delivered on the only reliable lie detector ever invented -- the deathbed -- by the victim himself. Litvinenko directly accused Putin of killing him.

Litvinenko knew more about his circumstances than anyone else. And on their deathbed, people don't lie. As Machiavelli said on his (some attribute this to Voltaire), after thrice refusing the entreaties of a priest to repent his sins and renounce Satan, ``At a time like this, Father, one tries not to make new enemies.''

In science, there is a principle called Occam's razor. When presented with competing theories for explaining a natural phenomenon, one adopts the least elaborate. Nature prefers simplicity. Scientists do not indulge in grassy-knoll theories. You don't need a convoluted device to explain Litvinenko's demise.

Do you think Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist who was investigating the war in Chechnya, was shot dead in her elevator by rogue elements? What about Viktor Yushchenko, the presidential candidate in Ukraine and eventual winner, poisoned with dioxin during the campaign, leaving him alive but disfigured? Ultra-nationalist Russians?

Opponents of Putin have been falling like flies. Some jailed, some exiled, some killed. True, Litvinenko's murder will never be traced directly to Putin, no matter how dogged the British police investigation. State-sponsored assassinations are almost never traceable to the source. Too many cutouts. Too many layers of protection between the don and the hitman.

Moreover, Russia has a long and distinguished history of state-sponsored assassination of which the ice-pick murder of Trotsky was but the most notorious. Does anyone believe that Pope John Paul II, then shaking the foundations of the Soviet empire, was shot by a crazed Turk acting on behalf of only Bulgaria?


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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