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Author Amy Knight’s ‘Orders to Kill’ – a putrid wad of regurgitated Putin-hate and lies

The latest tome smearing Vladimir Putin repeats the mantra that ‘Putin kills journalists’ – unconvincingly

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(Irrussianality) – In her latest book, Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murder, Amy Knight wishes to convince us ‘how scary and unpredictable Russia has become.’ (p. 3) To this end, her book recounts multiples instances in which, she alleges, the ‘Putin regime’ has orchestrated the murder both of ordinary Russian citizens and of prominent political opponents. Knight is a respectable author whose 1993 biography of Beria I found quite informative. In Orders to Kill, however, she has abandoned academic neutrality in favour of political activism. The result is far from satisfactory.

orders to kill

Knight argues that ‘Russia has become a huge threat to the United States and its allies.’ (p. 7) The reason for this is the purportedly murderous nature of the Russian state and its leader, Vladimir Putin. Early on, though, Knight reveals a weakness in her argument. ‘I do not claim to have definitive proof of the complicity of Putin and his allies,’ she writes (p. 6) ‘but these many crimes form a familiar pattern.’ So, she doesn’t actually have any strong evidence to support her thesis; she just thinks that there’s a ‘pattern’. But she never explores alternative explanations for the ‘pattern’, nor does she consider the possibility that there isn’t really a pattern at all. Instead, Orders to Kill constitutes an extended attempt to squeeze all the cases studied into a predetermined system. This is a decidedly flawed methodology.

Knight begins her book with an analysis of political assassination in the Soviet period, in an apparent effort to suggest that assassination is part and parcel of Russian political culture. The problem is that the two main cases she uses to press her point – the murder of Sergei Kirov and the death of Maxim Gorky – are not very good ones. Knight has written another book about the Kirov murder, which I haven’t read but which apparently argues that Stalin ordered it. I’ve never found this point of view convincing, and was, for instance, not persuaded by Robert Conquest’s book on the subject, which argued the same thing. The Kirov case is speculation. So too is that of Maxim Gorky. There isn’t any firm proof that he was murdered. These two cases set the tone for much of that which follows in Orders to Kill – there’s a lot of speculation, only weakly supported by evidence.

After discussing the Soviet Union, Knight moves on to Putin era, mysteriously skipping almost all of the period when Boris Yeltsin was president of Russia. This is an important gap, and creates a false impression that ‘political’ murder began when Putin came on the scene. The first post-Soviet case that Knight covers is that of St Petersburg politician Galina Starovoitova, who was killed in 1998, before Putin became Prime Minister and then president. This is covered in Chapter 3 entitled ‘Galina Starovoitova: Putin’s first victim?’ The question mark is significant. Knight notes (p. 58) that ‘we still don’t know who ordered her murder’. It is a big leap from that to ‘Putin did it,’ especially as Knight fails to produce even single item of evidence linking Putin to the crime. The logic is solely that Knight thinks that the murder would have helped Putin politically, and therefore he must have been responsible. This isn’t good logic. Moreover, some people were convicted, Putin was no longer working in St Petersburg at the time, and as Knight points out, the Starovoitova murder was hardly the only one in the city – there had been several other murders in previous years, reflecting the relatively lawless state of the city. Divorcing the Starovoitova murder from that wider context seems disingenuous.

Next, Knight covers the apartment bombings which killed a large number of people in 1999. But again, she fails to provide any evidence to link the bombings to Putin. The logic is the same as before: Putin benefited, therefore he must have ordered them. Again, this is weak. It’s worth noting that Knight says that after the second apartment bombing, ‘Putin went ahead with a planned trip to New Zealand, as if to demonstrate that there was no cause for panic.’ ( p. 81) This is hardly compatible with a theory which says that Putin engineered the bombings in order to create panic and justify a clampdown in Chechnya.

