Putin's dirty washing

If they were genuine, said Peskov, it is amazing how U.S. diplomats have such a “perverted understanding of reality” in Russia.

Putin (aka Batman) was on CNN defending Russia’s notion of “sovereign democracy” and suggested that he is getting fed up with the United States using criticism of Russian democracy as a foreign policy tool. Russia doesn’t criticize the shortcomings of the U.S. political system, and the U.S. should butt out of Russia’s affairs, he went on.

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But America is right to keep up its criticism of Russia’s human rights violations. Here is Putin’s own view of opponents, as expressed to an interviewer last August. If the political opposition fails to obtain permission to demonstrate in central Moscow, “alpha dog” Putin said, "you will be beaten upside the head with a truncheon. And that's it."

Russia is ranked 140 out of 178 in the press freedom index of Reporters without Borders. Oleg Kashin, who was beaten almost to death in Moscow last month, is the latest of a sad list of journalists who have found themselves on the wrong end of a truncheon in the line of duty.

But that’s not all. Even more serious is an allegation in the cables from a senior U.S. official that Putin, a former KGB spy who previously headed the FSB — the successor organization of the KGB’s domestic arm — would have been aware of the planned radiation attack on the exiled former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko in November 2006. He was assassinated by drinking tea laced with polonium-210 in broad daylight in central London, an attack which endangered the lives of British citizens and tourists.

(The former KGB officer suspected of delivering the coup de grâce, Andrei Lugovoy, now benefits from immunity as a Russian MP).

Another piece in the puzzle came out at the end of last month with the allegation in the Sunday Times that the FSB had received a container of polonium-210 from the Russian Balakovo Nuclear Power Plant several weeks before the poisoning. The report revived the speculation that the Litvinenko murder may have been a state-sponsored act, and his widow has again accused Putin of ordering it.

Rosatom, Russia's state nuclear corporation, has denied the report. But U.S. Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who is the likely incoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has her eye on the investigation in terms of future U.S. cooperation with Russia. She is right to hold Russia to observe the norms of international law.