PARIS -- Whoever poisoned Alexander Litvinenko had two goals: a long and lingering death for the KGB defector and pointing a finger of accusation for his killing right in the face of Vladimir Putin.
Which leads me to believe Putin had nothing to do with it.
In an assassination, one must ask: Cui bono? To whose benefit? Who would gain from the poisoning of Litvinenko?
Certainly not Putin. Litvinenko's death puts him, the Kremlin and the KGB, now the FSB, under suspicion of having reverted to the terror tactics of Stalin, who commissioned killers to liquidate enemies like Leon Trotsky, murdered in Mexico in 1940.
What benefit could Putin conceivably realize from the London killing of an enemy of his regime, who had just become a British citizen? Why would the Russian president, at the peak of his popularity, with his regime awash in oil revenue and himself playing a strong hand in world politics, risk a breach with every Western nation by ordering the public murder of a man who was more of a nuisance than a threat to his regime?
Litvinenko, after all, made his sensational charges against the Kremlin -- that the KGB blew up the Moscow apartment buildings, not Chechen terrorists, as a casus belli for a war on Chechnya and that he had refused a KGB order to assassinate oligarch Boris Berezovsky -- in the late 1990s. Of late, Litvinenko has been regarded as a less and less credible figure, with his charges of KGB involvement in 9-11 and complicity in the Danish cartoons mocking Muhammad that ignited the Muslim firestorm.
Yet, listening to some Western pundits on the BBC and Fox News, one would think Putin himself poisoned Litvinenko. Who else, they ask, could have acquired polonium 210, the rare radioactive substance used to kill Litvinenko? Who else had the motive to eliminate the ex-agent who had dedicated his life to exposing the crimes of the Kremlin?
Indeed, no sooner had Litvinenko expired than his collaborator in anti-Putin politics, Alex Goldfarb, was in front of the television cameras reading Litvinenko's deathbed statement charging Putin with murder:
"You may succeed in silencing one man, but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. ... You may succeed in silencing me, but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed."
Litvinenko's statement is awfully coherent and eloquent for a man writhing in a death agony. But if he did not write it, who did? All of which leads me to conclude Putin is being set up, framed for a crime he did not commit. But then, if Putin did not order the killing, who did?