From there Knight moves on to murders of journalists in the early 2000s. She writes, ‘scores of other Russian journalists were killed during Putin’s first term in office.’ This is simply untrue. The Committee to Protect Journalists keeps track of the number of journalists killed worldwide, and the data for Russia can be seen here:

dead journalists russia

According to these statistics, in Putin’s first term in office (2000-2003), 15 journalists were murdered in Russia. That’s not good, but it’s not even one score let alone ‘scores’ as Knight claims. Knight says (p. 104): ‘These cases could not be attributed directly to the Kremlin, because they often involved reporters covering local corruption throughout the country. But the general atmosphere of lawlessness and impunity that the Kremlin did nothing to discourage was what gave rise to these crimes.’ But as we can see from the graph above, the ‘general atmosphere of lawlessness and impunity’ has actually improved during Putin’s presidency – quite substantially, in fact. This is where the lack of broader context becomes a major failing. In starting her work in late 1999, and almost ignoring entirely the Yeltsin period, Knight presents the murder of prominent persons in modern Russia as an invention of Putin’s leadership, and as a matter of deliberate state policy, rather than a continuation, on a much reduced scale, of an ‘atmosphere of lawlessness’ which began under Yeltsin. This is deceitful.

A typical argument used by Knight is to quote the opinion of relatives or friends of a murdered person as evidence of Putin’s involvement. For instance (p. 120), she writes that, ‘Musa (wife of murdered journalist Paul Klebnikov) and Peter (his brother) have not seen evidence of Putin’s involvement in the murder, but they are convinced that the order to assassinate Paul came from the upper echelons of power.’ Maybe it did, but Musa’s and Paul’s opinion isn’t evidence. The same goes for the many other instances in which Knight makes this form of argument. For instance, discussing the murder of Central Bank official Andrei Kozlov, she says that ‘many observers … thought it unlikely that [Aleksei] Frenkel (former chairman of VIP-Bank who was convicted of ordering the crime) was behind the murder.’ Well, perhaps he wasn’t, but the fact that ‘many observers’ thought so doesn’t prove anything.

Similar problems lurk in the stories which follow. Knight devotes considerable space to the murder in London by polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. She describes the case well, and it is clear that there is compelling evidence to believe that the two main suspects, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitrii Kovtun, were guilty of the crime, and given the difficulty of getting hold of the murder weapon, it isn’t unreasonable to believe that the Russian intelligence and security services were involved. This is the most compelling part of Orders to Kill. But as Knight has to admit, while ‘suspicions of his [Putin’s] involvement were widespread … there was no smoking gun.’ (p. 187) Likewise, she can’t provide any solid evidence linking Putin to any of the other murders studied in the book. This is a problem, especially as there quite credible explanations for many of them which have nothing to do with Putin or the Russian state (for instance, organized crime or aggrieved businessmen).

In other cases, it’s not even obvious that the death described was murder. A notable example is that of Boris Berezovsky. Knight spends a long time discussing his life and death, and concludes that ‘Berezovsky’s death remains a mystery.’ (p. 230) But is it? Berezovsky was financially ruined, and had just lost a major court case in which the judge had called him ‘an unimpressive and inherently unreliable witness who regarded truth as transitory, flexible concept, which could be molded to suit his current purpose.’ (p. 226) As Knight admits, Berezovsky suffered from depression but had stopped taking his medication. And the police investigation revealed that ‘there were no signs of trauma suggesting force had been used. No intruders were seen on the CTV cameras that surrounded the home. … there was good reason to assume that he had taken his own life.’ (p. 227) By devoting so much space to this case, Knight is clearly trying to imply that Berezovsky too might have been murdered by Putin, but in fact the evidence points in the opposite direction.

Similarly, Knight stretches credibility by insinuating that the Russian state (and therefore, Putin) was responsible for the Boston marathon bombings which killed 3 people and wounded 260 in the United States in April 2013. The sole ‘evidence’, if you can call it that, for this claim is that one of the bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, returned home to Dagestan from the United States for a few months in 2012. The insinuation seems to be that during that period the Russian secret services recruited Tsarnaev to carry out the bombing. But, as so often in this book, the suggestion is pure speculation not supported by any firm evidence. The logic is purely that Putin allegedly benefitted from the bombing as it encouraged the United States to believe that Russia and the USA faced a common enemy in Islamic terrorism, and because Putin benefitted from it, he must have done it. Knight writes (p. 236) that, ‘The Kremlin needed to distract Western attention from Russia’s insurgency [in Chechnya] and show that other nations faced the same problem.’ Based on this, she concludes (p. 237) that ‘a close look at the facts … point strongly to Russian involvement’ in the Boston bombings. This is quite a leap.

