Sep 112009

Toward the end of Alexander Goldfarb’s “Death of a Dissident : The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB,” Goldfarb reports how after Litvinenko’s death, Putin claimed Litvinenko was a small fry and didn’t know any secrets; therefore the Russian government would not have ordered his death. (I’m listening to an audio version and don’t have the exact quote.)

Putin’s reasoning is lame, of course. There are lots of other reasons a dictatorship might want to be rid of an expatriate dissident than to keep secrets from getting out. It wasn’t for the sake of protecting secrets that Trotsky ended up with the sharp end of an ice axe in his head, for example. Even if Litvinenko himself talked in terms of secrets doesn’t mean secrets were the reason for his murder.

What I wish I knew, though, is what Putin thinks he’s doing when he makes such statements. Is he trying to fool people into thinking his government didn’t order the killing? Or is he just trying to corrupt people into taking such excuses seriously when everyone knows the reasoning is bogus. If people can be made to pretend Putin somehow makes sense when he says these things, even though they know better, they are in some measure submitting themselves to his psychological control.

That can happen, but is it what Putin has in mind when he asks people to believe outlandish things? It would be nice to know.