Alexander Litvinenko and Karl Marx’s stepchildren

January 27, 2016
Marina Litvinenko, the widow of murdered KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, attends a demonstration in support of Boris Nemtsov, former deputy prime minister of Russia and prominent critic of Vladimir Putin, outside the Russian Embassy in London March 01, 2015. Nemstov was murdered two days ago as he walked across a bridge near the Kremlin in Moscow. REUTERS/Neil Hall (BRITAIN - Tags: CRIME LAW POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR4RN56

Marina Litvinenko, the widow of murdered KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko. REUTERS/Neil Hall

The sway of Karl Marx’s stepchildren in the West is not to be underestimated.

That became clear last week after retired English judge Sir Robert Owen released a report on the death, a decade ago, of Alexander Litvinenko in London. Litvinenko, a member of the Russian FSB (the Russian acronym for the Federal Security Service) had turned against his service. He came with his family to London and worked with the oligarch Boris Berezovsky, the two united in fierce opposition to the Russian state in general and President Vladimir Putin in particular. His former employers hated him: in Moscow, agents reportedly used a photograph of his face for target practice.

In November 2006, Litvinenko, by then a British citizen, met two other FSB officers in a London hotel, and they took tea together. Litvinenko’s tea was laced with polonium-210, an extremely rare element. He died a slow and painful death. The two agents, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, slipped back to Russia, where the former is a member of parliament and the latter a businessman. Owen’s report pointed the finger not just at Lugovoy and Kovtun, but at the Russian president who, Owen wrote, “probably” authorized the murder.

“We regret that a purely criminal case has been politicized and has darkened the general atmosphere of our bilateral relations,” Maria Zhakarova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said primly in response to the report.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the reports findings were a grave matter and that further action would be taken against Russia on top of the sanctions already imposed. But, Cameron added, the UK would have to continue “some sort of relationship” with Russia. Right away, a chorus of realists – cynics, if you prefer – said, “You bet it will.”

The UK is the biggest investor in Russia – largely through the energy company BP, which has invested $16 billion in the country through its 20 percent stake in the Russian state’s oil corporation, Rosneft. It’s a troubled relationship: Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft, is banned from travelling to the West. But Bob Dudley, head of BP, sits on the Rosneft board, and says that the ban doesn’t affect the business relationship. BP was hit badly by the Deepwater Horizon oilrig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, forced to pay out tens of billions for the cleanup. The result has been a shrinking company that is more dependent on Russia.

The City, as London’s financial district is known, has grown still richer from the Russian super-oligarchs, three of whom head the Sunday Times UK rich list. They and their colleagues earned the City more than $400 million, while 70 Russian companies have been listed on the Stock Exchange.

The City is reaching out to another authoritarian state, in this case not encumbered with sanctions. Already, two out of every three payments in the Chinese currency renminbi (outside of China itself) take place in London. As and when China liberalizes the currency, the City is in pole position to win most of the business.

China’s growth has slowed and Russia’s finances grow worse by the week under the impact of oil prices so low that gasoline could cost less than bottled water even in Europe.

But they’re led by unsentimental men eager for expansion of their power, willing to make deals however and wherever they can, with reserves of both cheap labor and scientific prowess.

Marx wrote, “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.”

He was observing the ceaseless ambition of the “bourgeoisie” – the business elite – in the West, especially the UK, in the mid-late 19th century, when the unleashing of finance and industrial capitalism demanded that both “establish connections everywhere.”

Now, it’s Russia and China determined to outperform the present generations of the Western bourgeoisie, grasping after the spoils of globalization. Its leaders care little for human rights in their own countries and nothing for them in the countries with which they trade. Where Western states pose awkward questions about rights and corruption, the new authoritarians assure all their partners that these issues are their own business.

The West, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union a quarter of a century ago, believed that globalization would be under their control. Long into the future, the eastern side of the globe would, it was thought, be largely composed of countries striving to catch up.

Now they are catching up. Now they are seeking markets and promoting investments everywhere, chasing them “over the entire surface of the globe.” Now they understand how dependent the rich democracies are on them to continue to remain rich – a promise every party seeking power must make at elections, events that do not trouble the rising authoritarians.

Now their hands are on the levers of globalization, too, and they are increasingly able to steer the process their way. “Some sort of relationship” will increasingly take priority over outrage.

3 comments

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Any US citizen found guilty of spying for another country can get capital punishment that is what Litvinenko got. BP sold all of its US assets so only the brand will stay present.The oligarchs from non-Russian ethnicity betrayed the motherland but will lose their wealth thru paying protection a to the secret services and racket to the organized crime at the “safe heaven”.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

The oligarchy made its fortune not because of their entrepreneurship but by getting Yeltsin drunken then ever and close connections to the organized crime. They know well that once outside Russia their fortunes will only shrink because they can not do business as “usual”. Once in London they are like piranhas during drought season.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

Does Lloyd really believe that the wealth of the industrialized countries depends on what Russia or other formerly Communist countries do? That seems to be what he is saying by “Now they understand how dependent the rich democracies are on them to continue to remain rich …” This is nonsense. There are plenty of practical foreign policy reasons for the UK and other nations to maintain relations with Russia despite an assassination or two, particularly since they are in a prisoners’ dilemma, with other nations willing to swoop in and take UK market share. But the idea that the west as a whole depends on Russian good will for our wealth is nonsense. Russia needs the West much more than the West needs Russia.

Posted by LZEnglish173 | Report as abusive