Underlying the entirety of Orders to Kill is a particular view of Russia as a country in which nothing significant ever happens without the direct participation of Vladimir Putin. Knight therefore asks of the killing of Boris Nemtsov, ‘would anyone dare kill such as prominent figure as Nemtsov without the Russian president’s permission?’ (p. 269) ‘Quite possibly, yes’ would be the answer, especially since Knight, as mentioned, speaks of a ‘general atmosphere of lawlessness and impunity.’ The idea that Russia is a highly controlled state in which the president controls everything is surely wide of the mark; Russia’s problems derive as much, if not more, from an overly weak state as from an overly strong one.

Knight finishes her book by moving on from the murder of alleged domestic opponents of the Putin regime, and arguing that the murders show that ‘Russia is a dangerous and unpredictable adversary.’ (p. 309) In the process, she repeats some quite unproven complaints. For instance, she speaks of Russian ‘collusion with the Taliban in Afghanistan.’ (p. 308) But even if she is correct that all the murders described in her book were ordered by the Russian state, the killing of domestic political enemies is unrelated to foreign policy and whether Russia is, or is not, a ‘threat’ to the West. The two are entirely separate – a state can be entirely oppressive and yet very friendly with Western powers. The linkage is revealing, however. It shows that the ultimate purpose of this book is to propel a specific foreign policy agenda for Western powers – one which involves confronting Russia. This isn’t, then, an academic study; it’s one pursuing a definite political agenda. Readers should bear this in mind.

Certainly, there have been an alarming number of murders of journalists, politicians, and human rights activists in Russia in the 25 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is far from desirable and indicates that Russia still has a long way to go towards establishing a firm rule of law. The problem long predates Vladimir Putin’s presidency, however, and Amy Knight’s efforts to show that the murders of prominent persons in Russia form part of a concerted campaign by Putin to cow political opposition into submission are not at all convincing. Orders to Kill fails to provide any compelling evidence to prove that the cases it examines are connected or that they represent a peculiarity of the ‘Putin regime.’ This book isn’t as egregiously awful as Luke Harding’s Collusion, but it suffers from many of the same deficiencies, above all a tendency to treat speculation as proof. I wouldn’t advise people to read it, but if they do, they should treat its claims with some caution.

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Ariel Cohen explains Washington’s latest foreign policy strategy [Video]

Excellent interview Ariel Cohen and Vladimir Solovyov reveals the forces at work in and behind American foreign policy.

Seraphim Hanisch

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While the American people and press are pretty much complicit in reassuring the masses that America is the only “right” superpower on earth, and that Russia and China represent “enemy threats” for doing nothing more than existing and being successfully competitive in world markets, Russia Channel One got a stunner of a video interview with Ariel Cohen.

Who is Ariel Cohen? Wikipedia offers this information about him:

Ariel Cohen (born April 3, 1959 in Crimea in YaltaUSSR) is a political scientist focusing on political risk, international security and energy policy, and the rule of law.[1] Cohen currently serves as the Director of The Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics (CENRG) at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security (IAGS). CENRG focuses on the nexus between energy, geopolitics and security, and natural resources and growth. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, within the Global Energy Center and the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.[2] Until July 2014, Dr. Cohen was a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He specializes in Russia/Eurasia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Cohen has testified before committees of the U.S. Congress, including the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and the Helsinki Commission.[4] He also served as a Policy Adviser with the National Institute for Public Policy’s Center for Deterrence Analysis.[5] In addition, Cohen has consulted for USAID, the World Bank and the Pentagon.[6][7]

Cohen is a frequent writer and commentator in the American and international media. He has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, C-SPAN, BBC-TV and Al Jazeera English, as well as Russian and Ukrainian national TV networks. He was a commentator on a Voice of America weekly radio and TV show for eight years. Currently, he is a Contributing Editor to the National Interest and a blogger for Voice of America. He has written guest columns for the New York TimesInternational Herald TribuneChristian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, EurasiaNet, Valdai Discussion Club,[8] and National Review Online. In Europe, Cohen’s analyses have appeared in Kommersant, Izvestiya, Hurriyet, the popular Russian website Ezhenedelny Zhurnal, and many others.[9][10]

Mr. Cohen came on Russian TV for a lengthy interview running about 17 minutes. This interview, shown in full below, is extremely instructive in illustrating the nature of the American foreign policy directives such as they are at this time.

We have seen evidence of this in recent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, and an honestly unabashed bit of fear mongering about China’s company Huawei and its forthcoming 5G networks, which we will investigate in more detail in another piece. Both bits of rhetoric reflect a re-polished narrative that, paraphrased, says to the other world powers,

Either you do as we tell you, or you are our enemy. You are not even permitted to out-compete with us in business, let alone foreign relations. The world is ours and if you try to step out of place, you will be dealt with as an enemy power.

