Putincide? Quite a few Russian diplomats meeting untimely ends
The untimely death of the Russian ambassador to the U.N. last week took many off guard, and this being Russia, there are always a few conspiracy theories.
Mike Allen's Axios has come up with quite an impressive list of Russian diplomats who have died under mysterious circumstances in the wake of the election of Donald Trump. The range goes from the horrific assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey last Dec. 26 to the "brief illness" and death the month after of the Russian ambassador to India to the U.N. ambassador's sudden demise. But there also was a former KGB chief linked to the gross-out phony "dossier" published by Buzzfeed without verification, as well as a slew of lesser diplomats who died in curious "accidents."
If the dots can be connected, it raises the question of whether a spy network was rolled up and the Western intelligence agencies have lost a string of informants – and whether the CIA is leaking this story to the Swamp, of which Mike Allen is one of the leading bullfrogs.
So far, the dots haven't been connected, and there are a lot of mitigating factors. Russian envoys often live hard-drinking, unhealthy lives, which throughout the country has worked to shorten life spans in general. Two, Russia's diplomatic service is also well known for being large, which would mean there will always be a few deaths from natural causes around the world, as this would appear on the surface. Third, Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, gets blamed a lot for things he didn't do.
The 1999 apartment bombings the Wall Street Journal editorial page keeps trying to pin on Putin probably were the work of Russian security forces, but not necessarily Putin. As a strategy to power for Putin, it was highly uncertain that bombing apartments would get voters to elect him president, and better ways were out there, as we know Putin used: he curried Yeltsin's favor at the time, and Putin's rise was far more closely linked to having Yeltsin's good favor than to terrifying the Russian public into voting "correctly." The other thing is, Putin didn't have that much power at the time, the intelligence agencies blamed for the bombings were highly intersected with gangs at least then and perhaps still now, and they often went their own way without submitting to centralizing power.
Author Paul Klebnikov, in his top-notch book The Godfather of the Kremlin, on how gangsters had interacted and taken over parts of the Russian government, expressed skepticism that Putin was behind the bombings. (Klebnikov himself was the victim of a Chechen hit job in Moscow in 2004, and the Kremlin rather suspiciously protested that his killer was put on the sanctions list, so the twists and turns re-loop again.)
Meanwhile, the Brits never proved that Putin himself had poisoned London-based dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who died of polonium poisoning in 2006. Once again, no doubt that state actors were involved, but Litvinenko was rather crazy himself, and a lot of people would have wanted him dead, Putin not particularly one of them. He was an Islamic convert, hung out with Chechen gangsters, and horrified his Russian oligarch sponsor, Godfather gangster Boris Berezovsky (who was exposed by Klebnikov and also died under mysterious circumstances) – who cut him off from financing after Litvinenko proposed a string of assassinations. That was one heck of a soup that may not have included Putin. The best the Brits could come up with was that Putin "probably" did it.
In short, Putin seems to get blamed for a lot for things he didn't do, based on the premise that he controls every element in a chaotic, crook-infested bureaucracy. Not sure about that.
But the string of deaths is noteworthy all the same, seemingly a sign of something gone awry. Could it have been a rolled up spy network? Why not just bust the traitors and hold a few trials to show the others? Well, killings send an even more impressive message to wannabe traitors without messy trials. How is that? Or is it the Security Services cracking down on internal dissent without treason? Putin does face a formidable task of keeping the government loyal as sanctions bite. A few "Putincides" might serve to send a message that his internal security forces still have teeth.
The other thing to consider is how Axios got this story at all. Sure, a clever Googler who follows the untranslated Russian press closely and by the day might come up with this list. But just as likely, it may be the result of a leak from a U.S. intelligence agency, eager to "get" Putin and cognizant of what the agency is watching. The recent leaks against Donald Trump show an active U.S. intelligence community eager to leak to reporters. Mike Allen, as noted earlier, is one of the kings of the Swamp that Trump decries, so he and his agency would be a logical target for a leak.
The jury is out on this one, but there are a whole host of interesting things to keep watching. Get out the popcorn.