This is probably justified paranoia, because it is losing its place. Where the United Stated used to stand for opposition against tyranny in the world, it now acts as the tyrant, and even as a bully. Russia and China’s reaction might be seen as ignoring the bully and his bluster and just going about doing their own thing. It isn’t a fight, but it is treating the bully with contempt, as bullies indeed deserve.

Ariel Cohen rightly points out that there is a great deal of political inertia in the matter of allowing Russia and China to just do their own thing. The US appears to be acting paranoid about losing its place. His explanations appear very sound and very reasonable and factual. Far from some of the snark Vesti is often infamous for, this interview is so clear it is tragic that most Americans will never see it.

The tragedy for the US leadership that buys this strategy is that they appear to be blinded so much by their own passion that they cannot break free of it to save themselves.

This is not the first time that such events have happened to an empire. It happened in Rome; it happened for England; and it happened for the shorter-lived empires of Nazi Germany and ISIS. It happens every time that someone in power becomes afraid to lose it, and when the forces that propelled that rise to power no longer are present. The US is a superpower without a reason to be a superpower.

That can be very dangerous.

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Even a Vacuous Mueller Report Won’t End ‘Russiagate’

Too many reputations and other interests are vested in the legend for it to vanish from American politics anytime soon.

Stephen Cohen

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Authored by Stephen Cohen via The Nation:


Russiagate allegations that the Kremlin has a subversive hold over President Trump, and even put him in the White House, have poisoned American political life for almost three years. Among other afflictions, it has inspired an array of media malpractices, virtually criminalized anti–Cold War thinking about Russia, and distorted the priorities of the Democratic Party. And this leaves aside the woeful impact Russiagate has had in Moscow—on its policymakers’ perception of the US as a reliable partner on mutually vital strategic issues and on Russian democrats who once looked to the American political system as one to be emulated, a loss of “illusions” I previously reported.

Contrary to many expectations, even if the Mueller report, said to be impending, finds, as did a Senate committee recently, “no direct evidence of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia,” Russiagate allegations are unlikely to dissipate in the near future and certainly not before the 2020 presidential election.

There are several reasons this is so, foremost among them the following:

  1. The story of a “Kremlin puppet” in the White House is so fabulous and unprecedented it is certain to become a tenacious political legend, as have others in American history despite the absence of any supporting evidence.
  2. The careers of many previously semi-obscure Democratic members of Congress have been greatly enhanced—if that is the right word—by their aggressive promotion of Russiagate. (Think, for example, of the ubiquitous media coverage and cable-television appearances awarded to Representatives Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and Maxine Walters, and to Senators Mark Warner and Richard Blumenthal.) If Mueller fails to report “collusion” of real political substance, these and other Russiagate zealots, as well as their supporters in the media, will need to reinterpret run-of-the-mill (and bipartisan) financial corruption and mundane “contacts with Russia” as somehow treasonous. (The financial-corruption convictions of Paul Manafort, Mueller’s single “big win” to date, did not charge “collusion” and had to do mainly with Ukraine, not Russia.) Having done so already, there is every reason to think Democrats will politicize these charges again, if only for the sake of their own careers. Witness, for example, the scores of summonses promised by Jerrold Nadler, the new Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
  3. Still worse, the top Democratic congressional leadership evidently has concluded that promoting the new Cold War, of which Russiagate has become an integral part, is a winning issue in 2020. How else to explain Nancy Pelosi’s proposal—subsequently endorsed by the equally unstatesmanlike Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, and adopted—to invite the secretary general of NATO, a not-very-distinguished Norwegian politician named Jens Stoltenberg, to address a joint session of Congress? The honor was once bestowed on figures such as Winston Churchill and at the very least leaders of actual countries. Trump has reasonably questioned NATO’s mission and costs nearly 30 years after the Soviet Union disappeared, as did many Washington think tanks and pundits back in the 1990s. But for Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, there can be no such discussion, only valorization of NATO, even though the military alliance’s eastward expansion has brought the West to the brink of war with nuclear Russia. Anything Trump suggests must be opposed, regardless of the cost to US national security. Will the Democrats go to the country in 2020 as the party of investigations, subpoenas, Russophobia, and escalating cold war—and win?

Readers of my new book War With Russia?, which argues that there are no facts to support the foundational political allegations of Russiagate, may wonder how, then, Russiagate can continue to be such a major factor in our politics. As someone has recently pointed out, the Democrats and their media are now operating on the Liberty Valance principle: When the facts are murky or nonexistent, “print the legend.”

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Patriarch Bartholomew slaps down effort to solve Ukrainian Church crisis

Seraphim Hanisch

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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I has a problem.

In October last year, by his order, two schismatic churches and their leaders were “rehabilitated” and the schismatic churches were combined and relaunched as a new national church, ostensibly for the people of Ukraine.

However, everything about this action was wrong.

The Patriarch attempted to reinterpret Church history and assumed the power to take over the situation in Ukraine, when Orthodox Christian ecclesiology says that no bishop (even a Patriarch) is permitted to impose his will outside his own See. Ukraine was not the territory of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, nor has it been for hundreds of years.

The people he lifted into power – Filaret Denisenko and Makary Maletich, both were formerly out of communion with canonical Orthodoxy, and Filaret is notable for having a terrible record with his priests, a common-law wife (forbidden for a bishop) and most notably, Filaret was also anathematized by the Russian Church for his actions.

Thirdly, the new church has yet to go on record with any statement at all about how its formation serves the will of God. This is because it cannot do so. The Orthodox Church in Ukraine exists as an ultranationalist thumb in the eye of Russia, even to the point some people in the new community said “now we have our own God. We don’t need the Russian God.”

This is a very bad sentiment because in the Orthodox Church there is only one God, and he does not pick between nations because of national identity.

To date, none of the other fourteen universally recognized Local Orthodox Churches has accepted the new Church and none of the local Churches are in communion with the OCU (Orthodox Church in Ukraine). Everyone who has said anything at all about this matter has rejected communion with schismatics, though a few monasteries on Athos did allow services with these people.

In essence, at this time the Patriarch has a new church on his back that no one wants but him. His statements that the other local Churches, namely Russia, will have no choice but to accept the OCU have not been proven right so far.

In fact, the pressure is running in the opposite direction.

Patriarch John X of Antioch, the oldest Christian Church in continuous existence, received a letter from Patriarch Bartholomew in response to the request by many leaders of local Churches to hold a pan-Orthodox discussion to resolve the dispute in Ukraine. According to the Union of Orthodox Journalists, the letter amounted to a slap in the face, borne of Patriarch Bartholomew’s own petulance, arrogance, and pettiness (We have added emphasis):

In a letter to the Primate of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, Patriarch John X, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople declared that “he has good reasons” to refrain from a general Orthodox meeting on the Ukrainian church issue, reports the official website of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Patriarch Bartholomew called the discussion of the religious situation in Ukraine “useless” and reminded the Primate of the Antiochian Church of his refusal to participate in the Crete Council of 2016, which Constantinople had been prepar[ing] for a long time.

“After the four Orthodox Churches, from a church and theological point of view without a reason, refused to be present at the Ecumenical Sacred Council, for which there are no excuses, and your ancient Church was one of them, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has good reasons to refrain from such a meeting at the pan-Orthodox a level that will be useless since it will only lead to the agreement that the participants will disagree with each other,” wrote the Patriarch of Constantinople.

According to him, the autocephalous nature of the OCU became a reward for the Church of Ukraine, and the Phanar returned “to the fold of the canonical Church” the members of the UOC KP and the UAOC who were “unfairly” outside it. At the same time, Patriarch Bartholomew assures that he returned the schismatics to the bosom of Orthodoxy exclusively “following church traditions and canons.”

In other words, the Patriarch appears to be digging in. This situation is entirely wrong according to Church canons. The Patriarch is acting as though he has jurisdiction over all other Orthodox Churches, which is a position remarkably similar to that perceived by the Bishop of Rome prior to the Great Schism of 1054 which split the Roman Catholic Church apart from the other ancient Orthodox Patriarchates.

The result of that split was a slow disintegration of Christian integrity in the Roman Church, the eventual development of Protestantism and the present result of a severely degraded form of Christianity in the West, where the law of God is not considered at all, and one can essentially believe or act however they want and find a “church” that will back them up, or they will start their own.

The current actions of the Ecumenical Patriarch have caused concerns, even fears, of a new split in the Orthodox Church, and with the present geopolitical climate being strongly anti-Russian, there is a lot of thought that the United States is influencing and encouraging the split in order to isolate both Russia and its Orthodox Church, which is the largest and strongest in the world at this time.

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